UFC 278 was a thrilling event full of finishes, wars, and unexpected drama. Closing out the card, most notably, was a Hail-Mary head kick from Leon Edwards that finished dominant champion Kamaru Usman in their rematch for the welterweight belt. Luke Rockhold hung up the gloves after falling short but pushing Paulo Costa to his limit and a legend’s last push for the bantamweight belt fell just short. Who should the winners of these and the other main card fights face next?
On the surface it seems that the obvious next fight for the second British champion in UFC history would be the rubber match for all the marbles against Kamaru Usman, but it may not be that simple. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ just brutally suffered his first knockout loss, is thirty-five years of age, and has discussed at length the severe knee issues he has. Will the champ want to come back soon enough for his timeline to line up with that of the new champ, who says he wants to fight in early 2022? Could he even potentially retire?
In three weeks’ time, Khamzat Chimaev fights Nate Diaz in a non-title fight PPV main event. Khamzat is maybe the hottest prospect in the UFC at the moment and if Usman is to sit out for any extended duration then a win against Nate would almost guarantee him the coveted title shot. It is borderline impossible, however, to pick anyone else other than Kamaru Usman to get the next title shot. A trilogy bout with both men having won one of the previous fights is a scenario that time and time again has generated the highest stakes of all in combat sports. Still, life makes no guarantees and combat makes even fewer.
Edward’s Next Fight: Trilogy Bout vs Kamaru Usman
Paulo Costa got back in the win column against middleweight legend Luke Rockhold on Saturday. The Fight of the Night performance puts him back into contention for another run at the belt and so it is surely time for him to once again fight a top ten ranked contender. Many big fights are upcoming at 185-lbs, from Whittaker versus Vettori, to the title fight of Adesanya versus Pereira, to the recently announced October main event that is Sean Strickland versus Jared Cannonier. Both of those last two are coming off of losses and hust like Paulo Costa will be looking to reestablish their push towards the belt, making the winner of that fight the perfect choice to face ‘Borrachina’ in the near future.
Either bout has intrigue. Cannonier and Costa are two of the hardest hitters in the division and the fight could end at any time if the two were to meet. Fans, however, also love exciting verbal rivalries. Both Costa and Strickland have made names for themselves as athletes who have no filter and are entertaining both on the mic and on social media. A press conference featuring the two would surely generate a lot of interest, to say the least, like the heated simultaneous video interview Costa and Marvin Vettori did last year just before their bout.
Costa’s Next Fight: Winner of Canonnier vs Strickland
Merab Dvalishvili’s win over legend Jose Aldo extended the Georgian wrestler’s winning streak to eight, but likely did little to advance his cause for a title shot given Dana White’s somewhat disparaging post-fight comments. It may not matter though as he has discussed going down to flyweight so as to avoid fighting his close friend, champion Aljamain Sterling, though that decision may depend on the result of the upcoming Sterling vs Dillashaw title fight. For now we will, however, operate under the assumption that Merab will not undertake that gruelling weight cut and will remain at the division he has always competed in.
With that in mind there are quite a few upcoming bouts that will affect the booking of this fight. In the near future Petr Yan will fight Sean O’Malley and Cory Sandhagen squares off against Song Yadong for a fight night main event. If O’Malley wins against Yan the UFC will likely push him into a title shot but if Yan wins then a bout against Dvalishvili could make sense. However the winner of Sandhagen vs Yadong makes sense as an opponent no matter who wins and would be an interesting style clash at between wrestler and striker.
Dvalishvili’s Next Opponent: Winner of Sandhagen vs Yadong
Lucie Pudilova spent some time outside of the UFC after her first stint ended with a four fight losing streak to top flight opposition. Still, many fans with good memories will remember her for almost beating Alexa Grasso in an absolute war back in 2018. Her return in a big spot on the UFC 278 main card was one to remember for the Czech fighter as she dominated Wu Yanan before getting the finish with brutal ground and pound in the second round. She must still start from the lower end of the division and work her way up. Given that, Poliana Botelho is a logical fight for her as the Brazilian looks to turn her luck around and Pudilova looks to continue her forward momentum.
Pudilova’s Next Fight: Poliana Botelho
The Samoan-Australian light-heavyweight Tyson Pedro continued his comeback tour with a lightning-fast stoppage win over Harry Hunsucker due to punches followed by a vicious teep to the liver. After four years out due to serious injury it is good to see the exciting prospect get his momentum back. Now is the time for a step up in competition and towards the rankings against a foe like the former PFL HW champion Philipe Lins. Lins recently stepped into the waters at LHW seeking to change things up after a rocky 0-2 start in the UFC’s heaviest division. In April of this year he was able to get his first win in the promotion against Marcin Prachnio. Both Pedro and Lins have well-rounded skill sets, finishing ability, and top-15 potential. This match-up could be considered a ‘ranked fight eliminator’ with the winner getting a lower end ranked opponent.
Pedro’s Next Fight: Philipe Lins