UFC 251 Matchmaker

Welcome to this edition of Fightful.com’s matchmaker! Saturday night was hyped up as one of the greatest fight cards ever assembled and the action certainly did not disappoint. The first two title fights were closely contested affairs while Kamaru Usman took care of business in the main events. We were also treated to a fantastic three round war between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade, the debut of a bonafide Light Heavyweight prospect in Jiri Prochazka, and plenty of fantastic fights on the undercard. Now that the UFC 251 card has come and gone and we begin to look forward to the next fight night, which is only a few days away on Wednesday, it’s time to look forward to what’s next for each key fighter on Saturday’s fight card. Let’s get right into it.

Welterweight Championship - (C) Kamaru Usman defeats #3 Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision

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Kamaru Usman - Gilbert Burns While it may not have been the most exciting fight, Usman dominated this fight nearly from the command to fight from Marc Goddard to the final horn. Usman has proven time and time again that his wrestling is unparalleled in the Welterweight division. In fact, people are beginning to question if anyone will be able to break the smothering style of the Nigerian, as he hasn’t lost since his second pro fight back in 2013. While there are several worthy challengers, the toughest test may come from within his own gym. Gilbert Burns has strung together six consecutive wins, making his way to the top of the Welterweight rankings. Burns has one of the best grappling resumes in the division, boasting three Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships and a Jiu-Jitsu World Cup title. Burns’ submission skills will be a great counter to Usman’s wrestling, something the Usman has not necessarily had to worry about since his main event against Demian Maia. These two were supposed to headline this card until Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Burns has posted on social media that he is beginning to feel better after contracting the virus. Hopefully he will have a speedy recovery and we can see this fight in the not-so distant future.

Jorge Masvidal - Leon Edwards Jorge held his own for taking this fight on six days notice, and he should take pride in that. While that is true, he also only held his own, he fell into the trap of fighting into his opponent’s strengths, being content to get controlled in wrestling exchanges instead of trying to escape and get back into the middle of the Octagon. Of course, this is easier said than done against a wrestler with the pedigree of Usman, there were times when it seemed that Masvidal had an opportunity to get the fight back into his realm, but he passed it up. This is a trend in Masvidal fights as he rarely objects to grappling exchanges when he doesn’t have the advantage in that area. For this reason, he should avoid a wrestler in his next matchup and square off against Leon Edwards instead. Now is the perfect time for the two rivals to fight each other in the cage, with both being positioned near the top of the division’s rankings. These two have history, getting into a backstage scuffle after Masvidal knocked out Darren Till. Leon is in a position for a title shot with a win while Jorge is seeking to keep his status as a top contender in what should be a candidate for fight of the year.

Featherweight Championship - (C) Alexander Volkanovski defeats #1 Max Holloway via split decision

Alexander Volkanovski - Zabit Magomedsharipov Another very close decision win for Volkanovski against Holloway. While some are saying that this was a robbery, it was a really close fight. The first two rounds were clearly won by Holloway as he dropped Volkanovski in both rounds. The last two were won by Volkanovski, but they weren’t as definitive. The third round determined the fight, and it was the closest of them all. I scored it for Volkanovski, but I could see Holloway winning the fight. Anyways, a third fight isn’t what needs to happen next for either fighter. Featherweight is one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC and there’s no use in holding it up in order for a clear cut championship bout. However, you do run into the issue that there isn’t one clear option for the next title shot. However, I believe it should be rewarded to the second ranked contender, Zabit Magomedsharipov. Zabit doesn’t necessarily have the most experience, only having two fights against ranked competition, but he absolutely has the talent to challenge for the belt. This should be a fantastic scrap for Volkanovski’s second title defense.

Max Holloway - Chan Sung Jung Although he has a very strong case that he may have won this fight, he is going home without the title once again. All of the sudden, Max finds himself in a position where he has lost three of his last four fights. All of these fights had a championship on the line, though, so his status as one of the elite at 145 pounds shouldn’t change. He is likely to headline a card in his next fight, and it could come against another fan favorite. Chan Sung Jung, more widely known as The Korean Zombie, has won three of his four fights after finishing his mandatory military service in South Korea, holding steady at rank four in the division. He could very well be undefeated since then had Yair Rodriguez not pulled off the hail mary knockout with a last second elbow in their meeting. Since his return, Jung has earned an extra $50k in every single fight, including three for knockout wins. Holloway made his rise to the title while Jung was in the military, robbing us of this dream fight several years ago. This matchup holds Fight of the Year potential.

Bantamweight Championship - #3 Petr Yan defeats #6 Jose Aldo via TKO (Ground & Pound) at 3:24 of Round 5

Petr Yan - Aljamain Sterling Yan had a great showing in this fight to earn the championship. However, this was not the hardest fight in the division for the Russian at all. The stiffest competition awaits in his next fight, which should be against Aljamain Sterling. After Cejudo vacated his belt following his retirement, many were calling for Yan and Sterling to battle for the vacant belt and were greatly disappointed when it was announced that Aldo would get the shot instead of Aljamain. After Yan’s win, however, this is the fight to make. Sterling has won five straight, including a submission win over Cory Sandhagen last month. This fight is perhaps happening later than it should, but we should see it happen soon.

