Welcome to the first edition of Fightful.com’s MMA Matchmaker!
For each UFC card, I will be quickly debriefing every notable fight on the card, including every fight on the main card, then stating what the next step should be for every fighter. UFC 250 provided a thrilling night of fights, right up until the main event, seeing Amanda Nunes doing her thing and adding another name to her women’s MMA GOAT resume. Now, without further ado, let’s play the role of Matchmaker.
Featherweight Championship - Amanda Nunes defeats Felicia Spencer via unanimous decision
Amanda Nunes - Valentina Shevchenko Who can possibly dethrone the women’s MMA queen? That is the question that everyone began to ask after her most recent domination of Felicia Spencer. The true answer is that we don’t know. Everyone that has stepped up to face Nunes has met the same, cruel fate. One might throw out Irene Aldana’s name if she beats Holly Holm in August, or maybe even Aspen Ladd if she puts on a dominant performance against Sara McMann. However, I see each of these matchups going down the same route as every other Nunes title defense. There are very few compelling fights out there, with the exception of a third matchup against the Flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. While many people, Dana White included, have dismissed this idea, they fail to remember that Shevchenko was the last fighter to give Nunes a challenge. Never mind the fact that the pair put on a very close, exciting fight each time. In fact, many people scored the second fight in favor of Shevchenko, with one judge in the mix as well. Neither fighter’s division(s) contain many strong challenges that haven’t already been conquered. The only interesting fight for the consensus two best female fighters in the world is between each other. We will have to wait for this bout, as Nunes and her wife, fifth ranked Strawweight contender Nina Ansaroff, welcome a baby to their family. However, the wait will be well worth it.
Felicia Spencer - Germaine de Randamie While Felicia Spencer put on a valiant performance, she came up well short of a win. The former Invicta Featherweight champion has fought extremely well in the UFC despite her .500 record, finishing Megan Anderson and Zarah Fairn Dos Santos while holding out for a decision against Cris Cyborg and the aforementioned Nunes. The Featherweight “division” is the shallowest in the UFC, as you can count the number of contracted fighters on one hand. There aren’t really any more fights left against a full-time Featherweight, so really the only option left is to make a call to the inaugural Featherweight champ GDR. de Randamie, who normally fights 10 pounds lower at Bantamweight, seems to really be the only fight left to make for Spencer in the promotion.
Bantamweight - Cody Garbrandt defeats Rafael Assunção via knockout (Right Hook) at 4:59 of Round 2
Cody Garbrandt - Marlon Moraes Cody rebounded nicely after three consecutive KO/TKO losses. Garbrandt looked like a renewed fighter, taking a more measured approach and avoiding an emotional brawl, which cost him dearly in his three fight skid. His fresh fight night approach will be tested in a matchup against “Magic” Marlon Moraes. After a loss against Henry Cejudo for a chance at the title, Moraes rebounded with a split decision win over Jose Aldo. Garbrandt put down any rumors of a fight with Sean O’Malley, showing his commitment to begin another run to the title. A win for either man would catapult them back into the title conversation. Another bout with title implications emerges from the UFC 250 undercard.
Rafael Assunção - Raoni Barcelos With this loss, Assunção finds himself in the midst of a three fight skid. The 37 year-old is beginning to be garnered with gatekeeper labels, consistently falling short when presented with the opportunity to become a legit contender. After facing top contenders in his past few fights, it would not be surprising to see Assunção receive a step down in competition. This is exactly what he would receive in Barcelos. While Barcelos is undefeated in the promotion, he has yet to fight a Top 15 fighter. He was scheduled to fight Cody Stamann, but that fight got scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Stamann quickly on the up and up, this fight is unlikely to happen, so Raoni’s stiffest test inside of the Octagon may come against a fellow Brazilian in Assunção.
Bantamweight - Aljamain Sterling defeats Cory Sandhagen via submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 1:28 of Round 1
Aljamain Sterling - Winner of Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo One fight too late, it is time for Sterling to challenge for the Bantamweight title. Sterling and Yan seemed destined to fight for the vacant 135 pound strap until Sterling lost his patience, signing to fight Sandhagen instead. Sterling made quick work of the number four contender, proving his worthiness to challenge for the belt. He will have to wait even longer for the opportunity, as Yan and Aldo are scheduled to fight for the title next month on Fight Island. No matter who Sterling fights, he stands a great chance to get UFC gold wrapped around his waist at the conclusion of his next Octagon appearance.
