Matches to make: UFC 244
The dust has settled on what was, for the most part, an amazing event. Loaded with top prospects, seasoned veterans and title challenger hopefuls, UFC 244 delivered all the way up until the end of what was the action packed main event we had all hoped for.
The fight to determine the "BMF" between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz ended between rounds 3 and 4 because of cuts above Nate Diaz's eye. I was upset! Of course I was upset! At the end of the day however, I am no doctor. Just a fan sitting on his couch craving an action packed fight with a definitive ending. What I was left with was a feeling of uncertainty. Yes, Masvidal controlled the majority of that fight and was well on his way to winning a decision if he couldn't get Nate out of there. I also believe that Nate was starting to turn it up a bit heading into the "championship" rounds. Many fans feel they were robbed because of this stoppage and I get that feeling, but the two people that were really robbed here were Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. Masvidal, because he did not get the definitive ending he was well on his way to achieving. Nate, because he did not get a chance to prove like he has done many times in the past that he is in fact one of the toughest dudes on this planet and can pull off a miraculous comeback.
The goal is to always get these "matches to make" articles up asap but I wanted to sit back a bit and really get a good feel on where I believe the two gentleman in the main event should go from here. Here is my take on what's next for the main card winners and losers.
Jorge Masvidal (35-13): Winner of Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington
Baddest M'Fer, Realest M'Fer, OG, whatever you want to call Masvidal after another career defining performance, he fits the bill. After another masterful performance over Diaz, Masvidal has to be the front runner for "Fighter of the Year". After taking more than a year off competition Masvidal has returned to finish Darren Till and Ben Askren along with Diaz. He has become a cult like figure, much like his counterpart, Nate Diaz. In my opinion Masvidal left Madison Square Garden with something more important that the "BMF" title: Options and leverage.
I'm not too interested in a Diaz rematch at this time. Masvidal dominated the majority of the fight on Saturday night, almost finishing Diaz. It could be fun again at some point down the line but for my money and the way Masvidal has looked in recent fights I would rather see him chase after that illusive world title rather than go after the big money fights such as Diaz and Conor McGregor who also threw his name in the hat.
Again tho, this is just a fans perspective. Masvidal made a healthy chunk of money for his main event feature on Saturday and a fight with McGregor would surely net him an even greater lump of cash but can we truly believe Conor is coming back in January? Or ever? I'd rather not see Masvidal play the waiting game with Conor and instead, set his sights on the winner of Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, which takes place December 14th at UFC 245. Should Covington win it would make for a very intriguing story line.
Nate Diaz (20-12): Conor McGregor
I don't think Nate Diaz is thinking UFC title at this point in his career. "BMF" title, sure but Nate wants to see dollar signs. I have heard the calls for a fight with Dustin Porier, including Porier himself. They did have a fight scheduled at one point but nothing says money like a Conor McGregor fight. Unless it truly is a Masvidal rematch I can't see Nate itching to jump right back into the mix. If Conor truly does come back January 18th I would love to see a Nate trilogy next. There is so much history between the two both in and out of the octagon. Conor does not deserve to be anywhere near a title fight at this juncture. Let these two settle the score once and for all. They will make a ton of money, the UFC will make a ton of money and that seems logical for all parties involved.
Darren Till: (18-2-1) Jared Cannonier
Darren Till made a successful jump up to the Middleweight division beating former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum. Till employed a very smart strategy using lateral movement, chopping leg kicks and fundamental footwork to outpoint Gastelum. It's only up from here for Till as they didn't give him a break in his debut. Cannonier, one of the least likely contenders, is absolutely surging right now on the heels of three consecutive stoppage victories over David Branch, Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson.
Kelvin Gastelum: (15-5) Robert Whittaker
Coming off back to back defeats to Israel Adesanya and Darren Till, Gastelum still figures to be a major player in the Middleweight division. These two were scheduled to meet for the UFC Middleweight title at UFC 234. Since, both have lost to Adesanya and both will be looking to ascend back to that title challenger role as soon as possible. I absolutely love the thought of this fight. High level MMA at it's finest.
