UFC 118: What’s next?

After every UFC event, each participant on the card will have repositioned himself within the ranks of the organizations, some through victory and others by defeat. UFC 118 was no different, as the victorious fighters moved up the ladder, while in defeat, others slid back down. Examining the ten fighters of the  main card, along with one undercard fighter whose effort cannot be ignored, it’s time to see where everyone sits post UFC 118.

Joe Lauzon

Lauzon’s homecoming couldn’t not have gone any better, as he quickly dismantled Gabe Ruediger, ending the fight at the 2:01 mark of the first round with a vicious armbar. It is safe to say that Lauzon’s near flawless victory has left him ready and willing for a step up in competition. At the top of Lauzon’s to-do list should be avenging one of his more recent loses, and seeing as that Sam Stout is already busy, Kenny Florian fits the bill perfectly. After dropping his 2008 matchup with Ken-Flo, Lauzon has won three of his last four fights all against lesser-known competition. With B.J. Penn and Florian both temporarily out of the title race, the lightweight division will be looking for a few new faces to fill the role of top contender. A victory over a high profile opponent such as Florian could move Lauzon within another victory of a title shot.  

Marcus Davis

Following his brutal defeat against Nate Diaz, I believe that it is time for Marcus Davis to take a long look at his career and where he’s at right now. He has dropped three of his last four fights, and only has three victories in his last seven matchups. Davis has picked up Fight of the Night honours in two of those matchups, but I think it is apparent that he is no longer capable of competing with the higher level talent in the UFC welterweight division. I would expect that the injury sustained during the Diaz fight should give Davis the required time to re-evaluate his situation. Should Davis return to the octagon I feel a good stylistic matchup for him would be Phil Baroni on an undercard or Fight Night event.

Nate Diaz

I’m not a huge Nate Diaz fan, but he certainly impressed me in his victory over the veteran Davis. Juxtaposed to Davis moving down the ranks of welterweight warriors, this is an opportunity for Nate to move up in competition. Against Davis, Diaz demonstrated his ability to exploit his reach advantage, but it’s time to put him in a matchup where that won’t be a factor. Mike Swick would offer such a challenge, in a fight that could be a candidate for Fight of the Night. A win over Swick would certainly push Diaz up the ranks and because GSP seems bent on sticking around the division that he has almost emptied out, there is always room for new welterweight contenders. Should Diaz drop the fight to Swick, Nate is still young and new to the division with lots of time to recover.

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Kenny Florian

Kenny Florian’s effort at 118 was anything but topnotch, and as a result he will need to return to the ranks of the lightweight division to rebuild his title aspirations. With title fight defeats against Sean Sherk and B.J. Penn now coupled with losing the number one contender fight against Gray Maynard, Florian’s ability to win the big one is being brought into question. In order to erase that doubt, Florian will need to pick of a couple of victories to put him back in the hunt. As I mentioned above, a fight with Joe Lauzon could be on the horizon, and a win in that matchup would help to turn things around. Should Florian secure a win over Lauzon, and avoid the dreaded gatekeeper label, I could see him matching up with the winner of the UFC 119 Evan Dunham and Sean Sherk fight. Wins in both of these matchups should help put him back in the title conversation, where he will be once again faced with winning the “big one”.

Gray Maynard

Not much needs to be said about Maynard’s future. He has the next shot at Frankie Edgar for the Lightweight title and we will have to see how that plays out when the time comes.

Mario Miranda

Mario Miranda was essentially dry humped around the octagon by Demian Maia for the full three rounds of their middleweight contest. Miranda wasn’t able to get out the starting blocks, but he did show some skill avoiding the submission attempts of one of the best in the game. At 1-2 in the UFC, Miranda will need a victory in his next fight to avoid being cut from the roster, if he isn’t already on his way out. My best guess is that he will be given one more shot to prove his worth to the powers that be. If I had to pick an opponent for Miranda I could see him facing off with a fighter like Aaron Simpson on an undercard or potentially a Fight Night Event, but a matchup with Simpson is anything but a guaranteed victory.     

