Fantasy Matchmaking: The Grudge Match Edition
There are few things that get to the heart of a passionate MMA fan quicker than a good old-fashioned grudge match.
While seeing two elite fighters trade leather and kicks on the sport's biggest stage gets the blood pumping, the scenario becomes that much sweeter when shared disdain is involved. Perhaps it is only the viewer's perception, but the intensity of the fray seems increased when the combatants have no love lost for one another.
The punches are thrown harder. The intentions behind them are worse. The victory is sweeter while the sting of defeat undoubtedly lingers.
MMA's brief history has enjoyed a handful of solid rivalries. With the hyper-speed increase of trash-talking and public posturing on social media between fighters, the potential for a future filled with heated matchups appears all the more likely.
That being said, the current landscape of the UFC roster features a handful of grudges just waiting to be settled. Some are relatively new while others have been simmering for years, and due to a collection of high-profile losses over the past several weeks, there now becomes an opportunity for a few of these feuds to play out.
Undoubtedly the decision to do so would ultimately depend on the respective divisional pictures of the fighters involved—which is unpredictable at best. But that doesn't stop us from taking a look at a few of these potential dustups.
Here are a few ideas.
Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem
A week ago, the matchup between "Cigano" and "The Reem" seemed like a beautifully violent dream far off in the distance. The Brazilian slugger had recently suffered a five-round beating at the hands of Cain Velasquez and floated back into the stack of contenders in the heavyweight division.
The stage was set for Overeem to earn the No. 1 contender spot at UFC 156, but Antonio Silva's flurry of monster shots in the third round of their tilt in Las Vegas not only knocked the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion out of consciousness but out of the immediate title picture as well.
With Overeem's loss to "Bigfoot," the possibility of a trilogy bout between Velasquez and dos Santos has increased. Nevertheless, a third title fight between the two elite heavyweights remains uncertain, and the UFC may wait to see how a few upcoming bouts play out. If the UFC decides to go in another direction, then a heavyweight clash between dos Santos and Overeem needs to happen.
The matchup between two of the most devastating strikers in MMA history is a long time in the making. They were set to square off at UFC 146 last May, but a failed drug test from Overeem scrapped those plans.
In the nine months that have passed, both men have taken turns taunting one another in the headlines of MMA media.
The temperature of the feud increased when Overeem took to Twitter following dos Santos' loss to Velasquez—a favor JDS ultimately returned when the former K-1 champion was defeated by Silva.
Both men coming off losses sets the table nicely for their grudge to be resolved in brutal fashion, and it is has the huge fight feel fans can get behind.
Donald Cerrone vs. Jamie Varner
In May of 2012, Cerrone and Varner couldn't have been on more different paths. "Cowboy" had won five of his six showings under the UFC banner, where Varner was having difficulty booking a fight. The picture was far removed from their days in the WEC when both fighters were at the top of the heap, fighting the best of the best in the "little blue cage."
During their time in the WEC, Cerrone and Varner locked up on two occasions. Their first throwdown at WEC 38 came with a controversial ending as the Jackson's MMA-trained fighter hit Varner with an illegal knee in the fifth round. Due to the strike, Varner was unable to continue and earned the victory via technical split decision.
The outcome angered Cerrone as he voiced his criticism of what he believed to be Varner's acting chops, and this fueled the fire for a rematch down the road.
That highly anticipated opportunity came at WEC 51, where Cerrone swept the cards with a dominant performance. Throughout the fight Cerrone displayed his animosity for Varner at every turn with taunts both verbal and physical.
Often times, upon the conclusion of a bout between rivals, both competitors will show some degree of mutual respect, but this was hardly the case following the rematch as Cerrone added a post-fight shove for good measure.
Now with Cerrone's loss to Pettis at UFC on Fox 6 and Varner's career resurgence, it could be a good time to stoke the fires once again.
The MMA Lab-trained fighter is coming off a big win over Melvin Guillard and is just beyond the borders of Top-10 status in the lightweight division. The loss to "Showtime" will not drop Cerrone's stock that far down, but with nearly every top-ranked 155-pound fighter booked up with fights in the coming months, a third tilt with Varner is a possibility.
John Dodson vs. Ian McCall
The flyweight division just recently completed its first year under the UFC banner. The division is far from developed, leaving a situation where the top fighters are in a merry-go-round of title opportunities.
To this point, Team Alpha Male fighter Joseph Benavidez appears to have benefited the most from this scenario and will likely get another chance to compete for the title following his victory over Ian McCall at UFC 156.
The No. 1 contender position is one John Dodson is very familiar with. The former TUF winner recently fell short on his attempt to earn UFC gold when he was defeated by Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Fox 6.
But due to a solid performance in Chicago, "The Magician's" stock will not fall far and another opportunity to fight for the flyweight title will not be far away. Due to the unique scenario in the 125-pound weight class, a matchup between McCall and Dodson makes a lot of sense.
On the grudge side of things, this particular feud has been subtler than most. Neither fighter is particularly bashing the other publicly, but McCall recently described the elite fighters in the division during an interview with Bleacher Report and Dodson's name was not included on that list. There is a chance McCall simply forgot to mention him, but with only 14 fighters on the flyweight roster, most signs point to "Uncle Creepy" believing Dodson isn't in the same class.
For his part, Dodson has stated publicly he's looking for the biggest fights possible in the hopes it will elevate him to become a household name. Under the current circumstances, a bout with McCall would be the biggest draw available and keep Dodson in the hunt for another title shot.
Things are a bit more tense on the McCall side of the coin. Coming into the UFC, he was the top-ranked flyweight in the world but has gone 0-2-1 since coming into the Zuffa fold.
A victory over Dodson would keep McCall from getting pushed into the rest of the pack and serve well to help him establish his footing in the 125-pound weight class.
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