For the UFC at least, 2021 has come to a close. The world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion capped off the year with a familiar sight at UFC Vegas 45 on Saturday — the hard-hitting Derrick Lewis knocking an opponent senseless.
This time out, the victim in question was Chris Daukaus, who had been riding an impressive four-fight winning streak under the UFC banner into the event. In the co-main event, meanwhile, Stephen Thompson suffered his second consecutive loss — and now finds himself teetering at the edge of a precipice career-wise.
What’s next for Daukaus, “Wonderboy,” and the other main card talents who fell short on Saturday? Read on.
There was a question heading into UFC Vegas 45 as to whether Daukaus was biting off more than he could chew facing the #3-ranked Lewis so early into his UFC run. That question was answered decisively; simply put, it was too much, too soon for the former Philadelphia police officer.
This isn’t the end of the road for Daukaus, obviously, as it’s just his first loss under the promotional banner. He had been riding a four-fight winning streak, with three straight Performance of the Night bonuses in that span. But a more measured approach to his development is needed. The smart play here is to forget the rankings and book Daukaus against a fighter with name value and experience, but one who isn’t currently among the top 10 — or even ranked at all. Andrei Arlovski is a former heavyweight champion who is 4-1 in his last five fights. He never says no to a fight, he’s been competitive win or lose of late, and he’s got tons of name value.
It’s either a bounce back fight for Daukaus, or Arlovski gets back in the rankings.
Daukaus’ next fight: Andrei Arlovski
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is on the opposite side of the coin compared to Daukaus. The 38-year old is nearing the end of his active fighting career, and never mind that talk about fighting until he’s 50. The reality is, it was now or never for Thompson to get back into title contention. With two consecutive losses in 2021, it may very well be never.
That’s not saying you should write Thompson off entirely. MMA is a wild sport where just about anything can happen. But more than likely, he’s going to act as a high-level gatekeeper for at least a few more fights. Belal Muhammad passed the test at UFC Vegas 45; let’s see if the winner of Muslim Salikhov vs. Michel Pereira on January 15 can next. Salikhov is ranked #15, but Thompson is likely to drop a few spots after Saturday’s loss. And Pereira? Should he win, the striking between himself and “Wonderboy” would be mind-blowing.
Thompson’s next fight: Muslim Salikhov vs. Michel Pereira winner
Raise your hand if you had Angela Hill winning her fight with Amanda Lemos at UFC Vegas 45.
Hill lost a close split decision which many, including UFC President Dana White, saw in her favor. Generally, when White sides with you, the loss doesn’t hurt you too much in terms of booking your next fight. Add to that the fact that Hill took the fight on short notice, and you can treat it as a wash.
Next up for Hill? It would be tempting to say Jessica Penne based on the rankings, but the two are friends and training partners. So that’s not likely. Brianna Van Buren is sitting at #15 in the strawweight rankings, however. She didn’t fight at all in 2021 and is looking to return in the first half of 2022 after getting married and becoming a mother. She’s coming off a loss to Tecia Torres last year.
Hill’s next opponent: Brianna Van Buren
Raphael Assuncao has now lost four in a row after being knocked out by Ricky Simon at UFC Vegas 45. That’s after being knocked out by Cody Garbrandt, who himself has fallen off a steep cliff of late.
Chances are, Assuncao’s time in the UFC is at an end. Should the promotion opt to keep the Brazilian around and give him one more chance, it’s likely going to come against another unranked fighter. Tony Kelley has won a couple, so that could be interesting if you rid yourself of the notion that winning fighters face winning fighters. They’re five years apart in age, Assuncao has the obvious experience edge, and a win would do wonders for Kelley’s profile.
Assuncao’s next fight: Outside the UFC, or at least outside the rankings.
Carlos Diego Ferreira has lost three straight, all coming in a disastrous 2021 for the fighter, which also saw his son involved in a serious motorcycle accident.
He’s rather far removed from the fighter who compiled a six-fight winning streak, capping it off with a victory over former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, prior to his recent struggles. That said, a rib injury against a very underrated Mateusz Gamrot (if you know, you know) shouldn’t be enough to hand him his walking papers.
Ferreira had been ranked #12 at lightweight heading into UFC Vegas 45. That won’t be the case moving forward, and he’ll likely be fighting down once again. Outside the rankings almost certainly. Chris Gruetzemacher has been with the UFC since 2015, and has been inconsistent at best. He’s coming off a loss earlier this month, so the timing works out. It’s tempting to pair Ferreira up with a fighter with a bigger head of steam rather than one trading wins and losses, but being honest, Ferreira still has some upside, and two of his three losses (and three of his last four fights) earned bonuses. A bounce back fight feels right.
Ferreira’s next fight: Chris Gruetzemacher
Darren Elkins lived up to his nickname of “The Damage” against Cub Swanson, just not the way he wanted to. Rather than dishing out some damage, he absorbed a ton of it, and was put away early. Elkins has already overcome a four-fight skid in his UFC run, and had put together a couple of wins prior to the Swanson fight. He’s 37, and nearing the end of his career, but likely to keep fighting a bit longer.
Andre Ewell’s featherweight debut was spoiled on this very same card. That’s three losses in a row for Ewell, which could spell doom. If not, pair these two up.
Elkins’ next fight: Andre Ewell