The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale: Matches to Make for the Entire Fight Card
A night focused on The Ultimate Fighter 18 was stolen by Nate Diaz, who picked up an impressive win over Gray Maynard on Saturday.
Having lost back-to-back fights, Diaz came into the weekend with desperation. Now, following a first-round knockout victory over Maynard, he's back in the hunt for another crack at the lightweight championship.
Now, Maynard is the one on a skid, having been knocked out in the opening round of his past two outings. Despite being one of the more notable fighters in the 155-pound class, Maynard's UFC roster spot could be in jeopardy the next time he enters the Octagon.
After their pivotal meeting on Saturday, Diaz and Maynard are headed in very different directions. Here are the matchups that should be next for the Top 10 lightweights and all the other TUF 18 finale competitors.
Ryan Benoit vs. Justin Scoggins-Richie Vaculik Loser
Ryan Benoit came away with a loss in his UFC debut, but he did earn Fight of the Night for his efforts.
In the closing minute of the second round, Benoit was caught in a rear-naked choke and forced to tap. Despite the rough start to his UFC career, the 24-year-old Benoit is sure to get another chance inside the Octagon and could still have a bright future ahead of him in the developing flyweight division.
Benoit's next bout should come against a fellow newcomer, who lost in his UFC debut as well. With Justin Scoggins and Richie Vaculik set to meet at UFC Fight Night 33, Benoit could have his next opponent lined up relatively soon.
Josh Sampo vs. Justin Scoggins-Richie Vaculik Winner
Despite missing weight on Friday, Josh Sampo impressed in his UFC debut on Saturday.
Sampo atoned for his inability to hit 125 pounds by submitting Ryan Benoit in the second round. Although he missed out on the money from the honors, Sampo was also awarded Fight of the Night for his performance at the TUF 18 finale show.
If he can get his weight cut down, Sampo will be a fighter to watch in the 125-pound division. His next fight should come against another opponent with one UFC win, making the winner of a UFC Fight Night 33 matchup between Justin Scoggins and Richie Vaculik a worthy adversary.
Drew Dober vs. Alex Garcia-Ben Wall Loser
Entering the UFC with four straight wins, Drew Dober was shut down by Sean Spencer and returned to the loss column.
Dober had 11 takedowns stuffed and was forced to stand against an opponent who owned a reach advantage over him. The UFC newcomer had his face bloodied for three rounds before being named the loser on the scorecards.
Now, Dober is likely to meet another UFC rookie coming off a loss. So, the UFC Fight Night 33 bout between Alex Garcia and Ben Wall could produce Dober's next adversary.
Sean Spencer vs. Alex Garcia-Ben Wall Winner
Since losing to Rafael Natal in his UFC debut, Sean Spencer has turned things around with back-to-back victories.
On Saturday, Spencer denied the wrestling of Drew Dober en route to a clear decision win. Forcing Dober into a stand-up bout, Spencer was able to use his reach and pick his opponent apart for three rounds.
With both of his UFC wins coming via decision, Spencer could still use a finish before getting a step up in competition. A fight with the winner of a UFC Fight Night 33 matchup between UFC newcomers Alex Garcia and Ben Wall would give Spencer another shot at picking up a statement win.
Walt Harris vs. Nikita Krylov
Walt Harris failed to impress in his first trip to the Octagon on Saturday.
Although Harris did show off his power, rocking Jared Rosholt in the first round, he faded as the fight progressed. The 6'5" heavyweight could not maintain the pace he set early and allowed Rosholt to salt away a decision win on the ground in the third round.
Harris is now likely to meet another UFC newcomer coming off a loss. Nikita Krylov is still looking for an opponent following his August loss to Soa Palelei.
Jared Rosholt vs. Daniel Omielanczuk
Jared Rosholt picked up a win in his UFC debut, but he was underwhelming in doing so.
The three-time All-American wrestler failed to use his wrestling effectively until the third round. However, his conditioning did carry to him to a decision win as opponent Walt Harris faded following the opening stanza.
A bout with Daniel Omielanczuk, who is also coming off of a victory in his UFC debut, would be logical for Rosholt's next outing.
Rani Yahya vs. Felipe Arantes
Rani Yahya entered the weekend with three straight wins, but he suffered a setback against Tom Niinimaki on Saturday.
The top-notch grappler was taken down four times by Niinimaki and only answered with two takedowns of his own over three rounds. Although he attempted four submissions, Yahya was unable to lock up any and fell on the scorecards as a result of spending too much time on bottom.
As Yahya looks to get back on track, a bout with fellow Brazilian Felipe Arantes would make sense.
Tom Niinimaki vs. Rodrigo Damm
Making his UFC debut at 31 years old, Tom Niinimaki wasted no time in making a splash.
Niinimaki went to the ground with one of the more talented grapplers in the featherweight division. While it wasn't the game plan many envisioned he'd use on Saturday, Niinimaki controlled the action for the most part and came away with a decision victory.
The native of Finland will need another win or two before getting a significant step up in competition, but a bout with Rodrigo Damm could give him a chance to make a bigger statement than the one he made against Yahya.
Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco
Akira Corassani picked up a win on Saturday, but he didn't earn it in a way any fighter wants to have their hand raised.
