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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FOX 17

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The quest for red panty night was clearly on every fighter's mind when UFC presented its final show of the year on FOX this past Saturday night from Orlando, Fla.

In order, Charles Oliveira, Nate Diaz and Rafael dos Anjos all called out Conor McGregor, who coined the phrase that whoever gets him, it's red panties night for their girlfriend because from a financial and career situation, it's the closest thing in UFC to winning a lottery.

McGregor, 27, has the real potential to be the biggest drawing male fighter in company history, if he isn't that already. He already turned the featherweight division, ruled since its inception by Jose Aldo, and made it one of the company's top money weight class. He's threatening to do the same to lightweights, a division that has only has a major drawing star once in its history - the heyday of B.J. Penn.

The three fighters followed on the heels of Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar a week earlier. A rematch with Aldo is also in the picture. With the dust settling on the top of both divisions, the big decision by McGregor and UFC over what will end up being one of 2016's biggest fights should be made imminently.

The Diaz call-out got the most attention, live on FOX, even though his expletive-laden rant ended up being bleeped so much that for most people watching, what he said was left to the imagination. But that wasn't the worst thing, as even when champion dos Anjos scored a first-round knockout. It was Diaz who was the most talked-about fighter of the night.

With all the names talking, it really should come down to dos Anjos, the lightweight champion, and Edgar, clearly the top featherweight contender.

Both made big statements already this month. Edgar finished Chad Mendes in 2:28 on Dec. 11, while dos Anjos won at Beat the Clock, finishing Donald Cerrone in 1:06.

Simply based on name value, the edge would go to Edgar, who has been a star longer. But it's not that simple, because it's also about telling a story that will garner the most interest.

The biggest potential money fight of them all, McGregor challenging Cerrone for the lightweight title, fell apart on Saturday. But the story of McGregor trying to become the first UFC fighter to hold titles in two divisions at the same time is still there, and still huge.

Ultimately McGregor, his camp, and the UFC have to make a decision on what McGregor wants to do. As a featherweight, McGregor has a difficult time cutting to 145, but the results have spoken for themselves. He has been taller and had better reach than most of his opponents, in particular everyone he faced this year, Dennis Siver, Mendes and Aldo. He'll have the same edge on Edgar.

That won't be the case in the lightweight division, where he'll have to deal with bigger, stronger and longer fighters. The Diaz (19-10) who showed up against Michael Johnson makes for an intriguing opponent because he'll negate so many of the advantages McGregor has over most of the featherweights. Plus, correctly promoted, McGregor vs. Diaz can be a huge fight.

However, the timing isn't right. Diaz struggles to make 155, and noted in the post-fight press conference that unless it's someone like McGregor or dos Anjos, he'd rather not make the cut. And while McGregor can viably fight at lightweight, he needs to have the title, and Diaz needs another win or two against a top-tier foe before that match should be made. Both are big enough ifs not to worry about it too much right now.

Yet, what would be a disadvantage for McGregor or Diaz, isn't the case with dos Anjos.

The lightweight champion and featherweight champion are both listed at 5-foot-9, and McGregor has a 74-inch reach as compared to 70 inches for dos Anjos. Dos Anjos has now handily beaten Benson Henderson, Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. All four of those fights were one-sided and two, Henderson and Cerrone, were first-round finishes.

Dos Anjos hasn't made the headlines of many of the sport's biggest stars, and his wins have not correlated to huge business success. But he has the best recent victims list of any champion in the sport today. McGregor will have to be every bit as good as he claims to move up against someone who clearly proved on Saturday he's one of the elite in the sport.

If McGregor's goal is to become the first two-division champion, the UFC should embrace it. There are the obvious negatives of slowing up both divisions if he goes back-and-forth, which he said he wanted to do. But one McGregor fight in each division is better for the interest in the division, and money drawn in the division, than two or three title fights not involving him.

The biggest story is the historical one. McGregor vs. Edgar will be a big fight, but McGregor vs. dos Anjos is history - the elusive two champions meeting, - something that hasn't happened since lightweight champion Penn moved up to face welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre on Jan. 31, 2009. At the time, that was one of the biggest fights in UFC history. Penn failed in his quest to be a two-division champion. Another key is that history showed that Penn continued to be a big draw in his own division after the loss.

Edgar has clearly waited too long for a title shot. Like dos Anjos and McGregor, he's one of the hottest fighters in the company, with his own winning streak of Oliveira, Penn, Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber and Mendes. He's deserved a shot since Swanson, but McGregor was the clear business choice ahead of him. McGregor vs. Edgar threatens any chance of McGregor making two-division history. If Edgar wins, while dos Anjos vs. McGregor isn't dead, because the UFC is always going to favor the big money fight, the idea of history with a man holding two titles would be gone for at least the time being.

No matter what were to happen with McGregor vs. dos Anjos, the Edgar featherweight title fight would still be there next. McGregor has talked wanting to fight twice in a short period of time, so that all seems to add up nicely.

As for the others, Diaz should stay at lightweight and pray for a McGregor win. Lightweight is filled with stronger contenders like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Pettis and Tony Ferguson. Because the Diaz Brothers are so intriguing, Diaz may be fast-tracked against McGregor if the opportunity is there. It's possible he can get there quickly. That requires him to make weight and have another performance like he had Saturday with Michael Johnson.

