What a long, boring card! As much as I enjoy MMA on a Saturday night you can’t argue that Saturday night was a worthwhile endeavor to watch love sans the top three fights on the card. And we have more of this to look forward to, as well, if the UFC is hellbent on running nearly 50 cards in 2014. Now it’s time to dabble in the rolls of Sean Shelby and Joe Silva, figuring out who’s next for the most intriguing winners and losers from The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale (Maynard vs. Diaz).
Nate Diaz vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov – Diaz certainly looked elite Saturday night, better than he has in quite some time. After a fairly perfunctory loss to Benson Henderson, and a devastating knockout at the hands of Josh Thomson, Diaz is in a tough spot. He’s got a loss to the champ and needs to be rebuilt. He’s also in a really deep division, one that happens to include his teammate and contender Gilbert Melendez. He’s probably one fight away from being able to be in the title mix right now and so is Khabib. His wrestling, suplexing game against Diaz’s ground game, and insane cardio, could make for a wild fight. Rafael Dos Anjos could make sense in this slot, as well. Diaz’s next opponent will give you all you need to know about where the UFC ranks him in the title picture.
Chris Holdsworth vs. Kid Yamamoto – Yamamoto is in do or die territory in his UFC career right now. Holdsworth is a TUF winner and looked impressive in his TUF win. Yamamoto would be a great introduction into the post TUF world for the Team Alpha Male product. Sergio Pettis could be here, as well, but I’d doubt that. Holdsworth has a great pedigree based on who he trains with, et al, and the UFC has no problem giving tough fights to Duane Ludwig’s team.
Look for Holdsworth to get a veteran on his way out, or someone making their debut, in his first fight outside of the TUF framework. He’s a TUF winner and as such he’s going to be built up, slowly but surely, as that still means something in UFC matchmaking.
Julianna Pena vs. the winner of Julie Kedzie vs. Aleksandra Albu – The problem with the women’s division is that there aren’t a whole lot of fighters in it yet. Pena is going to get someone tough and established in her first fight in the UFC. The winner of this weekend’s women’s fight makes a lot of sense. Sarah Kaufman could be in this slot, as well. Pena is going to get thrown into the fire pretty quickly because of how shallow the division is.
Jared Rosholt vs. Nikita Krylov – Rosholt has a tremendous wrestling pedigree but he looked fairly pedestrian Saturday night. For someone who has as much hype coming in as he did it was disappointing, of course, but a lot of heavyweights are occupied right now. Krylov is awful at MMA and would make for a tough but winnable fight for Rosholt in his next UFC matchup.
Jessamyn Duke vs. Rosi Sexton – Duke is someone to watch for because she has a couple of things the UFC likes from their women’s fighters. She’s tough, satisfies the “just bleed” style of stand up brawling and is fairly easy on the eyes. But she’s still very raw as a fighter and would get soundly beaten by anyone of note. Sexton is a tough out and would want to slug it out with Duke. It’s tough but winnable for her.
Note: I was going to figure out more for this category but I have a feeling today is going to be a fairly big blood-letting from the losers portion of this card. Considering more than half of the fighters from this show didn’t even have Wikipedia pages … well … we’re probably looking at a Monday filled with pink slips.
Gray Maynard vs. Retirement – If I was Gray’s manager I’d advise him to walk away from MMA, secure in his spot. He was an elite lightweight for a long period of time and arguably beat the champion in one of his two shots at a UFC title. He’s also on the wrong side of 30 and his chin is starting to go. He’s not quite Chuck Liddell territory, where one good shot puts him down, but he’s close enough for comfort. He can’t take a lot of punishment and his power boxing game requires him to do so.
Peggy Morgan vs. the loser of Julie Kedzie vs. Aleksandra Albu – Morgan is a game fighter but I’m not sure if she’ll stay in the UFC for longer than another fight. She showed a lot of heart against Duke, of course, and I think she gets one more shot in the UFC.
Walt Harris vs. the loser of Soa Palelei vs. Pat Barry – I thought Harris won the fight against Rosholt and he looks like he has some good, long term potential. He just needs to be refined and his next fight will be against a tougher opponent but one he should be able to beat. The loser of Palelei/Barry will be a good gauge for Harris’s ceiling. If not I could see someone making their debut being his next fight. Harris has a fairly decent ceiling, at least that’s what it looks like so far, and his next fight will determine if he can get there.
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