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On to the Next One: Matches to make after UFC on ESPN 12

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 12 wraps up a series of events at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, and what an incredible main event to send the promotion off to “Fight Island.” Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker put on a 25-minute instant classic with “The Diamond” earning a unanimous decision victory. At the end of 2020, there’s no doubt that the lightweight showdown will be a “Fight of the Year” nominee.

Mike Perry also returned to the win column in the co-main event with a composed, intelligent performance against Mickey Gall.

So what’s next for Poirier, Hooker, Perry, and some of the other winners from Saturday night?

Dustin Poirier

Tony Ferguson (25-4)

Before we get into how good a fight between Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier could potentially be, I truly hope this one goes down at the end of the year – at the absolute earliest. Both fighters just went through incredible wars and should take as much time as they need to recover, recuperate, and mentally prepare for the sheer violence this matchup will create.

No other fight makes sense. Poirier’s win over Hooker is big, but it’s not enough to thrust him into a title shot after falling to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 this past September. But if he’s able to defeat “El Cucuy,” there will be no argument against another championship opportunity. And if Justin Gaethje can do what no other has done and defeat Nurmagomedov, Poirier does hold a victory over “The Highlight.”

As much as I love easy storylines, Ferguson should be next for the former interim champ.

Dan Hooker

Charles Oliveira (29-8, 1 NC)

Dan Hooker may not have left Las Vegas with a victory, but his stock is up as a consolation prize. “The Hangman” belongs in the upper echelon of a loaded lightweight division after a grueling five-round war with Poirier.

Much like my suggestion for his co-headliner, Hooker doesn’t need to hurry back to the octagon until he’s ready to do so. The matchup that makes the most sense is one against another surging contender looking for a seat at the top-dog table, Charles Oliveira. “Do Bronx” has won seven in a row—all finishes—and is coming off an impressive third-round submission win over ex-interim title challenger Kevin Lee in the UFC Brasilia main event in March.

Hooker has his seat. Can Oliveira officially earn his?

Mike Perry

Niko Price (14-4)

The closer the event came, the bigger the story Mike Perry was. From his pre-fight interviews and media scrum to hiring his girlfriend as his only corner person, he raised a lot of eyebrows. But everything “Platinum” did obviously worked, as he picked up an intelligent and patient unanimous decision win over Mickey Gall in the co-main event.

Perry called for a fight with his rival Darren Till at 185, and we would all love to see it. I just can’t see it happening, unless Robert Whittaker completely mops the floor with Till next month, and that would be pretty surprising. Once Perry gets aligned with his new team, or Yoel Romero as he suggested, it’s long overdue for a fight between Perry and Niko Price. If this fight gets booked, there’s no way you react negatively to it. A fun f-in fight at 170.

Maurice Greene

Tanner Boser (18-6-1)

On the verge of losing a 10-8 third round to Gian Villante, Maurice Greene pulled off a sneaky arm-triangle submission from his back to pick up an important victory on Saturday night. “The Crochet Boss” likely was fighting for his job and snapped a two-fight skid.

Luckily, Tanner Boser, who knocked out Philipe Lins earlier in the night, made my job easier by calling Greene out should he be victorious. He was, and so shall it be.

Brendan Allen

Ian Heinisch (14-3)

This was the original plan for Saturday night’s event before Heinisch was forced to withdraw due to an injury. Newcomer Kyle Daukaus stepped in on short notice and gave Allen everything he could handle in a bloody, 15-minute battle. In the end, “All In” moved to 3-0 in the UFC, and he still wants a bout with “The Hurricane.”

To sweeten the pot, Heinisch channeled his inner Georges St-Pierre and responded to Allen’s unanimous decision victory via Twitter.

As he said on What the Heck, Heinisch wants the fight with Allen and added that it was “personal.” The pieces are in place to rebook the matchup later in the year, maybe early 2021 after Allen suffered numerous injuries on Saturday night.

Khama Worthy

Lando Vannata (11-4-2)

Who predicted Khama Worthy submitting Luis Pena on Saturday night? If you did, my hat goes off to you. “The Deathstar” picked up his second consecutive finish and upset win in a featured preliminary fight, and he’s becoming must-watch television.

Following the victory, Worthy stated he’s not fighting to be a world champion and he wants “Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald type of fights.” So how about a fight with his exciting colleague, Lando Vannata? After being winless in four straight fights – with two draws mixed in for good measure – ”Groovy” Lando has won two of his past three. The 28-year-old has been in a few wars in his career and delivered some highlight reel finishes to boot. Let’s have some more fun, shall we?

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

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