Fights to Make Next after UFC 235

By Cole Henry, MMATorch Contributor

Next for Jon Jones
Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Jon Jones (red gloves) is introduced before his fight against Anthony Smith (blue gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Jones def. Anthony Smith to retain UFC light heavyweight championship

Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Jon Jones (red gloves) with the title belt after defeating Anthony Smith (blue gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Jones had a good performance against Anthony Smith, but honestly, he is so great that this one will probably be forgotten when its all said and done. Jones was good, but not spectacular, and it gave me flashbacks to the days of Anderson Silva’s fights with Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Demian Maia. Silva, as great as he was, seemed to only do just enough in those fights. He seemed uninterested, and while I can’t say Jones seemed uninterested, he did seem to be fighting down to his opponents’ abilities. Without meaning any disrespect to Anthony Smith it was quite obvious early on that the skill difference between he and Jones was immense, both physically and mentally. Jones led the entire fight and seemed to have a psychological advantage over Smith that kept the challenger from engaging throughout most of the fight. But Jones never went for the kill, he seemed content to beat Smith on points.

Regardless of his performance, Jones is unquestionably the best light-heavyweight fighter in the world. He has no equal, and no clear challengers. Sure, guys are in line, but do any of them have a legitimate chance at defeating him? Frank Shamrock once retired because the UFC couldn’t find any competition for him, and Jones is certainly nearing that same level of dominance. But Jones isn’t retiring, and the call for the next challenger will be answered. Thiago Silva has looked great since moving up to 205 and he is probably the number one contender for Jones. It’s tough to see what he has to offer Jones, but the same can be said about anybody at this point.

Fight to make next: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos (UFC Light-heavyweight Championship)

Anthony Smith was an unlikely challenger and unfortunately, he did not live up to the challenge. He seemed hesitant to engage Jones and did exactly what he said he wouldn’t. It was a bad showing and not much more can be said about it. Going forward he will remain a top-ranked fighter in the division but while he did mention a desire to earn a rematch with Jones, he is unlikely to do so without putting together a string of wins.

A fight with Alex Gustafsson or Jan Blachowicz could make some sense, but for some reason, I like the idea of matching him up with Johnny Walker. Walker has blasted through three opponents and there is no reason to slow down his progression. He is a 20+ fight veteran and in a division with very few quality title challengers he could be called upon sooner than later to face the champion. But is he ready? While Smith struggled against Jones, he has been a solid fighter otherwise since moving to the division. We’ll find out a lot about Walker in this fight, and it gives Smith a chance to show that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Fight to make next: Anthony Smith vs. Johnny Walker

Kamaru Usman def. Tyron Woodley for UFC welterweight championship

Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Kamaru Usman (blue gloves) and Tyron Woodley (red gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of back and forth trash talking it was Kamaru Usman that prevailed. Usman is now the fourth man to hold the welterweight championship since it was vacated by the great Georges St-Pierre. Usman wrestled the championship away from Woodley in dominant fashion and ended what had up to then been a fairly dominant title run. Woodley has stated that he believes he deserves a rematch but with the way the fight went and considering his sometimes-contentious relationship with Dana White, that seems unlikely. In fact, the UFC has already announced who the next title challenger will be and it’s Colby Covington. Say what you will about his personality but it can’t be denied that Covington can fight. Will he be able to be Usman? Well, I’m not a psychic… unfortunately.

Fight to make next: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington (UFC Welterweight Championship)

Tyron Woodley has been an underappreciated champion, but he deserves credit for standing out in a division that has been filled will all-time greats. Welterweight had Hughes, St Pierre and now Woodley can be added to that list. He was able to solve the Wonderboy Thompson puzzle before anybody else (Matt Brown I know… but Wonderboy was young), he outworked Demian Maia, and perhaps most impressively the way that he took the belt from Robbie Lawler will always be a memorable highlight reel.

But all good things must pass, and with that goes the title reign of Tyron Woodley. He wants a rematch, but if he doesn’t get it what is next for the Chosen One? Santiago Ponzinibbio could make some sense here. Ponzinibbio has silently (but violently) been running through the welterweight division but he has yet to face a top tiered challenger. A win for Woodley could line him up for the rematch that he desires while a win for Ponzinibbio could finally put him over the top and into a title fight.

Fight to make next: Tyron Woodley vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio

Ben Askren def. Robbie Lawler

Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Robbie Lawler (red gloves) and Ben Askren (blue gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Ben Askren is still undefeated… In what was perhaps the most entertaining fight of the final three of the night, Askren attempted to take Lawler down right out of the gate but Lawler saw it coming and reacted like a bull in Spain. Lawler slammed Askren to the mat and nearly took his head off with a series of vicious blows to the head, but alas the Funky one survived, and managed to recover before taking his opponent down. From there, things got a little weird. Askren attempted a Bulldog choke and Lawler appeared to go out, well at least in the sense that his hand appeared to hit the mat much like one would expect the hand of an unconscious man to do. But when Herb Dean stopped the fight it appeared clear that Lawler wasn’t out and that a terrible mistake had been made.

