Fantasy Matchmaker: July 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, timing and making sure both fighters stand to gain similar rewards from the bout are 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 once again donning my Silva/Shelby hat to throw out a handful of fights I would like to see lined up over the next few months. The official start to summer may still be several weeks away, but there is nothing wrong with cranking up the heat a bit early.
Here are a handful of fights that could bring the noise.
Anthony Pettis vs. Josh Thomson
Over the next several months, business is about to pick up in the UFC lightweight division. Champion Benson Henderson will put his title on the line against T.J. Grant at UFC 164 in late August. Donald Cerrone will look to regain his position as a title contender when he squares off with surging Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on Fox Sports 1: Condit vs. Kampmann 2 in Indianapolis.
Rounding out the action in the upper tier, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez will begin his quest to gain another title opportunity when he throws down with former contender Diego Sanchez in October.
With the action jumping in the 155-pound division, the biggest question mark comes in the form of former WEC champion Anthony Pettis. "Showtime" was set to get his long-awaited title shot in the lightweight division before deciding to drop down a weight class to face featherweight king Jose Aldo at UFC 163.
Unfortunately for the Duke Roufus-trained fighter, an injury would force him out of the bout with the Brazilian phenom and drop him into a strange limbo where the talented young fighter is caught between two weight classes.
That being said, Pettis told media at UFC promotional gathering in New York his only interest competing at 145-pounds would be to fight Aldo. With that particular bout off the table for the time being, a return to the lightweight ranks seems probable. But that is a move that comes with a bit of friction as well.
After being forced out of the tilt with Aldo, Pettis attempted to leapfrog Grant and face Henderson for the lightweight crown in Milwaukee, but it was a notion UFC President Dana White quickly shot down.
With two title shots lost by the wayside in 2013, and a previously promised opportunity lost in Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard trilogy shuffle, the 26-year-old Wisconsin-based fighter is intimately familiar with how quickly championship opportunities can come and go.
With that in mind, the best bet for Pettis would be to get back into the mix as soon as possible, and the opponent that makes the most sense is Josh Thomson.
"The Punk" is coming off a huge victory in his return to the UFC when he scored a knockout victory over former title challenger Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 7 back in April. The win over the TUF 5 winner immediately put the AKA staple in the title hunt in the 155-division and put Thomson within striking distance of a title shot.
Yet, the lightweight picture is currently crowded with all major players locked into scheduled bouts, and the current scenario leaves Pettis and Thomson as the last two fighters standing without anything inked in the coming months.
Stylistically speaking, a potential bout between Pettis and Thomson would be an action-packed affair and would serve well to determine the next contender in the lightweight division.
Dan Henderson vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
There are a handful of title pictures heating up under the UFC banner and the light heavyweight division is certainly on that list.
While Jon Jones has been a dominant champion, the battle to earn a title opportunity has been more action-packed than it has in years. There is a collection of ready-made contenders in waiting and a few notable fighters hanging on for dear life in the upper tier at 205-pounds with MMA legend Dan Henderson being in the latter position.
The former Pride two-divisional champion was once sitting in position to get a crack at Jones' title, but an injury and a two fight losing skid has threatened to push "Hendo" off that radar entirely. At 42-years-old, the former Strikeforce champion can ill afford another setback, and in order for Henderson to stay in the realm of contention, he will need to face a solid challenge in his next outing to to do so.
With the majority of top 205-pound fighters locked up in upcoming bouts, the one name floating around that makes sense is Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Although "Little Nog" was forced to withdraw from his bout with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 161, the 37-year-old Brazilian is coming off back-to-back victories, with his most recent coming against Rashad Evans at UFC 156.
Nogueira's win over the former light heavyweight champion was the biggest of his career and certainly put him in the middle of the pack at 205-pounds. The biggest issue surrounding the Pride veteran is his inability to stay healthy and it will be impossible for Nogueira to keep his footing if he can't stay in active competition.
With similar stakes on the line, a potential bout between Henderson and Nogueira would make a tremendous amount of sense in the light heavyweight picture.
Roy Nelson vs. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva/Rampage Jackson
The next step may be uncertain for heavyweight Roy Nelson, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few solid challenges waiting down the road.
Despite having a three-fight winning streak snapped last month by Stipe Miocic at UFC 161, "Big Country" is heading into free agency with viable options. The former TUF winner has proven to be a solid draw under the UFC banner and would remain a solid fixture in the heavyweight ranks should he resign with the sport's biggest promotion.
If Nelson and the UFC do come to terms, a matchup with former title challenger Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva would be in order. The two powerful heavyweights were originally slated to clash at UFC 146 in May of 2012, but Alistair Overeem's failed drug test created a shift which affected the entire card. The American Top Team fighter moved up to face Cain Velasquez and the former IFL champion was shuffled through several matchups, ultimately ending up with Dave Herman.
With Silva and Nelson both coming off losses in their most recent showings and the other top heavyweights in the promotion all booked for fights in the coming months, a "Big Country" vs. "Bigfoot" throw down would be guaranteed to deliver.
On the other hand, should Nelson take his talents to Bellator, he would immediately become one of the organization's biggest stars. And with Bellator's heavyweight division being non-existent at the current time, the Las Vegas native would be a fixture the company could build around.
At the current time, the only other heavyweight star under the Bellator banner is Quinton Jackson. "Rampge" recently told MMA Mania's Brian Hemminger he would love to fight Nelson and threw out a few expletives in the process.
With the name recognition both fighters carry, the potential bout between Nelson and Jackson would easily be the biggest fight in the promotion's brief history.
Where the next chapter of the 37-year-old Nelson's career will play out remains to be seen and will be interesting to keep an eye on.
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