This past Saturday, the UFC returned after a layoff of just under a month, with UFC Vegas 67 taking place at the UFC Apex. A light heavyweight bout headlined the event, with middleweights Sean Strickland and Nassourdine Imavov agreeing to a late change of weight class to save the event.
Strickland headlined the final event of 2022, and found himself on the wrong side of a split decision against Jared Cannonier. The original one half of the UFC Vegas 67 main event was Kelvin Gastelum, however, he pulled out of the bout due to a mouth injury. Surprisingly, Strickland stepped up despite the short layoff over the holidays.
Let’s take a look at what could be next for the winners of the night.
Following his loss to Jared Cannonier, Strickland faced a lot of criticism for his jab heavy style. It was criticism that wasn’t new to him though.
Despite the criticism, Strickland came in against a far more prepared, dangerous Imavov with powerful and crisp boxing, and utilised a perfect game-plan to see himself return to the win column.
The 31-year-old did a great job of getting in the face of the less experienced Imavov, and put him in situations where the Frenchman was visibly uncomfortable. He lured him into dirty boxing exchanges, and then when he had the chance, tied up clinches whenever Imavov came into close enough range.
The win for Strickland could’ve put a dampener on any plans they had for the Dagestani born striker. Having said that, Imavov has clear quality and there is no doubt he will bounce back from the loss.
So, where does this put the victor, Strickland? Having fought twice in such quick succession, a short layoff may be the first move for him. Andre Muniz is scheduled to take on Brendan Allen in late February, if Muniz gets past Allen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him booked to fight Strickland.
Sean Strickland’s Next Fight: Andre Muniz (Provided he beats Allen)
“50k” Ige returned to the win column with his win over Damon Jackson and not only that, but he won himself a Performance Of The Night bonus, earning his nickname’s worth in bonus money.
Although the Xtreme Couture product was coming in off the back of three losses, those losses came against extremely tough opponents. Movsar Evloev handed him his most recent setback, with the Russian being someone many fans think will be a future champion. Before that came a loss to Josh Emmett, one half of the upcoming interim featherweight title fight, so those losses should not be held against Ige too much.
Dan Ige has undeniable talent, and packs one hell of a punch. With him regaining his confidence after this spectacular win, it may be time for him to string together consecutive wins, as he’s not been successful in doing so since 2020. Billy Quarantillo is a fighter who has been campaigning to get on the rumoured April 8 card in New York. That date could work for Ige, and it would be guaranteed fireworks.
Dan Ige’s Next Fight: Billy Quarantillo
After a lacklustre beginning to his UFC tenure, Roman Kopylov marked a career best performance this past Saturday, with an utterly comprehensive win over Punahele Soriano.
Kopylov showcased his quality with a complete performance. Early on in the fight, it was visible that his length and size were an issue for Soriano to overcome. On several occasions, Kopylov caught Punahele over-extending and mixed in his work between the body and head.
Over the course of the fight, the grueling body shots started paying dividends, and the Hawaiian began to slow down with his output and put the brakes on his forward pressure.
The finishing sequence that proceeded was due to the terrific body work he exhibited throughout the first seven minutes of the fight.
At the tail end of last year, Jacob Malkoun put on a comprehensive performance against Nick Maximov, and that is a match-up that could make sense for Kopylov next.
Roman Kopylov’s Next Fight: Jacob Malkoun
“Rocky” Pennington made it five in a row this Saturday with a split decision win over fellow contender Ketlen Vieira.
The state of the women’s bantamweight division is uncertain. Champion Amanda Nunes was victorious last time out against Juliana Pena, which made them 1-1 against each other. Despite their career series being tied up, however, there isn’t much interest in seeing that fight again, as the second time around, Nunes won comprehensively.
Where then does that leave Pennington? Well, with this victory, Pennington has a win over the #2-ranked fighter in the division, giving her an argument to fight for the title next. With everything Pennington has going on in her personal life, I wouldn’t expect to see the 34-year-old back in the Octagon for a while however — wife Tecia Torres is due to give birth later this year.
There’s also the question of whether Valentina Shevchenko might be next for Nunes.
Depending on the state of the division at the time of her return, maybe a rematch with Irene Aldana is what may make the most sense for both parties. Especially as their first fight was a close one.
Raquel Pennington’s Next Fight: A rematch with Irene Aldana
What is there left to say about Umar Nurmagomedov that hasn’t been said already? The undefeated 26-year-old managed to become the first man to knock out Raoni Barcelos, and that spans over a 21-fight career.
With the Russian star moving to 16-0 in one of the most stacked divisions in the whole of MMA, a top eight contender must come next.
Another young star towards the top of the division is Song Yadong. The consensus may be that it wouldn’t be the right time to match up two fighters who are of a younger age and are constantly improving, however, the UFC’s philosophy as of late has been the opposite.
With the rest of the top five bantamweights being booked elsewhere, it may be one of their only options. Having said that, Ricky Simon has been looking for a fight recently, and with Umar wanting to fight as early as March 4, that could make more sense.
Umar Nurmagomedov’s Next Fight: Either Song Yadong or Ricky Simon