UFC 294 is in the books, and the short-notice main and co-main event players did not see things end well. On the contrary, it was Islam Makhachev and Khamzat Chimaev, with full camps albeit for different opponents, getting the better of Alexander Volkanovski and Kamaru Usman.
What comes next for Saturday’s big winners? Here’s what could be the next steps coming out of Abu Dhabi, in our latest UFC 294 matchmaker attempt.
There are two clear options for UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, who is now arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He could rematch #1 contender Charles Oliveira, as he was scheduled to do originally at UFC 294. Alternatively, he could fight a new foe, BMF belt holder and #2 lightweight contender Justin Gaethje.
Gaethje was not an option for UFC 294 as he was coming off of his BMF title fight against Dustin Poirier just a few months prior. Now, however, this fight makes perfect sense. It would be a new challenge for Makhachev which is welcome, especially considering his first fight with Oliveira was not particularly close.
Makhachev’s Next Fight: Justin Gaethje
Chimaev passed the toughest test of his career and made his mark in his new division when he beat Kamaru Usman by decision on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. He managed to take Usman down four times after the former 170-lbs champ had been taken down one time in the entire rest of his UFC career.
It had been said that the winner of this fight would receive the next middleweight title shot against Sean Strickland. However, Dricus du Plessis might have something to say about that, as he beat Rob Whittaker recently and is the current #2 contender. Also, Sean himself says that Khamzat is not deserving. Still, for now we will take Dana at his word and predict that Khamzat will indeed face Strickland for the strap.
Chimaev’s Next Fight: Sean Strickland
Magomedov Ankalaev and Johnny Walker
Ankalaev and Walker’s high-ranked light-heavyweight clash ended in disappointment as an illegal knee and a questionably doctor decision resulted in a no-contest. Neither man took hardly any damage and should be good to go again soon hopefully. A rematch is the only logical way to resolve this.
Ankalaev and Walker’s Next Fight: Each Other
Aliskerov did not face the ranked opponent he was expecting originally but he will certainly be facing one soon as he obliterated short notice replacement Warlley Alves in just over two minutes. The Dagestani has two knockout wins on the feet despite being known for his wrestling and grappling. This striking improvement makes him an interesting prospect at 185-lbs. It makes sense for him to face next the man he was originally meant to fight: Nassourdine Imavov. Imavov is the opposite of Ikram in style; he is primarily a striker but can also wrestle, as expected with his Dagestani heritage.
Aliskerov’s Next Fight: Nassourdine Imavov
Though no relation to the legendary Khabib, the Nurmagomedov name nonetheless commands respect from fans and fighers alike, and Said Nurmagamedov can certainly grapple, as he submitted Muin Gafurov lightning-quick. That ninja choke is quickly becoming a signature submission of his as he used it to bounce back from a loss to ranked contender Jonathan Martinez with this one. Still, he needs another win or two to become a contender in the talent-rich bantamweight division. Someone like Christian ‘CeeRod’ Rodriguez would put him back in contention.
Rodriguez beat fellow top prospects back-to-back when he won decisions over Raul Rosas Jr. And Cameron Saaiman in the last year. CeeRod would test Said’s wrestling defense at a higher level than Gafurov, as Said looked to have a hole in his game in that area when he cannot land his choke on the initial shot. The winner would be in pole position for a top-15 fight next.
Nurmagamedov’s Next Fight: Christian Rodriguez