Islam Makhachev dethroned Charles Oliveira, while Aljamain Sterling put away a wounded T.J. Dillashaw. In the wake of UFC 280 we take a look at what’s to come for the night’s nig winners.
Makhachev continued the legacy of his teammate and friend, Khabib Nurmagomedov, by finishing Charles Oliveira on Saturday and becoming the UFC lightweight champion. After the fight Alexander Volkanovski came into the octagon at the behest of Makhachev, setting up a title fight in February in Volkanovski’s territory of Perth, Australia at UFC 284. Dana White had already said that the winner of Oliveira vs Makhachev would fight Volkanovski next at that event, which was announced earlier this month, so this comes as no surprise and makes the job of picking the next fight for Islam quite easy. Still, it’s unfortunate for Beneil Dariush, as will be discussed later in this piece.
Makhachev’s Next Fight: Alexander Volkanovski
The next fight booking for all of the bantamweights on this main card are quite difficult. Dana White had said the winner of O’Malley vs Yan would get the next title shot but the controversial nature of that decision could upset the order of things. Further, Chito Vera has become a fan favorite in recent fights with nothing but great knockouts and fights of the night. Chito is 5-1 in his last 6, is on a four fight winning streak, and has already beaten Sean O’Malley, which would seem to give him the edge.
However, there is someone waiting in the wings. Former double champion Henry Cejudo is officially in the USADA testing pool and is thus eligible to fight. He has seemed to have a rocky relationship with the promotion in the past, but it would be hard to deny a champion who never lost his belt during a fight a shot at the title if he wants it. Aljamain Sterling even mentioned the Olympic gold medalist wrestler in his post-fight speech. Further, that wrestling pedigree plus his considerable striking ability that saw him knock out Marlon Moraes, TJ Dillashaw, and Dominick Cruz back to back to back before his retirement would make him a difficult stylistic matchup for the champion, Sterling. If Cejudo is not ready or the UFC is not willing to make that fight yet, then Chito Vera is the next most deserving option.
Sterling’s Next Fight: Henry Cejudo
There are a lot of options out there for Sean O’Malley, as alluded to in the previous booking segment about Aljamain Sterling. The UFC could have him challenge Aljamain Sterling for the belt, could make a rematch with Petr Yan as many fans are calling for it due to the controversial decision, or could make a rematch with the only man to defeat him – Chito Vera – who is also on the shortlist for a title shot next. Of those options Chito Vera makes the most sense to me. Sean may have proven he is a top tier bantamweight with his performance against Yan, no matter what fans think of the decision, but that is still his only currently ranked win, while Chito has four in his last five and Cejudo was the double champion not that long ago. Thus, a fight with Sterling might be premature.
With Cejudo being my pick to fight the champion next, it would be best for ‘Suga Sean’ to rematch Chito Vera. The two fighters are fan favorites, have bad blood, and have electric striking styles that would create a thrilling war in all likelihood. There is even the chance of a trilogy down the line, no matter who wins the rematch, given the relative youth of both fighters.
O’Malley’s Next Fight: Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera
It must be painful for Beneil Dariush to have an eight fight winning streak but still be passed over for the next title shot. Dariush has consistently fought guys he in all likelihood did not have to fight, fighting down in the rankings against Gamrot in this past fight and Carlos Diego Ferreira, who he had already beaten previously, in the past. Eight wins, including three ranked ones, is usually enough to earn a title shot, but Beneil will have to wait given that Volkanovski is going to get the next chance at the new champ, Islam Makhachev.
Most men would likely sit back and wait for the winner of that fight in mid-to-late 2023. Beneil Dariush is different though. He fought Gamrot when he could have sat around and waited, he did not say no to a younger, up and coming fighter who is ranked below him when he could have. He said all during the UFC 280 fight week that he just loves to fight and does not care who his opponent is. This win should have him ranked in the top three at 155-lbs, along with the former champion, Charles Oliveira. A matchup between the two would be a brilliant blend of striking, wrestling, and BJJ as each man is proficient in all areas. Charles and Beneil both have the power to knock each other out, the wrestling to take each other down, and the grappling to submit each other. Other options exist – he could wait for a well-deserved title shot, could fight another lower ranked opponent like Rafael Fiziev, or could fight the winner of Poirier and Chandler – but this one makes the most sense given the scope of the division and who Beneil is: a born and bred warrior.
Dariush’s Next Fight: Charles Oliveira
Manon Fiorot defeated number one contender Katlyn Chookagian by unanimous decision at UFC 280, making slight adjustments to win the last two rounds after dropping the first. Still, the Frenchwoman’s performance did not do enough to entice fans to push for her to get a title shot or for the UFC to give one to her. The top of the flyweight division has a few options for who should face Valentina Shevchenko next: Taila Santos almost defeated the champion in a somewhat controversial decision in the last title fight in the division, Alexa Grasso just won in a big main event spot, and Fiorot herself will be highly ranked while being undefeated in the UFC. One of these three has to fight the champion and one has to fight the other to determine the next title challenger. Alexa Grasso has beaten three ranked opponents and is undefeated in this division since moving up from 115-lbs, so she should be next while Fiorot fights Santos. Manon has not really been tested by any great grapplers thus far – the champion certainly is a great grappler on top of her striking prowess – so Taila Santos would be a great test for her in that area. The winner of that fight would be a shoe-in for the next title shot after Shevchenko vs Grasso. However, you really cannot go wrong by picking Fiorot to fight any of Santos, Grasso, or Shevchenko.
Fiorot’s Next Fight: Taila Santos