Another UFC Fight Night card has passed us by and with it comes a host of possibilities moving forward for both the victors and the unfortunate fighters who were defeated.
The UFC was once again back at the Apex facility for this card, which came after a strong few weeks for the promotion. Despite having to follow a memorable UFC 264 pay-per-view that was watched by a full Las Vegas crowd inside the T-Mobile Arena, UFC Vegas 31 provided entertainment throughout.
In the main event, Islam Makhachev extended his winning streak to eight after submitting #14-ranked Thiago Moises with a fourth-round rear-naked choke. With Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner, Makhachev displayed exactly why so many lightweights have been avoiding him. With entertaining fights and impressive performances from the likes of Mateusz Gamrot, Miesha Tate, Billy Quarantillo and Daniel Rodriguez, the event was certainly one of the best Fight Night's of the year so far.
So, what are the next steps we should see after some of those results? Here are three fights that should be booked following the events at UFC Vegas 31.
#3. Daniel Rodriguez vs. Niko Price - UFC welterweight
Just take a second to imagine this matchup. Two hard-swinging, powerful, dangerous and talented welterweights going head-to-head. The Fight of the Night cheques may as well be written in advance if this fight was to be booked.
Despite a late opponent change, Daniel Rodriguez looked as good as ever at UFC Vegas 31. At the start of the fight, Rodriguez put the pressure on the debuting Preston Parsons with sharp, stiff jabs and his classic brutal straight lefts. Unsurprisingly, the shots became too much for Parsons and 'D-Rod' forced the referee to step in and call a stop to the bout in the first round. Despite the win perhaps not doing as much for Rodriguez as it would have done had it been against his original opponent Abubakar Nurmagomedov, the 34-year-old couldn't help the Russian's withdrawal and still had to enter the octagon and put a tough welterweight away, which he did convincingly.
With the victory, Rodriguez moved to 5-1 in the UFC. The only defeat on his record was a controversial decision loss to Denmark's Nicholas Dalby. If 'D-Rod' had been given the nod on the Judges' scorecards, as many thought he should have, he’d be unbeaten in the promotion and on a 12-fight winning streak in MMA.
With the impressive performances he’s put in against the likes of Mike Perry, Dwight Grant, Tim Means and now Parsons, Rodriguez has certainly earned a fight with a bigger name.
One name Rodriguez could be paired up with is Niko Price. For a long time now, Price has looked like he has the potential to creep into contendership. Despite struggling as of late, 'The Hybrid' has fought the best and boasts wins over Alan Jouban, Randy Brown, Tim Means and James Vick. A defeat to Vicente Luque and a majority draw, later overturned to a no contest, against Donald Cerrone left Price sliding down the welterweight ladder and needing a big 2021. A loss to Michel Pereira at UFC 264 means Price will likely have to settle for a lesser opponent next time out.
Despite being without a win since 2019, Price always delivers barnburners and a matchup with Rodriguez would certainly be no exception.
#2. Mateusz Gamrot vs. Thiago Moises - UFC lightweight
It's always satisfying when two fighters from the same card go on to fight each other next. After the events of UFC Vegas 31, we could well be seeing a main card victor and the main event loser entering the octagon together later this year.
While Jan Blachowicz continues to put Polish MMA on the map with his reign as UFC light heavyweight champion, there's another Pole threatening to follow in his dominant footsteps to the top. Mateusz Gamrot boasts an impressive record and he's certainly established his name in the UFC. This past weekend he had the chance to add one of the most recognizable and experienced names in the UFC to his resume when he faced Jeremy Stephens. Not only was he successful in doing so, but he did it easily.
Against 'Lil Heathen', Gamrot looked composed and comfortable on the ground and secured a brutal looking kimura submission for the victory. Given the amount of gruesome breaks and dislocations we've seen recently, it's unsurprising that Stephens chose to tap before 'Gamer' had the chance to do any serious damage to his left arm.
In 20 professional MMA fights, Gamrot now has 19 victories. His only loss in the sport came in his UFC debut against Guram Kutateladze. The decision was controversial and largely criticized. Had he been awarded the win that most felt he deserved, the Pole would boast a perfect 20-0 record. It's certainly time for him to face a ranked opponent.
So what about a ranked name fresh off a loss and potentially facing a lower-ranked opponent next time out? Luckily for the UFC matchmakers, I think Thiago Moises provided them with the perfect matchup when he lost to Islam Makhachev in the UFC Vegas 31 main event.
After having his three-fight winning streak halted at the hands of the Dagestani, and suffering his first stoppage loss in MMA, Moises will be looking to rebound and maintain his place in the rankings. A win against a surging prospect like Gamrot will certainly accomplish that goal for the Brazilian. Both men should be available to fight again in the next couple of months and, unless Gamrot is offered a quicker turnaround following his first-round win, this matchup makes sense.
#1. Islam Makhachev vs. Rafael dos Anjos - UFC lightweight
Although Islam Makhachev's victory over Thiago Moises this past weekend didn't tell us much that we didn't already know, it certainly reiterated the Dagestani's potential and displayed his skill wherever the fight may go. Having beaten the #14-ranked Brazilian in his main event debut, Makhachev must now be given a top opponent, that is, if the UFC can find one willing to accept a matchup with the dangerous Russian.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner and camp, constantly supporting his teammate and close friend, who he believes is a certain future titleholder, Makhachev looks unstoppable. It remains to be seen if he'll look as dominant when he faces the top opposition in the 155-pound division, but for now, the evidence suggests he'll be near the division's peak for a long time.
Of all the people Makhachev called out, perhaps the most likely matchup to be booked is with former champion Rafael dos Anjos. The pair were originally scheduled to face each other last October. Having accepted that fight, you'd hope dos Anjos will be willing to fight the Dagestani following his main event victory at the weekend.
A fight with the Brazilian will give Makhachev the opportunity to legitimize his title credentials even further. It would also give fans an intriguing grappling battle that will undoubtedly be the biggest threat to Makhachev's recent dominance to date.