Morning Matchmaker: Serious questions at light heavyweight, middleweight
Ovince Saint Preux knocked out a legend in 34 seconds. What does that mean for his light heavyweight ranking?
Luke Rockhold punished rival Michael Bisping. Does he get a title shot next?
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua suffered the worst loss of his career. Is it time to hang up the gloves?
We’ll try to answer those questions and more in this edition of Morning Matchmaker.
OVINCE SAINT PREUX
Well, that was unexpected. Saint Preux took on an all-time feared striker Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and ended up wasting him in just 34 seconds. No one saw that coming. But Saint Preux’s speed, athleticism and reach helped him in a big way. That’s how dangerous he can be for many in the division. OSP has not yet peaked.
Who’s next: Rashad Evans
People wanted to dog Saint Preux after his loss to Ryan Bader. He might be 31 years old, but he got a late start in MMA and isn’t technical. Saint Preux might never polish it all up and that’s OK. He’s still a top-10 light heavyweight in the UFC and troublesome for many. Evans is coming off knee surgery and maybe he shouldn’t fight a top-five guy right away. Someone like Saint Preux, coming off a big win, is perfect.
Many people are going to be calling for Rua’s retirement after his 34-second knockout loss to Ovince Saint Preux and rightfully so. Rua is no longer a factor in the division and has now lost twice in a row by violent KO. No one wants to see him get beaten up again, but there is still maybe one fight that makes sense for him.
Who’s next: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Why not make this a retirement bout for both men? At least this won’t be a case of a young lion trying to take the head off an aging legend. Those matchups can be painful to watch at times. Rua and Nogueira are both on the down side and coming off knockout losses to contenders. They also happened to have an incredible scrap for PRIDE back in 2005. This is a fight that could work in both Brazil and Japan.
Even more impressive than a quick knockout, Rockhold completely dominated Michael Bisping in every phase of the game Friday night in Sydney. No one has ever run over Bisping like that in his long career. Rockhold has proven himself as a special talent and someone who absolutely should be considered for a title shot.
Who’s next: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
The middleweight division is more interesting now than it has been in a long time. Vitor Belfort will get the next title shot against Chris Weidman in February. After that, things are up in the air. Rockhold and Souza can both make the case for being the No. 1 contender, so even though Rockhold already holds a victory over "Jacare," maybe this matchup is necessary due to timing. It would be a true title eliminator.
People looking for some greater meaning in Bisping’s loss to Luke Rockhold can stop. This is not a new story. Bisping has never been able to beat the truly elite middleweights. Rockhold is clearly one of those. "The Count" has been a mouthy gatekeeper disguised as a legitimate contender for some time now.
Who’s next: Gegard Mousasi
The thing separating Bisping from most "gatekeepers" is his drawing power. For the UFC, he’s the best kind of fighter. He makes things interesting with his trash talk and people pay attention to him. In that way, he can elevate his opponent. Mousasi doesn’t really need that, but could stand to get back on track after losing to Ronaldo Souza. Bisping-Mousasi could headline the UFC’s targeted England card in February.
Iaquinta said he would beat Ross Pearson standing up and no one believed him, but that’s exactly what he did. "Ragin’ Al" outboxed Pearson, supposedly a better kickboxer, and knocked him out in the second round. That won’t necessarily mean a ranking for Iaquinta this week, but he’ll be close. Big fights for him in are coming.
Who’s next: Joe Lauzon
Iaquinta is kind of like a younger Lauzon if you think about it — an exciting grappler/wrestler from the East Coast who has improved a ton in his standup and is making a name for himself in the lightweight division. Lauzon is coming off an injury, but you’d have to imagine he would be on the FOX Sports 1 Boston card in January. Iaquinta would make perfect sense as an opponent. That’s a fun fight.
The lightweight division is a minefield and Pearson found that out firsthand against an up-and-coming fighter like Al Iaquinta. Pearson had every reason to believe he was the better striker. He should have been faster and more athletic. Iaquinta, though, had more technical boxing and the better gameplan. Tough one.
Who’s next: Michael Chiesa
Pearson remains one of the best lightweights in the UFC who does not have a ranking next to his name. That doesn’t mean much in other divisions, but it’s impressive at 155, the best and deepest weight class in the world. Chiesa is in the same boat as Pearson, coming off a loss. Those two together would produce fireworks and give the winner a nice stepping stone to a ranked opponent.
Whether you thought Alves won or lost against Alan Jouban on Saturday night, you’d have to agree that Alves could certainly stand to work on his cardio. The Brazilian prospect said he was not 100 percent heading in, so maybe that played a role. Either way, if he pulls things together he could be a serious welterweight in the UFC.
Who’s next: George Sullivan
Alves is just 23 years old. There’s no reason to rush him in a division filled with piranhas. George Sullivan is an exciting, journeyman type who has been on a role lately. In some ways, he would be a dangerous opponent for Alves, but he could also bring the best out of him given his throw-caution-to-the-wind style. None of that will matter much, though, if Alves gasses out in the second round again.
No, he didn’t win on the judges’ scorecards, but Jouban can return from Brazil with his head held high. Not only did he persevere after a vicious blitzkrieg from Warlley Alves, a highly regarded Brazilian prospect and significant favorite, most people thought he came back to win. Jouban is 31, but he still has a bright future in the UFC.
Who’s next: Siyar Bahadurzada
Jouban is the kind of guy UFC marketing people should drool over. The media will say some fighter has "model looks." Jouban is actually a prominent Los Angeles male model, who happens to compete like a grizzled Midwestern bar brawler. He’s a great story and should continue to be built up against fellow exciting fighters. Bahadurzada has not fought in almost a year, but he qualifies as that for sure.