The UFC saw a lot of curveballs last week, to say the least.
Somehow, we ended up with Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Al Iaquinta for the lightweight title. Conor McGregor fought a bus. Tony Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, Paul Felder and Michael Chiesa didn’t fight at all.
As we saw at UFC 223, sometimes the best-laid plans don’t always work out, but nevertheless, here is ESPN’s take on what should be next.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight champion
Result: Defeated Iaquinta via unanimous decision
Why wait? This one’s ready to go. They have a history after what transpired last week, they’re polar opposites stylistically and — get this — it’s actually the correct fight as far as the rankings are concerned. Sometimes we have to pick sport or entertainment in the MMA business. Here, we’d get both.
McGregor wants every fight to feel bigger than the one before it. That’s hard to do, coming off a historic boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, but a return to the Octagon against an undefeated Russian who hasn’t lost a round in the UFC? That should meet his requirements.
Nurmagomedov will take the summer off after observing Ramadan, a Muslim month of fasting, and return in the fall or end of the year. His opponent should be McGregor.
UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas tells Brett Okamoto about “shaking past” the situation with Conor McGregor on Thursday and facing her fears.
Result: Defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk via unanimous decision
Next: Jessica Andrade
Now that Jedrzejczyk is firmly in the rearview, it’s “line ’em up” time for Namajunas. The next challenger on deck is Andrade, a 26-year-old Brazilian powerhouse who used to fight at 135 pounds.
Andrade will be a completely different opponent than Jedrzejczyk was for Namajunas. Whereas Jedrzejczyk didn’t mind giving Namajunas the space and distance she uses so well with her free-flowing boxing style, Andrade will be looking to smother — and she has a ground game to worry about as well. As crazy as it sounds, Andrade may be a tougher fight than Jedrzejczyk was.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, strawweight
Result: Lost to Namajunas via unanimous decision
Next: Alexis Davis at flyweight
Moving up a weight class may seem like an obvious call, but it’s not a given. The top of this strawweight division is going to stay competitive, and there’s no guarantee Namajunas maintains her grip on the top. Despite the two losses, Jedrzejczyk is in 115-pound title contention. And if Namajunas falters, Jedrzejczyk would quickly get another title shot.
That said, the newly opened 125-pound division is wide open for Jedrzejczyk, and moving there would eliminate her difficult weight cut. Davis, a former title challenger at bantamweight, is on a two-fight win streak. She’s a recognizable name and she would test Jedrzejczyk’s ability to defend takedowns against bigger opponents.
Al Iaquinta, lightweight
Result: Lost to Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
Iaquinta was never close to pulling the upset on Saturday, but his stock still went up after the way he carried himself in the loss. He’ll obviously need time to recover from the five-round fight, but it would be great to see him stay active. He has only fought twice in the last two years.
The UFC has a barnburner this weekend, with Poirier and Gaethje scheduled to meet in a five-rounder. The winner of that bout will be looking up. The loser could be looking at Iaquinta.
Result: Defeated Kyle Bochniak via unanimous decision
Next: Myles Jury
Magomedsharipov’s talent has been a poorly kept secret for a while, but only among hardcore fans. The 27-year-old Russian looks like a future title contender — and his profile should be trending up after his performance at UFC 223.
There’s really no reason to slow-play this guy. No, he doesn’t need to be fighting for a title in his next bout, but he’s ready for highly ranked opponents. Jury looked sensational in back-to-back wins in 2017. A fight between these two would give us a clear indication of where they’re at right now, and the payout for both would be appropriate.