clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fortunes changed for five at UFC 206

New, comments

UFC 206 ended up as one of the strongest shows of the year, with two of the greatest back-to-back fights in company history. It’s only unfortunate so few saw the show.

UFC 206 Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Daniel Cormier's adductor tear that led to cancellation of his scheduled UFC 206 main event with Anthony "Rumble" Johnson greatly hurt the marketability of a show that from an action standpoint, looked great on paper.

In this case, the show more than lived up to what it looked to be when looking at it in advance. But the show that a lot of fans then chose to pass on -- sandwiched between a Conor McGregor-headlined show and a Ronda Rousey-headlined show, and then losing its biggest fight, ended up as one of the most exciting and even memorable events of the year.

Rarely in UFC history have there been two more action-packed fights back-to-back as the Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi fight, followed by the Donald Cerrone knockout win over Matt Brown.

And it was hardly a two-fight show. Max Holloway became the first person ever to finish Anthony Pettis and showed he's very real as a rising star and championship contender. Kelvin Gastelum looked like a real force at middleweight in finishing Tim Kennedy, even though he once again said he feels he's too small for the division. Emil Meek made a strong debut at welterweight. Misha Cirkunov is someone to pay attention to at light heavyweight. Lando Vannata, who gave Tony Ferguson fits in his UFC debut, could not have looked more impressive in his second outing.

Swanson vs. Choi was the wildest featherweight fight on a major U.S. show since the legendary first Leonard Garcia vs. Korean Zombie fight in 2010. It has to be in the running for fight of the year honors. While Swanson won, with two judges giving him a 30-27 score, Choi became a far bigger star than ever before in suffering his first UFC loss than in any of his quick knockouts.

The fight went back-and-forth with both men hurting the other, then the tide would turn. This went for three straight crazy rounds. The fight would have created a major buzz if it was on a major televised event or a more widely-bought pay-per-view card.

Cerrone, likely down on the scorecards against Brown after two rounds, landed a beautiful head kick knockout as Brown bent down early in the third round.

To show the quality of the show, Cerrone ended up without an official performance bonus. Cerrone vs. Brown would win fight of the night easily on all but a few shows this year. Cerrone's knockout would have gotten him a bonus on virtually any show except this one, where Holloway got one bonus for stopping Pettis, and Vannata got another with a spinning head kick finish on John Makdessi that ranked with the best knockouts of the year. And there was no question Swanson and Choi both had to get a bonus.

The win was Cerrone's 19th in UFC competition, tying Georges St-Pierre for second place behind Michael Bisping's record of 20. Given how active Cerrone likes to keep himself, he was trying to get on a show next month, and that he's four years younger than Bisping, the odds are strong the record will be his at some point. What makes that number even more impressive is that he had four years in the WEC as one of its top stars before coming to UFC.

The show overachieved in the sense you can never go in expecting fights at that level. But action fights aren't what get people to pay $60 for a show, even if they make them feel the money was well spent after it's over.

The show also created a number of potential exciting fights for the key players on the show, so let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of the event.

MAX HOLLOWAY - Holloway, as interim featherweight champion, will be facing Jose Aldo to unify the title, perhaps as early as Feb. 11 in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Holloway issued the challenge for that date after the win, but then seemed to back off a little on the timing. He talked about wanting to rest his body and take time off for the holidays, which he couldn't do with such a quick turnaround. Aldo has since said he believes he's fighting on that date. UFC needs to announce a main event with tickets going on sale this week.

But whatever the date, the fight itself is obvious. Holloway (17-3) will carry a 10-fight winning streak into a fight with Aldo (26-2), and at 25, could end up as one of the youngest champions in company history.

ANTHONY PETTIS - Pettis (19-6) looked to be in a similar position as Holloway just two years ago. He had finished Cerrone, Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez successively, was lightweight champion and considered one of the company's most promising stars.

Since then, he's lost four out of five fights. He missed weight here, and made it clear that he can't make 145 going forward. Even with the losses, his name value is strong enough that he can get a big fight for his return to the lightweight division.

As far as a direction, two names that can be looked at are Eddie Alvarez (28-5) and Will Brooks (18-2). Both are also coming off losses, and like Pettis, are former champions at that weight, only in Bellator. Either would be good enough name fights to be featured, where a win could get him turned around.

DONALD CERRONE - Cerrone (32-7, 1 no contest) immediately wanted to fight after his win over Brown, and said he was up for the challenge of Jorge Masvidal (31-11), who called him out the previous week.

Cerrone asked for the fight in Denver, where he grew up and where UFC returns on Jan. 28. Masvidal is a good enough fighter, but it's a high-risk low-reward fight for Cerrone. With his name value, and four straight wins in the division, Cerrone right now isn't far from a title opportunity. There are two other fighters, former champion Robbie Lawler (27-11, 1 no contest) and Carlos Condit (30-10), if Condit wants to fight again, which on paper make for more exciting fights and where a win could put Cerrone directly into a title fight. Cerrone likes fighting as often as possible, and Masvidal and Denver now looks to be his next direction.

Cerrone spent most of his career at lightweight and has said that he can go back down. With his popularity and the style match-up, there is huge money potential for a bout with lightweight champion Conor McGregor if he was to move down in weight and get a couple of wins. That may be his best path to a giant payday, but as a welterweight he's closer to a championship fight.

CUB SWANSON - Swanson (24-7) is in that position where he's very clearly a top-ranked fighter, but his one-sided losses to Holloway and Frankie Edgar have established his position as the No. 4 contender, given he's lost to the champion and the next three guys down, Aldo, Holloway, Edgar and Ricardo Lamas.

Lamas (17-5), who beat him by submission in 2011, would be a good next opponent. But he's loaded with possibilities, including Brian Ortega (11-0), as well as the winner of two upcoming bouts, the Jan. 15 Yair Rodriguez (9-1) vs. B.J. Penn (16-10-2), or the Feb. 4 Dennis Bermudez (16-5) vs. Chan Sung Jung (15-6) fight.

DOO HO CHOI - Choi (14-2) was the living example of the old boxing axiom that it's good for a young fighter to have one fight like he did with Swanson to prove his toughness, but you don't want another one.

At 25, even if he looks much younger, the Swanson fight showed up that Choi is a very real fighter, but he's still a ways from being a threat to the top five competitor at featherweight. The person I'd go with him next is Renan Barao (34-4), a former champion at bantamweight with a name. Fighters out of the Rodriguez vs. Penn and Bermudez vs. Jung fight would also be good next tests.