The UFC’s third show on ‘Fight Island’ – UFC Fight Night 172: Figueiredo vs. Benavidez 2 – was a lot of fun. We saw a new champion crowned in the UFC Flyweight division and big wins for numerous other contenders. So what’s next for some of last night’s biggest stars?
#1 Deiveson Figueiredo
The new UFC Flyweight champion, Deiveson Figueiredo ran right through top contender Joseph Benavidez to claim the gold vacated by former champion Henry Cejudo. Thankfully, there’s a number of potential contenders for his new crown.
One would be Askar Askarov, who defeated Alexandre Pantoja in the exciting opener of last night’s main card. Pantoja had been pegged as a potential fill-in should Figueiredo or Benavidez have been forced out, and Askarov’s win over him should vault him into instant contention.
Askarov is 12-0-1 in his MMA career, but the lone blemish on his ledger could make for another potential challenger for Figueiredo. Mexico’s Brandon Moreno is 6-2-1 in the UFC, and he’s followed up his draw with Askarov with two wins – one over the highly-rated Jussier Formiga.
Formiga is the last man to have defeated Figueiredo – but with three straight losses, he’s in no position to challenge the new champ. But the last man to beat Formiga – Alex Perez – could be another potential contender for the crown.
Basically, ‘Deus da Guerra’ has plenty of options for his first title defense. Askarov, Moreno, and Perez would all make for perfectly acceptable challengers, but I’d put Askarov first in line, letting Moreno and Perez clash to decide who takes the shot after that.
#2 Joseph Benavidez
Fresh off his loss to Deiveson Figueiredo, what more is there for Joseph Benavidez to do? The loss was his fourth failed attempt at winning a UFC title, making him perhaps the greatest fighter in the promotion’s history not to hold UFC gold.
Could ‘The Beefcake’ work his way back into contention? Possibly, but it won’t be easy. Firstly, as Figueiredo has two straight wins over him, it’d be hard to really give him a chance of winning.
And secondly, he’s already faced most of the top fighters in the 125lbs division, meaning the UFC would need to match him largely against fighters lower down the totem pole.
Plus, there’s the chance that he might be past his prime now. Sure, he looked fantastic in his win over Jussier Formiga in 2019, but he’s also turning 36 years old this month and has taken a substantial amount of damage in recent years.
With all of this in mind, there is no best next opponent for Benavidez. He’s a classy fighter, reportedly a great guy, and perhaps even belongs in the UFC Hall of Fame. But in my opinion, at least, it’s also time for him to hang up his gloves.
#3 Jack Hermansson
Jack Hermansson’s win over Kelvin Gastelum was arguably the biggest of his career. He tapped the former title challenger out in the first round with a heel hook, becoming only the second man to submit the TUF 17 winner in his UFC career.
Hermansson was already ranked above Gastelum, so this win won’t push him higher up the ladder. But it definitely re-affirms his status as a high-level contender in the UFC Middleweight division.
With that in mind, a fight with Yoel Romero could be a good idea for him. ‘The Soldier of God’ is coming off his loss to Israel Adesanya and is actually 0-3 since mid-2018. But he’s such a well-regarded fighter that if ‘The Joker’ were to defeat him, it’d be hard to deny him a title shot.
For Romero too, it’d be a good step for him to make. He’s desperate for a win right now, and it’d also be fascinating to see how he’d deal with an opponent who has a similar reach and range to Adesanya.
This fight could easily main event a UFC Fight Night card at some point in the near future, and I’d love to see it.
#4 Kelvin Gastelum
Kelvin Gastelum’s loss to Jack Hermansson was his third defeat in a row and was easily his most disappointing to date. There was no shame in his loss to Israel Adesanya and his fight with Darren Till could’ve gone either way, but he was blown out last night.
In my opinion, the loss calls into question Gastelum’s credentials as a top-level 185lber. His wins over Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort were good from a “name” standpoint but both men were also on the tail end of their careers. And his 2018 victory over Jacare Souza was an extremely close fight.
Outside of that, in recent years it’s been all losses for him – high-level ones, but losses nonetheless.
Gastelum is undoubtedly a hugely talented fighter, but it’s hard to shake the idea that he’s simply too small at 185lbs to really succeed. With a better diet and some muscle loss, he could easily make 170lbs – and that’s where I believe his future should lie.
If Gastelum can indeed make 170lbs, then he’d be an instant contender in the division. That means that he’d definitely warrant a top 10 opponent, and so with that in mind, why not match him with Stephen Thompson?
‘Wonderboy’ hasn’t fought since last November, when he outpointed Vicente Luque. But he’s still a very relevant contender in the division, with a win over current UFC golden boy Jorge Masvidal to his name.
Seeing Gastelum attempt to overcome his pinpoint striking would definitely be fascinating – especially as he had a lot of success against a similar fighter in Adesanya. If he could beat ‘Wonderboy’, then the sky would definitely be the limit for him at 170lbs.
#5 Rafael Fiziev
Arguably the best fight on last night’s card came in the UFC Lightweight division. Rafael Fiziev went toe-to-toe with dangerous striker Marc Diakiese, and in the end, the native of Kyrgyzstan came out on top.
His striking, in particular, looked fantastic, as he nailed Diakiese with some brutal body shots and leg kicks, and was able to absorb anything ‘The Bonecrusher’ threw back in return.
Fiziev is now 2-1 in the UFC, but naturally, he’s in no position to move into the top fifteen, given his loss to Magomed Mustafaev only happened in 2019. Thankfully though, the UFC’s Lightweight division is loaded with plenty of potential opponents.
A decent bet for his next foe could be Khama Worthy. ‘The Deathstar’ is currently 2-0 in the UFC and is carrying a seven-fight win streak overall. A boxer by trade, Worthy stunned everyone by choking out the highly-rated Luis Pena in his most recent fight.
Would Worthy look to grapple with Fiziev? Probably not, meaning we’d most likely be in for a hard-hitting striking clash here. The winner could definitely vault themselves up into a higher position, and it’d be a fun fight to watch, too.Published 19 Jul 2020, 16:38 IST