T.J. Dillashaw knocked out a game Joe Soto and we know Renan Barao won’t get the next title shot. Is Raphael Assuncao the clear next challenger for the UFC bantamweight champion?
Tony Ferguson beat Danny Castillo in a back-and-forth split decision. Has "El Cucuy" established himself as a lightweight contender?
Bethe Correia has waged a one-woman war on Ronda Rousey and "The Four Horsewomen" and come out ahead so far. Is it time for her to face the ringleader?
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We’ll try to answer those questions and more in this edition of Morning Matchmaker:
When Renan Barao had to pull out at the 11th hour with a weight-cutting injury, Dillashaw had nothing to gain. In stepped Joe Soto, who was making his UFC debut, and anything less than dominance would have made Dillashaw looked weak. Soto hung in for a long time, but Dillashaw finished in the fifth round. He’ll take it.
Who’s next: Dominick Cruz-Takeya Mizugaki winner
Conventional wisdom says that Raphael Assuncao should get the next title shot. Assuncao has beaten Dillashaw and was supposed to fight Barao, then the champ, in May before getting hurt. But there’s another opportunity here for the UFC. Cruz still has not officially lost the bantamweight title — he has just been hurt for nearly three years. If he beats Mizugaki, he should be given the chance to get his belt back.
Barao didn’t get to fight Saturday night after fainting and hitting his head getting out of a bath during his weight cut Friday. The UFC was clearly not happy and UFC president Dana White said Barao would not get a chance to regain his bantamweight title in his next bout. Instead, he’ll have to go back to the drawing board and earn a shot.
Who’s next: Francisco Rivera
There aren’t many contenders in the bantamweight division that Barao has yet to beat. Rivera is one of them. It’s a good opportunity for both men. Rivera is still ranked in the top-15 despite coming off a loss to Takeya Mizugaki, so Barao has a chance at a significant win. On the other hand, Rivera would put himself in the title mix if he takes out Barao. Stylistically, this will also almost definitely be exciting.
Joe Soto did better than anyone expected him to against T.J. Dillashaw.
Who is Soto? Jon Jones’ former college roommate got the chance to show it on the grandest possible stage in MMA — in the main event of a UFC pay-per-view. And you know what? Soto did a pretty darn good job, better than anyone thought. Even in a loss to T.J. Dillashaw, Soto made his mark and people are excited to see him again.
Who’s next: Yves Jabouin
Obviously, Soto’s next bout is going to be a significant step down from fighting for the bantamweight title in a main event. Soto was originally supposed to face fellow newcomer Anthony Birchak on the UFC 177 prelims. He has now earned an interesting fight. Maybe Soto has a chance to be a contender here. Jabouin, an entertaining gatekeeper-type, provides a good way for him to prove it.
The biased Sacramento crowd didn’t like it much, but Tony Ferguson did enough to win against hometown boy Danny Castillo on Saturday night. "El Cucuy" is showing promise in a very loaded lightweight division. It’s time the level of competition rises for the former Ultimate Fighter winner. He’s ready to fight a contender or close to it.
Who’s next: Rashid Magomedov
Magomedov, who has won 10 in a row, and Ferguson are right on the cusp of slipping into the UFC’s official lightweight contender rankings and Ferguson might actually end up there this week with the win over Castillo. Ferguson, 30, has all the tools to hang around as an upper-echelon 155-pounder for a long time in the UFC. One more victory makes him a legitimate contender.
Anyone trying to make himself or herself relevant in the UFC can learn a thing or two from Correia. She has taken a page out of the Chael Sonnen playbook, picking a fight and following through with a victory. Correia TKO’d Shayna Baszler on Saturday night and has two wins over champion Ronda Rousey’s friends. That gives her a special advantage when it comes to choosing Rousey’s next opponent.
Who’s next: Ronda Rousey
Correia hasn’t just beaten Baszler and Jessamyn Duke with relative ease. She has also been very vocal, calling Rousey out and making brash statements about being the one to knock the champion off. That’s smart business and the UFC should follow suit by putting her in a title fight.
Rousey’s list of contenders is short. Cat Zingano is the true next in line, but she’s getting a "tune-up" fight against the very game Amanda Nunes first at UFC 178 on Sept. 27. Then there’s Gina Carano, the Hollywood star who hasn’t fought since 2009. Carano is close to signing with the UFC, but UFC president Dana White said over the weekend that the possibility of her being next for Rousey has waned.
That leaves us with the undefeated Correia. The Brazilian knows how to sell a fight, despite a bit of a language barrier. Rousey will surely do her part in that regard and she has already demanded the bout. The UFC should strike while the iron is hot. Correia has gone through Rousey’s gauntlet of compatriots. Now it’s time for her to get the leader of the group. The story writes itself.
Shayna Baszler (right) looked good against Bethe Correia in the first round before running out of steam.
"The Queen of Spades" looked like the Baszler of old in the first round, outgrappling Bethe Correia. Then something strange happened in the second. Baszler might have run out of gas, but she took an incredible amount of unanswered shots against the cage. It was an odd showing and, at 34, it’s unclear how much longer she’ll do this.
Who’s next: Liz Carmouche
Baszler is a huge WWE fan and maybe she’ll eventually make the transition to pro wrestling. But there are still interesting fights for her in the UFC, starting with Carmouche, a fellow women’s MMA pioneer coming off a loss. Seeing Baszler and Carmouche engage in a grappling battle would be very interesting. Both are also names, so there will be fan interest despite neither one being a contender now.
Derek Brunson had one of his best performances against Lorenz Larkin.
Brunson had the right game plan against Lorenz Larkin and executed it: wrestling. Brunson has gotten away from his bread and butter at times, but he remains one of the more athletic, explosive wrestlers in the middleweight division. He really isn’t a fun matchup for anyone in the weight class and is bordering on the top-15 rankings.
Who’s next: Eddie Gordon
Brunson’s next opponent is really determined by who you think Brunson is. He still has a boatload of potential and if he does what he did against Larkin, Brunson can beat some contenders in the UFC. With charisma and a fan-friendly style, Brunson can also be a guy people want to see regardless of rankings. That’s why Gordon makes sense. It’s an interesting battle of top athletes who are entertaining to watch.