Stephen Thompson: (15-4-1) Santiago Ponzinibbio
Stephen Thompson proved on Saturday night that he is still one of the best Welterweights in the world. In what was an absolutely epic fight, Wonderboy outpointed the ultra durable Vicente Luque notching his first victory since beating Jorge Masvidal two years ago. The full arsenal of "Wonderboy" was on display at UFC 244. Ponzinibbio is the "forgotten contender" in my eyes at 170lbs. A fierce striker riding a seven fight win streak, Ponzinibbio was forced out of his UFC 245 bout with a staph infection. Here's to hoping Ponzinibbio recovers quick and these two can meet in early 2020. It would be an absolute banger!
Vicente Luque: (17-7-1) Robbie Lawler
Luque got the step up in competition he has been asking for and although he came up short against "Wonderboy" his stock still rose. He gave "Wonderboy" all he could handle over the 15 minute contest. This one was tough for me to pick a next opponent. A lot of the 170 division is tied up. I also, selfishly, want to see Luque in fun fights. Lawlers fight with the afformentioned Santiago Ponzinibbio was canceled due to Ponzinibbio pulling out with a staph infection. I don't know how long Luque will need to take off and I don't know how long Lawler will want to wait before he is re-booked but this fight would be a wild one.
Derrick Lewis: (22-7) Curtis Blaydes
A professional performance is how I would describe Lewis' win on Saturday night. He looked to be focused and in great shape which has sometimes been a knock on him throughout his career. Ferocious bursts of power punching earned Lewis a split decision against Blagoy Ivanov. Lewis defended submission attempts and got up from the bottom position. Blaydes is riding a two fight win streak and would certainly test "The Black Beast's" takedown and ground defense.
Blagoy Ivanov: (18-3) Sergei Pavlovich
Ivanov, once again demonstrated he is nearly impossible to put away. The former World Series of Fighting champion withstood everything Lewis threw at him and kept coming. Segei Pavlovich rebounded from a UFC debut defeat against Alistair Overeem and impressively dispatched Maurice Green in his next go. This would be an adequate step up for Pavlovich and a needed step back for Ivanov.
Kevin Lee: (18-5) Islam Makhachev
What a way to re-inject life into your UFC career. Lee, who had lost 3 of his previous 4 fights including a venture up to 170, absolutely decimated previously unbeaten stud Gregor Gillespie in the first round. Leading up to this fight, Lee made a switch in camps relocating to Tristar gym. It seemed to pay dividends as Lee looked very comfortable on his feet before landing a fight ending head kick that left Gillespie unconscious against the fence. Humble in victory, "The Motown Phenom" said he doesn't want to talk title shot right now. He just wants to fight and win. While I was already thinking this was the match-up to make, Lee called for it. This makes all the sense in the world for both fighters. UFC, they made your job easy here.
Gregor Gillespie: (13-1) Charles Oliviera
While Saturday certainly wasn't the way Gillespie was envisioning his first big step up in competition to go there is still certainly plenty of time for Gillespie to prove his is one of the best Lightweights in the world. He has the elite level wrestling and cardio to give anyone a rough night at the office. Charles Oliviera has fought so many top fighters throughout his tenure in the UFC with mixed results. He is currently on a five fight winning streak and has the tool set to really test Gillespie.
Corey Anderson: (13-4) Anthony Smith
What a night is was for "Beastin' 25/8" (sorry I really liked this nickname). Coming in as an underdog to Johnny Walker, who many believed would be next in line for Jon Jones, Anderson buzz sawed through Walker, stopping him two minutes into the first round. A fired up Anderson spoke his mind after the fight demanding a title shot or his walking papers. While Anderson was ultra impressive and may very well deserve a title shot I lean towards the unbeaten Dominick Reyes being the "sexier" fight. Instead I like Anderson to fight one more time against former title challenger Anthony Smith who called him out after the fight. Should Anderson win this fight there is no way you could deny him.