UFC Vancouver Aftermath: What’s Next For the Key Players?

Cowboy Cerrone, UFC Vancouver
Cowboy Cerrone, UFC Vancouver Ceremonial Weigh-In Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

There are plenty of fights to make in the aftermath of UFC Vancouver, and we’ve got our fantasy booker hat ready!

Vancouver, B.C. — UFC Vancouver has come and gone. We had shocks, surprises, upsets, and more than a few exciting finishes. Everything you want in a UFC card. While it started slow, it finished strong, and that’s what most fans will remember.

There are a number of key players looking at a bump up in competition, while several others will need time to rebuild. Since the endless cycle of MMA requires asking “what’s next?” almost immediately after the dust has settled, we’ll try to answer just that — tackling what’s next for the key players at UFC Vancouver.

Augusto Sakai Is For Real

Next opponent for Augusto Sakai: Jeff Hughes, Pavlovich vs. Greene winner, Blagoy Ivanov

Augusto Sakai was a heavyweight a few people had an eye on prior to the UFC, but for the most part, the Japanese-Brazilian flew under the radar. His Bellator run was solid enough, but when he ran into Cheick Kongo, he ran into trouble. However, it’s easy to forget that the fight was a close split decision. And Kongo would actually pull off one of the better career comebacks in Bellator, earning eight straight wins and a title shot.

When Sakai arrived in the UFC, however, it was by way of the Contender Series. Since then, he’s rattled off three wins, including a TKO finish of Chase Sherman, a decision against former champ Andrei Arlovski, and now a clean knockout of Marcin Tybura. With Sakai ranked 15th, and Tybura one spot above him, he’s due to move up. But heavyweight is a strange beast, and Sakai wants on the Sao Paulo card in November.

If he gets his way, he may not get a ranked opponent. But Jeff Hughes and Todd Duffee fought to a No Contest in Vancouver, and Hughes likes tough fights. If the UFC isn’t keen on running Hughes vs. Duffee back, he’d be suitable for Sakai in Brazil. If the Brazil in November idea doesn’t pan out, then the winner of Sergei Pavlovich vs. Maurice Greene could make sense, or even Blagoy Ivanov, who is 9th, if you want Sakai to get a bigger step up.

Misha Cirkunov Puts Himself in the Submission of the Year Conversation

Next opponent for Misha Cirkunov: Aleksander Rakic, Shogun Rua

Misha Cirkunov was a man with his back to the wall. While he wasn’t about to admit to it during fight week, Cirkunov was under pressure, having lost three of his last four. While MMA gets into the “what have you done for me lately” mindset far too often, the reality is, Cirkunov needed a win against young upstart Jimmy Crute, who was looking to break into the rankings at Cirkunov’s expense.

A win is what he got — with a rarely seen Peruvian necktie submission. Canada’s Cirkunov was ranked 15th heading into the fight, and should move up a spot or two when the updated rankings go live later this week. As for his next opponent, Misha is simply too soft-spoken and reserved to call anyone out, and gave the standard line about fighting whoever the UFC puts in front of him.

The real issue is, a number of the fighters that would make sense rankings-wise have already defeated Cirkunov. Glover Teixeira sits in the #9 spot, while Johnny Walker is the #11 ranked light heavyweight in the UFC. Nikita Krylov lost in Vancouver, Ilir Latifi is coming off a loss, so there’s a dearth of names available in the top 15 to top 10 range. One possibility is Aleksander Rakic, ranked 10th. He’s won all four of his UFC fights, and hasn’t lost since his pro debut. If the UFC would rather give Rakic a higher-ranked opponent, then Cirkunov might as well be paired up with Shogun Rua, if he plans to return. Shogun hasn’t fought since December of last year, but is coming off a win, and remains in the top 15. The sport loves feeding the old to the young, right?

Jimmy Crute Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Next opponent for Jimmy Crute: Outside the rankings

At the UFC Vancouver media day, Jimmy Crute finished with a rather odd message for those of us not from Australia: “I’m not here to f*ck spiders.”

Well, we’d hope not! Apparently, that’s Australian slag for “I’m not here to screw around,” only it’s a phrase with a far more perturbing mental image. In any case, Crute wasn’t in Vancouver to screw around, but neither was Misha Cirkunov. Crute now has the first loss of his career. How he copes with it will be key. But Crute is still just 23, and remains a hot prospect at light heavyweight. Tons of potential, he just got caught by a more experienced fighter.

Crute needs some time to develop. There’s no need to rush; he’s still years away from his athletic prime. Give him someone outside the rankings, on an Australian card, and build him up slowly.