What’s Next: UFC 266 Winners

Valentina Shevchenko, UFC 266
Valentina Shevchenko, UFC 266 post-fight Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

UFC 266 delivered. It really, really delivered. Getting Merab Dvalishvili vs. Marlon Moraes and Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega on the same card was like having Christmas and you Birthday all rolled into one, only you don’t get shafted on the presents.

There were a lot of big performances on the night, especially from the aforementioned Dvalishvili and Volkanovski. And several more. Here’s a look at would could come next from the PPV card’s winners.

Alexander Volkanovski

We learned a lot about Alexander Volkanovski in the build-up to UFC 266. TUF 29 showed a little more of his personality, and he settled into a bit of a heel role taking digs at Brian Ortega, later admitting to a bit of mental warfare. Showing some personality is always a good thing for a fighter, given marketing yourself is half the job. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Australian looked as strong as ever in the octagon against Ortega, and even had to overcome some adversity in the form of T-City’s submission game.

What’s next for the champ? Just as he steps out of the shadow of Max Holloway, a third fight against Blessed seems like the fight to make. Assuming Holloway gets past Yair Rodriguez. But there aren’t many other options. Arnold Allen is on a roll, but probably isn’t ready for a title shot. Giga Chikadze might be, but he’s ranked behind Allen. And if Holloway keeps crushing the other top contenders like he did Calvin Kattar, what else are you going to do?

Volkanovski’s next fight: Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez winner

Valentina Shevchenko

It’s so tempting to just say Amanda Nunes here, but “Bullet” seems happy to continue cleaning out the flyweight division. At UFC 266, she woman-handled Lauren Murphy en route to a fourth round TKO. Shevchenko never appeared to be in any danger, and she’s already defeated the woman many thought was her biggest challenge, Jessica Andrade. Andrade cleared another contender from the board Saturday, defeating Cynthia Calvillo, but the Brazilian signaled a move back to strawweight.

The highest-ranked fighter on any sort of win streak in the women’s flyweight division who Shevchenko hasn’t already beaten is Alexa Grasso, but she’s ranked 10th at the moment. Taila Santos, who also won Saturday, has three straight wins but is ranked 12th. If you look at rematches, Katlyn Chookagian has won two straight, and that’s all it took to earn her first shot at Shevchenko.

With Grasso booked against Joanne Calderwood (who is coming off a loss), and JoJo being a fan favorite, the winner of that is probably the fight to make. Well, it’s more honestly Nunes, but that probably isn’t happening yet.

Shevchenko’s next fight: Grasso vs. Calderwood winner

Robbie Lawler

Robbie Lawler stopped the returning Nick Diaz at UFC 266, in a fan-friendly fight that was more important to Lawler’s career than you might think. The ex-welterweight champ had been on a four-fight skid, and while he’s one of the few names that might have been able to go 0-5 in the UFC and still keep his job, it wasn’t a place he wanted to be.

Moving forward, the UFC needs to give Lawler some smart bookings to keep him motivated, and fans entertained. The promotion far too often feeds its old to the young, hungry up-and-comers and at this point, the practice is so transparent as to have lost all meaning. Getting that name on your record matters not if the name in question is on the downside of their career.

How about a left field pick? Nate Diaz has lost two straight, and the storyline writes itself. It’s another fun fight, has little to no impact on the title picture, and would boost another PPV. The biggest hurdle might be getting Nathan on board.

Robbie Lawler’s next fight: Nate Diaz

Curtis Blaydes

After controlling Jairzhinho Rozenstruik for the better part of three rounds and winning a unanimous decision at UFC 266, Curtis Blaydes called for the winner of Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic, or Jon Jones. He probably won’t get any of them.

Blaydes is just one fight removed from a loss to Derrick Lewis, and has a style the UFC isn’t keen on promoting. Is it fair from a sporting sense? No. But Blaydes will need to do twice as much as anyone else to get a title shot in the promotion. Thing is, he very well may be skilled enough to do it.

Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura face off next month, and the winner of that against Blaydes could lead one or the other to gold. With Gane up first, and Jones likely for either an instant title shot or ex-champ Miocic, that’s probably the best bet for “Razor” Blaydes.

Blaydes’ next fight: Alexander Volkov vs. Marcin Tybura winner

Jessica Andrade

Jessica Andrade looked as powerful as ever in her flyweight fight with Cynthia Calvillo, which she ended just inside the opening round.

Then she announce a plan to return to strawweight.

Andrade wants the winner of Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang 2, which would completely overlook Carla Esparza. Not that that hasn’t happened before. Still, the UFC could opt to pair Esparza up with her fellow ex-champ. If not (and with Esparza rightfully at the head of the line), perhaps a rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Their first fight came in 2017, and while the Polish fighter is coming off a loss, it came in a close fight that many consider the greatest women’s bout of all time. It’s the sort of match-up that might lure Joanna back to action as well.

Andrade’s next fight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk