Fantasy Matchmaker: September 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.
With a chaotic second-half-of-the-year schedule well underway and title races heating up in nearly every division, the magicians behind the scenes at the UFC are going to have their hands full. Nevertheless, here are a few potential matchups that not only make sense in the greater scheme of things, but also would be exciting dust-ups fight fans could get behind.
Travis Browne vs. Josh Barnett
The heavyweight title picture is tied up with the Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos trilogy and Fabricio Werdum apparently waiting on the sidelines for next. In order to keep things moving in the "big man" weight class, Joe Silva is going to have to keep the top-level fighters busy.
With that in mind, a matchup between Travis Browne and Josh Barnett would make for a perfect scrap to determine who remains in the hunt.
"Hapa" is coming off the biggest win of his career when he knocked out former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem at Fight Night 26 in Boston. The Jackson's MMA fighter got off to a rugged start and appeared to be on the verge of defeat, but he bounced back strong and leveled an exhausted Overeem in the first round of their heavyweight tilt.
Browne's victory over "The Reem" makes it two in a row for the 31-year-old Hawaiian and put him firmly on the title radar in the heavyweight division. But with that particular picture somewhat cluttered at the present time, a bout with Barnett would make sense.
"The Warmaster" thundered back into the UFC fold Saturday night when he crumbled former two-time champion Frank Mir in the opening round of their bout at UFC 164. The win over Mir was his first inside the Octagon in 11 years, and it made a clear statement that Barnett deserves to be considered a legitimate title contender in the heavyweight division.
At 35 years old, Barnett is thriving where the majority of his peers from the early days of MMA have either retired or fallen off the map. This isn't the case with the former UFC champion and his dominant victory over Mir should guarantee his next opponent comes from the upper tier of the weight class.
On another interesting note, the 19th installment of The Ultimate Fighter is set to get underway, and Barnett vs. Browne would make for some interesting television.
Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber
The title opportunities in the UFC can be tricky affairs, and Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber have had their fair share. While both have seemingly been in a title shot loop for the past three years, it doesn't take away from the fact they have each established themselves as top-shelf fighters in whichever division they choose to compete.
The 31-year-old Toms River native earned lightweight gold by pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory as he dethroned 155-pound juggernaut B.J. Penn at UFC 112 back in April of 2010. Following his victory over "The Prodigy", and one more for good measure in their rematch at UFC 128 four months later, "The Answer" would spend his next five outings competing with a UFC title on the line.
While Edgar would lose the lightweight strap and come up short of taking the featherweight strap over this run, his victory over Charles Oliveira put him back into the win column for the first time in 17 months. With an electric title race at 145 pounds in full swing, one victory will not bump the former lightweight champion to the front of that particular line.
That is why a bout with Urijah Faber makes perfect sense. Much like Edgar, "The California Kid" has been hovering around the title tier of two divisions for the past few years, and he has come up short of getting his hands on UFC gold with every attempt.
Since losing the WEC featherweight title he held for two years and having an impressive 13-fight winning streak brought to an end at the hands of Mike Brown, the Team Alpha Male leader has competed for a title on four occasions with two coming in the featherweight fold and two in his current home of the bantamweight division.
That being said, while Faber hasn't been able to claim a title under the UFC banner, it doesn't take away from the fact he's been steamrolling everyone he faces outside of championship bouts. The former WEC poster boy has collected three consecutive victories over top-level competition and made a strong case for another title opportunity in the process.
Yet with the 135-pound title picture currently in a state of chaos, there is nowhere for Faber to go. Interim champion Renan Barao is set to defend his title against Eddie Wineland in two weeks at UFC 165, and champion Dominick Cruz still does not have a concrete date set for his return.
With these circumstances in place, a tilt between Edgar and Faber would be beneficial for both fighters. Their respective styles would make for an interesting clash and their name recognition with the UFC fanbase would be an easy draw to capture attention during a hectic run.
It is also worth noting the idea of a potential bout between the two former champions proves Skyping with fellow journalist E. Spencer Kyte serves some sort of a purpose.
Gray Maynard vs. Donald Cerrone
The lightweight division may have crowned a new champion Saturday night in Anthony Pettis, but that doesn't mean the race for the next title opportunity will be slowing down any time soon.
A handful of would-be contenders are all jockeying to line themselves up for the next crack at UFC gold, and two fighters who are looking to hold on to their elite status in the 155-pound gold are Gray Maynard and Donald Cerrone.
The former title challenger is coming off a rough outing back in May at UFC 160 where he suffered a first-round knockout at the hands of T.J. Grant. Prior to his bout with the scrappy Canadian, "The Bully" battled through two hard-fought scraps with Frankie Edgar and one bizarre affair with human live wire Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4 back in June of 2012.
While the 34-year-old former three-time All-American wrestler from Michigan State has had difficulty regaining his footing in the lightweight title hunt, there is no doubting he is one of the top 155-pound fighters on the UFC roster. Maynard has been a staple in the upper-tier of the division for the past three years, but he will need a win over a big name to keep those championship dreams alive.
That same rings true for Donald Cerrone. "Cowboy" has risen to contender status on multiple occasions since coming over from the WEC, but he has failed to win the big fights that would propel him forward. The 30-year-old Jackson's MMA fighter's first bid for title contention was thwarted by Nate Diaz at UFC 141 in December of 2011 and once again by Pettis at UFC on Fox 6 back in January.
Following the loss to "Showtime," he appeared to be gearing up for another run when he battered K.J. Noons at UFC 160 in May, but he suffered another back step in his most recent outing against Rafael dos Anjos last week at Fight Night 27 in Indianapolis.
Both Maynard and Cerrone have proven time and time again why they are considered two of the top lightweights on the roster. Yet with the lightweight division being one of the most talent-rich collections under the UFC banner, both are in a position where they need a victory to keep a foothold in the elite tier of the weight class.
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