Following the biggest Pay-Per-View so far in the UFC’s calendar, where do the winners go from here?
UFC 214 did not disappoint (Woodley v Maia aside) and we were treated to some highlight-reel KOs, some back-and-forth battles and a fantastic set of prelims. So with the event in the rear-view mirror now, let’s look ahead to potential match ups for the five big winners, from the main card, last Saturday night.
Sometimes, a fighter’s nickname is beyond apt. Such is the case with Oezdemir’s ‘No Time’ moniker. The Swiss light-heavyweight clearly has no time to waste, having only made his UFC bow this year. Three big wins over ranked opponents later and ‘No Time’ is now one of the top light-heavyweight prospects in the world.
A mark of Oezdemir’s explosive ascent to the top of UFC rankings was Jon Jones’ interview on the Fox post-fight show. When asked was he finished with the light heavyweight division now, Jones was not certain. He felt there was some streaking talent in the division yet, such as “the Russian guy” who knocked out Jimi Manuwa, to open the main card. The fact fighters aren’t even aware of Oezdemir’s nationality shows how he has managed to creep up on basically everybody.
Looking forward, Oezdemir has said he wants the next shot at Jones. This may not materialise yet, as his name lacks some star power. However, if Jones takes a foray into the heavyweight division first, how about Oezdemir and Alexander Gustafsson?
Styles make fights: Gustaffson has a propensity for getting involved in wars and Oezdemir carries freakish power punching. This match up has the potential to be wonderfully violent, if set.
‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler is back. Having taken 364 days off, following his brutal KO at the hands of Tyron Woodley, Lawler re-emerged with a decision win over ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. The fight was being billed as a potential Fight of the Year candidate and it certainly offered an abundance of entertainment. (Personally I felt ‘Cowboy’ won the fight 29-28, but I wouldn’t have much argument with the scoring.)
Lawler was the aggressor early and late in the fight. However, he seemed to take the whole second round off and only connected with three strikes in that five-minute spell. However, ring rust could have been a contributing factor or it may all have been strategy.
Regardless, he got the decision and that’s all that matters. After the fight, Lawler gave a shout out to his coach and long time friend Matt Hughes, who was involved in a terrible car accident, earlier in the summer.
Lawler’s preparations for the fight were far from ideal, with this looming in the background and may have inhibited his performance (or interest levels) somewhat.
Dana White seemed to hint that Lawler could be the next man in line for a title shot at Woodley, following UFC 214. Personally, I think a number one contender bout between Lawler and Stephen Thompson would make more sense in the immediate future, particularly if Tyron Woodley does need a labrum surgery, as he claimed on The MMAHour, yesterday.
Cyborg has finally added the only accolade truly missing from her storied MMA career on Saturday, UFC gold. While Tonya Evinger proved herself to be a game opponent and tough as old boots, she was overwhelmed and outclassed by the Brazilian.
Watching Cyborg in action is a truly fascinating spectacle. The muscular physique allows such powerful movements and crisp striking to flow from Justino. But, she does not rely on sheer size.
Her game plan was solid and her skill level very high. Having established herself as the true featherweight champion, (De Randamie was an embarrassment) the UFC will have to fill out the division around Cyborg.
She mentioned the possibility of Holly Holm as a next fight. This makes sense for a lot of reasons. Holm still carries star power as Ronda Rousey’s first conqueror. She’s a fantastic striker with her world champion boxing pedigree also.
She also has the frame for 145lbs. However, following her demolition of Rousey, Holm experienced a slip herself dropping three fights so maybe the UFC would like to see her regain some of her reputation before pitting her against a destroyer like Cyborg.
With this in mind, maybe re-fixing the initial UFC 214 bout between Cyborg and Megan Anderson makes more sense. Anderson is one of the few women in MMA who could match Cyborg physically. The six-foot Australian is coming off four straight knock outs. Once again, styles make fights and this could be a great fight.
