UFC 164: What's next for fighters?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With the wins on Saturday of Anthony Pettis, Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier, there are a number of different options for the top tier of both the lightweight and featherweight divisions. But the status of Pettis' knee should temporarily put decision making on hold as to what to do next.

In coming out of UFC 164 and trying to figure out where to go next, the only thing to say is patience is a virtue.

There are a lot of good lightweights and featherweights who are in line for new champion Anthony Pettis and longtime champion Jose Aldo. But there is no more intriguing match for both champions than each other. The problem is we don't know the severity of Pettis' left knee injury.  Because of that, all plans for both divisions have to be on hold until there is a good estimate of when Pettis can fight again. Fortunately that word is expected soon with Pettis getting an MRI on his knee on Tuesday.

If the injury isn't serious, and Pettis can fight in three or four months, then I'd go with Pettis vs. Aldo.  There have been teases of superfights the past few years that have never materialized. And while Pettis vs. Aldo is hardly Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva at the box office, from a size perspective, it is a fairer fight. And it's a fight that both guys have said they are up for, and may be the toughest fight either could take at this time.

There are questions of what to do with that fight, whether you make it for the lightweight title, the featherweight title or a non-title fight at an in-between catch weight.

The viability of the match happening over the next few months depends on Pettis. But the weight class of the match depend more on Aldo.

If Aldo is willing to move up to lightweight provided he beats Pettis, I'd make it for the lightweight title.  If Aldo loses, he can stay as featherweight champion.  If he wins, he moves up and will have a seemingly never-ending list of new opponents. If Aldo wants to stay at featherweight even if he beats Pettis, at that point I'd make it at a catch weight.


Pettis was originally dropping to 145 for the planned Aldo fight on Aug. 3, which fell through due to Pettis' injury to his right knee. But as lightweight champion, him dropping to 145 no longer makes sense. And given the UFC schedule, the idea of someone holding championships in two weight classes simultaneously isn't the right thing for business.

But if Pettis is going to have to rest for a few months, there are too many shows that need a title fight for Aldo to sit out waiting for him to get better.

At that point, the decision on an opponent for Aldo would be between Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas.  None are bad picks. Mendes' win on Saturday over Clay Guida was his fourth straight, all by knockout, three of which were in the first round.  In my mind, that puts him at the front of the line. The only negative on Mendes as the next challenger is when he had his first chance at Aldo, he was stopped in the first round. But Mendes is a much-improved stand-up fighter under the tutelage of Duane "Bang" Ludwig.

In evaluating the four, Lamas is the only one who Aldo hasn't already beaten.  Lamas has also been promised a shot since he beat Erik Koch on FOX on Jan. 26.

Swanson's loss to Aldo was four years ago, lasting only six seconds. He's also a completely different fighter today.  Still, he's also lost to Mendes and Lamas.

Edgar is the biggest name of the four, and came the closest of the three to beating Aldo, taking the champion five rounds and coming close. But he had the most recent title shot, and has only won once since, although it was a great performance in beating Charles Oliveira.

If Pettis has to take a few months off, there is no point in spending any time thinking of a next opponent.  So many things will play out between Aldo having to fight, and most of the top lightweights having matches that the lay of the land will be different by then.  The only thing for certain is that Pettis isn't going to be short on viable opponents.

Josh Barnett

Another big winner on Saturday, heavyweight Josh Barnett, in his first UFC fight in 11 years, beat Frank Mir.  While some questioned the stoppage, that didn't take away from how quickly he had Mir in serious trouble.

In a business where you are generally only as good as your last fight, well, Barnett right now is looking awfully good.
But Barnett lost last year to Daniel Cormier in a five-round fight where he didn't win a round, so it's too quick to say he should face the Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos heavyweight title match.  But he should be in there with a top contender.  Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne seem to be logical opponents.

Werdum seems like the rightful top contender at this point, so Barnett vs. Browne for the shot after Werdum makes the most sense.

Ben Rothwell

Ben Rothwell, who finished Brandon Vera in the third round, immediately made a play for Browne.  It's smart to get your name mentioned in the same breath with a top contender, and if he could beat Browne, Rothwell would all of a sudden be in the best position of his long career.

But I don't see Rothwell as the right guy to get Browne.  Even though both are coming off losses, I see Rothwell as a good opponent for either Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva or Alistair Overeem.  In either case, Rothwell wouldn't be expected to win, so he's got the chance to elevate himself greatly.  If Roy Nelson loses to Cormier on Oct. 19, that's also a prospective next foe for Rothwell.

Chad Mendes

If Mendes can't get a title shot due to Aldo fighting Pettis, then Mendes should face Edgar, Swanson or Lamas.  A Lamas fight should determine the next title shot.  But facing Edgar would garner the most attention, and elevate the winner more in the public's eye than any other combination of the big four featherweight contenders.

Dustin Poirier

Dustin Poirier, who took the pay-per-view opener on Saturday over Erik Koch in a battle of top ten featherweights, is right below the big four.  Going forward, he could face one of the big four, but I feel he needs one more name win to get there after his loss to Swanson.  Guys at his level that are available include Darren Elkins, coming off a strong win over Hatsu Hioki last Wednesday, Clay Guida, Oliveira and former TUF winner Diego Brandao.

Clay Guida

Guida, coming off a loss, would still be a win that would elevate Poirier in people's eyes the most, and be a strong win for Guida if that's how it went.  Brandao had made noise about wanting Conor McGregor.  With McGregor out for 10 months, Poirier vs. Brandao would springboard the winner into a better position.

Carlos Condit

With the exception of Pettis, perhaps the biggest winner of the past week was Carlos Condit, on Wednesday, over Martin Kampmann.  Condit has worked extensively on his wrestling with U.S. Olympian Jake Herbert, which was his downfall against both Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks.

Still, Kampmann took him down repeatedly before Kampmann admitted gassing out, and it was largely all Condit from that point on.  Most of the top welterweights are booked over the next few months, but there are three directions I could see as viable for Condit.

The first, and most likely the best, would be against the winner of the Jake Shields vs. Demian Maia fight on Oct. 9.  Shields and Maia are two of the best on the ground, and good enough with takedowns that they can get Condit there. Condit is far superior to both standing, and whoever emerges from that match would be right there for a title shot.

There are also two wild-card matches. The first and most obvious first choice if it can be made would be a rematch with Nick Diaz.  The problem is nobody seems to know if Diaz is or isn't retired this week. The bout could be a strong television main event, and a solid No. 2 fight on any pay-per-view show. There is a grudge match aspect, and for Condit, no fight would be better because every Diaz fight gets attention.

The other wild card, probably not viable due to the timing issue, would be Ben Askren. Askren, the current Bellator welterweight champion whose contract expired with that organization, has already made noises about the match.  Condit would be a huge step up in competition for Askren. For the UFC, if Askren came in, it would be a great shot at garnering immediate top five recognition with a win. Askren is a far better takedown guy than Kampmann, and he's proven over-and-over he can play that game for five rounds.

The problem is that Askren's style isn't for everyone. Actually it's for no one except wrestling aficionados, a number that may not be all that large in MMA crowds given the reaction Askren got in most of his Bellator fights. Plus, even if he does wind up in the UFC, due to the issues regarding Bellator's right of first refusal, a deal probably won't be worked out quickly, so the match may not be in the cards right now.

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