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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 211

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UFC 211 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Saturday's UFC 211 show from Dallas had the distinction of being a rare show where people were talking about it as the best show of the year before the main card had even started.

One could argue that the four-fight prelim show on FX was as good as any pay-per-view prelim show in years. After James Vick masterfully knocked out Marco Polo Reyes in the first round, Chase Sherman vs. Rashad Coulter came back with the dictionary definition of a heavyweight slobberknocker. They battled in this year's remake of the Steve Bosse vs. Sean O'Connell fight, earning fight of the night honors on a show filled with competition for that honor.

Jason Knight and Chas Skelly followed with a ground war of sweeps and submission attempts where Knight came across as a real player in the featherweight division.

Then, a fight that on paper looked like it could be the most exciting of the night with Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier, not only was living up to, but exceeded expectations. Both men landed big shots and had the other in trouble before the much-talked about ending with the controversy of where Herb Dean should have ruled it a no-contest or disqualified Alvarez.

The fight also shined a light on the unfortunate aspect of a state-by-state regulated sport, since the rules in Texas are different from most other states. Fighters are going to fight instinctively and the first illegal knee by Alvarez to Poirier's head would have been legal in most states. The blow that ended the fight wouldn't have been legal anywhere in the U.S. Poirier's camp is protesting the decision by Dean to rule it a no-contest, instead of giving Poirier a disqualification win which makes a big difference in his bank account. We've also seen historically in situations like this, that the regulatory bodies almost never overturn those type of rulings.

Dean ruled the no-contest claiming there was no intent by Alvarez to break the rules. But it looked pretty blatant.

Either way, a rematch between the two makes the most sense.

The fight was going great guns. While Poiriermay have been ahead, it was clearly a fight that either one could have ended at almost any moment.

It wasn't as if the main card was bad, but the peak of action was the prelims.

Both champions, heavyweight king Stipe Miocic and women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk could not have looked better. The perplexing question is what, if anything can make one or both of them go from strong, dominant champions to major drawing cards.

In theory, fans love heavyweight knockout artists. Miocic's first-round win was his fifth straight knockout, and fourth in a row ending in the initial stanza. It's not just wins by knockouts, but his victims are the longtime stars of the division and top contenders in Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, and now Junior Dos Santos.

Jedrzejczyk isn't a knockout artist, but she is one of the most skilled strikers in the sport, male or female. She's 14-0 in a sport where UFC champions who are undefeated are a rare breed. Her 225 strikes landed set a record for a UFC championship fight, breaking her own mark of 220 set in a previous title defense over Valerie Letourneau. She landed more low kicks than any fighter ever had in a UFC fight. The only fighter who ever landed more strikes in a fight was Nate Diaz, who holds the record of 238 in a non-championship win over Donald Cerrone.

Jedrzejczyk is also one of the most charismatic and charming competitors on the roster. She brings excitement to every fight buildup, and has yet to fail to deliver once the fight starts. With her sixth win in a championship fight, she has tied Ronda Rousey's record for a woman in UFC. Her eight wins in a row is the longest winning streak of any UFC woman fighter to date.

Even so, most expectations on pay-per-view fell into the same 250,000 to 325,000 range that a normal show does. It doesn't look to have done any more than that even with this show having two title fights with, in both cases, the champions faced very legitimate contenders, and had a loaded undercard, the deepest show on paper since November's Madison Square Garden event. No preliminary numbers are available this early, but there are no signs that indicate a surprising ground swell of late interest.

The other strong aspect of the show is that, besides an Alvarez vs. Poirier rematch, there are a lot of different major fights that naturally come out of Saturday's action.

Let's look at how fortunes changed for five fighters on the show.

STIPE MIOCIC - Miocic (17-2) has a natural next title defense against Cain Velasquez (14-2). It was Velasquez who was set for a heavyweight title rematch with Fabricio Werdum, when an injury took him out of the fight and put Miocic in.

The issue with Velasquez has been the same for years. It's whether he can get through a camp without getting injured. Velasquez may be the most talented UFC heavyweight in its history. But due to injuries to his shoulder, back and knees, his career is almost looked upon as a disappointment even though he has held he heavyweight title twice. But he can't be written off yet. Velasquez never looked better than in his win over Travis Browne in his last fight.

