Just days after one of the biggest fights in UFC history, the UFC kindly offered up a free Fuel fight card in the middle of the week.
And just like always, the much-maligned free broadcast exceeded the pay-per-view in terms of excitement. That's how these things always happen; the UFC announces a Fuel or FX card, and fans immediately start complaining about the card or the lack of name-value fighters participating in it.
And of course, it delivers, from the preliminary fights all the way to the main event. They almost always do. Well, with the exception of a few incredibly boring fights (Simpson vs. Robertson, anyone?), but we won't talk about those here.
Let's take a look at what's next for some of the biggest winners from UFC on Fuel: Munoz vs. Weidman.
Note: The rankings that I've included next to each fighter's name are taken from the USA Today/SBNation consensus rankings, of which I am a voting member.
CHRIS WEIDMAN (9) vs. VITOR BELFORT (4)
So much for Mark Munoz being next in line for a title shot. After his performance tonight, it's readily apparent that Chris Weidman, instead, should be in that discussion.
Weidman utterly dominated Munoz in the first round. It was as close to a 10-8 round as you can get without doing much actual damage. Weidman threatened Munoz constantly with submissions and had him in danger for nearly five minutes.
And then came the second round, and what a second round it was. Weidman again took Munoz down early, but the ending came when they got back to their feet. Weidman caught Munoz with a nasty short elbow that rocked Munoz and finished the fight with roughly 15 unanswered punches on the ground. It was a late stoppage, and it was a bad stoppage. Munoz took way too much punishment here.
Weidman proved that he deserves to be in title consideration. With Hector Lombard likely getting the next shot at Anderson Silva with a win, it's time to put Weidman in the cage with a top middleweight. Vitor Belfort fits that bill perfectly.
Can Weidman deal with an elite striker? He seems to think he can, since he challenged Silva for the title during his post-fight interview.
Weidman is one to keep your eye on.
JAMES TE HUNA (NR) vs. STEPHAN BONNAR (21)
James Te Huna's only UFC loss came against Alexander Gustafsson, and he's rattled off three consecutive wins since then. His win on Wednesday night over Joey Beltran wasn't pretty, and it wasn't technical, but it was—for the most part, anyway—a good display of Te Huna's boxing skills.
The UFC needs more international stars, and Te Huna could be one of those names at light heavyweight. It's time to match him up with a bigger name, and Stephan Bonnar fits the bill perfectly. I know Bonnar wants another fight with Forrest Griffin, but I'm not sure the UFC is too keen on that idea. Stick Bonnar in the cage with the New Zealand native and see if Te Huna has what it takes to move up the ladder.
As for Beltran? He looked a little fat, even after making the move down from heavyweight. I'd give him another chance in the UFC because he puts on exciting bouts every time out, but I'd ask him to seriously consider a move to middleweight. I think that's his optimal weight class.
T.J. DILLASHAW (NR) vs. RAPHAEL ASSUNCAO (25)
Dillashaw is one of the most fiercely competitive people I've ever met. He absolutely hates losing, whether it's a fight, bowling or a board game. After losing his first official UFC fight to John Dodson, Dillashaw has rebounded with dominant wins over Walel Watson and Vaughn Lee.
Dillashaw's submission win over Lee—a rear-naked choke strategically placed over the chin instead of the usual neck placement—highlighted his methodical approach to fighting.
His teammate Urijah Faber will go for the interim bantamweight title next week, but it's time to start moving Dillashaw up the rankings. A bout with Raphael Assuncao, who defeated Issei Tamura by knockout earlier in the night—would make perfect sense for both guys. Dillashaw is a fighter on the rise, and giving him tougher competition is the right move.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS (18) vs. MELVIN GUILLARD (16)
Dos Anjos is an exciting striker. He throws punches with bad intentions, and it's fun to watch. But it was his wrestling advantage that helped him score a decision win over Anthony Njokuani.
For his next bout, I'd like to see him face the same kind of fighter as Njokuani, and that's why I'm picking Melvin Guillard. Dos Anjos quite obviously has the wrestling skills to neutralize Guillard. And Guillard still needs to prove that he can defeat a grappler before he begins his move back into contention. It's a perfect pairing between two guys who have nearly equal standing in the lightweight division.
ANDREW CRAIG (NR) vs. RONNY MARKES (24)
I've known about Andrew Craig for a long time. He's a fellow Houston guy, after all. And I've told the world—even before he debuted in the UFC—that this guy is a tough competitor and a difficult guy to finish.
Rafael Natal found that out the hard way in the second round of their UFC on Fuel preliminary bout. After utterly destroying Craig, to the point where the fight was very nearly stopped, Craig rebounded, regained his composure and then knocked Natal out cold with a high kick. It was one of the high points of a very exciting preliminary card that aired on Facebook.
So what comes next for Craig? He's dispatched two tough middleweights in Kyle Noke and Rafael Natal, so a slight step up the ladder makes sense. Pairing him with Ronny Markes is the way to go. Markes has a six-fight winning streak with victories over Paulo Filho, Karlos Vemola and Aaron Simpson. The winner of Craig vs. Markes would be ready to take a significant step up the middleweight ladder.