What’s Next: UFC Vegas 66 Winners

Jared Cannonier, UFC Vegas 66
Jared Cannonier, UFC Vegas 66 weigh-in Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

The final UFC event of 2022 ended with four main card finishes before the final two bouts ended in hard-fought decisions between talented, top fifteen contenders. The reverberations of Saturday night will carry into 2023 as multiple ranked fighters won out in a big way and several more fighters could find themselves ranked in the near future after big victories. In looking ahead to the new year, we will play matchmaker to determine what is next for the main card victors from UFC Vegas 66.

Jared Cannonier

Third-ranked middleweight contender Jared Cannonier defeated seventh-ranked Sean Strickland in a razor thin split decision in the last UFC bout of 2022. Cannonier now finds himself in a bit of an uncertain and awkward situation in the context of the division given that he has now fought all but three of the top nine fighters in the rankings.

As it so happens, two of those fighters, fourth ranked Marvin Vettori and newly eighth ranked Roman Dolidze are set to fight in 2023. The other, sixth ranked Paulo Costa, just had his bout with Robert Whittaker fall through amid reports that he is unhappy with his contract situation — reports that have persisted for the better part of two years now. So it would make sense that Cannonier fights the winner of Vettori vs Dolidze. If he can win that fight, he could find himself back in a title shot sooner rather than later given that he has not fought the new champion, fellow power puncher Alex Pereira. The path there may be difficult, but there is a path there, which may not have existed if Israel Adesanya, who beat Jared earlier in 2022, had remained champion

Cannonier’s Next Fight: Winner of Vettori vs Dolidze

Arman Tsarukyan

Armenian-born Arman Tsarukyan got back to his winning ways with a decision victory over unheralded talent Damir Ismagulov in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 66. Arman had been on a five fight winning streak before losing a controversial decision in a thrilling Fight of the Night against Mateusz Gamrot in his last fight. This result moves him to 6-2 in the UFC with his only losses coming to champion Islam Makhachev and the aforementioned, seventh-ranked Gamrot. At only 26-years old Tsarukyan is seen by many as one of the brightest young talents in the entire sport and as such the ninth-ranked lightweight — at least until the rankings are updated on Tuesday – deserves a highly ranked opponent in such a wide-open division, where only the champion is currently booked to fight.

The top five at 155lbs contains multiple veterans who are coming off of big losses recently — Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and Michael Chandler — who should fight down in the rankings and give a younger, rising talent a chance to break into the top of the division. Any of those four options are reasonable, but in a meritocracy the fighter who should fight down the most is Michael Chandler. Although Chandler has achieved star power and entertained the masses in his short time in the UFC, he is still 2-3 in the promotion. Further, Chandler’s wrestling credentials could keep the Armenian fighter from succeeding with his own offensive wrestling, which is Arman’s A-game, and force Tsarukyan to really prove his mixing of the martial arts is up to the task of fighting in the top five.

Tsarukyan’s Next Fight: Michael Chandler

Amir Albazi

Amir Albazi finished his second straight short notice opponent, Alessandro Costa, on Saturday after top ranked fighters Brandon Royval and Alex Perez both were forced to withdraw from the bout.

Albazi has now fought and finished all four of his opponents in the UFC but still is yet to fight a ranked opponent due to bad luck with his bookings falling through. Still, when the rankings come out on Tuesday he will likely be ranked in the top seven at flyweight and only a win or two away from a title shot. His original opponent for UFC Vegas 66, Alex Perez, is now booked against Kai Kara-France, but second replacement Brandon Royval remains unbooked after a broken wrist forced him to withdraw from the bout with Albazi. Royval revealed that the wrist injury will not require surgery and thus it seems reasonable to assume he will be ready to fight sometime in the first half of 2023, making him a perfect opponent for Amir Albazi. Royval is ranked fourth in the division and is, like Albazi, an elite grappler who also has a propensity for dynamic striking. A bout between the pair would leave one fighter ready for a number one contender fight and as a bonus would likely be incredibly exciting, as all Royval fights are.

Albazi’s Next Fight: Brandon Royval

Alex Caceres

Fan favorite fighter ‘Bruce Leeroy’ pulled off a spectacular, highlight-reel head kick knockout of Julian Erosa at UFC Vegas 66 on Saturday, a finish which is sure to earn him a highly ranked opponent. Caceres is 6-1 in his last seven fights and was actually ranked fifteenth at featherweight earlier in 2022 before he ran into twelfth-ranked Sodiq Yusuff. Another man vying for a ranking in the talent rich 145lb division is fellow former bantamweight Nathaniel Wood, who is 2-0 since moving up. Wood and Caceres both have well-rounded skillsets but spend most of their fight time on the feet and tend to put on exciting fights every time they step in the octagon, making this a perfect fight to determine who gets to fight a ranked opponent in the near future.

Caceres’ Next Fight: Nathaniel Wood

Drew Dober

Drew Dober is another fan favorite action fighter who won by knockout at UFC Vegas 66 over a tough, unranked foe. Dober, famous for his iron chin and knockout power, which now sees him tied with Dustin Poirier for the most knockouts in UFC lightweight history, finds himself on a three fight knockout streak after back-to-back setbacks to top-15 opposition in Brad Riddell and Islam Makhachev.

Dober deserves to test those waters again and Grant Dawson is just the man against whom he should do it. Dawson, who is undefeated in the UFC with his lone setback being a draw three fights ago against Ricky Glenn, likes to use volume wrestling to wear opponents down before submitting them with his trademark rear-naked choke, but make no mistake, Dawson has striking ability as well. Dober has shown some weakness to wrestling and submissions in the past, as four of his last five losses came by submission, making this the perfect trial to determine if he has fixed those holes in his game and is truly ready to make a run at the top of the division.

Dober’s Next Fight: Grant Dawson

Michał Oleksiejczuk

Polish power puncher Michał Oleksiejczuk improved to 2-0 in his new division, middleweight, on Saturday with yet another first round knockout, this time over Cody Brundage. Oleksiejczuk has won six of his seven UFC victories by first round KO, making him one of the more exciting unranked fighters at 185lbs.

One fighter with noticeable stylistic similarities to Oleksiejczuk is Edmen Shahbazyan, a fellow knockout artist who has also shown weaknesses in the wrestling and cardio departments in the past. The UFC would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fight for Michal than Shahbazayan, as that fight would be instant striking fireworks and almost a guaranteed highlight-reel knockout. Shabazyan is on a similar timetable to Oleksiejczuk, given that he fought and won by knockout only one week before UFC Vegas 66, and looks to return to the rankings where he once made his home. A win over Edmen would be the biggest of Michal Oleksiejczuk’s career and would propel him towards his first spot in the rankings in the biggest promotion in the world.

Oleksiejczuk’s Next Fight: Edmen Shahbazyan