UFC on Fuel 2: 6 Fights to Make After Gustafsson vs. Silva
The UFC's debut in Sweden flew under the radar. That's understandable, given that next Saturday night will see the long-awaited grudge match between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans.
The card also aired on Fuel TV—which still doesn't have much in the way of market penetration—making it a difficult card for the majority of UFC fans around the world to see live.
But even with all of that working against it, UFC on Fuel 2 still delivered the kind of action fights that mixed martial arts fans around the world crave. There were plenty of submissions, one crazy knockout and the continued ascension of one of the UFC's best young prospects.
With the card behind us, let's take a moment to look at what's next for the winners of the six main card fights.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Mauricio Rua
It would be easy to rush Gustafsson into the title picture immediately. He's long been considered one of the hottest prospects in the UFC, and his performances after the loss to Phil Davis—the sole black mark on his record—have been excellent.
It's also quite easy to compare him to Jones, given the similarities in their height, reach and unorthodox fighting styles.
But the truth is that Gustafsson just isn't ready—not yet, anyway. He's getting close, but he needs one more win against top competition. It's time to move the Swede up into the rarified air of the light heavyweight division and match him with a top-ranked fighter with name value.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fulfills both of those requirements. Sure, he's coming off the loss to Dan Henderson, but that was a close enough fight that Rua didn't tumble down the rankings.
We know Dan Henderson is facing the winner of next week's Jones vs. Evans bout. Line up Gustafsson vs. Rua for a featured bout on pay-per-view late in the summer months, with the winner getting a potential title shot late in 2012.
Brian Stann vs. Michael Bisping
I realize Bisping is already booked with Tim Boetsch, but for the purposes of this article, I'm just going to assume he'll win that fight.
Stann vs. Bisping is an intriguing fight on many levels. Neither guy is strong in the wrestling department, which means you'll likely end up with a good striking battle.
There's a built-in storyline here, too. Stann has the obvious military background, but Bisping's family has a deep connection with the military as well. The USA vs. England aspect is easy to sell.
There's also the fact that Stann—with his good looks, extreme charm and American hero story line—is one of the most marketable fighters in the UFC. And Bisping, for better or worse, is one of the most hated fighters in the company. A win for Stann wouldn't just vault him into the title picture—it would increase his stature tenfold with UFC fans.
Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Mike Pyle/Josh Neer
Bahadurzada had quite the UFC debut with his walk-off knockout win over Paulo Thiago. Despite his status as an unknown fighter with casual fans, hardcore fans know and respect Bahazurdada as one of the most vicious strikers in MMA.
The winner of the Mike Pyle/Josh Neer bout makes perfect sense. Neer is a guy who will stand and trade punches with Bahadurzada, which almost guarantees an exciting brawl. Pyle would also provide the kind of tough, gritty opponent that Bahadurzada will eventually need to face in order to prove himself.
Dennis Siver vs. Bart Palaszewski
Siver's featherweight debut got off to a rough start during weigh-ins, but he rebounded on Saturday with a big win over Diego Nunes. It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but Siver got the job done in a fight he absolutely needed to win.
I love striking battles, and that's why I'd book Siver against Bart Palaszewski for his next bout. "Bartimus" is coming off a loss, but he still represents the kind of ranked opponent Siver needs to face next.
John Maguire vs. Rick Story
Maguire is 2-0 in the UFC and has earned a slight uptick in the quality of opponent he'll face next. Rick Story is coming off two consecutive losses, but both of them were against tough opponents in Charlie Brenneman and Martin Kampmann. Despite the two losses in a row, he's still ranked higher than Maguire. And yeah, I know Story has a fight booked with Rich Attonito. I'd still like to see him fight Maguire.
The intriguing thing about this potential fight would be Maguire's attempts to get the bout to the ground, because he certainly wouldn't want to stand up with Story for any real length of time. If he gets Story to the mat, he'd have a real chance at pulling the upset.
Brad Pickett vs. Miguel Torres/Michael McDonald
Pickett remains one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC, and he's still near the top of the bantamweight rankings. He deserves a top opponent in his next bout.
Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber won't settle their differences until July, which means the bantamweight title is likely tied up until late fall. It's believed that Miguel Torres could secure a title shot with a strong win over Michael McDonald next week, but I don't think Torres will want to wait on the sidelines for six months or more.
Matching Pickett with the winner of Torres/McDonald gives you a clear-cut title contender and expands their profile with the UFC's fanbase. That's something the star-barren bantamweight division needs.
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