Demian Maia

Demian Maia looked good in his win over Mario Miranda, but not great as he appeared to gas in the later half and was unable to finish the fight, while putting himself in vulnerable positions attempting to do so. Regardless of the method, Maia got the win but there is still a looming problem for Maia in the middleweight division. His title fight with Anderson Silva is still fresh in the minds of both the UFC fans and management and that’s not a good thing. So Maia has two choices, the first being to remain at his current weight-class attempting to remain in the title hunt long enough for a new champion either by victory or Silva retiring. His other option is to attempt to cut weight and drop down to welterweight. If he is able to make that cut, there could be some interesting matchups for him in that division. This is just a hypothetical situation, but at welterweight I would really like to see Maia square off with Jon Fitch and see what happens when the fight hits the mat. At welterweight, it wouldn’t take long for Maia to make an impact with his superior BJJ skills. More than likely, Maia will remain at his current weight and will need a suitable opponent. I was really looking forward to the matchup with Alan Belcher, but seeing as that isn’t going to happen any time soon, I think that Maia could square off with the winner o Michael Bisping and Yoshihiro Akiyama.

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Randy Couture

The fight with Toney did little more then put to rest the MMA versus Boxing question and add another notch in the win column for “The Natural”. Now it is time to get back to fighting real opponents in the Light heavyweight. The big question is where Randy currently sits, and who should he fight right now. Based on Randy’s legacy and drawing power I think that he is only one, at the most two significant wins away from a title shot. Unfortunately, a number of the top fighters in the division are currently occupied leaving only a few options. The UFC would certainly benefit from Couture getting another title shot, so who could he take on. Seeing as that Shogun is on the shelf for quite a substantial amount of time and has an opponent lined up for his return, Randy’s run at the title will need to be strung out over a lengthy amount of time. I think that a reasonable opponent for Couture’s next bout would be Thiago Silva. Is beating Silva enough to give him a title shot, I don’t think so as Silva hasn’t exactly been running over his opponents in the division. A solid follow up, if he were to beat Thiago, would be a matchup with Rich Franklin. A victory over Franklin in a co-main event would give Couture five consecutive wins (counting Toney) which would be enough to justify a title shot against whoever the champion may be at the time.

James Toney

James Toney’s future in the UFC has already been decided for him. Almost as quickly Randy Couture could dump “Lights Out” out his backside, Dana White put to the rest the possibility of Toney entering the Octagon again. Toney returning to the world of Boxing is certainly his best option, closing the book on his UFC career.

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B.J. Penn

This is a tough one, Penn has dropped two consecutive title fights to the same man and the whispers of his demise are slowly increasing. Penn looked uninspired and outclassed in both fights, even more so in the most recent of the two installments. First off, I think that Penn should take some time away from the game and address what took place in the last two fights. Was Frankie Edgar’s style and skill set simply designed to beat Penn or is the fight game passing him by. I’m leaning towards the first option, and if that’s the case then who is next for Penn? My biggest concern for Penn is the real possibility of him becoming a gatekeeper within the division. If he does return to the division he will need to put together an impressive run of victories to re-establish himself in title contention. My suggestion would be to kick off that run with a fight against a fighter like Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida, or Tyson Griffin. Each of these fighters are well known fighters and would serve as a good measuring stick for Penn. If he is successful, keep pushing on, if he falters time for another re-evaluation. In the end, there’s really only one person that can decide Penn’s future and that Penn himself. I think the skill are still there, but is the desire? Only time will tell if he is willing to return to the middle of the pack and fight is way up.

Frankie Edgar

Just like Maynard, the Lightweight champion’s future is already set. Barring any injuries, Edgar will face off with the only man to have defeated him. Both Maynard and Edgar appeared to have escaped their fights with relatively little damage and as a result there meeting could happen sooner rather than later. With regard to the fight itself I’m concerned as to how it might play out as both fighters have a tendency to take fights to a decision with no real threat of a finish. Again we will have to wait and see how things turn out for both fighters.  

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next few weeks and months for the fighters mentioned above as some push forward in search of a title shot and other struggle to remain relevant and employed.

Scott Johnson