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By: Rich Hansen, MMATorch Columnist
Ed. Note: Dan Moore is traveling this weekend, so Rich Hansen has stepped back into the matchmaker's chair for today after Saturday's UFC 185 card.
Bet you didn't see that coming, did you? Anthony Pettis losing to the guy who got his jaw broken by Clay Guida, a guy who lost to Gleison Tibau; that wasn't supposed to happen. But happen it certainly did. The Pettis era, like the Machida era, is over. The king is dead, long live the king.
Look. Unlike Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, et. al., the game plan on how to beat Anthony Pettis has been written for a long time now. Ben Henderson told Joe Rogan after dropping the title at UFC 164 that the key to beating Anthony is to get him moving backward. He's not so dangerous when his back is attached to the cage. Henderson was able to put Pettis there, and would have won the first round had Pettis not put himself on his back with a stupid Capoeira kick. Gilbert Melendez won a round by putting Pettis on the fence. But the new UFC Lightweight Champion took the theory and expanded upon it.
Dos Anjos wasn't scared of Pettis; not for one second did he swallow the mystique of Anthony Pettis. Benson Henderson went to Milwaukee knowing he was on borrowed time. So even though he knew what had to be done, deep down in those places you don't want to admit exist, he knew. Gilbert Melendez fought Pettis knowing he didn't have the versatility to capitalize once he was able to put Pettis in a bad position. It's one thing to put Pettis on the fence; it's another thing to keep him there for 25 minutes. It can't be done. The key to beating Pettis has always been to start by getting him on the cage, and then using that dominant positioning to force your will.
Anthony Pettis didn't lose the fight; Rafael dos Anjos beat the ever loving hell out of the champion and took the title from him. He won every significant moment of this fight, and announced to the entire world that he's the best lightweight in the world.
Except for Khabib Nurmagomedov, I mean.
Moving on to the fights to make coming out of UFC 185…
Rafael dos Anjos
This one's easy. He's either going to be fighting Nurmagomedov, or he's going to be fighting Donald Cerrone. Nurmagomedov did to dos Anjos pretty much what dos Anjos did to Pettis, and dos Anjos pretty much did to Cerrone what he did to Pettis. Not much of a mystery what Zuffa wants to happen at UFC 187. Of course, Nurmagomedov is going to grind Cerrone into tiny little pebbles of Skoal and Budweiser, meaning that Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Rafael dos Anjos is going to headline the next big Brazilian card.
Pettis certainly isn't broken, he certainly isn't beyond repair. That said, you can bet your ass that the next opponent for Pettis isn't going to be Johnny Grinder Takedown Machine. He's going to be headlining the Chicago card on Fox in July, and it's going to be an action fight designed to rebuild Pettis as quickly as possible. Donald Cerrone will be coming off of a loss, but he's already had three minutes in Chicago against the former champion. Bobby Green, former top contender Josh Thomson, and Myles Jury are all possible, but the money fight is, of course, Nathan Diaz. But if Diaz doesn't want the fight (And the Diaz brothers are great at telling you the fight they want while they run from fights like screaming children) then how about Edson Barboza?
This one surprised me more than dos Anjos walking through Pettis. Not because I thought Carla Esparza was the next big thing (nor does Reebok), but because I didn't think that Jedrzejczyk was going to improve her skills enough from her close decision victory over Claudia Gadelha to her fight with Esparza. But either Gadelha is a cut above everybody else, or Jedrzejczyk improved as dramatically as any fighter could improve in a mere three months. But who's next? If Paige Van Zant defeats the overrated Felice Herrig, that's the fight they're going to make.
From the moment the camera first hit Esparza making her way to the cage, it was clear that she didn't want to be anywhere near Dallas, Octagons, or Polish women. Esparza had the single worst performance from a sitting champion in UFC history. If the world were a just place (it's not), her next fight would be in the Invicta Atomweight division, because she's not a legitimate strawweight. But despite not getting any subsidies from Reebok, expect her to hang on at 115 lbs. as long as possible, possibly against Claudia Gadelha.
It's clear that Hendricks deserves the next shot at the UFC Welterweight Championship, after Robbie Lawler attempts to defend the strap against Rory MacDonald. But that fight is four months out, and history has shown that sitting on the sidelines for eight to ten months when healthy isn't the best way to go. So, does he fight for the title in December, or does he fight Tyron Woodley on the undercard of UFC 189? If it's me, I'm booking him against Tyron Woodley on the UFC 189 card. But more likely than not, he's fighting for the title this December.
Sometimes the glass ceiling looks like glass but is really a thick 15 feet of reinforced steel. Matt Brown is a lot of things; elite is not one of them. But there's nothing wrong with setting up as cannon fodder to make more talented fighters shine. I'm thinking the loser of Carlos Condit vs. Thiago Alves. If that wait is too long, the loser of next week's fight between Ryan LaFlare and Demian Maia could be on tap as well.
I know this is the part of the conversation where I talk about Alistair Overeem's fascinating versatility, but Roy Nelson, warts and all (and if Nelson had warts, he'd probably find a way to eat them), is a tough son of a bitch. Overeem throws murderous leg kicks; Nelson eats them. Overeem goes high with the kicks; Nelson eats them. Body shots? Nelson eats them. Thundering hooks? FEED ME, SEYMOUR! Oh, and Overeem looked fantastic. Not title shot fantastic of course, But certainly Markoh Huntoh fantastic. This has been a dream fight for years. They have the same K1, Pride, UFC pedigrees, and it's time to match them up. And if for some reason Joe Silva has lost his mind and doesn't see that as the perfect next fight, then maybe Overeem has run out of ways to avoid Junior dos Santos. Also possible is a number one contender fight vs. Travis Browne or Andrei Arlovski.
Years ago I had a running joke on the site where I refused to identify Dan Henderson as Dan Henderson. My rationale was that since Henderson refused to be anything more than a big overhand right, then why should I recognize any part of Henderson that Henderson himself refused to acknowledge? So, Roy Nelson's Right Hand has never stood a chance against the upper tier of the emaciated lightweight division. And Mr. Nelson's Right Hand should never be given a fight with a top-fifteen fighter ever again. Nelson's Right Hand doesn't take himself or his career seriously, so why should I? Let him have the loser of Gonzaga vs. CroCop, but don't expect me to give a damn.
The tripe about whether or not Cejudo will make weight was old about five seconds before it started. The more anyone focused on his weigh-ins, the less they realized that not only is Cejudo an Olympic champion, but just an unbelievable athlete as well (and yes, I realize that you have to be a decent athlete to win Olympic gold in any activity besides curling - relax, I love curling). And that athleticism allows him to improvise past the flaws in his game that more experience will cover up. Cejudo might not be ready for Mighty Mouse just yet, but he's going to be facing him by the end of the year. Expect Cejudo to fight Jussier Formiga in Mexico City this June, then get Mighty Mouse after he rolls in that. Wilson Reis might be in store if the UFC has a different idea for Formiga beyond being cannon fodder for Cejudo.
Cariaso has lost back to back fights to the two most talented athletes in the flyweight division. No shame in that. However, did you see anything in those forty minutes of fighting that shows you he's ever getting out of the gatekeeper role in which he's been forced to fill? No? Me neither. I suppose he can fight Ian McCall in a one-last-chance-at-divisional-relevance fight. If he's been deemed beyond repair by the powers that be, then he might be looking at Dustin Ortiz next.
As for the prelims, Ross Pearson did what Ross Pearson does. I'd love to see him be the next test for Beniel Dariush. Sam Stout can fight Daron Cruickshank, unless he's headed for WSOF or Titan next.
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