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.
With the UFC's summer stretch well under way and an insanely stacked lineup already on the books for the rest of the year, 2013 is shaping up to be one of the promotion's best. A handful of high profile championship fights are on the docket, and the majority of divisions have hotly contested title races in full swing.
That being said, there is still plenty of card space that needs to be filled before the year comes to an end, and here are a two scraps and one hypothetical the UFC should put together.
Cub Swanson vs. Frankie Edgar
Outside of Jose Aldo, who has ruled the 145-pound division for the past four years, there is no featherweight on a hotter roll right now than Cub Swanson. The Palm Springs native has been a monster as of late as the 29-year-old has collected victories in five consecutive showings.
"Killer Cub's" most recent win came at the expense of surging contender Dennis Siver at UFC 162 as Swanson melted the German striker with a flurry to end their tilt in the middle of the final frame. The victory put Swanson on the doorstep for a title opportunity in the 145-pound division. With Aldo sidelined for the remainder of the year and the divisional hierarchy unclear at the present time, taking another fight before 2013 comes to an end would make perfect sense.
Another featherweight who is also pursuing another title opportunity is Frankie Edgar. The former lightweight champion picked up his first win at 145-pounds by defeating talented prospect Charles Oliveira in their tilt at UFC 162. Edgar's boxing skills, relentless pressure and wrestling kept the Brazilian submission ace on his heels and played a large role in the Mark Henry-trained fighter picking up the win in Las Vegas.
After losing in his featherweight debut against Aldo and notching three consecutive losses, "The Answer's" victory against Olilveira came at a crucial time for the former champion. By picking up the win at UFC 162, the Toms River-native immediately put himself back into the title hunt and will guarantee his next showing will come against a top-ranked contender.
With both Swanson and Edgar hovering around a title shot in a crowded upper-tier, a potential bout between the two would not only make sense on their respective trajectories, but it would also serve to thin out a crowded title race.
Not to mention a scrap between Swanson and Edgar would be guaranteed electricity. Swanson's confidence in his abilities have never been higher—which have made an already dangerous skill set all the more so. The southern Californian possesses a unique blend of speed, power and unpredictability, which would make for an exciting stylistic matchup when paired against Edgar's elusiveness and ability to push the pace of a fight.
Edgar has found success throughout his career by implementing an attack largely based on movement. The 30-year-old New Jerseyan gets in and out on his opposition, landing punches and kicks and circling out before the damage can be reciprocated.
Nevertheless, there a few major variables that could have an impact on the potential matchup. Swanson has proven knockout ability in his hands, feet and knees, and with Edgar's pension for taking heavy damage inside the cage, the former 155-pound champion could find himself in a world of trouble against Swanson.
In recent showings against George Roop, Ross Pearson, Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver, the Jackson's MMA-trained fighter has provided brutal examples of his power and solidified the notion that if he hits you clean, you are going down.
For Edgar, the X-factor in a potential bout with Swanson would be his ability to take the WEC veteran deep into the fight. Over the past three years, Edgar has shown a unique talent for turning up his output and intensity the longer the fight goes on. If the former featherweight title challenger could keep a high pace throughout the affair and pour it on late, the biggest opportunities to be found in the fight could very well open up for him.
Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler
Since the dawning of the Zuffa era, the welterweight division has consistently remained as one of the most talent-rich collections under the UFC banner. And there are no signs of that status changing any time soon.
With a dominant champion the likes of 170-pound king Georges St-Pierre sitting atop the division and a pack of hungry contenders scrapping their way up the divisional ladder, the current state in the welterweight ranks is nothing short of electric.
GSP is set to put his title on the line in November when he squares-off with heavy-handed contender Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. With the championship picture locked up for the time being, the race for the next opportunity will heat up in the interim. Two fighters who are eager to reach the top of the mountain at 170-pounds are Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler.
The 24-year-old Canadian has been on a tear since entering the UFC fold back in January of 2010. "Ares" has steamrolled the opposition inside the Octagon as he's collected victories in six of his seven showings on the sport's biggest stage. His only setback during this run—and of his professional career—came against former interim champion Carlos Condit at UFC 115 back in June of 2010.
Since his loss to Condit, MacDonald has put together five consecutive victories. Those wins have come over some of the division's best, including his most recent outing where he picked up a unanimous decision victory over Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Fox 8.
While his performance against Ellenberger may not have created a swell of momentum with the UFC fanbase, MacDonald's track record alone has him within striking distance of a title shot.
Where the Tri-Star product is coming into his own as a mixed martial artist, Robbie Lawler is finding a second wind in his career. The 31-year-old Iowa native was once heralded as "the next big thing" in MMA as his professional career got smoking hot start. "Ruthless" amassed a highlight reel of brutal knockouts by winning his first seven showings before running into difficulty inside the Octagon.
