Welcome to this edition of Fightful.com’s Matchmaker Series! The final fight card on Fight Island featured the most fights since the promotion’s second ever event back in 1994, and the most fights since the UFC left the one-night tournament behind at UFC 9 in 1996. While the abundance of fights were entertaining last night, it means that there are even more fighters with a future to predict. As the UFC leaves Yas Island behind and begins a second stint at the Fight Capital of the World, Las Vegas, it’s time to think about what’s next for each key fighter on last Saturday’s fight card. Let’s get right into it.
Middleweight - #1 Robert Whittaker defeats #5 Darren Till via unanimous decision
Robert Whittaker - Jack Hermansson The former champion showed why he deserves to remain at the top of the Middleweight division. Although all three judges scored the fight three rounds to two in his favor, many people, including myself, had it 49-46 for the Aussie. Regardless, a win is a win, and the top-ranked contender should retain his spot at the top of the division, emerging victorious in his first fight since losing the belt. As was said in last week’s article, Jack Hermansson has a very logical plan for the future of this division, and one of the next steps would be a feature bout between Whittaker and himself. Hermansson has won five of his last six fights, the only loss coming against Jared Cannonier. His plan involves Cannonier fighting the winner of Adesanya vs. Costa, a battle of undefeated fighters for the championship, then the winner between himself and Whittaker would be next in line for a shot at the title. Again, this is pretty far off in the future, but the next step would be this fight.
Darren Till - Winner of Derek Brunson vs. Edmen Shabazyan Till now drops to 1-1 since moving up to 185 pounds. His two fights have come against very difficult competition, however, as he has beat a former title challenger, Kelvin Gastelum, and lost this fight against a former champion. Darren is still one of the top contenders in the division, but he may fight someone below him in the rankings in his next fight. This could come up against the winner of next Saturday’s main event. Brunson is 4-2 in his last six fights and his resume is absolutely stacked, featuring bouts with Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva, Jacare Souza, and Yoel Romero. While he hasn’t beaten any of these names, that is valuable experience that will be a test for the 22 year-old Shabazyan. Edmen is undefeated in 11 professional fights, including nine KO/TKO and one submission, but this will be the toughest fight of Shabazyan’s career. The winner is primed to begin a run at the title, and the next fight for them would be against Till.
Light Heavyweight - Mauricio Rua defeats Antonio Rogerio Nogueira via split decision
Mauricio Rua - Misha Cirkunov Rua is undefeated in his last three fights and has won five of his last seven bouts. The Brazillian legend is firmly into the twilight of his career, but he still appears to have at least one more fight in his gas tank. The 38 year-old will look to add another win to his storied career in his next fight, which may come against Misha Cirkunov. The Latvian has struggled in recent fights, getting knocked out by Volkan Oezdemir, Glover Teixeira, and Johnny Walker in the span of his last five bouts. Cirkunov has not had a fight go the full fifteen minutes since 2011, so he is guaranteed to push the pace against the future UFC Hall of Famer. Among these finishes are a variety of submission wins for Misha, including a Neck Crank, two Arm Triangle Chokes, and only the second ever Peruvian Necktie in UFC history. This fight will be a difficult one for Rua, but he can never be counted out.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira - Retirement The 44 year-old called it quits after this fight, and there wasn’t any bout that could have been a more fitting farewell than a trilogy with Rua. All three fights were classics, and although Rua won via decision in every fight, they were all thrilling battles. The trilogy took them from the home of Pride FC in Japan, Saitama Super Arena, in 2005, to their raucous home fans in Rio de Janiero in 2015, to a crowdless venue on the sands of Abu Dhabi in the middle of a global pandemic in 2020. This rivalry took Nogueira and Rua around the world and brought the best out of both of them. He ends his career with a 23-10 record, boasting wins over Kazushi Sakuraba, Dan Henderson, and twice over Alistair Overeem. He now joins his twin brother, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in retirement. The two combined for a 57-20 record in their pro careers, and everyone at Fightful.com wishes them a fantastic retirement.
Heavyweight - #14 Fabricio Werdum defeats #7 (LHW) Alexander Gustafsson via submission (Armbar) at 2:30 of Round 1
Fabricio Werdum - Loser of Augusto Sakai vs. Alistair Overeem Werdum continues to find a way to stay up towards the top of the Heavyweight division. The former champion rebounded from two straight losses with an impressive submission win. The 42 year-old has one of, if not the, best submission grapplers in the Heavyweight division, and he showed off his pedigree on the canvas in this fight. He will look to earn another win against the loser of this fight. Augusto Sakai is one of the most promising names in the Heavyweight division, holding a 15-1-1 record in the UFC and four wins since joining the UFC. His only loss came to Cheick Kongo via split decision at Bellator 179. He will hope to continue his surge towards title contention against Alistair Overeem. Overeem, a 40 year-old veteran, holds an impressive 46-18 1 NC pro record, along with three wins in his last four fights. Overeem earned a majority decision win over Werdum back in 2017, so if he loses to Sakai, he may need to earn another win over Werdum. Meanwhile, if Sakai loses, he will need a bounce back win to remain in the Top 15 at Heavyweight.