But the most significant stat in Velasquez's recent career is that he's only made it to the fight twice in the last three-and-a-half years due to a myriad of injuries.

If such a fight happens, while it won't be the biggest heavyweight title fight in terms of public interest, it is likely the biggest when it comes to fighter quality. One can strongly argue after Miocic's performance on Saturday that and he and Velasquez were the best heavyweight fighters in company history. From a quality standpoint, it would be the highest caliber heavyweight title fight dating back to Fedor Emelianenko's bouts with Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in all of their primes in Japan.

If Velasquez can't be ready, Miocic's most viable title contender would be Francis Ngannou (10-1).

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK - The most likely next opponent for Jedrzejczyk would be Rose Namajunas (6-3), coming off Namajunas' impressive win over Michelle Waterson.

Based on how Jedrzejczyk looked on Saturday, Namajunas, nor anyone in the division, wouldn't figure to have a good chance. Claudia Gadelha (14-2), the only one to fight competitively with the Jedrzejczyk, having done so twice in losses, is facing Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-1) on June 3 in Rio de Janeiro.

Jedrzejczyk beat Kowalkiewicz, winning four rounds to one, but the champion was in trouble for a brief moment in that fight. Gadelha won two rounds off the champion on July 8, 2016, before running out of gas and getting taken apart in the last three rounds. UFC usually doesn't give title shots to challengers that the champion has beaten twice, as noted by Joseph Benavidez not being considered for years for another shot at Demetrious Johnson even though he's clearly proved he's No. 2 in the division for years.

But for Jedrzejczyk, there may be no choice. If Jedrzejczyk wins her next fight and Gadelha or Kowalkiewicz wins, there's no other contender that could be considered ready.

DEMIAN MAIA - With seven wins in a row, Maia's split-decision win over Jorge Masvidal should earn him a title shot next against Tyron Woodley (17-3-1).

The split decision was notable because Masvidal did more physical damage in every round, but Maia controlled Masvidal for several minutes on the ground in every round. Judge Aladin Martinez gave Masvidal the first two rounds, yet of the 23 media scorecards on, all 23 scored it for Maia and 43 percent gave him all three rounds.

The problem is that Maia is in a division that Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz and even Nate Diaz can fight in. All three would likely be major draws as an opponent for Woodley, which Maia wouldn't be. If any of the three open up as possibilities for the shot, Woodley would almost surely want them instead of Maia. It's the noted flaw of a sport where earnings and box office varies so greatly based on the opponent.

Although Maia (25-6) won a fight over Carlos Condit on Aug. 27 that was said to have earned him a title fight, the fight was never made. Dana White told him after beating Masvidal in Maia's latest roadblock, that he was next for Woodley. But if a deal can be worked out with any of the three, Maia may still have to wait. And at 39, any waiting isn't in his favor.

FRANKIE EDGAR - Edgar (21-5-1) showed that Yair Rodriguez wasn't yet at the top level. Edgar dominated both rounds, leaving Rodriguez with a giant hematoma under his left eye that nearly had the eye completely closed before the fight was stopped after the end of the second round.

Edgar is in the same boat as Gadelha. Current featherweight champion Jose Aldo (26-2) beat him by decision in 2013 and again in 2016. If Aldo retains against Max Holloway (17-3), it may be tough for Edgar to get the next title shot. But aside from Cub Swanson, who Aldo beat years ago and Edgar dominated, there's no other contender ready for Aldo if he retains. If Holloway wins the title, Edgar or Aldo would be the logical contenders.

If Edgar doesn't get a title shot, his most likely next foe would be Ricardo Lamas (17-5).

JASON KNIGHT - Knight (20-2), looked strong both standing and on the ground in finishing Chas Skelly (17-3) in the third round.

Knight looked like someone ready for a step higher in competition. Swanson (25-7) or Jeremy Stephens (25-14) would make for strong tests to see whether Knight, at 24, is close to being a factor at the top level.