Cory Sandhagen - Rob Font This loss brought an end to Sandhagen’s seven fight win streak which dated back to his days in LFA. Now is not the time for Sandhagen to sit back and look for a rebound fight, as he has already proven his ability to win against the best in the division, earning wins against the likes of Rafael Assunção and John Lineker in his two prior fights. He would face another tough fight against Rob Font. Font, who is currently ranked as the number ten contender in the division, will look to continue his win streak, which last saw him beat Ricky Simon in December. These two top fighters are primed to put on a great fight when they meet up.
Welterweight - Neil Magny defeats Anthony Rocco Martin via unanimous decision
Neil Magny - Anthony Pettis Magny earned a win in his 22nd UFC fight, now holding a record of 16-6 in the promotion. He has only lost twice since 2017, once against former Lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos and once against the streaking Argentine Santiago Ponzinibbio. He deserves another shot against a Top 15 fighter, and that challenge would come against Anthony Pettis. Pettis, who has struggled to string together consistent performances in wins since his last Lightweight title defense, will be looking for his first back-to-back wins since 2014. Magny will be fighting to re-enter the Top 15 while Pettis will be looking to keep a number next to his name, making this high stakes fight a possibility to headline a fight night card.
Anthony Rocco Martin - Loser of Lyman Good vs. Belal Muhammad Martin is one of the most active fighters on the UFC’s Welterweight roster, fighting four times since March of last year. He has split these fights, with two wins and two losses. If he wishes to stay active, he could very well fight the fighter on the short end of this matchup. Good has alternated wins and losses, just like Martin, while Muhammad has won six of his last seven fights. A fight against Good would be the tale of two fighters trying to gain traction in the division while a fight versus Muhammad will feature Belal looking to maintain the momentum that he already has while Martin attempts to disrupt it.
Bantamweight - Sean O’Malley defeats Eddie Wineland via KO (Right Cross) at 1:54 of Round 1
Sean O’Malley - Ricky Simon With this win, O’Malley has proven that Sugar Show can stay in the primetime spotlight. While his 12-0 record is impressive, the competition that he has faced has not been so remarkable, holding a combined 13-20 UFC record. It’s time for a step up in competition, and that’s what he will receive against Ricky Simon. Simon holds an impressive 16-3 record, with his two promotional losses coming against number 10 ranked Rob Font and MMA legend Urijah Faber. While some are clamoring for a fight against Cody Garbrandt, it’s too soon for O’Malley, considering the only notable fighter that he has faced was Wineland, who has not beat a strong contender since putting away Takeya Mizugaki in 2016. If Sean beats Simon, then we can begin talking about a fight with Garbrandt or another ranked contender.
Eddie Wineland - Kyung Ho Kang After this devastating loss, it is evident that the UFC veteran and former WEC champion is entering the twilight of his career. With a hard knockout loss like this one, Wineland will likely take an extended layoff. When he is ready to come back, a fight against “Mr. Perfect” will be an interesting fight for the Bantamweight stalwart. Kang won three times in 2019, but has not been scheduled for a bout yet this year. Kang could also go by the name “Banana Split,” as he has seen five split decisions since entering the UFC in 2013. These two veterans would put on a great fight, as Kang would look to keep his win streak alive while Wineland would be fighting to find a second wind in his career.
And now, some highlights from the prelims.
Flyweight - #9 Alex Perez defeats #4 Jussier Formiga via TKO (leg kick) at 4:06 of Round 1
Alex Perez - Brandon Moreno Perez now moves to 7-1 under the UFC banner, including his win on the Contender Series, his only loss coming against former title challenger Joseph Benavidez. The next fight for Perez should be coming against “The Assassin Baby” Brandon Moreno. Both fighters are coming off of wins against Formiga, so it would be a logical step for both fighters to face each other in the coming months. If this matchup does come to fruition, it could very well have title implications. The next in line for a title shot would likely be either the winner of this fight or the victor of Alexandre Pantoja vs. Askar Askarov. The Flyweight division is wide open for the taking, and Perez is in a great position to climb to the top.
