Man I love Michael Bisping because the guy always comes to fight but if you’d have told me Vitor F’N Belfort would beat him by head kick in the second round I’d have called you a liar. As would everyone else, too, as NO ONE saw this coming. Not even Vitor would’ve said he’d win by a head kick, of course, but that’s the beauty of MMA sometimes. Now after a fairly decent card it’s time to play UFC matchmaker and figure out who’s next among the five most intriguing winners (and losers).
Vitor Belfort vs. Cung Le – Belfort isn’t getting a title shot unless he mercks 2-3 more guys in spectacular fashion. As it stands Bisping is easily his best win at middleweight and he’s in the Rich Franklin/Chael Sonnen spot to challenge Anderson Silva again. All three guys have been finished by the champion in spectacular fashion and none of them are getting another shot in the near future.
They all came at the king and they missed.
Belfort’s going to need to leave a path of bodies in his wake to get that final title shot. With a big mercking of Cung Le he gets closer and Le with a big win over Belfort gets into talks of fighting someone with a name in the title picture. Worst case scenario is that the fight winds up being one of those dream matchups of high level strikers. It’s a safe matchup that doesn’t disrupt the title picture like Belfort’s win over Bisping and it’s one of those cool matchups you could throw as a feature fight on a bigger card, like Griffin-Ortiz 3 on the Silva-Sonnen 2 card. Belfort is in the same spot as Josh Koscheck; he’s going to have to go on a historic run of wins, probably six to eight, and make the sheer bulk of them big time knockouts to get his chance.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Todd Duffee – Gonzaga isn’t going to be a title challenger again, I think, but he still is a game fighter. He still has value and is always good for some fun fights. Duffee has some big hands and massive power, too, and Gonzaga would be a great test. Pat Barry or Cheick Kongo could be in this slot as well. Gonzaga’s going to get someone who’s miles away from the title picture but good for a heavyweight scrap.
Edson Barboza vs. Pat Healy – Healy’s ceiling is pretty known at this point, of course, and Barboza is going to have to face a guy like him sometime in the near future. So why not now?
CB Dollaway vs. Tim Kennedy – Kennedy needs to make an appearance in the UFC quickly but needs a couple of wins before he’ll get into any sort of title picture. He probably never will be. Dollaway is in that same spot: a tough out, a fringe Top 10 guy and someone whose career ultimately lies as a gatekeeper to the Top 10 for an extended period of time. It’d make for a fun scrap, too.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Jim Miller – I’m calling him Bob Nims right now because I’m not typing that name every five seconds. And while he called out Nate Diaz in the post fight presser I don’t think he’ll get him. Bob isn’t ready for him. Not yet, anyways. He’s due for a jump into deep water and Jim Miller would make for a perfect matchup.
Michael Bisping vs. Ed Herman – Bisping’s in a unique career spot right now. He’s probably captain of the “UFC Stars Who Never Fought For a Title” team, of course, but he’s still elite. You can’t throw him against a contender again … but most of the contenders who fell by the wayside recently won’t get him, either. Bisping is in the same spot he was after UFC 100; he needs 3-4 wins again to get back into the picture again. You know where it’ll start? Someone with a name, someone you can justify on a PPV card, but someone who matches up well with him. Herman is coming off a loss to Jacare, of course, but he’s never dull. Bisping would make for a fun fight with Herman and this is the spot he’s in right now. He’s going to have to claw his way back up the rankings like he did after the Henderson fight; it’s one thing to lose a close decision to a top contender on 10 days notice. It’s another to get pounded out.
Ben Rothwell vs. Matt Mitrione – Rothwell came into this fight in great shape despite having one of the worst camps in his career, apparently, and it showed. Gabriel Gonzaga won basically because Rothwell was sucking up so much oxygen after the third minute that the front row passed out. Rothwell didn’t look that bad … but he didn’t look that good, either. But there’s something there and everyone can feel it; Rothwell just hasn’t quite shown it yet. It’s why he gets another prospect down on his luck in “Meathead.” Shane del Rosario could be slotted in here as well. Look for his next fight to be against someone with a similarly dimming star.
Andrew Craig vs. Tom Lawlor – Lawlor lost in such boring fashion that it’ll be a while before he hits the main card of an event again. Craig was on the main card of an FX show because his opponent was a name in Brazil.
Diego Nunes vs. the loser of Erik Koch vs. Ricardo Lamas – Nunes is a Top 10 featherweight but keeps trading wins and losses. He’s coming off a loss, a lackluster one, but he’ll get someone else really good. Lentz is a fight or two away from a title shot, most likely, and one imagines that he’ll get another guy in a similar spot: just lost in the bout before a title eliminator.
Daniel Sarafian vs. Chris Leben – I’d prefer Sarafian at welterweight, honestly, because he’s a small middleweight. He also gassed against Dollaway and cutting to 170 would get him into proper MMA shape; this was a fight he should’ve won instead of gassing and letting Dollaway snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If he’s going to stay at middleweight a fun scrap with Chris Leben would make sense as both guys are undercard fighters right now on nearly any card but Sarafian’s native country.