Saturday night’s fight card in Austin brought some serious changes to the rankings as well as some steady veterans who found a way to win once again.
Frankie Edgar bludgeoned and then twisted Cub Swanson in knots before finishing him off in the final seconds of the fifth round to win his third fight in a row and start knocking on the featherweight title door again. Will he find an answer or is Edgar destined to be met with a message on the other side saying "Surprise!" in the thickest Irish accent he’s ever heard?
So as we look above and beyond the weekend in Texas, let’s see who the winners and some of the losers should face for their next bout inside the Octagon.
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There was little doubt that when Frankie Edgar stomped B.J. Penn into retirement back in July he wasn’t facing the same world-beating former champion who is one day destined to go into the UFC Hall of Fame for all the amazing things he’s done. So to put an exclamation point on his recent improvements, Edgar did the exact same thing to Cub Swanson, who was ranked No. 2 in the world at 145 pounds and on a devastating six-fight win streak. Edgar not only made Swanson look bad, but he made it look easy in the process.
Who’s next: Ricardo Lamas
Listen, in a perfect world Frankie Edgar should be fighting Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. Yes, Edgar lost to Aldo three fights ago, but it’s almost as if people forgot how close that bout was on the scorecards. Edgar didn’t get into a slugfest with Aldo the way Chad Mendes did in October, but in reality the former lightweight champion probably gave him a tougher fight.
That said, it’s impossible to ignore what’s probably going to happen next — and that’s a Conor McGregor title shot, assuming he gets past Dennis Siver in January. Until then, Edgar should start rocking German soccer jerseys and maybe even travel there to help Siver brush up on his wrestling, because without a massive upset in January, he’s probably going to watch Aldo vs. McGregor like everybody else.
It was the worst-case scenario for "Killer Cub" on Saturday night. Not only did he watch his title shot go up in smoke — Frankie Edgar burned it to the ground. Swanson continues to struggle against high-level wrestlers, and unless he fixes that aspect of his game he’ll continue to be a top-five fighter but never a title contender.
Who’s next: Dustin Poirier
Swanson needs to fight another wrestler eventually — Dennis Bermudez, Nik Lentz, etc. — but right now he needs to get his confidence back after the five-round shellacking he took courtesy of Edgar. Swanson beat Poirier previously, but it was a fight the American Top Team member took on short notice and still managed to make it a great back-and-forth battle. Poirier suffered his own humiliation recently when he fell to Conor McGregor in the first round. It’s time for these two to tangle again and start to rebuild what was just recently lost.
Brazilian striker and Muay Thai machine Edson Barboza has long been considered one of the most dangerous knockout artists in the lightweight division, but he just couldn’t quite get over the hump to finally crack to the top 10. He got the job done on Saturday with a one-sided thumping of No. 7 Bobby Green, so when the new rankings are released this week, Barboza should take a look with a big smile on his face.
Who’s next: Joe Lauzon
Lauzon is not even a ranked fighter right now, so it’s not the top-five opponent Barboza asked for after his win on Saturday, but follow the logic. First of all, everybody ranked ahead of Barboza is either tied up, injured or coming off a loss. Barboza could definitely be the guy to welcome Khabib Nurmagomedov back to the Octagon, but that might be the exact kind of matchup he wouldn’t want if he hopes to maintain that top 10 ranking. So why Lauzon?
Because Lauzon has been a gatekeeper to the top 10 for a long, long time and he’s a draw. Lauzon routinely pulls off Fight of the Night performances and he’s capable of giving Barboza some serious trouble if this fight hits the ground. At the very worst, it’s a chance for Barboza to get a co-main event slot on a big show and face one of the most well-known names in the lightweight division. What’s wrong with that?
An eight-fight win streak snapped and his first loss in the UFC put Bobby Green in a tough position after facing Barboza on Saturday. Green looked flat and barely engaged outside of his constant taunting, which took the place of his actual fighting skills.
Who’s next: Jim Miller
These two were supposed to meet previously, but an injury to Green forced a last-minute switch. Now with both guys coming off tough losses and a similar place in the rankings, it makes sense to match them up together for what should be a very fun lightweight battle.
In one of the most surprising performances on the main card, Russian fighter Alexey Oliynyk made short work of Jared Rosholt with a stunning first-round knockout. Oliynyk flattened Rosholt and left the arena with a nice $50,000 bonus to boot. He also managed to knock off one of the more promising prospects in the heavyweight division when he dispatched of Rosholt.
Who’s next: Winner of Gabriel Gonzaga/Matt Mitrione
Oliynyk is 37 years old, so the time to figure out whether he’s a contender or a pretender has to come in pretty rapid order. Add to that, Oliynyk has faced a huge list of top heavyweights outside the UFC, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have the experience. Putting him in there against either Mitrione or Gonzaga will tell the tale on this Russian fighter in a hurry.
Another contender up, another contender down. Benavidez is stuck in a tough position as possibly the top-ranked flyweight fighter in the world, but because he’s already lost to champion Demetrious Johnson twice, he has no choice but to keep knocking everybody else down.
Who’s next: Wilson Reis
Following the fights on Saturday, Wilson Reis suggested a fight with Benavidez and the Team Alpha Male fighter seemed more than excited to mix it up with the Brazilian. As he stated at the post-fight press conference, there aren’t going to be any matches at 125 pounds that "make sense" for him right now based on rankings because the only person above him is John Dodson and he’s injured. Otherwise, everybody is going to be a lower-ranked opponent. Reis is a new player at 125, he wants to fight Benavidez and apparently Benavidez wants to fight him. Game on.
Two years away didn’t stop Matt Wiman from coming back and picking up a win over the always durable Isaac Vallie-Flagg. It’s unclear why Wiman came back as a lumberjack sporting Harry Potter glasses, but he’s back nonetheless. Wiman is a veteran and he always makes it entertaining.
Who’s next: Jake Matthews
The young Aussie has been ultra-impressive so far with a 9-0 record and a recent win over Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Vagner Rocha. Wiman’s days of challenging for a title are probably past, but why not see what he can do against a young buck like Matthews? Put this on an international fight card or a featured prelim and let’s see what the Australian is capable of doing against a real crafty veteran like Wiman.
The newest addition to the UFC’s strawweight division looked fantastic in her debut and even managed to earn a nice $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night as well. VanZant hasn’t been quiet about her inability to compete for the 115-pound title on this season of The Ultimate Fighter due to her age, but now she’s ready to jump right into the deep end of the division.
Who’s next: TUF 20 leftover
There were 16 women who competed on this season of The Ultimate Fighter and all of them will be competing at the finale except for Justine Kish, who is still rehabbing a knee injury after having surgery this year. So that means there are 15 competitors for the final. Seven matchups for 14 fighters leaves somebody out in the cold. That somebody — whoever it is — should face VanZant to give her the TUF experience she really deserved.