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Armchair Matchmaker: UFC 172 Edition

(“Hate to say Bones told you so…” Photo via Getty.)

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that UFC 172 was easily the greatest card of 2014 thus far. With brilliant, jaw-dropping finishes from top-to-bottom and perhaps the most complete performance of Jon Jones’ career, UFC 172 was a faith-restoring night of fights to say the least, and one that dramatically altered the fates of those who competed on it.

But today, we look forward. While Jon Jones‘ victory over Glover Teixeira can only mean that a highly-anticipated rematch with Alexander Gustafsson is surely on the horizon (a rare instance of the MMA Gods actually granting us a wish with no strings attached *fingers crossed*), there are still several potential matchups worth discussing, so let’s see what the future holds for UFC 172′s biggest winners and losers…

Anthony Johnson: What can you say about “Rumble” that hasn’t already been said? He looked damn-near perfect against Phil Davis, shutting down the four-time NCAA Division I All-American’s takedown attempts with ease and making him look like even more of an amateur on the feet. After two rounds had passed, we were all left wondering how Davis was ever considered the favorite heading into this matchup, and when/if Johnson’s gas tank would expire. It never did, and in his first fight back in the UFC since 2012, Johnson firmly established himself as a top contender at 205 lbs.

Personally, I think “Rumble” should use this opportunity to finally call out GSP, but a match against the Ryan Bader-Rafael Cavalcante winner probably makes more sense from a logistical standpoint. Bader has become a weigh-station for future contenders over the years (and I say that with all due respect), so should he get past “Feijao” at UFC 174, he would make for a fine addition to Johnson’s highlight reel (again, with all due respect). And if Cavalcante emerges with the W, you’ve got yourself a slugfest for the ages right there.

Phil Davis: If there was one basic lesson that Davis should have taken away from his one-sided loss to Rashad Evans back at UFC on FOX 2, it’s that the first M in MMA stands for “mixed.” Some two years later, Davis’ striking remains underwhelming at best — a means to the end that is his wrestling — and simply won’t cut it against the well-rounded elites of the division moving forward. From the moment Johnson cut him open in the first round, Davis looked tentative, scared even, and pulled nearly every punch he threw out of the fear of a “Rumble” counterstrike. A harsh critique, maybe, but for a guy who completely overlooked Johnson and said he would “break Jon Jones like a cookie” when/if they ever met, Davis looked straight-up neutered last Saturday.

So where should he go from here? To Thailand for six-months minimum of Muay Thai training, for starters, and then a fight with Glover Teixeira. Davis may talk a good game, but a controversial win over Lyoto Machida and no one else has not exactly sold him as a top contender in our eyes. And what better way to prove that he can actually hang with the big dogs than by facing the guy who just took Jon Jones’ best shots for five rounds?

It’s sink or swim time for Davis as an MMA fighter, and if he wants to actually prove that he has more in his repertoire than some solid takedowns and a the occasional submission, a win over a power-puncher with exceptional takedown defense (a.k.a “an Anthony Johnson-type”) is the only way he can do so.

Luke Rockhold: Following his Chris Lytle vs. Jason Gilliam-level ground pwnage of Tim Boetsch on Saturday, the final Strikeforce middleweight champion called out Vitor Belfort, who scored our 2013 Knockout of the Year over him back at UFC on FX 8, and Michael Bisping, who is an asshole. A fight with “The Count” makes fuck-all sense at this point, but a rematch with Belfort?

Problem is, no one knows when Belfort will have his TRT issues sorted out, and Dana White’s recent statements about the Brazilian seem to indicate that he just might have failed his drug test prior to his short-lived UFC 173 title fight with Chris Weidman. But being that Rockhold already holds wins over Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo Souza, his options are severely limited…

I know, how about Yoel Romero? “The Soldier of God” just dominated Brad Tavares at UFC on FOX 11, is 4-0 in the UFC, and couples a ridiculous grappling pedigree with some scary punching power. Any takers?

Jim Miller: Aside from being an endlessly entertaining fighter who’s damn near impossible to finish, Jim Miller is the kind of perennial top contender who absolutely clowns anyone ranked below him while lacking the ability to truly break into the upper-echelon of the division. In his past two fights, however, Miller has proven more than ever before that he is an aggressive opportunist who will look for the quick finish if he feels that he has his opponent hurt. Sound familiar?

There’s a reason Miller called out Donald Cerrone (and most of the lightweight division, but whatevs) in his post-fight interview, and it’s not just because they’re remarkably similar fighters. The fight is guaranteed to net either man at least one “Performance of the Night” bonus, and from a fan’s perspective, it would be an absolute thrill to watch.

Max HollawayAfter suffering a couple of tough defeats to Conor McGregor and Dennis Bermudez back in 2013, “Blessed” has bounced back with a pair of impressive, technical wins over Will Chope and Andre Fili in 2014. I was shocked to see Hollaway as the underdog heading into his fight with Fili last weekend, but moving forward, a fight with Cole Miller, who’s also riding a two-fight streak, sounds good to me. Simple.

Joseph Benavidez: In a division as small as flyweight, it pains me to say that Joseph Benavidez could find himself in Yushin Okami/Jon Fitch territory before too long. That is not to say that Benavidez is a quote unquote boring fighter (because he’s anything but), but with two losses to champion Demetrious Johnson including a quick KO defeat in their last meeting, there’s nowhere to really place Benavidez at 125 lbs. That he costs 40ish thousand to show (which is a lot in the UFC’s eyes) and currently serves the purpose of crushing potential contenders makes him a bit of a liability, to be honest, and if the UFC plans to continue cutting the Jake Shields’ of each division simply because they’ll never be at championship level again, Benavidez better pray for an interim-title opportunity to be thrown his way in the near future.

In the meantime, I dunno, a fight with John Lineker, maybe? “Hands of Ham Stone” is coming off a decision loss to current title challenger Ali Bagautinov that, go figure, he struggled to make weight for. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to pair up a guy coming off a win with another coming off a loss, but them are slim pickens in the flyweight division.

Do any of these matchups tickle your fancy, Potato Nation? Let us know in the comments section. 

-J. Jones

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