Long before Cain Velasquez shocked the world by dominating Junior dos Santos for a full 25 minutes at UFC 155, two bantamweights engaged in an entertaining and high-level display of striking inside the UFC Octagon.
The two combatants, Eddie Wineland and Brad Pickett, are perennially considered elite fighters at 135 pounds, and they showed why in this fight.
Wineland was the eventual winner thanks to his crisp boxing and heavier shots, but Pickett had his moments and did enough damage on one judge's scorecard to earn the victory.
The split-decision loss for Pickett will sting now, but it is not the end of the road for the British striker.
Pickett is 4-3 over the course of his last seven fights, and his losses were against the top of the division. Powerful wrestler Scott Jorgensen, interim-champion Renan Barao and now Eddie Wineland comprise this list, and there is no shame in losing to those monsters.
His four wins in that stretch include current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, wily veteran Ivan Menjivar, Damacio Page and Yves Jabouin, so there is no doubt that Pickett can hang at this elite level.
Because of this, he is in a decent spot inside the bantamweight division. Obviously, the loss will set him back on his quest for the title, but it was not a career-ending or defining loss by any stretch.
The 135-pound division is more stacked than ever, so the list of possible opponents is lengthy, and a case can be made for a variety of matchups.
Pickett would provide the winner of February's UFC 156 tilt between Francisco Rivera vs. Edwin Figueroa a nice step up in competition, and I think that is a great way for the victor to transition into the next level of the division.
Another fight I like for Pickett is Mike Easton, who suffered his first UFC loss to Raphael Assuncao at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz. Easton is a well-conditioned, tough fighter, and a fight against Pickett could turn into a fun and engaging scrap.
Lastly, and the fight I want to see the most, is Urijah Faber. For this to happen, Faber would have to lose to Ivan Menjivar at UFC 157 in February, and I really do not see that happening.
Still, this is MMA, and anything can happen at any time, so totally discrediting any professional fighter, especially a capable veteran like Menjivar, is foolish.
If Menjivar gets the job done and Faber decides to continue his career, I like a matchup with Pickett for "The California Kid." While he is an exceptional wrestler and grappler, Faber is never shy about striking in his fights, and that plays right into Pickett's hands (literally).
Each fighter has a great chin and excellent conditioning, so this matchup could turn into an instant classic.
In short, the bantamweight division is stacked, and Pickett is in that hazy middle ground where there is no clear-cut choice for his next opponent.
I think "One Punch" definitely needs to work on other areas of his game beside his boxing so that he has some other tools to rely on in his fights, but as far as a next challenge goes, this one is basically a pick 'em.
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