Over a year stretch from 2003-2004, Lawler dropped three out of four showings inside the Octagon, and he lost his spot on the UFC roster. The heavy-handed veteran would go on to experience mixed results over the next eight years. He competed in numerous promotions around the globe, and while he picked up a title in the now-defunct Elite XC, his failure to find consistency under the Strikeforce banner gave the appearance Lawler was on the downturn of his career.
That naysaying would come to an abrupt halt when Lawler made his long-awaited return at UFC 157 in February. The former Strikeforce title challenger knocked out perennial contender Josh Koscheck in the first round of their tilt and made a thundering statement in the process.
Lawler made a bold re-introduction to the UFC fanbase against Koscheck in Anaheim. Then he turned up the volume even more in his next showing at UFC on Fox 8. After having two opponents pull out of the bout due to injury, the Power MMA-trained fighter stepped in to the cage to face short-notice replacement Bobby Voelker in Seattle.
In what was perhaps the most dominant showing of his career, Lawler battered the scrappy veteran from pillar to post before knocking out Voelker with a vicious head kick in the second frame. The victory launched Lawler into the title conversation and will guarantee that his fight will come against a top-ranked opponent.
With similar circumstances on the line, a potential bout between MacDonald and Lawler would make for a great fit in the welterweight divisional race. MacDonald has proven to be a difficult riddle to solve inside of the cage as his wrestling and transitions are among the best in the weight class. The Montreal transplant is also showcasing a continuously improving striking game in his most recent outings, and that will only serve to strengthen the other areas of his game.
In a potential bout with Lawler, MacDonald's jab and wrestling could make all the difference. Much like "The Juggernaut," Lawler relies on his devastating power to put away the opposition, and if MacDonald could keep Lawler out of rhythm the way he did Ellenberger in Seattle, another notch in the victory column could be his for the taking.
For Lawler, a bout with MacDonald would carry tremendous upside. The Firas Zahabi-trained fighter is widely recognized to be at the forefront of the "next wave in MMA" and a Lawler victory would put his stock through the roof. In addition to the knockout power in his hands, Lawler's striking attack has become incredibly dangerous as his kicking game as evolved.
Where Ellenberger wasn't successful in putting leather on MacDonald's chin, other fighters in the past have been able to put their hands on the prospect turned contender. If Lawler is able to put his power on MacDonald, he certainly has the capability to put the young Canadian to sleep.
Josh Koscheck vs. Ben Askren
While hypothetical matchups between fighters who compete in different organizations are typically useless fodder, there may be something to build off of where Ben Askren is concerned.
The former two-time NCAA Div. I National Champion wrestler recently completed the final bout on his Bellator contract and could possibly be heading into the UFC fold in the near future. While there is absolutely nothing concrete that would point to this being an option Askren is actively seeking, things could very well emerge in the free-agent market once he is free and clear from his contract with the Los Angeles-based promotion.
If the situation ultimately works where the former Olympian does end up joining the UFC roster, a potential matchup with Josh Koscheck would be a perfect introduction. Despite being a reigning and defending Bellator champion, the idea of "Funky" joining the UFC and skipping to the front of the crowded line in the welterweight division seems like a stretch.
The 29-year-old is only 12 fights into his professional career, and while he is currently undefeated, none of the opponents Askren has faced were ranked in the top 15. Where his accomplishments have been solid throughout the opening stage of his career, the Duke Roufus-trained fighter has been plagued with criticisms regarding his fighting style and the caliber of talent he has faced inside of the cage.
Competing in the UFC welterweight division would put Askren in a position where he would consistently face the best 170-pound fighters in the world, and a great introduction to the Octagon would be Josh Koscheck.
The former title challenger has been a staple in the upper tier of the welterweight division for the past five years. While "Kos" is currently on a two-fight skid and experiencing a rare rough patch in his career, there is no doubting that he's earned his place as one of top 170-pound fighters on the planet.
The 35-year-old was originally slated to return to action against Demian Maia at UFC 163 before an injury forced him to withdraw from the bout. With no return date set, and the Brazilian submission ace verbally agreeing to face Jake Shields at a yet-to-be-named event later this year, Koscheck could very well be on the sidelines until the end of the year.
A potential matchup between the two fighters could be solid. Askren has put every opponent he's faced on the canvas at will, and Koscheck would present some interesting problems in that category. The only fighter who has been able to put Koscheck on the mat in recent years is St-Pierre, and even then, it wasn't a place the welterweight king could keep him for long.
If Koscheck was able to neutralize Askren's wrestling attack, it would be interesting to see how the Bellator champion would handle the TUF alum's power and ability to keep a high pace into the later rounds of a fight.
Then again, Askren could very well be out of action for a year or more as he deals with his contract situation at Bellator. He could re-sign with the organization and take any possibility of this matchup off the table.
But this is fantasy matchmaking, and Koscheck vs. Askren would be a suitable pairing if the UFC came to be the next place the Missouri University wrestling standout called home.