UFC 206 promised fireworks, and it certainly lived up expectations. Some very entertaining fights, as well as extremely impressive performances/finishes made for one of the most exciting cards of 2016. But, like most fans of MMA, I couldn’t help but ask myself this morning, what next? Here are some possible matchups to make in the aftermath of UFC 206
5: Lando Vannata vs Anthony Pettis
“Groovy” Lando made short work of John Makdessi, landing a sensational spinning heel kick to the head less than 2 minutes into the first round for the KO victory. Combine this with how impressive he looked taking a fight against Tony Ferguson on short notice, I think Vannata is ready for another high level opponent. To me, Pettis seems like a great matchup stylistically, and the timing is right. Missing weight for a championship fight is a sign that you’re probably not at the right weight class, and Duke Roufus hinted that this was probably the last time that we’ll see “Showtime” at 145 lbs. It has been a long time since Anthony Pettis has fought somebody not in title contention talks, and perhaps an unranked fighter to welcome him back to 155 lbs is the type of lower pressure fight he needs to get back to his old self. Conversely, if Vannata went out and made a statement by impressively beating Pettis, he could find himself in the top 10 after just 3 UFC fights. Whatever the outcome, this would definitely be an exciting fight.
4: Dooho Choi vs Jeremy Stephens
Dooho Choi may not have got the win last night, but he showed incredible heart, determination, and one hell of a chin. But the fight wasn’t one-sided, he showed off his offensive skills too, hurting Swanson and landing crisp boxing combos as expected. The hype surrounding Choi is real, but perhaps an opponent as talented as Cub Swanson was a step too far, a little too early in his career. Jeremy Stephens is coming off a hard-fought decision loss to Frankie Edgar at UFC 205, and is a matchup that makes sense for Choi. If Stephens was to bounce back and beat Choi, he would be right back to fighting top 5 ranked guys, but Choi could use this Swanson loss as a learning experience, come back stronger than ever and beat a dangerous top 10 opponent, and get himself close to title contention.
3: Donald Cerrone vs Demian Maia
“Cowboy” won in typically exciting fashion last night. He weathered an early storm from Matt Brown, before finding his rhythm and landing shots on Brown. A clean left high kick from Cerrone early in the third knocked Brown out cold for a spectacular victory, and now Cerrone finds himself very close to a welterweight title shot. In a perfect world, Woodley vs Thompson would not have ended in a draw, and Maia would have been booked to fight the winner for the belt. However, with how UFC 205 played out, it makes sense to do Woodley vs Thompson again, and booking Cerrone vs Maia on the same card or within a month of that rematch would make a lot of sense. If Maia runs through “Cowboy” like he has done with everybody else lately, he cannot be denied a title shot for his next fight. But if Cerrone goes out and picks Maia apart on the feet and takes the victory, he would surely gain his second UFC title shot.
2: Cub Swanson vs Frankie Edgar 2
Swanson was asked in the post fight press conference whether he would be interested in an immediate rematch with Choi, which he dismissed pretty quickly. Swanson said that he wouldn’t think about giving a rematch to somebody he beat until he got a rematch against somebody he lost to, and I think that is a fair point to make. Swanson talked about fixing the holes in his game that Frankie Edgar exposed, and a rematch against him would be a mouth-watering contest at the top of the division. Edgar has been at the top of the featherweight division since dropping down to 145 lbs, and a second win over Swanson, who now sits on a 3 fight win streak, would further solidify his spot as one of the best in the world. If Swanson were to come into this fight having grown further as a fighter, and put on a winning performance against somebody as talented as Frankie Edgar, he could easily score himself that elusive UFC title shot he has been so close to for so long. But who would he challenge for the title? That leads me to the fight that simply has to be made after UFC 206
1: Jose Aldo vs Max Holloway
Max Holloway showed just how good he really is this weekend. He is the first man to stop Anthony Pettis in his professional career, and there really is no match to make other than the Aldo fight now. Holloway is learning to command the mic, and promote himself too, “If you want to fight the best, come fight Blessed” and “Where’s Jose Waldo” stand out from the post fight press conference. With a now 10 fight win streak, the UFC need to book the always active Holloway to fight Aldo, or make his interim belt the undisputed belt if the Aldo fight falls through. Holloway has been campaigning for the UFC to come to Hawaii, and a title unification fight between him and Aldo would be a huge event, that would sell out extremely quickly. If he was to beat Aldo, it could set up an enormous rematch and super fight with Conor McGregor, whether it was welcoming McGregor back to 145 lbs to try to reclaim his belt, or Holloway moving up to lightweight to challenge for that belt. The sky really is the limit for Max Holloway, and MMA fans everywhere will be eagerly awaiting the announcement of his next fight, whether it is against Aldo or not.