There are lots of things to be written about Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night. Whether Vitor Belfort’s newfound resurgence is of maturity or found through a bottle is not for this column. What is for this column is a look into the future of those on the card. Who’s next for the most intriguing winners (and losers) from Saturday’s card.
Vitor Belfort vs. the winner of Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman – Say what you will about Vitor’s resurgence, of course, but the fact of the matter is this: he’s straight up running through whomever is put in front of him. The fact that he finished Dan Henderson with strikes, and did it in such easy fashion, means he shouldn’t be forced to take another fight before a title shot. He’s finished three guys in a row who rarely get finished with strikes. You can’t argue against him having to face someone else because he hasn’t “earned” it yet, either. He was supposed to lose, to get new challengers in the mix, and he keeps winning. I could see Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida, potentially, but my guess is Belfort waits for the winner of the MW title match up at the end of 2013.
Brandon Thatch vs. Hyun Gyu Lim – Thatch looks like a killer inside the cage. How far is he from someone of note? Not far … but far enough to know he’s still a solid undercard guy for a least two more fights. Lim loves to throw, as well, thus Thatch would make for a good match up. Ryan LaFlare, who fought on the same card, could make sense here. I could see Chris Clements here as well. Thatch has that finishing instinct that you can’t teach, coach or give to someone. Lim loves to throw down, as well, and it’d certainly be a candidate for fight of the night. Thatch, if he keeps finishing guys, is going to find himself in the same sort of air that Matt Brown finds himself in right now.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Darren Elkins – He certainly shut up the Brazilian crowd, huh? Stephens has two wins at featherweight and certainly has rejuvenated himself to some degree with the weight class drop. Rony Jason was a prospect the UFC had a lot of high hopes for and Stephens just starching him so emphatically raised his stock significantly. He’s still a bit from a title shot … but let’s remember that Stephens was at one point highly valued at lightweight. He lost a close fight to current 155 champion Anthony Pettis, one many people thought he won, and so far looks like he could only be 1-2 fights away from a title eliminator. Elkins has only lost to Chad Mendes at featherweight in seven fights. He’s not far from being back in the hunt. If they won’t give Chad Mendes the winner of Aldo/Lamas I could see Stephens getting fast tracked there and the winner of Poirier/Brandao would be a good fit here as well.
Rafael Cavalcante vs. Ovince St. Preux – Feijao is in an interesting spot. He’s a fringe Top 10 guy but that’s more of the division being weaker now than it was 18 months ago. He’ll never probably make it into the Top 10 … but he’ll always be around there. He does have some impressive wins, including a shellacking of Mo Lawal, but he’s shown his ceiling is right outside the elite. OSP so far looks like he could be elite and the matchup makes a lot of sense. Jimi Manuwa would be a good fit but he’s already disposed. The winner of Cody Donovan/Gian Villante could be here as could Anthony Perosh. Feijao is never a dull matchup, thus he’s got lots of possibilities.
Cezar Ferreira vs. the winner of Uriah Hall/Chris Leben – Vitor’s protégé looked good … but not ready. He’s not ready to move up as far as the UFC would probably want him to be. He looks incredibly raw; he’s talented enough to fight for a title down the road but he’s a good 4-6 fights away from that point. He’s 3-0 in the UFC, which is great, but he needs to be brought along slowly. He reminds me a lot of Rory MacDonald right after the Condit fight. Good … but not ready. The winner of Hall/Leben will be a good test for Ferreira. I could see the winner of Caio Magalhaes/Nick Ring being in this slot as could Luke Barnatt. “Mutante” is going to be special … but not in the next 12 months or so. He has a high ceiling but he needs to notch a number of fights before he gets anyone near the Top 10.
Dan Henderson vs. Fabio Maldonado – Henderson’s lost three straight and has been finished in his last outing. You could argue he beat both Rashad and Machida but he didn’t get the scorecards. Thus he finds himself in unfamiliar territory: needing a win and needing it NOW. He’s also 0-3 and much is made about him wanting to hold UFC gold, properly, before he hangs them up. He’s going to get someone he SHOULD be able to beat. Should is the key word because he’s not going to get anyone of note, anyone in the Top 10 or anyone close to the Top 10. You can’t at this point; Henderson might be able to go 0-5 in the UFC and keep his job. The problem is that he still has some use and my guess is the UFC gives him a couple of wins that should be able to re-establish the “H-Bomb” and such. Maldonado is a tough, tough dude but I think he winds up on the other end of Henderson’s right hand.
Rony Jason vs. Andy Ogle – Jason got caught, pure and simple. Stephens throws BOMBS so we’re not talking like this is a fluke KO. Stephens starches guys and Jason happens to be a victim. The UFC still has high hopes for him as a long term prospect, I think, and Ogle’s ceiling is pretty much set at this point. He’ll get everything he has out of his career … but doesn’t have a gear beyond journeyman to give in the cage. He’s still a tough, tough out but he’s never going to be someone the UFC can build a card around. You can have a long career that way, though, and he’s just the type to rebound against for Jason.
Paulo Thiago vs. Nate Marquardt – Thiago’s 1-3 in his last four and I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets released from the UFC after Saturday’s card. He still has a very good purpose, being a fighter to push younger prospects and fill out the main card of a Brazilian event. The loser of Ellenberger/Saffiedine could fit in here, too. The key will be whether or not Thiago sticks around and, if that’s a yes, whether or not they view him as worthy of anyone with a name who just lost. Thiago’s a tough out still but he’s never going to be a fighter of note. The Josh Koscheck KO many moons ago was an anomaly, that’s for certain, but he still has some use in the company. The loser of Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley could fit in here as well. Martin Kampmann in this slot wouldn’t be a shocker, either.
Daniel Sarafian vs. Trevor Smith – He’s a Brazilian TUF Season 1 competitor who’s ceiling is firmly established. He’ll be a guy who has a stint in the UFC, maybe two, but will be unremarkable. He’s a passer through, nothing more, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s cut after this weekend. But a tough split decision loss to a highly rated prospect isn’t a bad thing. Smith is in the same spot and another loss for either guy is probably the end of their current stint in the UFC.
Daron Cruickshank vs. Colton Smith – The “Detroit Superstar” is starting to find his ceiling inside the UFC. He’s exciting and capable of beating good fighters … but he probably won’t be elite. Colton Smith … he’s just not good at MMA. It shows you how awful TUF 16 was in that he’s on the verge of being out of the UFC after two fights because he’s so awful. Cruickshank probably would’ve won TUF 16, most likely, and I think this fight makes sense.
Tags: Five for Fighting, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC Fight Night 32