After a UFC 266 card that saw non-stop action, we can’t help but think ahead to what might be next for some of the fighters. Some let their intentions be known, others left more to the imagination. Nevertheless, let’s do Mick Maynard’s job and tell you what’s next for some of the biggest names on following UFC 266.
On deck: Max Holloway-Yair Rodriguez Winner
After another dominant performance by Volkanovski this weekend, the featherweight champion seemed open to the possibility of fighting up at lightweight. The name Conor McGregor was tossed around – and he said he’d be open to that fight at either weight class. This idea to go outside of the division is likely sparked by the fact that it seems next up at featherweight may wind up being his old foe Max Holloway for round 3. I, like Volkanovski, am less interested in running that one back again. But, I am also hesitant to start having him go out of the division with plenty of challengers in the waiting. Giga Chikadze, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez – there’s plenty of fresh faces in the division looking to get theirs.
But while we’re looking to all the fresh faces, if we’re paying attention to the most deserving, it’s likely the winner of Yair Rodriguez and Max Holloway. Both of them have done everything needed for a title shot. A win over the other in a main event would really put a cherry on the top of the resume. The timeline would also work out with Volkanovski needing some time to travel and get back into training camp.
On deck: Giga Chikadze
For the second straight time, Ortega not only whiffed on his chance to win a UFC title. For the second straight time, Ortega absorbed over 200 significant strikes en route to said loss. However, it wasn’t all negatives for the contender. The third round saw him nearly sink in a guillotine and a triangle choke. – both of which, Volkanovski noted were tight. He’s clearly shown that he is one of the very best featherweights in the world, but not the very best. As a result, he’s going to be used as a gatekeeper for awhile unless a new champion is crowned. As such, his next fight should definitely come in a main event of a fight night against a top contender.
Giga Chikadze is the guy. He needs a high-profile win against a top 5 guy in order to secure a title shot. If the Holloway-Rodriguez winner is getting next, Chikadze probably needs another win. Ortega would be someone who could help showcase that Giga is ready. Also, it would give Ortega a chance to show he still belongs at the top by beating a talented striker.
On deck: Rose Namajunas-Weili Zhang Winner
Valentina Shevchenko continues ripping through the flyweight division at an alarming rate. Not only did she dismantle Lauren Murphy, but that leaves her with a win over each of the top 4 fighters at flyweight. This seems to be a slight problem with the matchmaking around the flyweight division. A lot of the top contenders keep fighting one another and very few fresh faces are popping up. Combine that with Shevchenko being one of the more active fighters, it results in this void of fresh, quality contenders. Giving the flyweight division some time to figure it out might be best. That way we might see someone like Taila Santos, Manon Fiorot or Erin Blanchfield make a little run.
In the meantime, it’s time to book a super-fight for Shevchenko. However, I’m not in on the 3rd episode of Nunes-Shevchenko. We saw how that’s worked out a couple times and, while it was close, I’m generally not for trilogies that are 0-2. So let’s go with a strawweight champion coming up instead. I’m sure the winner of Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang would be worthy of a shot at flyweight. Let’s make that happen next.
On deck: Taila Santos
As I mentioned, the UFC has a problem matching stalwarts at the top of the flyweight division against one another. The instinct may be to match Lauren Murphy with another fighter who previously had a winning streak snapped by the champ. Someone like Jessica Eye or Katlyn Chookagian might be on the tip of people’s tongue. However, I think this is a perfect situation to find some new blood that might sneak into that top tier.
Taila Santos looked incredible against Roxanne Modafferi this past weekend. Arguably, she looked even better than Murphy did in beating Roxy. Santos is just 28-years old and has only had four fights in the UFC. Even given that information, there is no reason to think she couldn’t at the very least hang with Murphy and possibly get some fresh blood in that top 5.
On deck: Chris Daukaus
Curtis Blaydes put together another stellar performance doing exactly what Curtis Blaydes does – grounding an opponent and making their life a living hell. With the exception of Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis, he’s done this to everybody he’s ever seen. Sadly, both of those guys are in front of him in the division and there is a weird logjam of contenders there. As a result, he’s going to need to fight a few people behind him in the division to stay relevant if/when that title picture opens up a bit again.
A fight with fellow UFC 266 winner Chris Daukaus would make a lot of sense. Daukaus has disposed of everyone he’s face in just a round or two. His speed and power punching makes him a threat to a lot of the division – and those are things that Blaydes has had trouble with. It would also help to answer the question of whether Daukaus might be a little too small for the division’s big guys.
On deck: Gregor Gillespie
Dan Hooker not only came out and impressed us with his striking, like he always does, but he showed an entirely new side to himself as well. Hooker apparently decided in the time since the Michael Chandler fight, that he would turn his wrestling into a real weapon. He not only scored some takedowns in the process, but he did so with some really impressive counters where he ducked under and got in on the legs of Nasrat Haqparast. That ability could upset a lot of people in this division. I, personally, would love to see him step in for Rafael dos Anjos and fight Islam Makhachev in about a month’s time. However, I am a realist and realize that he has an issue with having to return home to see his kids (and the quarantine that goes along with that).
Instead, let’s book him with another fighter who takes some big breaks and is known for his wrestling. Gregor Gillespie is on the rise and would be a fun test for that wrestling of Hooker. It would allow us to see if Hooker’s defensive wrestling has been as good as his offense and would hopefully test the stand-up of Gillespie a bit further.