WHAT’S NEXT – UFC 202 AFTERMATH: Who should Diaz, McGregor, Cerrone, Teixeira, Johnson, the rest fight next?

By Robert Staaf, MMATorch contributor

Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor at UFC 202 (photo credit © Joshua Dahl USA Today Sports)
Hello everyone, Robert Staaf here to break down What’s Next.  I’m here because watching great MMA action is one thing, but when those fights have reason and real or implied implications, it makes the bouts all the more exciting.  Having a big Welterweight bout where, depending on who wins, the entire lay of the land in the division could dramatically change is just fascinating to ponder over.  I’ll be here every month to examine the biggest fights from the UFC’s pay-per-view events and discuss what direction the combatants on said cards appear to be heading, be it a title fight, a number one contender bout, or maybe even a recommendation for retirement (or forgoing retirement and receiving a title fight in the case of Dan Henderson but hey, I’m not the one making the final decisions).

What’s Next for the Top UFC 202 Fighters

UFC 202 has come and gone and we knew that the main event bout between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, despite not being for a title, was going to have a ripple effect across multiple divisions in the UFC.  We don’t have any concrete information on what the next moves are going to be but that’s what I’m here for.  Let’s get to breaking down what’s next for McGregor and Diaz as well as the other big names from UFC 202.

Conor McGregor

In the build up to McGregor-Diaz 2, we saw countless members of the media as well as fighters on the UFC roster predict the Irishman to fall to Diaz a second time, myself included.  Conor McGregor deserves a ton of respect for how seriously he took this fight, the preparations leading up to it, and how he handled adversity throughout the fight.  We saw a much more focused and dare I say humble McGregor as he made his walk to the Octagon.

The first round and a half played out similarly to their first bout, but with the leg kicks a vital piece to the puzzle this time as McGregor got the better of Diaz throughout.  As Diaz took control and started hurting McGregor in the third round, the UFC’s Featherweight kingpin appeared exhausted and many thought we were on our way to seeing history repeat itself.

Props to McGregor for finding a second wind in the fourth round (as it marked the longest fight he has ever been in).  McGregor’s wind coming back combined with the blood really causing a problem for Diaz and his vision at that point ultimately led to McGregor avenging his loss to Diaz as he took the majority decision victory.

Now where does the UFC Featherweight Champion go from here?  Dana White had gone on record leading up to this fight by saying McGregor would defend the Featherweight title win or lose, but I’ve never felt confident that we would see that and to be frank, I’m okay with it.  As former champ and long-reigning Featherweight king Jose Aldo defeated Frankie Edgar and was awarded the Interim Featherweight gold, many have clamored for seeing McGregor and Aldo go at it again.  I’m just not one of them for a couple of reasons.

Number one, I am unsure of McGregor’s desire to drop all the way back down to 145 lbs after competing at 170 for his past two fights.  Number two, he knocked Jose Aldo out in 13 seconds.  While they only fought once, we technically saw an entire build up for a fight between them twice, and I’m not that intrigued to see it for a third time.  Conor McGregor challenging Eddie Alvarez for the UFC Lightweight Championship is the fight to make next.  155 lbs is the right weight class for McGregor.  He can relinquish the Featherweight strap, Jose Aldo can have the ‘Interim’ label removed from his title, and we can see a highly intriguing battle between Alvarez and McGregor as the latter attempts to become just the third man in UFC history to hold championships in two divisions.

What’s Next: Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez (c) – UFC Lightweight Championship

Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz’s back to back fights against Conor McGregor have earned him the biggest paydays of his career, with UFC 202’s bout earning him a guaranteed disclosed payout of $2 million, the third highest guaranteed disclosed payout in history, only behind Conor McGregor’s $3 million for UFC 202 and Brock Lesnar’s $2.5 million for his return at UFC 200.  With PPV points likely added in, Diaz earned some serious coin and he may be content to enjoy it for a while.

In fact, Diaz has stated that he will not take another fight unless it’s a trilogy bout against McGregor.  Diaz sitting out for an extended timeframe is an unfortunate scenario because his fights with McGregor have seen him finally become the star he thought he could have been all along.

If the UFC is able to convince Diaz to take another fight and make some more money before the inevitable trilogy fight, there are endless options for the Stockton native.  If Diaz were to return to the Lightweight division, where he is currently ranked #4 in the UFC’s official rankings, a battle against rising contender Edson Barboza would be tremendously fun.  Other top contenders such as Khabib Nurmagomedov or Dustin Poirier would be good options as well.

If Diaz enjoys not cutting weight and chooses to remain at Welterweight, a rematch against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is the match to make.  Let’s be real here, I don’t see Diaz being willing to fight lesser-known names such as Khabib Nurmagomedov or Lorenz Larkin.  Matching him up with Cerrone provides him with an opponent with a big enough name and would provide the winner a clear slot near the top of the crowded Welterweight division.

All that being said, I would not be surprised to see Diaz balk at all these options and instead sit at home and relax as he waits a year until the UFC and Conor McGregor are ready to make boatloads of cash with the third installment in their rivalry.  I can’t say I’d blame him either.

What’s Next: Nate Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone (or a nice, long vacation…)

Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson just knocked out #2 Contender Glover Teixeira in 13 seconds and sent one of his teeth into the third row in the process.  Let’s be real here, ‘Rumble’ Johnson is getting the next shot at the Light Heavyweight Title.

