UFC on Fuel 7: What's Next for 6 Winners at Barao vs. McDonald
UFC on Fuel 7 wasn't the best show in UFC history, and it wasn't the worst. But it was the longest; the total fight time of two hours, 48 minutes and 39 seconds marked the longest in-case time in UFC history, and the total of nine fights going to decision bested the previous mark of eight.
It was also a statement event for several fighters on the card, including rising featherweight contender Cub Swanson and interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao.
But what's next for the winners from UFC on Fuel 7? That's why we're here today. Let's dust off my cheap Dollar General crystal ball and try to figure out what's next for a few of the biggest winners from the event.
Renan Barao vs. Dominick Cruz
After a slightly rough first frame, Renan Barao rebounded. He figured out Michael McDonald and cruised the entire way to the fourth round, where he dealt McDonald the first submission loss of his 17-fight career.
Barao's performance was impressive, especially when you consider that McDonald is a very good fighter. He earned himself a place on my pound-for-pound ballot on the new UFC rankings that will be issued tomorrow and set up a very intriguing fight with Dominick Cruz later this year.
First, Cruz must return from an injury that will, by the time he returns, have kept him on the shelf for two years. But once that happens, it's time for a unification bout with Barao. No other fight makes sense, and while I hate to see interim champions on the shelf for any period of time, a fight between Cruz and Barao is the next logical move.
Cub Swanson vs. Chan Sung Jung
I picked Cub Swanson to beat Dustin Poirier, and he did. It was a tough fight, but Swanson showed just how much he's improved in all aspects of mixed martial arts. Sure, he still swings wildly, looking to land that one big knockout punch, but he also displayed great takedown defense and ground skills.
In short, Swanson elevated himself to the top tier of the featherweight division. As such, he deserves to face another top-tier opponent in his next fight, possibly with a title shot on the line.
With that in mind, I'd have Swanson face the returning Chan Sung Jung, whenever "The Korean Zombie" is ready to come back to the cage. Jung has said that he's looking at a May or June return, and that matches up perfectly with Swanson's schedule.
If Jung can't come back that soon, I'd put Swanson in the cage with Ricardo Lamas. Either fight would crown a challenger for the winner of the August bout between Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis.
Jimi Manuwa vs. James Te Huna
Devastating striker Jimi Manuwa scored a win over Cyrille Diabate, but it probably wasn't the win he wanted after a leg injury forced the ringside doctor to call off the fight.
But still, Manuwa was cruising toward a win after the first round; the doctor probably saved Diabate from a nasty knockout by calling the fight when he did.
Manuwa has looked good in his two UFC fights, thus far, but it's still wise to avoid rushing him along too fast. That's why I'd pair him with James Te Huna, who scored a win over Ryan Jimmo earlier on the same card. They're evenly matched in terms of their standing in the division, and they're both coming off wins, so it makes sense on just about every level.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Matthew Riddle
Like a lot of people, I was extremely high on Gunnar Nelson going into his bout against Jorge Santiago.
After the fight? I'm a little bit underwhelmed, to be honest.
I firmly believe Nelson should've had his way with Santiago, but he didn't. Instead, he scored a listless decision win.
And so, instead of moving Nelson up the division a few spots, I think it's a better idea to keep him in his current spot and have him face another mid-tier welterweight. Matthew Riddle fits that bill perfectly.
Riddle beat Che Mills on the preliminary card earlier in the evening, and while I'm sure he'd like to face another British fighter, I think a bout with Nelson makes more sense. Riddle has an interesting wrestling game, and I'd like to see how Nelson deals with that.