UFC Fantasy Matchmaker: October 2013 Edition
There is an art to matchmaking in combat sports.
While some fights come together with natural ease, most bouts are formed through a hectic process of evaluation, where several aspects need to be graded on each side of the table before committing to the matchup.
Whether or not a fight makes sense in the divisional scheme, 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 these 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 under way and title races heating up in nearly every division, the magicians behind the scenes at the UFC are going to have their hands full.
In an effort to help move things along, this monthly column presents three scraps that would hit all necessary indicators for the fighters involved and would offer solid entertainment for the fighting faithful who tune in to watch.
Here is the October lineup for UFC Fantasy Matchmaker.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi
Getting within striking distance of the ultimate goal and coming up short is disappointing; nevertheless, Alexander Gustafsson doesn't have much to hang his head about these days.
While his quest to dethrone light heavyweight king Jon Jones at UFC 165 was unsuccessful, "The Mauler" put on a career-defining performance over the course of the five-round battle with the pound-for-pound great.
The 26-year-old Swede did what few imagined he could. He not only battered Jones like no other fighter has accomplished, but he also made the young phenom look human in the process. In the aftermath of his loss in Toronto, Gustafsson began to campaign for an immediate rematch. And while hope lingered for several days, that fire was extinguished when the UFC announced Glover Teixeira would be the next challenger for the 205-pound title.
The biggest issue surrounding his next fight comes with finding an opponent who stands to share an equal amount of risk and reward. Prior to the Fight of the Year-worthy scrap with Jones at UFC 165, it would have been easy to match up the Swedish striker with anyone in the upper tier of the light heavyweight division. But with his stock currently through the roof, the organization will have to make sure his next opponent is on the rise as well.
In this scenario, a bout against Gegard Mousasi makes a lot of sense.
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion was originally slated to face Gustafsson at UFC on Fuel TV 9 back in April, until a cut above the eye forced the recent title challenger out of the fight. The 28-year-old Dutch Armenian went on to defeat Ilir Latifi in a lopsided affair to secure the victory in his long-awaited UFC debut.
Following his win in Sweden, Mousasi announced a move to the middleweight division. While multiple high-profile opponents have been rumored for him at 185 pounds, multiple surgeries to repair an injured knee have stalled his return to the cage. There is no projected date or opponent for "The Armenian Assassin's" next outing, and extending things by several months to fight in Sweden would work in Mousasi's favor.
At the same time, the bout also carries solid reward for Gustafsson as well. Mousasi has built an impressive run over the past five years, going 21-1-1 and establishing himself as one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA. Facing an opponent of Mousasi's caliber would meet the level of expectation a fight should carry when potential title shots are involved.
The other key factor would be giving the Swedish fans the fight they were expecting to see in April. Once Gustafsson withdrew from the card, he took every bit of heat surrounding the event with him. His countrymen passionately support him, and it wouldn't be a stretch if he sought to right the previous situation caused by the eye injury.
Stipe Miocic vs. Brendan Schaub
The heavyweight division is finally shaping up to be one of the premier weight classes under the UFC banner. Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos have held things down in the championship tier, while a solid collection of contenders have battled to determine how things stack up in the divisional hierarchy.
With those conditions in place, there is no room for error, and two fighters who have been keeping stride with the pack are Stipe Miocic and Brendan Schaub. Both have looked impressive as of late and are coming off solid wins in their most recent showings.
He was originally scheduled to face Soa Palelei on the Winnipeg card, but the cancellation of the main event interim bantamweight title bout between Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland forced the UFC to put a big name on the bill. Nelson turned out to be the man for the job, and the UFC tapped Miocic to sling leather with the former The Ultimate Fighter winner.
The former baseball and wrestling standout from Cleveland State University was more than up for the task, as he outboxed Nelson en route to the unanimous-decision victory. Notching a win over a highly touted name like "Big Country" should have paved the way for Miocic to land a bigger fight for his next outing, but thus far there has been little movement in that regard.
His name was briefly attached to a bout with Josh Barnett later this year, but that idea was scrapped when the UFC booked "The Warmaster" to face Travis Browne at UFC 168 in December. Once again Miocic was left without a sensible opponent, but those circumstances changed two weeks ago at UFC 165 in Toronto with Brendan Schaub.
With that in mind, both Miocic and Schaub are looking to continue to climb the ranks, and a matchup between them makes perfect sense. Miocic has won four out of his five showings since joining the UFC back in 2011, and Schaub has worked hard to regain the momentum he had built from his initial run following The Ultimate Fighter.
A potential bout between the two surging heavyweights would help to determine which fighter should rise up into contender status and which should be reshuffled into the deck.
Brad Tavares vs. Francis Carmont
Much like the proposed tilt in the heavyweight division, two middleweight fighters are in need of breakout performances. Both Francis Carmont and Brad Tavares have compiled impressive winning streaks, but neither has been able to solidify himself in the next tier of the 185-pound weight class.
That being said, of his six wins inside the Octagon, two have been debatable decisions. When that is factored into the equation with his grinding style, it becomes clear why he has been slow to catch on with the UFC fanbase.
Nevertheless, he is playing to his strengths and doing a great job of it, but the lack of heat surrounding his status in the division suggests it will be a long road to travel to contention. With that in mind, he needs to face an opponent at the same crossroads, and Tavares fits that description.
The 25-year-old Hawaiian is steadily making his way up the ladder in the UFC middleweight division. Since his time on The Ultimate Fighter, he has found victory in six out of his seven showings including a current run where he's picked up four consecutive wins.
With a potential matchup between Carmont and Tavares, the UFC can see which prospect is ready to go up to the next level of competition and which needs further development.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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