After a weekend that shaped the welterweight division’s short-term future, it’s time to play matchmaker for the standouts at UFC Newark.
UFC Newark wasn’t the card anyone thought it would be. Coming into this past weekend, there was a discernible lack of interest from both media and fans. The UFC itself opted to forgo a media day. Colby Covington barely answered more than three questions speaking to press at the event’s open workouts.
But something changed Saturday in New Jersey. Maybe it was the political angle, with la familia Trump getting involved — Donald Jr. and Eric appearing at the Prudential Center, The Donald himself wishing Covington well on Twitter. Maybe it was a chance to see Robbie Lawler, oh, please, maybe, just maybe, shut Covington up — a sentiment held by many MMA fans (of course, it didn’t happen).
Maybe there was just nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon. But interest spiked, media turnout was above expectations, and there were some generally entertaining fights in the octagon.
What more could an MMA fan ask for? Now that it’s all said and done, it’s matchmaking time. I’ll be filling in for Blaine Henry this week.
Antonina Shevchenko Bounces Back
The hype around Antonina Shevchenko, older sister of UFC women’s flyweight champ Valentina, was quickly tempered after a split decision loss to Roxanne Modafferi earlier this year. Subsequently, Shevchenko was booked in a fight with Lucie Pudilova at UFC Newark that she was expected to win. And she did, but what likely surprised many was how. The Fight of the Night scrap ended not on the feet, but on the ground, with Shevchenko able to show that yes, she is a well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Back on track, she’ll probably get a small step up in competition next. Despite being 34 years of age, there’s no need to rush — her sister rules the division, and they’re not about to face each other. Someone around the number ten spot makes sense, and Lauren Murphy also picked up a win on the night.
Next opponent for Antonina Shevchenko: Lauren Murphy, Andrea Lee
Matt Schnell Creates His Standout Moment
Flyweight (when the UFC isn’t trying to decimate the division) Matt Schnell created a standout moment at UFC Newark, becoming the first 125lb fighter to win via triangle in the UFC. He also earned the second fastest submission in the division, and a Performance of the Night bonus, in his win against Jordan Espinosa. Both prior to and after the bout, Schnell expressed interest in a fight with Deiveson Figueiredo, but the Brazilian has been linked to a fight with the returning Tim Elliott. Since most of the 125lb is still awol, the winner of Sergio Pettis vs. Alex Perez could work.
Next opponent for Matt Schnell: Sergio Pettis vs. Alex Perez winner
Nasrat Haqparast Keeps on Smiling
Georges St. Pierre called him a psychopath for smiling so much prior to a fight, but Nasrat Haqparast proved it was with good reason at UFC Newark. The lightweight prospect earned a knockout of Joaquim Silva, a Performance of the Night bonus, and his third straight UFC win. Now, it’s time for another solid test. Like far too many UFC fighters of late, Nasrat didn’t want to say any names, but he did let slip interest in rebooking a previously planned fight with John Makdessi. Makdessi just pulled out of his own fight, so depending on how long he’ll be off, booking these two again could make sense. Failing that, Dan Hooker just cracked the top 15. It might be a bit soon, but Haqparast is on a roll.
Next opponent for Nasrat Haqparast: John Makdessi, Dan Hooker
Jim Miller Turns Back the Clock
Yes, Clay Guida is another old dog in the division. But Jim Miller looked like a young lion at times in a very brief appearance at UFC Newark. Miller, who sets longevity records every time he sets foot in the octagon it seems, captured the fastest submission win of his career when he choked out Guida.
Miller is now 3-1 in his last four, and a four-fight losing streak is a thing of the past. He seemed to enjoy fighting a fellow veteran in Guida, so if Nik Lentz beats B.J. Penn later this year (and he probably will), give Miller the Carny. Yancy Medeiros would be an option, but is coming off two losses. If Miller wants to make a run, Gregor Gillespie is undefeated, and fighting a vet like Miller would raise his profile.
Next opponent for Jim Miller: Nik Lentz, Gregor Gillespie
Love Him or (Probably) Hate Him, Colby Covington Wins Fights
It’s hard to imagine a less likeable fighter than Colby Covington. His heel persona isn’t particularly convincing, and the current U.S. political climate is just wrong for the character. For every genuinely funny remark he fires off, three fall flat. But in the cage, he gets the job done, and he proved that again against Robbie Lawler. Argue all you want that 37-year old Robbie Lawler isn’t the punishing machine of yesteryear, but Lawler dominated Ben Askren early in their UFC 235 bout.
So Covington gets full points for dominating Lawler, and setting the UFC record for strikes thrown in the process. And significant strikes thrown. Plus, he holds the record among active fighters for most takedowns completed.
There’s only one fight for Covington now: the title fight against Kamaru Usman. Book it, he’s earned it.
Next opponent for Colby Covington: Kamaru Usman
Robbie Lawler at an All-Time Low
Consider this: former UFC and EliteXC champ Robbie Lawler is on a three-fight losing streak, something that has not happened since ever. His current run is now officially the worst of his career, mitigated only by the fact that the Ben Askren loss was controversial.
Still, at 37, Lawler’s career is coming to a close. He may continue for a few more years, but the title picture is likely out of the question. If he wants to continue competing, he’ll either need to reinvent himself yet again, or stick to opponents also aging out of the division.
Some time off is what the doctor ordered. After that, if Askren falls to Demian Maia, book the rematch. The winner of Gunnar Nelson vs. Thiago Alves could also work.
Next opponent for Robbie Lawler: Ben Askren, Gunnar Nelson vs. Thiago Alves winner