The only potential barrier to us seeing Johnson get another go at current champ Daniel Cormier is if Jon Jones somehow manages to avoid suspension from USADA or the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  Were that to happen, it’s possible we see the UFC attempt to book Cormier-Jones 2 again but barring that, we appear set to see Johnson fighting for the gold again.

What’s Next: Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier (c) – UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

Glover Teixeira

Anthony Johnson put a halt to Glover Teixeira’s three-fight winning streak in quick fashion, leading Teixeira to attempt to get back on the winning track by wrestling referee Dan Miragliotta, but that too was not meant to be.  All kidding aside, it’s an unfortunate setback for the likeable Brazilian light heavyweight, who may never come that close to a title shot again.

Teixeira now finds himself in the role of ‘gatekeeper’ in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division, as he holds victories over several ranked light heavyweights while falling to those higher than him.  The UFC heads to Germany next week for Fight Night 93, where light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Jan Blachowicz do battle in the co-main event.  Teixeira has yet to face either man and a matchup against the loser would serve well as his next opponent.

What’s Next: Glover Teixeira vs. the loser of Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jan Blachowicz (Fight Night 93)

Donald Cerrone

Donald Cerrone continued to impress in his third fight since moving to the Welterweight division, finishing Rick Story with a sick combination that likely had Story feeling like he was getting hit by three or four different people at once.  ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone now holds wins in 11 of his past 12 and finds himself moving up the ranks in the crowded Welterweight field.

Cerrone holds a victory over current Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez less than two years ago and has openly stated his desire to get a title shot against the new champ.  UFC President Dana White, though, doesn’t appear too keen on that idea and would rather see ‘Cowboy’ stay at Welterweight.

With the potential of Alvarez defending the title next against Conor McGregor as well as a bit of a logjam of top contenders at 155 lbs including Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, I think we’ll see Cerrone stay at 170.  There are numerous potential exciting battles to be had, and if current #1 Contender Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson is passed over in favor of a returning Georges St-Pierre, a bout between Thompson and Cerrone would be tremendous.

There is also a mouth-watering option in a battle against Robbie Lawler.  While the UFC often avoids matching up a fighter on a winning streak vs. one coming off of a loss, the matchup against Lawler makes too much sense to pass up.  Book it as the third from the top on UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden and we are sure to see fireworks.

What’s Next: Donald Cerrone vs. Robbie Lawler

Quick Hits – Notable winning fighters

Mike Perry vs. Bryan Barberena

Mike Perry looked good on the big stage but there’s still a long way to go.  Bryan Barberena’s biggest claim to fame this far is his win over Sage Northcutt, and this would serve as a suitable matchup for both.

Tim Means vs. Alan Jouban

Tim Means continued to impress with his dominant win over Sabah Homasi.  A fight against Alan Jouban would surely be exciting as they both work to continue their climb up the ranks.

Cody Garbrandt vs. Dominick Cruz (c) – UFC Bantamweight Championship

Cody Garbrandt is one of the UFC’s fastest-rising stars and he continued his momentum with an absolute starching of veteran Takeya Mizugaki in only 48 seconds.  While TJ Dillashaw certainly has an argument for the next crack at the Bantamweight title, Garbrandt’s effectively gotten the ire and attention of current Champ Dominick Cruz.  ‘No Love’ Garbrandt has the potential to become a big star for the UFC and we very well may see him get the next title shot.

Raquel Pennington vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Raquel Pennington is now riding a three-fight winning streak and she continues to work towards the top end of the UFC’s Women’s Bantamweight division.  I believe we are in store for Ronda Rousey to receive a title shot against current Champion Amanda Nunes in her return, which would leave top contenders Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena waiting in line.  One of the two should take on Pennington next.

Artem Lobov vs. Jason Knight

Lobov is still here due to his association with Conor McGregor.  His next fight is a non-factor.

Cortney Casey vs. Jessica Penne

Cortney Casey looked great and her win marked two in a row.  5-0 Justine Kish is another potential opponent.

Lorenz Larkin vs. Kelvin Gastellum

Lorenz Larkin had a tremendous showing in his decimation of fellow Welterweight prospect Neil Magny.  This was a huge win for Larkin and a fight against Kelvin Gastellum, fresh off a win over former champion Johny Hendricks, is a logical fight to book.

Quick Hits – Notable losing fighters

Rick Story vs. Matt Brown

Rick Story had his nice three-fight winning streak snapped by Cerrone.  Fellow Welterweight veteran Matt Brown suffered a setback last month at UFC 201.  A fight between the two would be a good piece of matchmaking as they try to bounce back from their respective defeats.

Takeya Mizugaki vs. the loser of Chas Skelly vs. Maximo Blanco (Fight Night 94)

Mizugaki is a game veteran presence in the Featherweight division but he is now 1-3 in his last four.

Neil Magny vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Magny suffered an unfortunate setback as he was throttled by late replacement Lorenz Larkin.  Magny is still a fighter to watch in the Welterweight division and we should see him face the man he was originally scheduled to face at UFC 202, Dong Hyun Kim.

Closing Words

Well there you have it.  UFC 202 delivered in a big way and there are some intriguing options for many of the fighters in the coming months.  We’ll see you next time when we discuss what’s next for Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, C.M. Punk, and others from UFC 203!

(Robert Staaf writes “What’s Next?” for MMATorch after UFC pay-per-view events, breaking down the biggest fights and discussing where the combatants should be heading next.  Robert has followed MMA since the infancy of the UFC in 1993 and brings with him years of experience writing for various Mixed Martial Arts and Professional Wrestling sites.)

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