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. 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 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 said, the UFC showcases far more exciting tilts than flat fights these days, which goes to show just how good Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are at their jobs.
In 2013, the UFC has put on one of its most action-packed schedules to date, and with a handful of high-profile cards still on the docket, the year is set to end in spectacular fashion. With UFC president Dana White promising an even busier year in 2014, the cards are going to be coming fast and furious.
In an effort to help the process, this column offers three fights that have the potential to either bolster the divisional picture or be entertaining scraps for the fans to enjoy.
Here is the November lineup for UFC Fantasy Matchmaker.
Michael Bisping vs. Tim Kennedy
There is no more popular target for middleweight angst than Michael Bisping. The former The Ultimate Fighter winner seems to get called out on a weekly basis by fighters looking to jump up the divisional ladder. And therein lies the appeal.
Since dropping down from the light heavyweight division in 2008, "The Count" has been a staple in the upper tier at 185 pounds. Three times he's ascended the ranks to reach title eliminator bouts, and on all three occasions, he was sent back down the ladder. Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort bested the Brit on those nights, but he's found remarkable success in nearly every other bout without title contention on the line.
That said, the 34-year-old California transplant is aiming for the middleweight crown, but an eye injury suffered during preparation for his last bout put that run on hold for the time being.
In The Count's absence, former Strikeforce middleweight title challenger Tim Kennedy has taken a few big steps up the divisional ladder. The Green Beret scored a unanimous-decision victory over Roger Gracie in his promotional debut at UFC 162 in July and then followed that up by knocking out Rafael Natal in highlight-reel fashion at UFC Fight for the Troops 3 on Wednesday.
Back-to-back wins have made Kennedy a major player in the middleweight fold, and a bout with Bisping would fit the bill. Whether Bisping agrees with the matchup is a mystery at this point, but a Wednesday night Twitter scramble provided the answers to the question at hand.
Kennedy jump-started the process as he floated a challenge to Bisping over Twitter, to which the Englishman obliged. He told Kennedy if he wanted the fight, he should contact the UFC and tell the brass to set it up for April. The war veteran agreed to the suggestion moments later.
While a potential fight between Bisping and Kennedy makes solid sense in the divisional picture, the underlying grudge match could make for a spectacular buildup to the scrap. Kennedy is sponsored by and keeps a close relationship with the company Ranger Up, which has had tense moments with Bisping in the past.
The majority of the tension was connected to the lead-up and aftermath of the brash middleweight's throwdown with Jorge Rivera at UFC 127 in February 2011. The back-and-forth in the pre-fight buildup was fierce, and following Bisping's second-round TKO, he spat in the direction of Rivera's corner, which lead to him being fined by the UFC.
With all the circumstances and storylines hovering, Bisping vs. Kennedy could be the perfect fight to keep a re-invigorated division rolling into the new year. The fighters have already done the hard work; now it is up to the UFC to make it happen.
Roy Nelson vs. Shawn Jordan
There is no weight class where brick-handed justice is more appreciated than the UFC heavyweight division. It is a collective of huge men who all have the power to settle the opposition with one punch—or well-placed kick—and the heavies do so with great frequency.
It is rare to see two heavyweight fighters reach the final bell. While it does happen from time to time, it is either a testament to the gumption of the fighters involved or the result of two out-of-shape forces of nature partaking in a bout of face-punching where exhaustion was the clear winner after the first round.
Two fighters who embody the best of what the knockout business has to offer are Roy Nelson and Shawn Jordan.
"Big Country" has traded leather with the best of the heavyweight division since winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2010. All six of the former IFL champion's wins inside the Octagon have come via knockout, as he's dusted a slew of proven veterans and up-and-comers in the process.
While he's been defeated on five occasions, all but one victor has been a former champion or current contender. Stipe Miocic at UFC 161 is the only opponent who doesn't fit that bill as of yet.
The Las Vegas native lost a unanimous decision to Daniel Cormier in his most recent showing at UFC 166 in October, and his loss to "D.C." put him in the unsavory position of having back-to-back losses. The grizzled veteran has experienced this position twice before in his career, and each time, he's bounced back with impressive results.
As for Jordan, the 29-year-old former LSU football standout-turned-mixed-martial-artist is looking to break through into the next tier of the heavyweight division. "Savage" looked to be on the fast track up the divisional ladder after his stoppage of Oli Thompson at UFC on FX 2 in March 2012, but Cheick Kongo halted that progress four months later at UFC 149.
The Jackson's MMA fighter responded to the loss with force, drubbing Mike Russow and Pat Barry in his next two outings. That success had him once again knocking on the door to the next tier of the division, but another setback suffered at the hands of Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 166 put those hopes on ice for the time being.
A bout between Nelson and Jordan makes perfect sense, as both are in positional limbo in the heavyweight division. Nelson has proved to be Top 10 material but has stumbled in big fights, and he is potentially on the verge of losing his upper-tier status in the weight class.
As for Jordan, he's already shown he's too good to hang around the prospect level of the division, but he has faltered every time his opportunity to take a jump up has been front and center. A battle between the two heavy-handed knockout artists would serve a purpose for both and would guarantee excitement for the fans.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Eddie Wineland
The bantamweight division has been in disarray for the majority of the past year, with only a handful of fighters keeping the pulse alive in the weight class.
That said, things will be shaping up in a big way in the coming months. Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald are set to throw down at UFC on Fox 9 in December, and the long-awaited bantamweight title unification clash between champion Dominick Cruz and interim strapholder Renan Barao is slated for UFC 169 in February.
Two fighters who are looking to stay in the hunt for the bantamweight crown are WEC vets-turned-UFC-contenders Raphael Assuncao and Eddie Wineland.
The well-rounded Brazilian has been on fire since dropping down to the 135-pound weight class. Assuncao has collected five consecutive victories in the bantamweight fold and has built a solid case for title contention in the process. His most recent win came in razor-thin fashion, but it was impressive nonetheless, as he edged out Team Alpha Male's T.J. Dillashaw during their tilt at Fight Night 29 in October.
Putting together five straight is typically enough to earn a shot in any division under the UFC banner, but the 135-pound weight class hasn't been running full steam. Both belts are now locked up until early 2014, and with Faber and McDonald battling for another shot at the title, Assuncao is at least another fight away from getting an opportunity.
Wineland is in a similar position. After picking up victories over Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen, the Indiana native earned a fight against interim champion Barao. They were originally slated to square off at UFC 161 in June, but a Barao injury forced the tilt back to UFC 165 in September.
The first man to hold the WEC bantamweight title finally had UFC gold in his sights; unfortunately, it wasn't his night in Toronto. Barao landed a spinning back kick in the second round that put Wineland on the canvas and spelled the beginning of the end for the title challenger. Wineland was furious with the stoppage, and the missed opportunity sent him to the back of the bantamweight pack.
That said, the 135-pound collective isn't jam-packed with contenders at the moment, which should benefit Wineland. He's coming fresh off a title shot and would need to face a solid opponent to remain in the race.
Assuncao fits that description.
With Wineland's recent title bid, he carries just the right amount of name recognition that the Atlanta-based Assuncao needs to continue his climb to the top.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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