The UFC returned to North Carolina for the seventh time this past weekend, as heavyweights clashed in the main event of UFC Charlotte. The beginning of 2020 was the last time the promotion were in the state (in Raleigh), and heavyweights headlined that evening too.
This time around, a new breed of heavyweight, Jailton Almeida, was scheduled for his toughest test so far as Jairzinho Rozenstruik was the man to try and stop the Brazilian’s streak.
Let’s take a look at what could be next for the night’s main card winners.
The Contender Series alum showcased once again that he is a new breed of heavyweight that is extremely tough to stop. The grappling prowess of the Brazilian once again paid dividends, as he submitted Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the first round. In five official UFC bouts, “Malhadinho” has secured five finishes, four coming in the very first round.
The question marks coming into this bout were regarding Almeida’s ability to perform under the pressure of being in a main event, and what would happen if the fight was to go past two rounds. The questions ultimately remain unanswered though as he secured the rear-naked choke after just over three minutes.
Discussions have already begun on whether the 31-year-old is potentially a future two-weight world champion, and it’s not premature to do so. The Brazilian’s Contender Series bout was fought at light heavyweight, similarly to his full UFC debut, showing his threat in both divisions.
Due to his athletic ability and experience fighting at light heavyweight, talking about ‘champ champ’ status just comes naturally. But if that is to be potential reality in the future, it may be time for “Malhadinho” to fight someone in the top five of either division.
Since his win on Saturday, many fans have been playing fantasy matchmaker, matching Almeida up with Curtis Blaydes to see how his stand-up looks against someone who would likely be able to nullify his grappling threat. Despite that, a match-up I’d be more keen to see at this stage is Sergey Spivak vs Almeida.
Almeida’s Next Fight: Sergey Spivak
Johnny Walker continues to show a new and more composed side to his game and it’s even seeing him pick up decision wins.
A big problem the Brazilian has had throughout his five-year UFC tenure is his struggle with toning back how erratic he is throughout his fights. Several times we have seen Walker’s inability to conserve energy and be patient during a fight, but in his performance on Saturday night against Anthony Smith, he was a picture of patience. To the point that people began to criticise the fact that he could’ve finished Smith rather than going to a decision.
Gone are the days where we converse over whether Walker can be the man to beat Jon Jones, but it isn’t too far-fetched to say that with one or two more wins, he could be knocking on the door of a light heavyweight title fight. Because of the dire state of the 205lb division, there aren’t many contenders who are a big margin in front of the Brazilian.
Having said that, with Walker likely now occupying rank five, there are only three fighters above him who could make an argument for being next, but one of which I think should be Walker’s next opponent. Aleksander Rakic is yet to make his comeback since a knee injury back in May of last year. A fight with Walker could make sense for both.
Walker’s Next Fight: Aleksander Rakic
Not only did Ian Garry put on his best UFC performance yet, but he also called the exact shot in which he’d put Daniel Rodriguez away with. In an interview with Peter Carroll earlier in the week, Garry admitted that he knew he’d finish Rodriguez by landing a right high kick.
With each performance, the Irishman seems to show even more potential than he did in his last. Not only that, but the anticipation surrounding him grows more and more. With “The Future” growing into a star for the Emerald Isles, he seems like the perfect fighter and personality to have headline the UFC’s return to Ireland.
In his Octagon interview, Garry called out Neil Magny as he begins his ascent of the welterweight division. But unfortunately for Garry, the veteran is already booked for a fight in June against Phillip Rowe. Despite their two timelines merging similarly, there is no guarantee Magny will beat Rowe, and then the match-up makes no sense for the surging Garry.
There are a few fighters who I’d love to see Garry matched up with. Sean Brady tasted defeat for the first time in his career last October, however, it was against Belal Muhammad, one of the best in the division. Brady vs. Garry could be a tremendous fight between young contenders, but Brady is also booked already. Failing that, another tough test for Garry could be Michael Chiesa, and this match-up would mean Garry would undoubtedly have to show other sides of his game.
Garry’s Next Fight: Michael Chiesa
Carlos Ulberg picked up his third consecutive first round finish this past Saturday, stopping Ihor Potieria after just over two minutes.
With such an elite level of kickboxing already under his belt, Ulberg has quickly become a fan favourite, and is a new injection of excitement in a division that is in need of it. Having said that, the standard of opponent he has faced in his last few outings has been subpar, and it is time that he is given a relatively decent step up to see exactly what level of MMA he’s at.
A fellow kickboxer, Dustin Jacoby, could make for an extremely exciting dance partner for Ulberg’s next outing.
Ulberg’s Next Fight: Dustin Jacoby
“The Great White” Morono picked up another impressive submission victory on Saturday night, defeating Tim Means.
On Friday at the official weigh-ins, fans began to speculate on how well Morono’s cut went, as stood on the scales he didn’t look comfortable. Despite that, he came in and performed in typical Morono fashion, utilising unique footwork and movement to cause Means issues. Having said that, it was Means who did the more damaging work throughout the first five minutes, with all three judges giving him the first round.
The scorecards didn’t matter though as in round two, Morono wrapped up his third career guillotine. Prior to his loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio, the 32-year-old was putting together quite the win streak, putting himself close to a ranked spot.
With that in mind, Alex Morono vs. Daniel Rodriguez is a bout I’d like to see happen next.
Morono’s Next Fight: Daniel Rodriguez