I'm not going to sit here and say that UFC 155 was an event for the ages. I think you know that isn't true, and to pretend otherwise would be a bit silly.
As a matter of fact, the pay-per-view portion of UFC 155 was well on its way to "worst of the year" lists around the world, but that was all before Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon stepped in the cage.
Miller and Lauzon saved the show, but the atmosphere they created carried over into the main event, which displayed a unique culture vs. culture sensibility; it was unique in that we essentially witnessed Brazil vs. Mexico despite Velasquez being born and raised in California. That indicates that the UFC's marketing machine is working and that Velasquez could be catching on as a superstar draw south of the border.
Whatever the case may be, the main event was electric even if the actual fighting in the cage was not. Chants of "Cigano," "you're going to die" (in Portugese, of course) and "Mexico" rang out through the arena, lending the heavyweight clash a significant big-fight feel that UFC main events in 2012 lacked for the most part.
And now that the fighting is done, and now that I have escaped the Las Vegas strip New Year's celebration before it even started—and believe me, you could never understand how terrible a Las Vegas New Year's is, unless you've actually experienced it—it's time to look forward and figure out what's next for some of the competitors on the UFC 155 card.
Let's get this started.
There's no question about this one: We all want to see Velasquez defend his belt against former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. We were supposed to see Overeem get a shot at the belt last May before he was suspended for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
Part of me wants to see Velasquez defend the title against Dos Santos in an immediate rematch, if only because I think we'll get to see this fight at least three more times before the respective careers of Velasquez and Dos Santos come to a close. There's a good chance we'll see those two trade the heavyweight title back and forth for a few years, so why not get started now?
The reason I can't give Dos Santos an immediate title shot, though, is simply due to the one-sided nature of the way he lost. When Dos Santos knocked out Velasquez in just over a minute during their first meeting, the American Kickboxing Academy product was forced to win a fight before securing his rematch. So, too, should Dos Santos be required to win his way back.
In the meantime, give Overeem his long-awaited title shot, provided he beats Antonio Silva as expected. I don't see Overeem giving Velasquez much of a run for his money, and I think that fight would look a whole lot like the UFC 155 main event, but let's do it anyway.
Barnett is headed to the UFC after the next Strikeforce fight, and he'll need a high-profile opponent. Who better than the former heavyweight champion of the world? Barnett's contract requirement will ensure that he isn't put in the cage with anything less than a top six fighter, and the rest of that UFC top six is mostly busy with other stuff right now.
Dos Santos will want a big opponent as well, and this striker vs. grappler battle is exciting. It'll give Dos Santos a chance to prove he can stay off his back against a high-level grappler who repeatedly pressures him and tries to put him there.
At the end of the day, the UFC's goal should be creating a third fight between Velasquez and Dos Santos, because it will be a massive success on pay-per-view and at the gate. The easiest way to accomplish this goal? Giving Dos Santos a winnable fight against an opponent with a sizable name. Barnett fits the bill.
I don't know for sure if Eddie Alvarez is coming to the UFC. Dana White said he couldn't really talk about the ongoing contract negotiations between his company and Alvarez, but did say that he expects it to become ugly. And in this case, "ugly" usually means a long, drawn-out battle.
But let's say Alvarez does come to the UFC, and he does so in the next five months or so. If that's the case, I put him in the cage with Jim Miller, who turned in a Fight of the Night (and potential Fight of the Year) performance with his win over Joe Lauzon.
Miller vs. Alvarez is the perfect headlining fight for an FX event because you're guaranteed excitement. Alvarez is known for thrilling fights, and Miller is a magnet for brutal exchanges. And since you can't put Alvarez directly into a title shot, he'll need a win over a name opponent in a decent profile spot. Jim Miller's the answer to that riddle.
We'll take care of two birds with one stone in this one.
Neither Yushin Okami or Costa Phillipou impressed with their respective wins over Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch, but they did enough to secure a win. But simply securing a win won't put you in the mix for a title shot, which is why we're going to see Michael Bisping finally earn his title shot if he can beat Vitor Belfort in January (and I think he will).
Both guys won, though, so they deserve an opponent who is also coming off a win. Hey, why don't we put them against each other? That solves everything. They're ranked in similar positions—or at least, they should be—and neither one was all that impressive in victory at UFC 155.
This makes perfect sense.
Beating an aging and exhausted Chris Leben is no great shakes, but we should remember that Derek Brunson did it on extremely short notice. It's still not impressive, but it's understandable.
For his next bout, I'd like to see Brunson paired up with an opponent near his stature in the UFC. For him, that means a date with Chris Camozzi. Sure, Brunson has one win in his last three, while Camozzi has won three in a row, but Brunson's win came on a big-time pay per view event over a beloved UFC star, while Camozzi mostly did work on the prelims.
I like the fight. Two younger middleweights looking for a way to rise up in the rankings.
Eddie Wineland's UFC 155 win over Brad Pickett was the biggest of his career, mostly because it thrust him directly into the title picture.
His decision win over Brad Pickett vaulted him over the Brit in the bantamweight rankings, but it also gave him two wins in a row against top-tier divisional opponents. In a depleted 135-pound division, and coupled with Wineland's name and marketable potential, that screams title shot.
Unfortunately for Wineland, he'll have to settle for an interim title fight against the winner of Renan Barao vs. Michael McDonald. If Wineland can win out, though, he'll eventually work his way to Dominick Cruz in a fight for the real thing.
The UFC has a potential superstar on their hands in Mexico-born Erik Perez. Historically, Mexican fight fans are a little slower to get behind Mexican-Americans than they are the fighters who are born in Mexico, which is why it's taking a little longer than you'd expect for Cain Velasquez to become a legitimate superstar.
But Erik Perez fits the bill for a Mexican fighting superstar: born in Mexico, speaks the language fluently, is a good fighter and wears a lucha libre mask to the cage. He's got all the potential in the world to help the UFC break into the tough Mexican market.
A fight with Johnny Bedford makes sense, mostly because Bedford also has three consecutive wins. Both guys are tough, it's an extremely interesting fight from a stylistic perspective and the winner would jump up to that area that Dana White likes to call "in the mix."
Jamie Varner's career resurgence has been a lot of fun to watch. A year ago, Varner was on the mixed martial arts scrap heap, and few thought he'd ever work his way back to the big show. Instead, Varner starts of 2013 with a 2-1 record in the year, and both of those listed wins came against tough opponents in Edson Barboza and Melvin Guillard.
Varner's training with The Lab and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson has clearly paid off big dividends, and he's deserving of another high-level opponent. Gray Maynard fits the bill perfectly. He's got the wrestling chops to stifle Varner, and I think we'd see a pretty exciting striking battle develop between the pair.
Jamie Varner, title contender? A win over Maynard could make it happen. These are crazy times we live in.
I forgot just how much potential Todd Duffee has when he steps in the cage.
In knocking out Phillip De Fries, Duffee made a statement: that he's back in the UFC and he's not playing around. He's a massive heavyweight with the speed of a middleweight, very much akin to a Brock Lesnar except without the wrestling pedigree.
In short, the Duffman could be a very big superstar for the UFC, so long as he remembers to treat people with respect.
And I'm booking him against Mark Hunt here because I think he'd put a severe hurting on Hunt and finally put an end to this myth that Hunt is a serious MMA title contender in 2013. I also believe Duffee vs. Hunt would be a really fun fight, at least for the 90 seconds or so that it lasts. I know Hunt is scheduled to face Stefan Struve, but I think I like this one better.