Five For Fighting – Fights To Make After UFC 159 (Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones)

UFC 159 was about what we could’ve expected as fight fans: couple of good fights and then Jon Jones makes the case for being the best fighter alive with a first round shellacking of wannabe contender Chael Sonnen. Jon Kirschner did our live coverage, which you can view by clicking here, and now it’s time to get into the final part of the aftermath: where do we go from here for the most intriguing winners and losers.

Winners

Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida – He wants Alexander Gustafsson, and has said as much, but I think the UFC gives him Machida instead. Machida’s been declared the #1 contender, up and down, and I think he gets the next title shot. It all depends on how long Jones is out because of that broken toe. If he can make a quick recovery I think Machida waits him out and takes the fight. If Jones is going to be out the rest of 2013 it’ll probably be the winner of Gustaffson/Machida, most likely. Don’t be surprised if someone like Glover Teixiera, Phil Davis or even Little Nog jump ahead, too, if they can win spectacularly and one or both get hurt. The key thing to take away from Jones requesting Gustafsson instead is that he wants new opponents, not rematches, as he wants to clear out the division emphatically.

Roy Nelson vs. Daniel Cormier – Cormier looked like a mauler against Frank Mir but didn’t have that spectacular, star-making process a shellacking of the former champion would’ve had. I think Cormier stays at heavyweight for a while as he wants bigger fights and I don’t think the UFC will give him an immediate title shot against Jones at 205 without Cormier making the weight (and fighting at) 205 at least once. He tweeted he liked the Nelson matchup and I think he’d rather take that fight, which will be a higher profile and probably for a title shot, before someone like Gegard Mousasi at 205. Nelson has three big knockouts and has an odd connection with the fan base; he might be another big knockout away from a title shot of his own.

Phil Davis vs. Gegard Mousasi – Davis has had really good management in building him up, career wise. Rashad Evans may have been a tough loss but it was one he needed; he wasn’t ready a year ago to take a dip into deep waters because his striking wasn’t quite ready. Now it looks significantly improved and now it’s time for him to climb the mountain one more time. Ryan Bader is another pick for this slot, as well. Davis is going to get a guy in the Top Five or close to it.

Pat Healy vs. Josh Thomson – Pat Healy arrived last night. I thought he’d be a handful for Gil Melendez before being put away as I didn’t think he was elite but could be a gritty lightweight in the UFC. I thought Jim Miller would run through him. And Healy in what has to be considered a pretty mild upset weathered the storm against Miller and came back to impose his will and look like a potential top five lightweight. And with the division being loaded but fairly open right now, in an odd way, Healy is potentially one big win away from a title shot. So is Josh Thomson, too, and I think what was a rejected fight for Showtime makes an awful lot of sense in the UFC. Healy has been around the game for a while, so has Thomson, and the division is open right now. Look at the division right now. It looks like this.

— Gray Maynard and TJ Grant have yet to face the champ yet. Winner gets Benson.
— Anthony Pettis would’ve got the title shot … but is taking on Jose Aldo instead
— Donald Cerrone lost to Pettis, Nate Diaz is on a two fight losing streak and Jim Miller just lost

A win for either Healy or Thomson right now and a title shot makes sense.

Michael Bisping vs. the winner of Constantinos Philippou vs. Ronald Souza – Bisping is a guy who’s still an elite middleweight and whom the UFC desperately wants to get a title shot so they can have a big blowout show in England. Philippou/Jacare is a fight to get into the “one fight away from Anderson Silva/Weidman winner” slot and Bisping’s going to be in that slot. That fight potentially could make a ton of sense, the winner waiting for Anderson Silva to deem them worthy, and if Luke Rockhold gets a win over Vitor Belfort in two weeks I think Bisping/Rockhold would make for an insane fight as well.

Losers

Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva – Sonnen wants to be a title challenger but to get back into any sane discussion of a title shot he’s got a long, long road to get either Anderson Silva or Jon Jones again. It’s not like he’s Gray Maynard, who was insanely close to winning twice: he had one great performance in losing to the champ three years ago and then has been stopped twice in under 10 minutes each time he’s fought for a title. Sonnen’s a great promoter and has a couple of big fights in him still because of how much attention he gets but he’s going to be kept away from anyone with title aspirations. I think Sonnen stays at LHW and Wandy makes all sorts of sense in that regard.

Vinny Magalhaes vs. Gian Villante – Magalhaes jumped into the deep waters and he seems to be in a predicament: if he faces a wrestler he can’t get to the ground he doesn’t have enough striking to breach the gap in skill. The loser of Te Huna/Teixiera could make sense, too, Ryan Jimmo could make sense too. Magalhaes is going to get another fight in the UFC because he has looked good outside the company, and is such a talented grappler he becomes a nightmare for anyone who can’t keep it there, but I’m not sure if he’s good enough to be a Top 10 guy at any point. Ilir Latifi could be another matchup, as well.

Alan Belcher vs. the loser of Andrew Craig vs. Chris Leben – Belcher had his shot at becoming an elite middleweight and came up short. Okami mauled him and Bisping took him apart; I think the days of us calling Alan Belcher a potential title challenger might be over. I like him as a fighter but he failed against two elite guys, emphatically, and usually that means you’re not elite. But he’s still talented but coming off two losses he’s going down the card significantly. The loser of Craig/Leben will be in a similar spot and would make for a near ideal matchup. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets someone from this past season of TUF like Luke Barnatt but I would be surprised; the next matchup for Belcher will give us a great clue as to how much Zuffa sees left in him.

Jim Miller vs. Diego Sanchez – Miller is probably done as a potential title challenger; he’s still a Top 10 guy but he doesn’t have that final gear to become an elite talent. Everyone he’s lost to has been highly talented, though, so it’s not like he’s become a scrub all of a sudden. He just is going to get matchups outside the Top 10 and up and coming prospects because he’s still really good and exciting; he’s on the descent of his career, perhaps, but he’s still a good fight. Sanchez looks like he wants to make another run at lightweight and Miller would be a tough test; Sanchez has a big enough name value to be on the main card of any event but not enough fight value to be considered a contender just yet. Miller’s in a similar spot but with more fight value to his name right now.

Johnny Bedford vs. Hugo Viana – The Alpha Male guys have looked stellar so far after Duane Ludwig has taken over. Bedford had an off night and Bryan Caraway took advantage of it. Viana just lost to another TAM guy as well and a matchup could be a lot of fun.

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