Alexander Gustafsson - Sergey Spivak Gustafsson’s much anticipated debut at heavyweight fizzled out halfway through the first round. He has now dropped three fights in a row, losing to Jon Jones and Anthony Smith beforehand. His divisional debut, and return from a brief retirement, was not an ideal stylistic matchup, His next fight may come against an opponent of lower status, like Spivak. The Romanian is 2-2 since entering the UFC, losing to Walt Harris and Marcin Tybura while earning wins over Tai Tuivasa and Carlos Felipe. He will be hoping to gain some sort of traction in the UFC while Gustafsson is seeking his first win since 2017.
Strawweight - #7 Carla Esparza defeats #9 Marina Rodriguez via split decision
Carla Esparza - Winner of Claudia Gadelha vs. Yan Xiaonan Esparza didn’t fight an especially smart fight, but it got the job done. She should move into the top five in the Strawweight rankings after winning her fourth consecutive fight, but now she finds herself in a tough spot. She has resounding losses to the fighters immediately above her, so she needs to continue to fight opponents ranked below her. She said in her post-fight interview that she was in talks for a rematch with Gadelha, a fight she lost via split decision back in 2018. She is ranked above Gadelha after recent performances, so this would warrant a rematch if she defeats Yan Xiaonan in September. However, the 12-1 fighter from China is no slouch. She has earned five straight unanimous decision nods since joining the UFC, including a win over former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in February. The winner of this fight will hope for another win to jump up the Strawweight rankings and Esparza will be in their way of doing so.
Marina Rodriguez - Winner of Alexa Grasso vs. Ji Yeon Kim Rodriguez will have to regroup after the first loss of her professional career. She was competitive, as one judge scored the fight in her favor, but it will still go down as a loss. She now stands at 2-1-2 in her UFC career, a very odd record, but she will remain in the Top Fifteen. However, she likely needs a win in her next stay inside of the UFC rankings. She will likely face the winner of this fight, set to go down late next month. Grasso has alternated wins and losses since signing with the UFC, posting a 3-3 record. She lost her last fight to Carla Esparza nearly a year ago. Kim has fared a little better in her UFC career, posting a 3-2 record, albeit against not-so-impressive competition. The winner of this fight will be hoping to continue to make a run towards contendership while Rodriguez will be looking to start a new one.
Light Heavyweight - Paul Craig defeats Gadzhimurad Antigulov via submission (Triangle Choke) at 2:06 of Round 1
Paul Craig - Loser of Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba The submission specialist earned his twelfth submission victory and his fifth since signing with the UFC. Craig always puts on an exciting fight and has now won two fights around a draw with Mauricio Rua. His 5-4-1 record has placed him in the mid-tier of the Light Heavyweight division and he would like to make a run towards contendership. He can make a case for a ranking with another win, which he may get the opportunity to earn against the loser of Ankalaev and Cutelaba. These two are set to fight on next month’s pay-per-view card in a rematch for the final spot in the top fifteen. Ankalaev won the first fight in under a minute after referee Kevin MacDonald stopped the fight, despite Cutelaba remaining standing and exchanging haymakers with Ankalaev. That win was the fourth in a row for Magomed since a debut submission loss to Craig. On the other side of things, that stoppage prevented Cutelaba from putting two wins together after a submission loss to Glover Teixeira. The loser of this fight will be hoping to rebound while Craig is hoping to extend his undefeated streak to four.
Gadzhimurad Antigulov - Modestas Bukauskas Antigulov has now dropped three fights in a row, falling to 2-3 in the UFC. He has yet to see the judges’ scorecards inside of the Octagon, a fact that is likely to buy him at least one more fight with the promotion. That fight is unlikely to be easy, as it may come against Lituanian prospect Modestas Bukauskas. Bukauskas has won seven fights in a row, including his UFC debut by an unusual TKO earlier this month. The prospect deserves a more experienced opponent, like Antigulov. Modestas will be hoping to keep his hype train rolling while Antigulov will need a win to stay with the UFC.
