Fantasy Matchmaker May 2013 Edition
There is an art to matchmaking in combat sports.
While some fights come together with a natural ease, the majority of bouts are formed through a hectic process of evaluation where several aspects need to be evaluated on each side of the table before committing to the matchup.
Whether or not a fight makes sense in the greater scheme of the divisional picture or making sure both fighters stand to gain similar rewards from the bout are two of the most pressing issues that come to mind. Then, of course, there is the most important aspect of a potential fight—will both competitors be willing to mix it up and put on a show?
The unfortunate part of the process comes when all of the previously mentioned criteria are met and the fight fails to deliver. That being said, there are far more exciting tilts than flat fights these days under the UFC banner, which goes to show just how good Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are at their jobs.
As the most successful promotion in the sport is preparing to kick off a hectic stretch of summer events, there are a few high-profile, action-packed scraps that could be put together and added to any of the cards coming up in July or August.
Therefore, I'm donning my Silva/Shelby hat to throw out a handful of fights I would like to see lined up over the next few months.
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
I have made no attempt to hide the fact I am a lightweight enthusiast. Where other divisions are currently more competitive in their upper tier, the action in the 155-pound weight class always hits the mark, in my opinion. With that in mind, I'm always on the lookout for potential matchups in the lightweight fold that will not only keep the title contention moving but are sure to bring the ruckus as well.
After coming off a razor-thin and controversial split-decision loss to Benson Henderson in his Octagon debut, Gilbert Melendez is still within striking distance of another title shot. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion may not have walked out of the HP Pavilion in San Jose with UFC gold around his waist, but his performance proved he belongs with the very best in the weight class. "El Nino" recently told Bleacher Report's own Damon Martin he wants to make sure his next bout has the potential to get him back to a title opportunity, and that is where Diego Sanchez comes in.
The former No. 1 contender made a successful return to the lightweight division when he defeated Takanori Gomi at UFC via split decision at UFC on Fuel TV 8 back in March. With his victory over "The Fireball Kid," Sanchez put himself on track to re-climb the ladder in the lightweight division.
While one solid win in the 155-pound weight class wouldn't typically be enough to gain contender status, the current situation at lightweight is the perfect scenario for Sanchez. With Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant set to determine the next title contender at UFC 161, the division is wide open, and a bout between Melendez and Sanchez could easily determine the next contender in waiting.
Creating a matchup where one fighter is coming off a win and the other a loss is normally something to avoid, but it is fitting where this bout is concerned. With Melendez fresh off a title fight and Sanchez sitting at plus-one on his lightweight run, the fighters would meet in the middle of their respective trajectories.
These details naturally take a backseat to the fireworks a bout between the two scrappy lightweights would produce. Neither fighter has an issue with taking a chance to land shot and both have found tremendous success by their unwillingness to take a back step.
Melendez versus Sanchez has all the components for a great fight, and it would be difficult to imagine anything but greatness happening if these two were locked inside the Octagon with one another.
Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne
The heavyweight division has been a work in progress for the UFC. A year ago, the division looked to be more stacked than it ever was before, but after several high-profile losses and the title changing hands, the weight class is in serious need of contenders.
Champion Cain Velasquez is set to face Antonio Silva at UFC 161, which is a rematch of a severely lopsided beating the AKA product issued to "Bigfoot" almost exactly one year prior. On the same card, recently dethroned former champion Junior dos Santos will mix it up with Mark Hunt in a bout "Cigano" is heavily favored to win.
The aftermath of the Memorial Day card will most likely produce a trilogy bout between Velasquez and dos Santos, and if things don't shape up in the division's upper tier, this could be the third of 12 potential bouts between the two top heavyweights.
Therefore, it is crucial for the division to produce another contender, and I believe a bout between Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne has the potential to do just that. Granted, heavy-handed slugger Roy Nelson and former Olympian Daniel Cormier are both in the conversation, but with Cormier's refusal to ever face Velasquez and UFC president Dana White deflecting Nelson's title bid at the post-fight press conference at UFC 159, the situation at heavyweight remains wide open.