Oliveira can't be taken seriously until he picks up a few more wins and makes weight at featherweight. There is some intrigue of what would happen of Oliveira can get McGregor to the ground. McGregor has submitted twice early in his career, but nothing in the last five years and he hasn't been in danger in UFC. Oliveira's submission game is one of the most versatile in the sport.

Holloway is also a few wins away from even being considered.

But strategically all of them are doing what they should be doing. Challenging McGregor gets you headlines. And in this sport, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Diaz, who based on record, shouldn't even be in this discussion, made himself front-and-center in it to where it is now a fight people are looking forward to down the line.

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday's show.

RAFAEL DOS ANJOS - The career resurgence of dos Anjos (25-7), starting at the age of 28 with his first win over Cerrone has been intriguing to watch. A fighter who had been in UFC since 2008, and had mixed results for several years, suddenly went on a tear like few in the sport have ever gone on.

Obviously, his big match is McGregor. If, for whatever reason, that match isn't made, we probably have to wait until Jan. 17, when Pettis (18-3) faces Eddie Alvarez (26-4) in Boston. A Pettis win would put him in the hunt, along with Ferguson (20-3) and Nurmagomedov (22-0) for a title shot. But Nurmagomedov has been out for too long with injuries to get a title shot just yet. Even though he's the last fighter to beat the champion, he needs a big win first. Alvarez, with a win, would be in contention as well, but an Alvarez win could wind up good for Ferguson, because Alvarez hasn't looked as impressive as Ferguson of late.

DONALD CERRONE - Cerrone (28-7, 1 no contest) now finds himself in the worst position possible, a top contender with two one-sided losses to the champion, putting him in that purgatory position that people like Rich Franklin, Miesha Tate and Joseph Benavidez were put in, and that Chad Mendes is now in. No matter what they do, the UFC will be reluctant to give them a title opportunity at the current champion. And even though McGregor vs. Cerrone can be big due to personalities, the lightweight division has enough depth that even if McGregor becomes champion, Cerrone will need a series of wins to get back in the game.

Cerrone likes to keep busy, and he probably is going to have to fight a rematch since he's already fought Pettis (a loss), Alvarez (a win), Diaz (a loss) and Edson Barboza (16-4). Barboza would be a good fight for both men right now. The first fight, where Cerrone came from behind to win in the first round, was memorable. With Barboza coming off the loss to Ferguson on Dec. 11, it's not using Cerrone in a position to derail an imminent contender.

ALISTAIR OVEREEM - The latest version of "The Reem," (40-14, 1 no contest) a smaller and more patient fighter, scored one of the biggest wins of his career as a heavyweight on Saturday over Junior dos Santos. But the big take coming out wasn't so much how Overeem looked, as aside from an almost perfect looking left hook that distorted the face of Junior dos Santos, he didn't do a lot in two rounds. The real shock was more the question of what happened to dos Santos?

Overeem is now a restricted free agent. So he can test the waters. Unlike there is an outrageous offer out there, one would think the UFC would match an offer and keep him. Overeem would be a huge signing for Bellator or Rizin but he's also still valuable to UFC coming off this win. He could be the face of Bellator's weak heavyweight division, and he has a long history with Scott Coker. He was also a huge star in Japan for his exploits in both MMA and kickboxing. A fight with Fedor Emelianenko would be huge, but given what has happened over the last month, one wonders if Emelianenko and his people are even interested in a fight against a legit dangerous MMA heavyweight.

JUNIOR DOS SANTOS - Dos Santos (17-4) went from being talked about as the next opponent for Fabricio Werdum until the UFC picked Cain Velasquez for the spot, to, with this loss, a huge question mark.

At 31, dos Santos was the youngest top tier heavyweight in the sport. Yet, on Saturday, he fought like the oldest. Dos Santos took a terrible beating in his two losses to Velasquez. His showing here may be a lesson to all corners and camps about allowing a fighter to take the kind of punishment he took after the fight should have been over, particularly in the latter stages of the third Velasquez fight. If anything, an agile knockout artist with great takedown defense should be able to flourish for years to come in the UFC heavyweight division. Now there's a real question if anything is left.

It's hard to explain, because while he didn't look like the dos Santos of a few years ago, he still was able to go five rounds in a close fight and beat Stipe Miocic in his last outing one year earlier. It's certainly possible he's done, but Andrei Arlovski was thought to be done in 2009, and at one point lost four in a row. Now Arlovski is likely to be, with the dos Santos loss, the No. 3 contender for the title.

NATE DIAZ - After his performance on Saturday, the potential of Diaz, like he's shown in fights with Gray Maynard and Cerrone, was clearly evident.

If he is serious about being a champion and headlining major fights going forward, it's going to have to be in the lightweight division. The two fights that make the most sense are Ferguson and Nurmagomedov. Either win would be big enough to fast track him to the fights he craves. And a win by Ferguson or Nurmagomedov over him could be enough for either to be in that same position.  Essentially either fight is a no-lose situation for UFC, because the buildup should be good, the fight should be exciting, and most likely the winner could move on to a title fight or a top contender fight.