Now that it's been a few days, and the dust has cleared, the biggest question going forward coming out of UFC 165 is "who gets the next light heavyweight title shot?"
Now that the scorecards have been revealed in the Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson title fight, what figured that night to have been the deciding factor in the decision can now be pointed to as factual.
Judge Chris Lee gave Jones rounds two through five. Richard Bertrand giving the champion rounds two, four and five. Douglas Crosby giving Jon Jones three through five.
Gustafsson was handily winning round four, until a Jones barrage, kicked off by a brutal elbow hurt the challenger. Jones had Gustafsson on the ropes in the last 40 seconds of the round. It was enough to sway all three judges to giving the round to Jones. Without that late flurry, Gustafsson would have taken the title by split decision.
As of now, UFC has been mum on the decision when it comes to the big question. Right now it looks like the company will make a choice between Gustafsson (15-2) and Glover Teixeira (22-2). Teixeira's argument is he was promised a title shot when he knocked out Ryan Bader in the first round on Sept. 4 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
White certainly hinted of rematch in the post-fight press conference, but made it clear it was a decision not yet made. White on Saturday night said he personally didn't score the fight while sitting at ringside. He just said UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner did, and had it even going into round five, which Jones won. White said he was just enjoying the atmosphere of what will go down as a strong candidate for fight of the year, as well as the best light heavyweight title fight in company history. Gustafsson came within one dodged elbow away from becoming the biggest underdog in UFC history to capture a title, with odds as long as 11-to-1 in the last few days, even longer than the odds Matt Serra faced against Georges St-Pierre.
On Sunday, White watched the fight at home to score it, and via text message, said he agreed that Jones (19-1) won. But he wouldn't commit to the big decision.
A lot of people who clamor for consistency wind up with their heads spinning at title decision-making. Nick Diaz got a shot after a loss and a suspension. Chael Sonnen got a title shot in a higher weight class after a loss. Close fights that can be scored either way are not rare, and there is no set policy on rematches past the real policy. What does the public most wants to see?
Many, including myself, felt Gilbert Melendez should have eked out a decision over lightweight champion Benson Henderson on April 20, which went to the champion via split decision. Before that, many including myself felt that, Frankie Edgar also won his rematch with Henderson, but the judges again went split for Henderson.
Last year, many felt Josh Thomson should have won the Strikeforce lightweight title from Melendez, again losing via split decision.
In all those cases, there was no talk of an immediate rematch.
In one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history, when Lyoto Machida retained the light heavyweight title over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in 2009, had all three judges going for Machida. White felt Rua had won four of the five rounds, and at the start of the press conference that night in Los Angeles, said there would be an immediate rematch.
Public sentiment seems to be toward a Jones vs. Gustafsson rematch. White threw out the idea of doing it on a pay-per-view on Feb. 1, in Newark, N.J., the night before the Super Bowl in nearby East Rutherford, N.J. If Jones is ready, no matter what the decision of who he faces, that would seem to be the optimum date.
From a promotional standpoint, the rematch is easier to market. Gustafsson today is a bigger star than Teixeira. It's not the usual protocol to bring back a fight immediately because the challenger came close, and that's a dangerous one to set, because close fights are so frequent at the top level. It's one thing if the champion loses close. Had the decision gone the other way, there would be no debating what would come next. But the rematch does seem to be the fight that would sell better, and that's why right now it would be considered the favorite.
For interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao (33-1, 1 no contest), there are three options. The clear-cut first option is the long-awaited title unification fight with Dominick Cruz (19-1). Cruz, the existing champion, has been out of action coming up on two years after two reconstructive knee surgeries. If Cruz isn't ready, he will be stripped of the title.
By booking Urijah Faber (26-9) vs. Michael McDonald (16-2) on the FOX card on Dec. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., it buys Cruz until April, since the winner of the clear No. 1 contenders fight wouldn't be ready until then.
The other option is to go with the winner of the Fight Night 29 battle in Barueri, Brazil, on Oct. 9, matching Raphael Assuncao (20-4) and T.J. Dillashaw (8-1). But I see this only as an option if Cruz isn't ready, and if the Faber vs. McDonald winner is also injured.
Brendan Schaub (11-3) has proven with his win over Matt Mitrione, to be the best almost-NFL level football crossover in UFC history. With good stand-up, and an underrated ground game, Schaub has the speed and skills to go far. The question is the chin, with his three losses all coming by knockout.
Stipe Miocic (10-1) is the highest-ranked heavyweight without a current dance partner, and a logical next opponent. But I'd still go with Ben Rothwell (33-9), who owns a first-round knockout on Schaub from last year, and is coming off a win over Brandon Vera. There just feels like that's a match that would be an easier sell.
Francis Carmont (24-7) won the sleeper fight on the UFC 165 main card with an easy decision over Costa Philippou. Sleeper in fight terms usually means a fight nobody was expecting much out of and delivered in a big way. This fight wasn't that. It's more a fight that put the audience to sleep.
It's the age-old sports vs. entertainment argument that one has to view Carmont with. As far as pure sports go, Carmont spotted a weakness in Philippou, and executed a totally dominant game plan by exploiting it. He took the path of least resistance for the highest percentage of dominance. Unfortunately, it wasn't entertaining, and even though Carmont won his 11th fight in a row, and went to 6-0 in UFC competition, nobody is talking about who Carmont can fight among ranked middleweights.
Part of that is Carmont got two controversial decisions over Tom Lawlor and Lorenz Larkin, so the win streak isn't as impressive as it sounds. Going forward, my two picks for a next opponent would either be Luke Rockhold (10-2) or Thales Leites (21-4).
Rockhold's knee injury led to his canceling his Oct. 19 fight with Tim Boetsch. In the case of either Rockhold or Leites, Carmont wouldn't be facing a sitting duck for a takedown. But given that Leites was first bounced from UFC largely for a boring fight with Alessio Sakara, and the nature of Carmont's last few bouts, Rockhold would be the preferable opponent.
White praised Nurmagomedov, who gained the ire of fans in Brazil in January with his T-shirt saying that, "If Sambo was easy, it would be called Jiu Jitsu."
There are a number of top lightweights waiting for an opponent. Among those waiting for opponents are TJ Grant (21-5), Jim Miller (22-4), Rafael dos Anjos (20-6) and former champ Benson Henderson (19-3).
Grant, suffering from a lingering concussion, can be crossed off since he's probably getting a title shot when he recovers. The name from that list I'd go with is Henderson. For Nurmagomedov, it's a win that immediately makes him a top title contender. Beating Miller would be running in place for Nurmagomedov. Dos Anjos is a little better, but still won't put him in the spotlight.
And for Henderson, if you look at the same list of contenders, the scalp that would look the most impressive for him to win in his quest for the quickest way back into title contention would be that of an unbeaten fighter.