Welterweight - Alex Oliveira defeats Peter Sobotta via unanimous decision
Alex Oliveira - Loser of Vicente Luque vs. Randy Brown Oliveira has recovered nicely from three tough losses with two decision wins. He is beginning another march towards a ranking and he may get a number next to his name if he can earn a win in his next fight. He could fight the man that gets the short end of this bout which goes down next weekend. Luque is currently the twelfth-ranked contender in the Welterweight division, earning that ranking by winning seven of his last eight fights. On the other side, Brown is looking for his third win in a row after finishing Bryan Barbarena and Warlley Alves in 2019. With a loss, Luque would be trying to regain his spot in the rankings while Brown will be hoping to regain lost momentum.
Peter Sobotta - Chance Rencountre This was Sobotta’s second tough opponent in a row, losing to Leon Edwards, currently the third ranked Welterweight in the UFC, in his previous fight. Peter should return to lower level competition after being tested in his last couple of fights. This step back could come against Recountre. Chance is 2-2 in the UFC, losing his two tougher fights against Belal Muhammad and Lyman Good. These two competitors appear to be around the same skill level, so it’d be interesting to see who would come out on top.
Welterweight - Khazmat Chimaev defeats Rhys McKee via TKO (Ground & Pound) at 3:09 of Round 1
Khazmat Chimaev - Winner of Laureano Staropoli vs. Tim Means Chimaev has to be the greatest story to come out of Fight Island. He earned a second round submission win in his UFC debut, then took this fight, fifteen pounds lighter, on ten days notice and won in dominant fashion. He outstruck his first two UFC opponents 162-2 in two resounding wins, lifting his professional record to 8-0. While these wins are fantastic, it leaves fans unsure of his weight class. He has fought regularly at both Welterweight and Middleweight, so he could have a future in both divisions. If he chooses to have a full fight camp, he could fight the winner of this fight. Staropoli is 2-1 in the UFC, losing his last effort to Muslim Salikhov. Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means is a long time UFC veteran, holding an 11-9 1 NC record with experience against Jorge Masvidal, Matt Brown, and Alex Oliveira. The winner will be a more experienced obstacle in the path of Chimaev. Of course, the Russian could decide to step into another fight on short notice, as well.
Rhys McKee - Return to Lightweight against Max Rohskopf McKee seemed out of his element while fighting fifteen pounds above his normal weight class, so he should return to 155 pounds for sophomore effort in the UFC. For this fight, he should face off against another fighter in his second UFC appearance in Max Rohskopf. Max fell to 5-1 after losing his UFC debut, a fight in which he gave all he had to offer in the first round, burned out, and was forced to call the fight after the second round. It will be intriguing to see if he can work on his cardio to maintain the pace that was observed in the first round for a full 15 minutes against McKee, who has nearly three times more minutes inside of an MMA cage than the 25 year-old Rohskopf.
Bantamweight - Pannie Kianzad defeats #13 Bethe Correia via unanimous decision
Pannie Kianzad - Loser of Ketlen Vieira vs. Yana Kunitskya With two wins in a row after a loss to Julia Avila, Kianzad finds herself on the brink of the top fifteen contenders in this Bantamweight division. She may not crack the UFC rankings with this win, but another win would definitely get a number next to her name. She will have the opportunity to do so against the winner of this fight. Viera lost for the first time in her pro career in her last fight against Irene Aldana after winning her first four UFC fights. Kunitskaya is hoping to recover from a TKO loss to Aspen Ladd which caused her UFC record at 135 pounds to fall to 2-1. The loser of this bout between the seventh and eighth ranked Bantamweights, respectively, will be hoping to stay in the rankings while Kianzad wants to take that ranking away.
Bethe Correia - Winner of Jessica Rose Clark vs. Sarah Alpar Correia, with eleven UFC fights, is one of the longest tenured fighters in the Bantamweight division. The 37 year-old is on the decline in her career as she has lost three of her last four fights and five of her last eight, dating back to her loss in Ronda Rousey’s last UFC win. Her UFC record stands at 5-5-1, so she may need a win to keep her position in the promotion. This fight may come against the winner of this bout, scheduled to happen on the same card as Gadelha vs. Xiaonan. Clark has an even 2-2 record in the UFC, winning her first two against Bec Rawlings and Paige VanZant, followed by two losses to Jessica Eye and Pannie Kianzad. Alpar is making her UFC debut after earning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series last year with a submission win against Shanna Young, boosting her pro record to 9-4. She will be looking to continue a three fight win streak while Clark will be hoping to keep her UFC record above the .500 mark. The winner will be set for a tough fight, which may come against Correia.
That concludes this edition of Fightful.com’s Matchmaker Series. Whether you think I 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.
EDIT: Peter Sobotta announced his retirement shortly after this article was published