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On to the Next One: Matches to make after UFC on ESPN 11

In the fast-paced world of MMA, there are dozens of questions surrounding any given event. But when the dust settles, there’s usually only one that sticks: what’s next?

Following the conclusion of every card, MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck looks back at the results, reads the tea leaves, stirs the cauldron, and makes suggestions for what should—or could—be next for the event’s notable names.

UFC on ESPN 11 is in the books and there was certainly a lot to talk about following another event at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. We saw some breakout performances, fighters bouncing back in the win column, a five-round heavyweight main event featuring the victorious Curtis Blaydes and Alexander Volkov, as well as a “Fight of the Year” nominee with Josh Emmett defeating Shane Burgos.

So what’s next for Blaydes, Volkov, Emmett and some of the other winners from Saturday night?

Curtis Blaydes

Wait to see how the division plays out

It seems like a cop-out answer, but it’s the only one that makes sense following Curtis Blaydes’ unanimous decision win over Alexander Volkov. With a heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier set for UFC 252 Aug. 15, the landscape of the division will become more clear in the aftermath. If Daniel Cormier wins, he plans to ride off into the sunset on top—which means the title will be vacant. There’s also rumors swirling that this could be the final fight for Miocic, although he hasn’t said as much.

If Miocic wins and sticks around longer, Francis Ngannou is clearly next in line for a rematch from UFC 220. One thing we have to keep in mind is that Ngannou and Blaydes have fought twice before with “The Predator” stopping “Razor” both times. Should the title be vacated following UFC 252 for whatever reason, the only fight that makes any logical sense is Ngannou vs. Blades 3. If it isn’t, the Elevation Fight Team standout may have to take one more fight to solidify his spot.

In other words, Blaydes is in a very interesting, and less than ideal position.

Alexander Volkov

Augusto Sakai (15-1-1)

The matchup on paper was a tough one for Volkov, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t make things interesting down the stretch—even landing a takedown on Blaydes at the end of the fourth round. In the end, “Drago” suffers his second UFC loss and takes a step back.

Heading into the bout, Volkov was ranked No. 7. While Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris are the next two guys behind him, Augusto Sakai just picked up his sixth consecutive win last month over Blagoy Ivanov in a co-main event spot. Right now, Sakai sits at No. 10 and is certainly in line for a step up in competition. Let’s give him one with the 39-fight veteran.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Josh Emmett

Winner of Calvin Kattar (21-4) vs. Dan Ige (14-2)

This is a hopeful fantasy booking based on the state of Josh Emmett’s knee following an incredible victory over Shane Burgos in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 11. The hype surrounding the fight was stronger than the main event and boy, did this fight deliver and then some. Emmett used a strong third round, dropping Burgos twice, to seal the deal and picked up an extra $50,000 for “Fight of the Night.”

The Team Alpha Male product certainly has a chip on his shoulder believing media members have labeled him a consummate underdog. Personally, I didn’t see a lot of disrespect shown towards Emmett heading into the fight. If there was, he certainly proved people wrong. Following the win, Emmett said he wanted a top-three opponent next, or, at worst, a guy ranked higher in the division.

On July 15, the UFC’s event on “Fight Island” will be headlined by Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige. “The Boston Finisher” is ranked No. 6 at featherweight, and Ige, with a win, will probably take over that spot. Seems like an easy booking to me considering the top of the division is either booked, or rumored to be matched up for future cards.

I’ll quickly add that I would love to see a fight between Shane Burgos and Jeremy Stephens next.

Raquel Pennington

Julianna Pena (9-3)

Raquel Pennington entered her fight with Marion Reneau losing three of her last four and really needed to put on a great performance. “Rocky” did exactly that and picked up a unanimous decision victory on the main card. Pennington was frustrated with her previous fight against Holly Holm and got back in the win column—following the decision win from her fiancee Tecia Torres.

So what’s next for the Colorado native? Let’s put together a fight we didn’t get to see on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter. Julianna Pena returned to action after becoming a mom and defeated Nicco Montano this past July. “The Venezuelan Vixen” was scheduled to face Aspen Ladd in March before suffering an injury which forced her out of the fight. Pena seems to be recovering nicely and has stated she plans to return sometime this summer. If Pennington is able to turn around somewhat quickly, this one makes sense.

MMA Fighting

Belal Muhammad

Neil Magny (23-7)

One thing you can say about Belal Muhammad is that he is constantly adding tools to his arsenal every time we see him. That was on display Saturday night as he picked up a victory via unanimous decision over Lyman Good. Muhammad used tremendous footwork and movement to keep Good guessing leading to this third straight win.

The Chicago native called for a fight against Santiago Ponzinibbio, who actually isn’t in the top-15 like he stated in his entertaining post-fight interview with Jon Anik. While I like the matchup, Muhammad deserves an opponent that has a number next to his name. At No. 15 sits Neil Magny, who is coming off of back-to-back wins over Li Jingliang and Anthony Rocco Martin. “Remember the Name” vs. the man with a new nickname? I can’t wait to see the pacing between these two guys.

Jim Miller

Alexander Hernandez (11-3)

I said this on Saturday night and I stand by it, we don’t deserve Jim Miller. The guy just entered the hallowed octagon for a record tying 35th time and, as a 2-1 underdog, submitted Roosevelt Roberts, one of the lightweight division’s top prospects before the halfway point of the opening round. “A-10” has won three out of his last four—all first-round submissions—and has no plans of slowing down. Should he get a top-15 guy next? Probably not, but he should face somebody in the 20-25 range in my opinion.

How about Alexander Hernandez?

I can see the comments now: “But Mike, Hernandez is coming off a loss in his last fight.” So what? Matchmaking isn’t always putting together fights where a guy coming off of a win has to fight someone else in the same boat. It doesn’t work that way. Hernandez has lost two of his last three, but look at the level of competition he’s faced in his UFC run—top-15 competition pretty much across the board. Hernandez, love him or hate him, invokes a reaction. It would be a good test for both guys to see where they stand in a loaded division.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Lauren Murphy

Cynthia Calvillo (9-1-1)

In the most under promoted fight on the card by far, Lauren Murphy picked up an impressive decision win over Roxanne Modafferi. The fact that this fight, which was a big one in the women’s flyweight division, took place before I ate my Father’s Day Eve dinner was absolutely puzzling. In the end, Murphy wins her third fight in a row and continues to evolve as a fighter. Perhaps overlooked during this run is the fact that her confidence and self belief are at all-time highs.

The fight to make, clearly, is a title eliminator bout between Murphy and Cynthia Calvillo, who just defeated the then top-ranked contender Jessica Eye at UFC on ESPN 10. There is a part of me that would like to see Murphy fight Eye because there is heat between these ladies that goes back many years. However, with Eye’s recent weight misses, I can completely understand Murphy’s hesitation towards that idea. But that’s just me being partially selfish as the “storyline guy.”

Look, it’s very simple: Murphy vs. Calvillo is the fight. Whoever comes out of that one faces the winner of Valentina Shevchenko and Joanne Calderwood whenever that fight happens.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your reactions and matchup suggestions in the comments below or reach out on Twitter at @MikeHeck_JR.

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