There is no current champion in the UFC vilified more than Tyron Woodley. He doesn’t exactly help his image either. Having been extremely vocal, regarding a lack of promotion within the UFC, of late, Woodley has turned around and been involved in two of the worst fights (not even just title fights) of 2017.
His latest offering, against BJJ ace Demian Maia, was a showcase in takedown defence. Woodley stuffed 21 takedown attempts with ease. All credit to him for shutting down Maia in a way no one else has been able to. But he also managed to average less than ten strikes a round.
Woodley is simply not going to be a box office draw, when this is coupled with the similarly lacklustre second Stephen Thompson fight. ‘The Chosen One’ is methodical in his fight approach and not one to take risks. He seems to be content not to lose, as opposed to looking for a win.
This hesitancy has cost him a financial bonanza, in the shape of welcoming Georges St-Pierre back to the octagon. Dana White performed a quick U-turn in handing this fight back to Michael Bisping, who White feels will show up to fight.
White also mentioned Robbie Lawler may be next in line for a shot at Woodley’s gold. Their first match up saw Woodley at his explosive, devastating best.
However, given Lawler’s lengthy layoff and the possibility of Woodley needing surgery, as mentioned earlier, let Lawler stay active in the meantime. If he falls off somewhat in that time, how about setting Jorge Masvidal up for a title shot?
‘Gamebred’ ran through Cowboy and lost a very close (contentious?) decision to Demian Maia, in his last outing.
Masvidal is a wily fighter with a fantastic striking arsenal as well as slick moves on the ground. (Anyone who can actually survive Maia on the ground deserves kudos here) Maybe his wide array of skills could bring the best out of Woodley?
The prodigal son has returned. Anyone who enjoys pure skill and innovation in MMA must have felt a little emotional watching Jon Jones reclaim a belt he never truly lost in the octagon. The Rochester native is one of the most unique, transcendent talents we’ll likely ever see in the sport. He established himself as the best ever.
The closing of his rivalry with Daniel Cormier in such a decisive fashion seems fitting. Jones has overcome his demons and also his greatest rival all in one night at UFC 214. It was a spectacular triumph for ‘Bones’.
Looking forward, the world is Jones’ oyster. He could remain at 205lbs and also put a definitive stamp on his rivalry with Alexander Gustaffson, the man who gave Jones his biggest scare. He could try to take out the newcomer, Oezdimir if he feels like truly quenching the division too.
His post fight call out of Brock Lesnar was another interesting narrative to arise. Jones has long toyed with the idea of going up to heavyweight and becoming a two-weight champion. His 6-foot-4 frame and 84 inch reach means he definitely has the physical attributes to implement similar game plans, on men up to 40lbs heavier.
However, Lesnar is out of the USADA testing pool and would need to finish the remaining six months of his suspension stemming from UFC 200, while in the testing pool, before he could be eligible to fight Jones.
With this in mind, I’m going to go a little left field on my pick for Jones’ next fight. Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson is the one light heavyweight Jones did not clear out during his dominant reign. While Rumble is currently focusing on other ventures in retirement, he did mention the possibility of coming back to MMA for a Jones fight. Speaking with Ariel Helwani, Johnson said:
“It would have to be worth it for me financially because I have so much going on already. If I did comeback, it would just be to fight the legend Jon Jones.
“I’ve beaten pretty much everyone else except for Daniel (Cormier) and Jon. Jon got hit with some big punches from Daniel. I know if I had hit him with some of those punches he most likely would have went down.
“Jon is a hell of a fighter. I have a lot of respect for him.”
The questions of what could have been do abound. Yes, Johnson was shut down by the stifling wrestling game of Cormier twice, but Jones isn’t Cormier. And, as ‘Rumble’ alluded to above, Cormier isn’t Jones. Who wouldn’t be intrigued to know how well Jon Jones could handle the bombs that ‘Rumble’ Johnson drops? It’s a left field shout, considering Johnson’s previous two tilts at the title and his retirement, but who knows? If GSP can come back after a four year hiatus and get a shot at the middleweight title then anything is possible!
Noel Ryan, Pundit Arena