This past Saturday the 11th annual International Fight Week took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, capped off by UFC 290 as Alexander Volkanovski looked to defend his featherweight title against Interim title holder, Yair Rodriguez.
That wasn’t the only title fight on this blockbuster card, as in the co-main event, Brandon Moreno looked to finally register a win against old rival, Alexandre Pantoja. For Moreno, the two previous occasions in which these two had met saw the end of the road come soon after. The first instance marked the end of his journey in TUF, whilst the second time he was defeated by Pantoja marked the end of his time with the UFC at that particular time. Unfortunately for the Mexican, this time it ended his title reign.
Let’s take a look at what could be next for the winners of the night.
Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski continues to show why he is the pound-for-pound number one fighter on planet Earth. Despite Yair Rodriguez being one of the most awkward fighters to step into the Octagon, Volkanovski’s untouchable fight IQ prevailed and saw him score the third round finish.
Coming into this fight, fans were talking about how Volkanovski’s head could’ve been elsewhere, and more specifically, with Islam Makhachev instead of Rodriguez. During fight week though, the 34-year-old made it clear he was taking Rodriguez seriously and was solely focused on the task at hand. This became clear as soon as the fight began.
So this leads us to ask, what is next for the utterly untouchable, Alexander Volkanovski? Despite it maybe not seeming so, there are actually a few different options that make sense for the formidable featherweight. After his victory, Volkanovski stated that he has got to take some time away from fighting as he requires surgery on his arm, but did state that he’d be back this year. The current bantamweight king, Aljamain Sterling, is scheduled to defend his title in August and has previously stated that this will be his last at 135lbs before making his move up. That fight would make a lot of sense for both parties, especially if Sterling was victorious in August and was able to move up on a win.
The second option would depend on timescales and Volkanovski’s desire to go back to lightweight straightaway. Islam Makhachev is likely going to be defending his title in October, however, there isn’t a clear contender at lightweight for him to be scheduled with at the moment. Depending on how severe Volkanovski’s surgery is and how well recovery goes, maybe he is able to make that turnaround and rematch Makhachev in Abu Dhabi.
The final option stands by way of Ilia Topuria, the option that seems to be the most likely out of the three. There is already an intrigue in this matchup due to the substantial hype around the elite Topuria.
So take your pick, but the pick I’m going with is Topuria as I believe it to be the most likely.
Volkanovski’s Next Fight: Ilia Topuria
The aforementioned Pantoja defeated Mexican champion, Moreno, for the third time this past weekend. Coming off the back of two submission victories against top ranked opponents, Pantoja was looking to become the only current Brazilian champion following the retirement of Amanda Nunes.
The fight was an extremely close five rounds with the judges being split on their decision. Having said that, Ben Cartlidge was the odd one out scoring the fight for the Mexican. Cartlidge scored four rounds for Moreno which is utterly astounding and concerning. Luckily the other two judges at hand scored the fight with clearer heads and the decision was awarded to Pantoja.
Despite the fight being a close one, I doubt a fourth fight between the two is something that we see, at least not straightaway. Brandon Royval weighed in as the back-up for this past weekends co-main event and usually that’d mean he’s guaranteed to be next. Previous situation with Sergei Pavlovich would suggest otherwise though. If Royval is not next, Amir Albazi will be, but due to his fight with Kara-France being a questionable decision, I’d assume Royval will be called upon.
Pantoja’s Next Fight: Brandon Royval
Dricus Du Plessis
South African Dricus Du Plessis registered by far the biggest victory of his career at UFC 290, defeating former champion Robert Whittaker in the second round. Du Plessis’ victory came as a surprise to many who weren’t giving him a chance against “The Reaper”.
The main issue at the top of the middleweight division has been finding new challengers for the champion, Israel Adesanya. Before the promotion booked Whittaker and Du Plessis, fans were calling for Du Plessis to get a title shot off the back of his win against Brunson. Subsequently when the UFC booked this matchup, fans questioned their decision.
The decision paid off to be the correct one, as this now gives Du Plessis’ future fight with Adesanya just that little bit more validity.
There is seemingly already a date set for the middleweight match-up with the UFC having recently confirmed they’re returning to Sydney for UFC 293 on September 9, 2023.
Du Plessis’ Next Fight: Israel Adesanya
Dan Hooker and Jalin Turner put on a guaranteed fight of the year contender in the second fight of the main card. With that, Hooker managed to register back-to-back wins for the first time since 2020.
From the opening bell both lightweights came in and showed their desire to throw down. Round one unanimously went to Turner with him starting fast and using his sheer length to cause Hooker problems on the outside. Hooker came back in round two and brought the fight to “The Tarantula”, with all judges unanimously scoring the round for “The Hangman”.
Going in to round three it was 1-1 on the scorecards with the momentum seeming to be with the New Zealander. Not only was momentum with the 33-year-old, but he also seemed to be the fresher fighter of the two, with Turner looking increasingly tired as the minutes passed by. Two of the judges agreed that Hooker did the more damaging work over round three and ultimately over 15 minutes, scoring him a big win.
With Hooker now back to winning ways inside the rankings, it begs the question as to how high up does he fight next? Hooker’s issue in the past has been that he has taken relatively big step ups in calibre of opponent, and up to this point, it hasn’t served him well.
There are two match-ups that i’d love to see next for Hooker. Either Matt Frevola or Renato Moicano. The latter would make more sense for Hooker in terms of a rankings point of view, but Frevola could make more sense if Hooker is looking to take his rise a bit slower.
Hooker’s Next Fight: Renato Moicano
Possibly the most impressive blue chip prospect in all sports picked up another win this past weekend. Nickal was originally scheduled to take on TUF alumni, Tresean Gore, but Gore pulled out of the bout just a few days prior.
That left Nickal without an opponent, but not for too long. Regional middleweight, Val Woodburn was called upon on just a few days notice for the biggest fight of his life.
Unfortunately for Woodburn, the fight went as expected for many as Nickal picked up the finish in round one. The most surprising part was that this time, Nickal showed his prowess on the feet instead of on the mat.
It has came to a point where a lot of fans are asking ‘Why wait?’ when it comes to Nickal’s career and next step. It is abundantly clear that the 27-year-old is a possible future champion despite being just 5-0. It is also clear that Nickal can likely hold his own against the very best in his division. So do the UFC carry on giving him non-ranked relatively easy opponents, or do they fast track him to the rankings?
I predict that the UFC will carry on giving Nickal a similar calibre of opponent for at least his next two to three fights. If not, I would like to see the superstar matched up with Marc-Andre Barriault.
Nickal’s Next Fight: Marc-Andre Barriault