What a pleasant surprise Friday night turned out to be. After a mediocre undercard, the main card got underway and it was nothing but awesome. It culminated in a wild main event, five rounds of sheer willpower from two guys you wouldn’t expect it from. With the dust settled, and Mark Hunt’s hand apparently broken in a couple places from punching Bigfoot Silva in the face for 25 minutes, now it’s time to play Joe Silva & Sean Shelby and play matchmaker with the most intriguing winners, losers and guys who’ve fought to a draw from Friday night’s UFC Fight Night 33 card.
Mark Hunt vs. the winner of Stipe Miocic/Gabriel Gonzaga – Both of these guys have title shot aspirations and with heavyweight being as thin as it is traditionally the winner of this fight might not be far removed from the title mix. Hunt would make for a fascinating story to be sold against Cain Velasquez, the hard hitting puncher with great takedown defense and a high level K-1 background, and being in the mix sooner than later could happen with a win. Miocic/Gonzaga are in the same spot, as well, and Cain will eventually have to fight someone not named Bigfoot Silva or Junior Dos Santos. I could see Brendan Schaub here, as well, but I think he’s getting someone else.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. Brendan Schaub – Schaub wants a big name for his next fight and has spoke about himself as being better than Cain Velasquez on his pod cast with Bryan Callen. Schaub has been someone the UFC wants in the title mix because of his eloquence and charisma. If he wants someone elite then Bigfoot would make a bunch of sense. Silva wants to get to another title shot but has to make a defiant case because he was blown out of the water twice by Velasquez. Schaub/Bigfoot would also be a good fight, as well, and could be a nice feature fight on a bigger card. The winner of Miocic/Gonzaga could make sense in this slot as well.
Shogun Rua vs. Phil Davis – Shogun Rua showed he still has pop in his hands but we don’t know about his cardio issues. The tread has worn down on his tires to the point where they’re almost bald now, of course, but he’s still of some use and deserves his Top 10 ranking to some degree. Losses to Gustafsson and Sonnen aren’t bad, especially considering both are Top 10 opponents as well, and he’ll get someone else in the Top 10 for his next fight. Davis makes more sense than Bader does, due to his ranking, as Davis is probably one win away from a title shot. Rua would be a nice name opponent for Davis. Thiago Silva could make sense, provided he gets past OSP, and the aforementioned (and on the same card) Ryan Bader could be in this slot too.
Ryan Bader vs. Fabio Maldonado – Bader has been around the UFC long enough, and been very good long enough, that he’s fought nearly everyone that matters. Plus the division has just had all of the top fighters matched up, as he’d have been a great fight for either Rashad Evans or Daniel Cormier. Shogun Rua makes sense in this spot, as well, but Maldonado is never dull A good slugfest would keep Bader occupied and usually the UFC likes to give guys in Bader’s spot a couple of fights outside the Top 10 before throwing him back into the fire.
Soa Palelei vs. Walt Harris- Ben Rothwell would normally make sense here but Rothwell’s suspension is up this summer, I believe, and depending on how quickly Soa wants to get back into the mix he could be waiting for a while. Harris, provided he gets past Nikita Krylov, would be a good matchup for Soa. Rothwell makes sense from a matchup standpoint but I think Palelei fights sooner. Palelei just stopped Pat Barry and deserves a bigger name for his next fight but probably won’t get it. Look for the UFC to give him someone in a similar place on the roster before anyone of note.
Alex Garcia vs. Jordan Mein – Garcia put out Ben Wall’s lights in short order and could be back on a card as early as February, I think, depending on if he came away hurt. Mein took a huge step up in competition on short notice against Matt Brown and brought the goods. Garcia has all sorts of violence written on his hands. Garcia is going to get someone with a handful of fights in the UFC or less, most likely, as the division is so deep that they can afford to spend time developing him. If he’s nuts I could see him asking for Carlos Condit on next week’s Fox card, as Brown pulled out with an injury, but I don’t think the UFC would throw into the deep end that quickly unless Condit had an intergalactic hard-on to fight on Saturday’s card and demanded an opponent or else he’d retire or something.
Justin Scoggins vs. Phil Harris – Flyweight has suddenly got some bodies to throw around, crazy enough, and now we can build prospects in the division. Harris probably won’t amount to much in the division as so far he hasn’t looked like his ceiling is “contender” or “UFC caliber fighter for a long period of time.” Scoggins is someone the UFC is very high on and this would make for a good, character building matchup.
James Te Huna vs. Cody Donovan – Te Huna has flunked two tests on the “Am I good enough to be in the Top 10″ quiz and won’t be getting another for a while. Donovan is a good prospect but we know his ceiling: he’s good but won’t be anything more than a Stephan Bonner type. Igor Pokrajac makes sense in this slot as well. The UFC thinks a lot of Te Huna and there’s something Top 10ish about him. He just needs a couple of tough but winnable fights under his belt before trying to position himself there again.
Anthony Perosh vs. Dan Henderson – Perosh looked like he could make a Henderson style run to the top 10 in his 40s before being ran over by Ryan Bader. Henderson has three fights against elite guys where he’s lost, including a brutal knockout to Vitor Belfort. Hendo needs to be rebuilt, or at least get a win under his belt before moving back up to very good competition again.
Pat Barry vs. the loser of Walt Harris vs. Nikita Krylov – I wouldn’t be shocked if Barry got his walking papers, or moved to light heavyweight or back into kickboxing, but at this point his career has come down to fringe UFC heavyweight at best. Barry keeps getting knocked out in spectacular fashion because he’s fighting for bonuses and not for wins. Barry could fight with a bit more gamesmanship but the problem right now is that he keeps getting lamped in spectacular fashion. If he sticks around he’s in a definite loser leaves the UFC fight against someone who’s a fringe at best fighter as well.
Dylan Andrews vs. Chris Camozzi – Andrews just had major shoulder surgery, so we don’t know how long he’ll be out, but a rebound fight against someone like Camozzi makes sense. Andrews is a good prospect but made it to the UFC in his mid 30s. So he doesn’t have long to do something, either.
Nam Phan vs. Sergio Pettis – Phan is guaranteed excitement each time and a guy who’ll bring out the best in any fighter. Sergio Pettis is young and going to be brought along slowly as they have high hopes for him. Phan isn’t going to be anything special in the UFC … but he will be a great test for a fighter. Pettis needs to be tested but not thrown into the deep end. Phan is a nice compromise, a veteran who’s tough but beatable.