Safe to say, no one was touting UFC 224 as the promotion’s must-see event of 2018 — but it delivered a pretty spectacular night of fights on Saturday, not to mention storylines to discuss afterward.
As is always the case, one storyline revolves around what’s next for the winners and losers. Here is ESPN’s take.
Result: Defeated Raquel Pennington via TKO
Next: featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino
You know what, I’ll be the first to say that by and large, a superfight between champions doesn’t make the most sense. It’s a fun idea, for sure, and it’s an easy sell to the public — but more often than not, it pits two fighters against one another who are just not the same size, and it also holds up not one, but two divisions.
But under the current circumstances, I’m in favor of this superfight. Nunes has established dominance in her division, as Justino has in hers. The most deserving bantamweight contender right now is Ketlen Vieira, who is a very talented, promising 26-year-old out of Brazil, but she’s not at a point where she has to fight for the title. It would not be a crime against her if she had to take one more fight.
There are other options for Nunes and Justino, but the interest a superfight draws would benefit both of their divisions, in my opinion, not hold them back.
Brett Okamoto joins OTL to break down Raquel Pennington’s corner not stopping her fight against Amanda Nunes after Pennington said she was done.
Result: Defeated Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza via split decision
Pretty open-and-shut case here. Gastelum’s earned it, and he looks like he’d be a handful for either one. The timing is just about perfect, as Whittaker’s next title defense is scheduled less than one month from now. Easy peasy matchmaking here.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, middleweight
Result: Lost to Kelvin Gastelum via split decision
Next: Chris Weidman
There are not a lot of options for Souza, quite frankly — but thankfully there is an obvious one, and that’s Weidman.
Souza has fought the majority of the names near the top, and he’s probably not willing (nor should he be asked) to dip down and fight some middle-of-the-pack contender. Weidman has been dealing with a thumb injury for nearly a full year, but has expressed optimism he’s almost ready to return. This matchup makes sense.
Result: Defeated Amanda Bobby Cooper via submission
Next: Jamie Moyle
There is still zero reason to rush Dern. Continue to put her in high-profile spots, but against reasonable competition. Moyle fits that bill. She’s 4-2 in her career and fights out of Las Vegas, which is where the UFC loves to book its biggest cards. Have Dern fight a Vegas resident in Vegas. Done.
And personally, I don’t have a problem with Dern staying at strawweight, despite her past issues of missing weight. But we’re at the end of the rope on that. This is her first and last warning, as it pertains to her UFC career. She misses again, no more strawweight.
Result: Defeated Brian Kelleher via TKO
Next: Dominick Cruz
Cruz hasn’t fought since he lost the title to Cody Garbrandt in late 2016. He was supposed to face another title hopeful, Jimmie Rivera, late last year but was forced to withdraw due to injury. When healthy, Cruz is one of the absolute best fighters in the world, but he’s had a nightmarish time staying active.
You take him when you can get him, and if Cruz is ready to go at any point in the near future, a Lineker matchup makes sense. From an X’s-and-O’s standpoint, that’s Cruz’s fight to lose, but Lineker has more momentum right now and arguably the heaviest hands in the division. It would be a high-risk, high-reward fight for both of them, and those are the best kind.
Result: Defeated Vitor Belfort via KO
Next: David Branch
Machida asked for Michael Bisping on Saturday, and if “The Count” is interested, that’s cool, man. The only problem I’d have with it, frankly, is that Bisping probably doesn’t need to be fighting anymore. The guy has nothing to prove and has been in his share of wars. I’m good with watching Bisping as an analyst, rather than a fighter, at this point.
Honestly, you could have a similar outlook on Machida, but the 39-year-old has shown no interest in joining Belfort in retirement after this past weekend. A matchup against Branch offers Machida a chance to climb the ranks and fight someone he’s never fought.