Middleweight Sean Strickland pulled off an upset for the ages at UFC 293 on Saturday night, getting the better of Israel Adesanya on the feet through the better part of five rounds after knocking him down in the first.
Dana White has hinted at an immediate rematch, but Adesanya stayed mum following the fight, and there are a lot of different ways the UFC could go. So let’s play a little matchmaker for the main card winners of UFC 293.
There are three real options for newly-crowned middleweight champion Sean Strickland’s first title defense after his dismantling of Israel Adesanya. First is the rematch with Adesanya, an idea that Dana White floated in the immediate aftermath of UFC 293, though he received some fan backlash given that Adesanya is now 1-2 in his last three fights.
The second option is a fight against Dricus du Plessis, who became the top contender in the division after defeating Robert Whittaker earlier this year. Dricus would have been the one fighting Adesanya at UFC 293 if not for an injury which made it impossible and allowed Sean Strickland to step in and become champion. The last option is the winner of a high-profile bout between Paulo Costa and one of the hottest prospects in MMA history: Khamzat Chimaev.
Of these three, Dricus absolutely deserves it the most. He is undefeated in the UFC, winning all of his fights except for one by finish, and is not about to have his first-ever ranked fight in the division, like Chimaev. Chimaev may be the future, but there is no guarantee he will beat Costa, and the winner of that fight will not have as impressive of a current resume as Dricus du Plessis.
Strickland’s Next Fight: Dricus du Plessis
Volkov put on a masterclass in enemy territory at UFC 293 as he beat Tai Tuivasa by submission. As a long-time veteran of the UFC heavyweight division, Volkov has fought almost every top contender out there. The only new fighters he has not fought are Jailton Almeida and Sergei Pavlovich.
Pavlovich is too highly ranked for Volkov right now, but Jailton would make sense if he can beat Curtis Blaydes. Of course, Blaydes could also win that fight, but enough time has passed since Volkov first took on Curtis that a rematch would not be far-fetched. Either way the Russian would have to stave off a strong wrestling attack to get his hand raised.
Volkov’s Next Fight: Winner of Blaydes/Almeida
Manel Kape was initially supposed to face Kai Kara-France at UFC 293, but Kara-France pulled out with a concussion and so Kape had to risk his ranking against a debuting flyweight from Chutebox gym. Felipe Dos Santos pushed Kape to his limit in a ‘Fight of the Night’ but Manel held on for the win.
Now the only logical booking is to reschedule Kape vs Kara-France. If Manel can win he would have an argument for a title shot in his next fight, but KKF is no easy out at 125-lbs.
Kape’s Next Fight: Kai Kara-France
The elder Tafa brother got his revenge after getting eye poked and having his first fight with Austin Lane declared a no-contest as a result. Justin knocked out the former NFL player in the very first round to improve his record to 4-3.
A three fight winning streak puts Tafa in a good position to make a run at the rankings. Up next he should fight someone like Augusto Sakai, who was recently demoted from the rankings— and let go by the promotion off a win. There’s a chance he gets re-signed, and a win against a formerly ranked heavyweight would be Tafa’s biggest yet and would give him a currently ranked opponent next. If Sakai doesn’t wind up back on a new contract, the winner of Don’Tale Mayes vs. Rodrigo Nascimento could work as well. Mayes isn’t ranked at the moment, while Nasicmento holds down the #15 slot in a very thin division.
Tafa’s Next Fight: Augusto Sakai or Nascimento/Mayes winner.
Light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro rebounded from a disappointing loss by knocking out Anton Turkalj after Turkalj delivered some unusual trash talk in the build-up. His celebration, a mock sword execution, will live on in viral clips for ages.
Pedro now can focus again on maximizing his potential and shooting for a future spot in the rankings. A fellow exciting knockout artist that Tyson could fight next is Nicolae Negumereanu. The Romanian fighter is 4-2 in the UFC and is at a similar spot in his career to Pedro, making the fight both meaningful and likely exciting.
Pedro’s Next Fight: Nicolae Negumereanu