Jose Aldo - John Dodson Let’s be honest, Aldo did not deserve this fight. He had lost two fights in a row before this weekend, including his only prior fight at Bantamweight to date against Marlon Moraes. He’s overdue for a step back in competition, considering his other two losses are against current champions. This step back could come against Dodson. John is coming off of a TKO win against Nathanial Wood in February, snapping a two fight skid against Jimmie Rivera and current champ Petr Yan. This fight would be a bit of a size mismatch, considering Aldo once had aspirations of fighting at Lightweight while Dodson fought regularly in the UFC’s Flyweight division after he won Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter in 2011 until he lost his second fight against Demetrious Johnson in 2016. However, that mismatch is what Aldo may need to regain any confidence that he may have lost in this recent stretch of losses.

Strawweight - #2 Rose Namajunas defeats #1 Jessica Andrade via split decision

Rose Namajunas - Zhang Weili Thug Rose is back with a vengeance. She took an extended layoff after losing the belt to Andrade back in May of last year, but she exacted her revenge with a great win in a Fight of the Night performance. Since she avenged that loss to Andrade, she positions herself for another title fight against current Strawweight queen Zhang Weili. Weili stormed to the title, taking it away from Andrade in under a minute and retaining it against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. This should be a compelling fight between the consensus top two Strawweights in the world.

Jessica Andrade - Tatiana Suarez Andrade has now lost two straight since beating Namajunas to win the title. She was overwhelmed by the power of Zhang Weili and then was bested over 15 minutes in this fight. She should still remain towards the top of the division rankings and fight another highly ranked contender in Tatiana Suarez. Suarez is undefeated at 8-0 and holds wins over the likes of Nina Ansaroff and Carla Esparza. Suarez is likely one win away from a title shot and she can do so against Andrade. She holds impressive wrestling accolades as well, including two World Championship bronze medals. She will likely use her wrestling against the more well-rounded game of Andrade.

Flyweight - #14 (SW) Amanda Ribas defeats Paige VanZant via submission (Armbar) at 2:21 of Round 1

Amanda Ribas - Loser of Carla Esparza vs. Marina Rodriguez Ribas looked fantastic in her Flyweight debut, but expressed her desire to move back down to Strawweight in her next fight. The Brazillian prospect has impressed since joining the promotion, earning four straight wins over names like Randa Markos and Mackenzie Dern. She will look to improve her standing in the rankings in her next fight, which is likely to come against someone ranked in front of her. She could very well fight the loser of the upcoming bout between Esparza and Rodriguez. Esparza has won three straight, including a split decision nod over Michelle Waterson in May while Rodriguez is undefeated with three wins and two draws since joining the UFC. The loser will be looking to regain the momentum that they lost while Ribas is seeking to continue hers.

Paige VanZant - Move to Bellator Paige’s struggles inside of the cage continue as she has now lost four of her last six. On top of this, she hasn’t exactly been the most active fighter in the division, only fighting three times since 2017. Several sources have said that this was the last fight on her contract and all things considered, her 5-4 promotional record, her recent jabs at the UFC over fighter pay, and recent inactivity, it is unlikely that her contract will be renewed. The best move for her career appears to be a move into Bellator. With her appeal in and out of the cage, the possibility for sponsorships in Bellator will prove to be a great improvement for her wallet. In addition to this, her husband, Austin Vanderford, is currently contracted to Bellator with a perfect 9-0. It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to pass up the opportunity to compete under the same banner with him.

Light Heavyweight - Jiri Prochazka defeats #7 Volkan Oezdemir via knockout (Overhand Right) at 0:49 of Round 2

Jiri Prochazka - Corey Anderson Holy smokes, what a debut! Prochazka displayed his unorthodox striking and then knocked Volkan out cold with a wicked right hand, cashing in as a slight underdog. He should now slide into the rankings and take over Volkan’s current position at seventh. He will benefit from the shallowness of the Light Heavyweight division and should receive another challenge against a ranked contender. This ranked contender may be the fourth ranked Light Heavyweight, Corey Anderson. Corey has won four of his last five fights, losing his last fight against Jan Blachowicz by knockout. It’s hard to predict how Dana White and Mick Maynard place Prochazka in terms of the title picture, but he could be just a few wins away from UFC gold.

Volkan Oezdemir - Ryan Spann This fight ends a brief two fight winning streak for Volkan over Ilir Latifi and Aleksandar Rakic. This loss will drop him down in the rankings a few notches, setting him up for a fight against a lower ranked opponent, like Ryan Spann. Ryan, who is currently ranked thirteenth in the division, has won eight straight fights since moving up from Middleweight, including four since earning a contract on his second appearance on the Contender Series. This will be Spann’s toughest fight to this point in his career, a test that is well deserved with his current win streak.

Welterweight - Muslim Salikhov defeats Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos via split decision

Muslim Salikhov - Gunnar Nelson Salikhov has now won four straight fights in the Welterweight division, moving to an overall record of 17-2. He could very well be one win away from earning a number next to his name and he will have the chance to do so against Gunnar Nelson. Nelson is a 13 fight UFC veteran that has dropped out of the rankings after losing his last two fights and three of his last four. He will be looking to rebound from this skid and make a case to get back into the rankings with a win his next fight. Both fighters will be motivated to move into contender status.

Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos - Jake Matthews After winning seven fights, Elizeu has been on the short end of two of his last three fights. This was a close fight, so he shouldn’t drop too far down the pecking order at 170 pounds, but it won’t do his bid for contendership any favors. He has been one of the more active fighters this year, fighting twice to this point, so he may make one more trip into the Octagon before the year is over. He could fight against Jake Matthews, the Aussie with a 16-4 record. Matthews is on a two fight winning streak and has won five of his last six fights. This fight would be an entertaining scrap between two great fighters.

That concludes this 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.

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