Who’s Next: UFC Las Vegas Winners

Merab Dvalishvili
Merab Dvalishvili, UFC 266 Post-Fight Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Merab Dvalishvili made a statement in the UFC Las Vegas main event. Merab put on the most impressive performance of his career and handed Petr Yan his first-ever decisive loss in the main event of UFC Las Vegas. The five-round, pace-driven domination required “The Machine” to use striking, clinching, and wrestling equally to beat the former champion. Dvalishvili has now proven he belongs among the elite of the division and will have to be treated as such going forward.

Of course, what comes next for Merab is a big question. We’ll try to answer that, and figure out what comes next for the winners from Saturday’s fight night card. Read on!

Merab Dvalishvili

In ordinary circumstances the Georgian would be next in line for a title shot, but with a backlog that includes Sean O’Malley and the winner of Chito Vera vs Cory Sandhagen, the title picture is muddled as the champion, Aljamain Sterling, fights Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 after the former double champ’s return from a layoff of over three years.

Further, Dvalishvili and Sterling are teammates and seemingly almost brothers; they refuse to fight each other. There has been talk of Sterling moving up to featherweight soon, if that materializes it will sidestep all the problems. For now, Merab has said he will just wait on the sidelines until the path for him is clear, making it nigh impossible to matchmake his next fight. On “The MMA Hour” on March 13, Dvalishvili affirmed to Ariel Helwani that he would rather wait for the title picture to clear up instead of fighting someone like O’Malley or the winner of Sandhagen vs Chito Vera.

Dvalishvili’s Next Fight: Waiting… or TBD

Alexander Volkov

‘Drago’ turned back a second successive challenger to his top-10 spot on Saturday and has stated his intentions to fight his way towards a title fight before the end of his career. Now with his winning streak of two first round knockouts in hand he deserves to be facing a higher ranked opponent than himself next. Tai Tuivasa has lost his last two fights to Ciryl Gane and Sergei Pavlovich but a star-making win streak before that earned him a top spot; he sits at fifth in the rankings currently. Tuivasa would be a perfect, striking-oriented opponent for a kickboxer like Volkov to go up against.

Volkov’s Next Fight: Tai Tuivasa

Nikita Krylov

Krylov’s main event spot at UFC Vegas 70 was ruined due to food poisoning but he still got the win in the end, a first round finish over Ryan Spann. Krylov sat at sixth coming into this fight while Spann sat at eighth. Nikita’s three-fight winning streak and position in the rankings means he should be fighting a true top contender next, like fellow Europeans Aleksandar Rakic or Jan Blachowicz. Blachowicz has beaten Krylov before, a 2018 win by submission, so if Rakic is ready to fight after his knee-destroying injury in 2022 again Jan himself, that fight would be perfect. Rakic is currently ranked fourth at light heavyweight and a win over him would put Krylov in pole position to fight a number one contender fight.

Krylov’s Next Fight: Aleksandar Rakic

Jonathan Martinez

Martinez was an underdog going into his fight at UFC Las Vegas but he earned an impressive, albeit quite close, decision over highly touted prospect Said Nurmagomedov. His defensive grappling and clinch ability were key factors, showing how much the kickboxing specialist has rounded out his game. Said Nurmagomedov is currently ranked fourteenth in the bantamweight division but on Tuesday morning the updated rankings will surely give Martinez a ranking, making him the first El Salvadorian ranked fighter in UFC history.

With a great ranking comes great responsibility however; Martinez will need to continue fighting top class fighters. On this UFC card alone, three other bantamweights won fights that put them right at the edge of those rankings; bantamweight is a talent-crowded division. That surplus, along with almost all ranked fighters being currently booked, may force Martinez to fight an unranked fighter in his next fight, someone like Kyler Phillips, Mario Bautista, or Javid Basharat.

Yet there is another option. Another newly-ranked bantamweight fights soon as Chris Gutierrez takes on Pedro Munhoz at UFC Kansas City in one month’s time. The winner of that bout will go on to fight up the rankings, but the loser will have to fight down and risk losing their ranking, making whichever fighter that is a perfect opponent for Jonathan Martinez.

Martinez’s Next Fight: Loser of Chris Gutierrez vs Pedro Munhoz

Mario Bautista

Mario Bautista won his fourth fight in a row and got his third first round finish in a row on Saturday against Guido Cannetti. The booking was somewhat puzzling when combining Bautista’s upward trend with Guido’s advanced age and 4-5 UFC record. Now is the time for him to truly fight for a spot in the rankings by fighting another fighter who is on the fringe of the top-15 at bantamweight. Casey Kenney, Davey Grant, Javid Basharat, Montel Jackson, and Cody Stamann are all athletes who fit this description. However, the best option may be Kyler Phillips.

Phillips, a teammate of number one bantamweight contender Sean O’Malley, owns a win over eighth ranked Song Yadong, an eye-opening victory which earned him a ranking, which he then lost to Raulian Paiva in a fight which many thought should have been a draw. He won in impressive fashion once since then and his talent has kept him right in the conversation of best unranked bantamweights in the UFC, along with Mario Bautista. Both men are entertaining fighters with submission ability as well as striking prowess, the matchup is almost a no-brainer as it tests both men to determine who is ready to break into the top-15.

Bautista’s Next Fight: Kyler Phillips

Vitor Petrino

UFC debutant Petrino won “Fight of the Night” for his decision victory over fellow Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus Anton Turkalj. Despite the bump to his bank account he is still a UFC newcomer and should be matchmade as such in a light-heavyweight division going through a bit of a transition. The division currently has DWCS alums taking up a large portion of its unranked population; one such fighter is Ihor Potieria. Potieria beat Shogun Rua in Rua’s retirement fight, earning him the derision of the fanbase, but he is now 1-1 in the UFC and at 19-3 overall would be a fitting opponent for the undefeated but relatively inexperienced Petrino, who is now 8-0.

Petrino’s Next Fight: Ihor Potieria