Only 25 seconds into the first round, Corassani was taken down and blasted with an illegal knee while still on the canvas. Opponent Maximo Blanco was disqualified for the infraction despite looking to be the better fighter in the very early going.
The only way to find out who the better fighter really was in this matchup is to do it again. It's obviously not ideal, but Corassani probably wouldn't mind a chance to prove he deserved his win.
Raquel Pennington vs. Jessica Andrade
Raquel Pennington made the most of her second chance after being eliminated from the TUF 18 competition.
Her performance on Saturday wasn't flawless, but Pennington bullied Roxanne Modafferi for three rounds en route to a decision win. Despite her experience, Modafferi hasn't appeared to belong on the UFC level at this stage in her career and is likely to be released now.
For Pennington, a bout with Jessica Andrade, who is also coming off her first UFC win, is a possibility.
Jessamyn Duke vs. Alexandra Albu
Jessamyn Duke also was granted another opportunity to compete inside the Octagon following a loss during TUF 18.
Using more technical striking, Duke had an edge when standing with Peggy Morgan and threatened with submissions when on the ground. Although she couldn't find a way to finish her opponent, Duke walked away with a clear decision win on Saturday.
Peggy Morgan displayed toughness, but she didn't show much more than that in her loss. As a result, there's a good chance "The Daywalker" will be released.
Duke, meanwhile, would be a good fighter to pair with the inexperienced Alexandra Albu. It's a matchup that would feature two developing fighters and would give the promising female bantamweights a good chance to stay in the win column.
David Grant vs. Ramiro Hernandez
After being given a free pass into the finals, David Grant couldn't capitalize on the opportunity to become a TUF winner.
The British bantamweight held his own early on. However, after being taken down in the second round, Grant could not keep Chris Holdsworth from locking up a submission.
Despite the loss, Grant is likely to get another shot in the Octagon because he's a TUF runner-up. A bout with Ramiro Hernandez, another UFC newcomer coming off a loss, would give Grant a good chance to pick up his first UFC victory.
Chris Holdsworth vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Chris Holdsworth is one of the more promising TUF winners in recent memory.
For the most part, Holdsworth breezed through TUF 18 competition. The 26-year-old submitted every opponent he faced in the bantamweight tournament, including David Grant in Saturday's finals.
A member of Team Alpha Male, Holdsworth is probably more than ready to test himself against high-level comeptition. However, he'll be brought along slowly like most TUF winners, so a bout with Kyoji Horiguchi is a possibility.
Jessica Rakoczy vs. Germaine de Randamie
Jessica Rakoczy was impressive en route to the TUF 18 finals, but she ran into a tough stylistic matchup in Julianna Pena on Saturday.
Taken down early, Rakoczy was unable to utilize her boxing and succumbed to ground-and-pound with one second remaining in the opening round. Despite the loss, the TUF runner-up is almost guaranteed another fight or two inside the Octagon.
At 36 years old, Rakoczy needs to get things turned around quickly. A bout with kickboxer Germaine de Randamie would give Rakoczy a chance to show off her striking in a bout that would likely stay standing.
Julianna Pena vs. Julie Kedzie-Bethe Correia Winner
The sky is the limit for Chris Holdsworth, but Julianna Pena may have been an even more impressive winner to come out of TUF 18 competition.
Only 24 years old, Pena appeared to really hit her stride on the reality show, upsetting the likes of Shayna Baszler en route to the finals. On Saturday, Pena became the first-ever female TUF winner by using her ground-and-pound to stop Jessica Rakoczy.
In a much more shallow division than Holdsworth, Pena won't be brought along nearly as slowly. A bout with Julie Kedzie could be brewing should the veteran defeat UFC newcomer Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 33.
Gray Maynard vs. Matt Wiman
Although he's been facing elite competition, Gray Maynard appears to be spiraling downward quickly.
Unable to keep Nate Diaz on the ground on Saturday, Maynard was overwhelmed by volume punching and ended up being out on his feet in the first round. Maynard has now been stopped in three of his past four fights and has earned only one win over his past five outings.
A step out of the Top 10 is now in order for Maynard. Also having recently been knocked out by TJ Grant, Matt Wiman would be a worthy opponent for Maynard while not present as much of a knockout threat.
Nate Diaz vs. Diego Sanchez
Nate Diaz is back in title contention following his strong performance on Saturday.
After being taken down early by Gray Maynard, Diaz quickly worked back to a standing position and overwhelmed his opponent with punches.
While he's clearly one of the best in the 155-pound division, Diaz has already lost to multiple fighters ranked above him, making his path to another title shot a long one. There aren't many realistic options available for Diaz in the Top 10 right now.
A title shot against Anthony Pettis would not be warranted. No. 1 contender Benson Henderson defeated Diaz convincingly not long ago. Diaz's teammate and No. 2 contender Gilbert Melendez would seem an ideal opponent for No. 3 contender TJ Grant. No. 4 contender Josh Thomson recently knocked out Diaz, while Maynard was the No. 5 contender heading into Saturday. No. 6 and 7 contenders Rafael dos Anjos and Khabib Nurmagomedov look like ideal opponents for one another.
Heading into the weekend as the No. 8 contender, Diaz has already beaten No. 9 and 10 contenders Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller. Being one of the biggest names outside of the Top 10, Sanchez would provide Diaz with an entertaining fight that could push him closer to a rematch with one of the elite lightweights who have already defeated him.