In the old days, by which I mean 2011 and earlier, the UFC's second home on the international market was Canada. Fans flocked to events in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver; it was the hottest ticket in town, and most events sold out within minutes of the actual on-sale date.
Canada isn't the UFC's version of Mecca. Not anymore. That honor belongs to Brazil, and the UFC just concluded one of what is expected to be four or even five trips to various Brazilian markets over the course of 2013. And that number doesn't even include two full seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, a show that is far more popular in Brazil than it currently is in North America.
We'll have plenty of time to talk about the UFC's future prospects in Brazil at some point. But for now, it's time to put on the old matchmaker's cap, stare into my trusty and dusty Dollar General crystal ball and figure out what might be next for each of the winners from the UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Bisping main card.
Shall we begin? We shall.
Look out, UFC fans: There's a new lightweight prospect in the house.
Khabib Nurmagomedov ran his MMA record to 19-0 with his win over Thiago Tavares Saturday night. The Russian fighter has proven, in just three fights with the UFC, that he's got all of the tools to become a true contender for the title. And not only that, he's one hell of an exciting fighter.
There's another guy who fancies himself as a potential contender for Benson Henderson's title: Pat Healy, the ex-Strikeforce lightweight who is now officially part of the UFC roster. Healy wants to face the best, and he's been quite vocal about it. But he's not ready for a title shot. He's got the skills to contend, but has no name value.
That's why I'd pair Healy up with Nurmagomedov. Each fighter needs another win to break away from the pack, and if Nurmagomedov can put a beating on Healy the way he did with those terrible elbows on Tavares, there's little question he'd be deserving of a top-10 opponent by the end of the year.
Gabriel Gonzaga won his heavyweight clash against Ben Rothwell, and that's good for him. But there's no question that he's still near the bottom of the division, or right in the middle at best.
There's another guy in the same position, and his name is Pat Barry. I never realized it until doing my research for this piece, but Barry's UFC record is just 5-5—the very definition of an average record.
Despite that middling record, Barry is still very popular with the fans, and rightly so; he's charismatic, funny and tends to have really exciting fights, even if they don't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.
Matching Barry up with Gonzaga makes a lot of sense on just about every level. You're looking at a fight that will probably be brutal and exciting (as long as Barry is able to keep the fight standing), and the winner might just have a chance to move up a few slots in the pecking order.
I'm not going to tell you that C.B. Dolloway was all that impressive in beating Daniel Sarafian. In reality, he did just enough, beating the Brazilian by split decision in a fight that might have been even closer than the judges' cards suggested. And that's saying something, because again, it was a split decision.
It wasn't the most inspiring performance we've ever seen, which is why I'm pairing him up with Derek Brunson for his next fight. The Strikeforce expat put in an equally uninspiring-yet-workmanlike performance against Chris Leben late last month, which makes him the perfect opponent for Dolloway at this point.
I wish I could feign some kind of excitement for this one, but I just can't. Sorry, folks.
We know Luke Rockhold wants a fight with Costa Phillippou, but I've got a better idea: Why not put him in the cage with Vitor Belfort?
It makes all the sense in the world. Belfort is still not getting another crack at Anderson Silva—even after his head-kick knockout win over Bisping—without at least one more win. His decisive front-kick loss to Silva the last time around virtually ensured that. Belfort still finds himself scratching on the title contention door, though, and is deserving of a high-profile fight against a divisional contender.
Rockhold fits that bill. The former Strikeforce middleweight champion won't get an immediate shot at the belt, but he's deserving of a fight against a contender. Phillippou is on a very good run as of late, but Belfort's name recognition far surpasses Phillipou's.
If Rockhold were able to decisively beat Belfort, he'd easily slot right into a title fight at the tail end of 2013, after Silva faces whatever the UFC throws at him this summer.