Morning Matchmaker: New contenders emerging at lightweight, featherweight
Robbie Lawler beat Matt Brown to become UFC welterweight No. 1 contender, Anthony Johnson crushed Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Dennis Bermudez vaulted himself into the featherweight elite by dominating Clay Guida.
There were plenty of pivotal fights Saturday at UFC Fight Night in San Jose and new contenders emerged. Here’s what should be next for the event’s stars:
There wasn’t much doubt who the second best welterweight in the world was before Saturday night. But now there’s no question at all. Lawler continued his storybook second run with the UFC by beating Matt Brown in a fantastic, five-round unanimous decision. Lawler was all but written off two years ago in Strikeforce.
Who’s next: Johny Hendricks
If not for a late Hendricks takedown against Lawler back in March, this could be a completely different scenario. Their first fight at UFC 171 was that close. Lawler, arguably, did more damage. We can’t forget, though, that Hendricks was fighting with a torn bicep. Who knows what would have happened if he was totally healthy? Oh wait. We’re going to find out, probably early next year, when the two rematch.
Brown might have lost the fight, but his stock dropped little. "The Immortal" was clearly tired late in the bout, yet he still arguably won the fifth and was pressing forward. Robbie Lawler has crushing power, but Brown could not be finished. And he more than got his licks in. There’s no questioning him being elite at 170.
Who’s next: Hector Lombard
The ideal next opponent for Brown would be Carlos Condit. That fight almost happened at UFC 171 before Brown got hurt. But Condit tore his ACL that night against Tyron Woodley and we won’t be seeing him in the Octagon again until next year. Brown is going to compete again before that and he needs a contender to do it against. Lombard qualifies, though he’s coming off a win and Brown a loss.
Everyone expected Johnson to beat Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. But he still had to do it and "Rumble" did impressively, blasting Lil’ Nog in just 44 seconds. The victory doesn’t do a whole lot for his ranking, but it adds to his highlight reel. Johnson came in as one of the best light heavyweights in the world and left as one, too.
Who’s next: Ryan Bader-Ovince St. Preux winner
There’s a serious glut at the top of the light heavyweight division. Both Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson are ahead of Johnson in line for a matchup with champion Jon Jones. Cormier will get his at UFC 178 on Sept. 27. Then, next year, Gustafsson will come calling. Johnson needs to stay busy, so it’ll likely be Bader or St. Preux next. It doesn’t make sense to burn Johnson against another top contender.
Coming in, Bermudez had won six in a row, but not against anyone ranked. Saturday was his chance to prove he was a legitimate contender against a wily veteran with an impressive résumé. Bermudez came through by dominating Clay Guida and choking him out in the second round. Only big fights lie ahead for the 27-year-old.
Who’s next: Ricardo Lamas
The only person in the UFC’s featherweight division with more wins in a row than Bermudez (seven) is Jose Aldo, who has won 17 straight. That doesn’t mean Bermudez is ready to get a title shot against Aldo, but it does mean he’s pretty close — maybe one or two wins away. Lamas would make perfect sense. He’s a former No. 1 contender and a good test. Lamas can serve almost like a gatekeeper in this case.
Guida’s days as a contender are likely over. He can still hang around in the featherweight division and beat decent fighters. But he’s probably never going to be elite again. Guida’s peers — like Dennis Bermudez, who dominated him Saturday — are younger and more athletic. At age 32, he’s little more than a gatekeeper.
Who’s next: Darren Elkins
Guida will likely remain in the rankings when the votes are cast. He was No. 7 coming into the fight with Bermudez. But his only two wins since 2011 have been Hatsu Hioki and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Elkins is a winnable fight and there aren’t many of those around for Guida at the highest levels of 145. Guida is still popular and people enjoy watching him fight. But don’t look for him to be on a title path again.
Green didn’t do anything to make the crowd ooh and ahh Saturday night, but he did just enough to beat one of the best fighters in the division by split decision. Green also did a lot of talking, yet outstruck Josh Thomson and finished stronger. It was by far the biggest win of his career and it feels like he’s only scratching the surface.
Who’s next: Donald Cerrone
Jorge Masvidal is calling for a fight with Donald Cerrone, but really Green is the better fit for "Cowboy" at this juncture. Masvidal has never beaten a ranked fighter. Green just defeated No. 3. The only thing standing in the way is timing. Green said he wanted to take some time off to grieve the murder of his brother. Cerrone, of course, wants to fight as soon as possible. If it happens, it would be extremely interesting.
Thomson could be on a three-fight winning streak right now and we would be talking about him getting a title shot against Anthony Pettis. Instead, he’s lost two straight controversial split decisions. His defeat against Bobby Green wasn’t a robbery, but many scored it for Thomson. "The Punk" needs to be more aggressive.
Who’s next: Rustam Khabilov
The UFC might treat Thomson like he won like the way they did after his loss to Benson Henderson, but it’s doubtful. He’ll probably meet someone coming off a loss and Khabilov should be that guy. Thomson could prove that he’s still a top-10 guy in the lightweight division at 35. And a win for Khabilov would elevate him after his own loss to Henderson. Thomson contemplated retirement before, but should stay.
After getting rocked early on, Masvidal put on a very workmanlike performance in a unanimous decision win over Daron Cruickshank. He fought a smart fight, grounding the dynamic Cruickshank and roughing him up from inside. Masvidal further proved himself as one of the toughest guys in the UFC at lightweight.
Who’s next: Michael Johnson
Masvidal wants Donald Cerrone, but it’s not the right time yet. Masvidal is ranked No. 14 among lightweight contenders, while Cerrone is way up at No. 5. No. 10 Johnson would be a better fit. Masvidal wants to get back in the Octagon quickly and Johnson should be ready to return soon from his injury. That wouldn’t be as big of a fight as Cerrone for Masvidal, but it represents a chance to move up in the rankings.