Initially, a rematch seemed only fair, but after sleeping on it I am not so sure. It was a bad stoppage, but it wasn’t Askren’s fault. He executed a submission and perhaps with an adjustment, he could have earned the win through a more legitimate way, but it wasn’t to be. Askren should move forward and he’s made it obvious that he wants to fight Darren Till. Till has to fight Jorge Masvidal, and if he loses a fight with Askren doesn’t make sense. Therefore, Askren should face the winner of Till and Masvidal and then perhaps he can finally dance with Marty from Nebraska…

Fight to make next: Ben Askren vs. Winner of Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal

Robbie Lawler nearly ended the Ben Askren hype train via decapitation but eventually succumbed to a referee’s poor decision. It wasn’t the outcome that Lawler wanted but he probably didn’t lose much with the loss. Many felt he was robbed and while a rematch might be warranted, we’re going to move forward as if we won’t see it until its booked. So, going forward what’s next for the former world champion?

Nick Diaz is the fight that we would get if we all had one wish but without that wish its unlikely. So, Vicente Luque could be the guy here. Luque has been on a hell of a run and made it clear after his last fight that he would like a step up in competition. Robbie Lawler remains one of the top-ranked fighters in the division, so this fight is as relevant as it is exciting… Lawler vs. Luque? I just don’t see how it wouldn’t be a good one.

Fight to make next: Robbie Lawler vs. Vicente Luque

Weili Zhang def. Tecia Torres

Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tecia Torres (red gloves) and Weili Zhang (blue gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Weili Zhang is one of the faces of a recent injection of Chinese prospects into the UFC. Her latest win over Tecia Torres is the biggest and most notable of her career and with it, she now stands at 19-1 overall. She appears to be a well-rounded fighter as she was able to best Torres on the feet, in the clinch and on the ground. Nina Ansaroff hinted over the weekend that her next fight has already been lined up which means that it’s unlikely she will face Zhang next, but it would be a great match up none the less.

Fight to make next: Weili Zhang vs. Nina Ansaroff

It’s been a tough stretch for the Tiny Tornado… After winning ten of her first eleven fights, Torres has now lost three straight. She will likely keep her top ten ranking, but she really needs to pick up a win in her next fight if she wants to retain any sort of relevancy in the division. Torres first fought Felice Herrig in Invicta back in 2013, and while a lot has changed since then they still remain relatively close to each other in terms of standing in the division. Torres won the first time and I am sure that Herrig would love a chance at a do-over.

Fight to make next: Tecia Torres vs. Felice Herrig II

Pedro Munhoz def. Cody Garbrandt

Mar 2, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pedro Munhoz (blue gloves) and Cody Garbrandt (red gloves) during UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Pedro Munhoz picked up the biggest win of his career and he did it in a way that few expected. Munhoz noted for his grappling, found the win with his hands and in the process sent Cody Garbrandt spiralling into his third straight loss. Munhoz is likely behind Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling in the rankings, and that’s not even including Henry Cejudo who could also be in play for the next Bantamweight Title shot. To clean things up a bit we can match up a few of the contenders… Pedro Munhoz vs. Aljamain Sterling is a great fight to make, especially if Marlon Moraes gets the next shot. The winner can perhaps expect to be the first in line to fight for the belt once the dust settles from the potential Dillashaw/Moraes fight.

Fight to make next: Pedro Munhoz vs. Aljamain Sterling

I don’t want to be the three millionth person to say this, but I’ll do it anyway. Let’s break it down like this. Cody Garbrandt looked good in the lead up to the Dom Cruz fight and then he proceeded to beat Cruz like it was nothing. Her performance was flawless, I watched it again just for this article and it is even more dominant than I remembered. Garbrandt seemed primed to become a star, he had the look, the power, and the big gold belt… and then it all came to a smashing halt. Garbrandt suffered not one, but two KO losses to TJ Dillashaw, and from there he took quite a bit of time off. In his first fight back, he showed very little to no improvement.

Garbrandt engaged in a firefight and came out on the wrong side. He’s fought three times since the Cruz fight, he’s lost all three, and all three losses have come via KO. He no longer seems quite as primed to become a star.

Should he switch camps? Should get change weight classes? What is clear is that he needs a win and he needs it now (Or as soon as the commission clears him)

Jimmie Rivera is a guy that is in a similar position though it isn’t so extreme. Rivera was on a tear and looked ready for a shot at the title, that is until he faced Marlon Moraes and was starched. Considering his latest loss to Aljamain Sterling, Rivera is a few wins away from title consideration. In a slightly different world, this could be a title fight, but MMA is crazy, and Cody Garbrandt isn’t quite what some people hoped.

Fight to make next: Cody Garbrandt vs. Jimmie Rivera


Notable undercard fights:

Zabit Magomedsharipov def. Jeremy Stephens

Fights to make next:

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez

Jeremy Stephens vs. Calvin Kattar

Johnny Walker def. Misha Cirkunov

Fights to make next:

Johnny Walker vs. Anthony Smith

Misha Cirkunov vs. Ilir Latifi

Diego Sanchez def. Mickey Gall

Fights to make next:

Diego Sanchez vs. Demian Maia

Mickey Gall vs. Luigi Vendramini

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