Before losing to Silva at UFC 156, "The Reem" was a lock to get the next title opportunity. Unfortunately for the former Strikeforce champion, the American Top Team-trained fighter had more gas in the tank that night in Las Vegas and put a brutal third round drubbing on the team Blackzilians fighter.
While the loss certainly knocked Overeem out of immediate title contention, it would be difficult to imagine the former K-1 champion being more than one impressive win from regaining his status. The Dutch striker has one of the most devastating stand-up attacks in the game in addition to carrying one of the highest profiles in the weight class. Plus, with being a former contender, matching Overeem up with anyone too far down the ladder would serve to pull him further away from a potential title shot.
This is why a fight with Browne makes perfect sense. The 30-year-old Hawaiian rebounded from the first loss of his professional career against Antonio Silva by scoring a first-round knockout over veteran Gabriel Gonzaga at The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale in April.
Prior to the bout with Silva at UFC on FX 5, talk of "Hapa" entering contention swirled around the MMA community. But after suffering the setback in Minnesota, the momentum Browne had built was brought to a halt. Nevertheless, after defeating Gonzaga in impressive fashion, the Jackson's/Winkeljohn-trained fighter is right back on track.
Much like Overeem, the former prospect is in no position to take a step back in the rankings. While facing "The Demolition Man" would be a big jump up in competition, there is a tremendous amount of upside in the matchup for Browne. Should he defeat the Dutch juggernaut, his position as a title contender is carved in stone. On the other hand, if Browne were to lose to Overeem, returning to the prospect ranks for a short time wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to him in his career.
It is also worth mentioning the respective styles each man brings into the cage would produce excitement. Both prefer to do their work on the feet and there is a strong possibility the fight would end with someone asleep on the canvas. While that may sound brutal in nature, this is what fight fans want to see out of heavyweight fights.
Two giant men slinging punches, knees and kicks to determine who rises into contention and who goes to the back of the line certainly sounds like an idea people would get behind.
Martin Kampmann vs. Nick Diaz
It wasn't long ago when both Martin Kampmann and Nick Diaz were hanging out in title contention. "The Hitman" was preparing to square off with led-fisted powerhouse Johny Hendricks and the Stocktonian was awaiting the end of his suspension before making his case for a title shot with the winner of the bout between Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154.
Fast forward six months and it's a much different picture. The Cesar Gracie staple came up short in his bid to oust "GSP" from the welterweight throne and wandered into another bout of self-imposed retirement.
Things weren't quite as dramatic on the Kampmann side, but after coming out on the business end of a "Bigg Rigg" left hand, the Danish striker saw his title hopes fall by the wayside.
The common thread shared between the two fighters is that neither has done much to stop the division from moving on without them. The Xtreme Couture product has been out of action since facing Hendricks at UFC 154 and remains without an opponent.
As for Diaz, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion told the media following UFC 158 that he was only interested in a rematch with St-Pierre or having a "superfight" with Anderson Silva. The 29-year-old also added he wasn't interested in fighting the younger guys coming up in the division, and with that in mind, a bout between Diaz and Kampmann makes sense.
Both fighters love to scrap it out inside the cage and bring a "refuse to back down" mentality to their fights. Diaz's high output boxing style would be an interesting matchup with Kampmann's kickboxing and Muay Thai skills, and both fighters are slick when the action hits the canvas.
In addition to the stylistic intrigue this fight presents, a potential bout between Diaz and Kampmann could easily put the winner back into title contention.
Despite losing back-to-back fights to Condit and St-Pierre, "The Stockton Badboy" has won 11 out of his last 13 showings. While Kampmann hasn't put together quite the same run, the 31-year-old has been victorious in three out of his last four outings, which have included wins over contenders Jake Ellenberger and Thiago Alves.
A bonus in this potential matchup would come in the pre-fight buildup. While Kampmann may not be known for his trash talking, the Las Vegas-based fighter has been known to throw a few choice words in his opponent's direction. Then again, Diaz is king of this realm. While it may not be of the Chael Sonnen variety, the former No. 1 contender is solid gold leading up to his fights.
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