Jussier Formiga - Winner of Tyson Nam vs. Zarrukh Adashev Formiga has now lost his last 3 UFC fights. However, it’s hard to blame him, as he has fought some of the most talented fighters in the division. It is plain to see, though, that the 35 year-old is on the decline. He can’t seem to keep up against the quicker, younger fighters in the division. While he will likely still have a number next to his name, it may have two digits instead of one. Formiga is due a rebound fight, and this is what he will somewhat receive in facing the winner of this fight. Nam is winless in the UFC after dropping his first two fights against Sergio Pettis and eight ranked Kai Kara-France while Adashev is making his promotional debut on short notice. While Adashev only has four pro fights, his three wins have all come in Bellator. Formiga would face a much younger fighter in Adashev, but Nam is actually more than a year older than him. Either way, Formiga is likely fighting to keep his spot on the UFC roster.
Featherweight - #12 (BW) Cody Stamann defeats Brian Kelleher via unanimous decision
Cody Stamann - Winner of Pedro Munhoz vs. Frankie Edgar Stamann had a successful move up in weight to 145 pounds in an emotional win, but it appears that he will remain at 135 pounds for the time being. Stamann is 4-1-1 in the UFC’s Bantamweight division, moving up to tenth in the promotion’s rankings after his most recent performance. Munhoz and Edgar will face off at UFC 251 in what should be a very compelling fight. Munhoz is looking to rebound from a loss against future title challenger Aljamain Sterling while Edgar makes his Bantamweight debut. Edgar will be hoping to string together a few wins to make one final run at a second UFC title while Munhoz is hoping to prevent that while starting a title run of his own. Whichever fighter wins will be a significant step up for Stamann, but it will be a test that he is prepared for.
Brian Kelleher - Brett Johns Kelleher now drops to 5-4 in the promotion after this loss. Kelleher has a high finishing rate in his fights, this bout being only the second decision in his UFC career. He seems to be a fighter that the UFC puts in front of prospects, dispatching two 28 year-old upstarts earlier this year. His next fight may very well be against another promising young gun in Brett Johns. The Welshman recently dropped out of the Bantamweight rankings after losses to top contenders, but rebounded with a win versus Tony Gravely. Johns will be hoping to make another transition from prospect to contender, but Kelleher will be no easy obstacle to move, as Johns would be another 28 year-old standing in his way. This battle will prove to be an exciting one.
Middleweight - #13 Ian Heinisch defeats Gerald Meerschaert via TKO (Overhand Right and Ground and Pound) at 1:14 of Round 1
Ian Heinisch - Brendan Allen With this statement win, Heinisch has staked his claim in the Middleweight Top 15. Wasting no time, he already signed a contract to fight against Brendan Allen later this month. Both fighters share a 14-3 record and an impressive win on the Contender Series to earn a contract. Coming into this fight, Allen carries a flawless UFC record and six straight wins. Although Sean Shelby did the matchmaking for this fight, not me, this fight has plenty to be excited about. Several fighters have not fared well with a quick turnaround in 2020, but we’ll have to see if Ian can turn the tables in this one.
Gerald Meerschaert - Antonio Carlos Junior Meerschaert cannot seem to string wins together. He has now alternated wins and losses in his last five fights, not having strung together three or more wins since he went on a seven fight run between 2014 and 2017. He will look to begin a winning streak in his next fight, and the lovingly dubbed “Shoe Face” is a good candidate to do it against. Carlos Junior rocketed up the rankings until he dropped his past two fights against Heinisch and Uriah Hall. He was slated to take on Makhmud Muradov in March until he had to pull out due to an injury. Once he heals up, a fight against GM3 would be a fantastic scrap between two fighters looking to snap a cold streak.
That concludes this first edition of Fightful’s Matchmaker Series! Whether you think I have some good ideas or if I’m crazy, sound off in the comments with your ideas. Only time will tell what truly awaits these fighters.