UFC Fantasy Matchmaker: July 2014 Edition

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UFC Fantasy Matchmaker: July 2014 Edition
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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.

The term "fast and furious" doesn't quite do justice to the way the fight cards are rolling these days under the UFC banner, and more events mean more fighters for those on the promotional roster. That said, rolling the dice on a rapidly revolving table is tricky business, and the powers that be at the UFC have fallen victim to a handful of sudden curves.

Yet, while there has been the occasional mismatch (Stipe Miocic vs. Fabio Maldonado), the number of legitimate long ball shots Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have hit is impressive. Even when something like the lopsided heavyweight tilt between the "Croatian Devastation" and the "Brazilian Zombie" (both unofficial nicknames) happens, the originally scheduled pairing between the Ohio native and former champion Junior dos Santos was the MMA equivalent to solid gold dancers. 

Nevertheless, setbacks and injuries happen on the regular in MMA, and all the matchmaking brass can do is hope everything holds together until fight night. That's why B/R MMA likes to drop this monthly column of suggested matchups in an effort to make things easier on the two hardest working men in the fight business.

While June's installment was absent due to a long overdue vacation, the latest edition offers a few beefy options for the months ahead.

 

Frankie Edgar vs. Ricardo Lamas

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I barely made it through typing that matchup without losing my noggin. 

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It wasn't all that long ago where the UFC featherweight division was thought of as Jose Aldo and a few other guys, but the dynamics of the situation at 145 pounds have changed drastically. Over the past two years, the featherweight collective has risen to become one of the most talent-rich divisions under the promotional banner, and that is directly tied to the lights-out work a collection of elite featherweights have put in inside the Octagon.

In addition to the continued dominance of the Brazilian striking phenom, savvy veterans like Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes have ripped off insane winning streaks and carved their way to the top of the ladder at 145 pounds. That said, "Killer Cub" and "Money" haven't been alone in their efforts, as both Ricardo Lamas and Frankie Edgar have certainly played strong roles as well.

While the bulk of Edgar's most notable work is still linked to his time as the champion of the lightweight division, "The Answer" has been making noise from the first moment he touched down in his new weight class. After spending nearly three years locked in immediate rematches and trilogy fights, the Toms River, New Jersey, native's luck hit a rough patch and he sought a fresh start in featherweight waters, which is a division much closer to his natural weight. 

The former 155-pound titleholder made his official featherweight debut in February of 2013—and while he was originally slated to take a fight to earn a shot at Aldo's crown—the injury bug ravaged No. 1 contender Erik Koch, and the scrappy New Jersey representative was tapped to face the pound-for-pound great immediately out of the gates at 145.

The man he was scheduled to face before the lineup shift came into play was Ricardo Lamas, and the timing is absolutely right for that matchup to be made official once and for all. 

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"The Bully" put himself on the map in the featherweight fold on the strength of an impressive run where he found success in four consecutive outings, the majority of which came against top-ranked opposition. While it took a bit of jockeying on his part, the Chicago native parlayed his winning streak into a title opportunity as he stepped in for his long-awaited title shot against Aldo at UFC 169 back in February.

Although Lamas was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat the champion, he bounced back in his next outing by defeating Hacran Dias at Fight Night 44 last month. Defeating the Nova Uniao fighter certainly will not launch him to the front of the title picture, but it was a solid move for Lamas to re-enter the realm of potential contention.

That is why a bout between Edgar and Lamas makes perfect sense. Since dropping his title bid against Aldo back in February of 2013, the former lightweight strap holder has made good on his two other showings at featherweight. He defeated Charles Oliveira in a gritty affair at UFC 162 last July, then closed out his trilogy with BJ Penn in definitive fashion at The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale this past weekend. 

Lamas has won five of his past six showings. Edgar has won two out of his three bouts as featherweight. Both were set back in their respective title shots and are a few steps behind the divisional front-runners on the current landscape. It's time to make this fight happen, and it would carry an equal amount of risk and reward for both.

 

Raphael Assuncao vs. Bryan Caraway

The business at the top of the bantamweight division has been chaotic as of late, and Raphael Assuncao is not likely to be all too happy about any of it.

The former WEC veteran turned UFC contender has been on a tear since dropping down to 135 pounds as he's rolled off six consecutive victories, including one over current titleholder T.J. Dillashaw last October. Granted, the bout with the Team Alpha Male fighter was a hard-fought scrap on both accounts, and Assuncao getting the split-decision nod came with some debate in the MMA community.

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Nevertheless, the Atlanta transplant earned the nod on the judges' scorecards and has gone on to pick up another victory since defeating The Ultimate Fighter alum when they squared off in Brazil. Yet, despite his impressive run of successful showings, the title shot he's been campaigning for has continued to elude him.

When the UFC was looking for an opponent for Renan Barao's most recent title defense, Assuncao wasn't going to be fully healed in time for the fight, and the opportunity was given to Dillashaw. When the Duane Ludwig-trained fighter pulled off the shocking upset over "The Baron," Assuncao figured to be next in line, but he was once again pushed aside when the UFC decided to do an immediate rematch between Dillashaw and Barao at UFC 177 on Aug. 30.

That has put Assuncao in a position where there aren't a ton of fights that make sense.

Former champion Dominick Cruz is making his return against Takeya Mizugaki later this year and perennial contender Urijah Faber—who is coming off a win this past weekend at UFC 175—already has a victory over Assuncao when they fought at WEC 46 back in 2010. The only other heavy hitter in the bantamweight fold is Michael McDonald, but "Mayday" is coming off a loss in his most recent showing and it wouldn't make sense to pair him against an opponent on a six-fight winning streak.

This is where Bryan Caraway comes into the picture.

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While the Robert Follis-trained fighter has yet to break through into the upper echelon of the bantamweight fold, the 29-year-old has been making a strong climb up the divisional ladder. Caraway has won four of his five showings since his time on The Ultimate Fighter, and his only loss came in a razor-thin split decision against Mizugaki. Although he was ultimately edged out by the Japanese fighter, Mizugaki is as game as they come in the bantamweight fold and Caraway took him to the proverbial wire.

Since that setback in Japan back in 2013, the Xtreme Couture fighter has picked up back-to-back victories over talented opposition. Those wins have Caraway within striking distance of making a major move, and Assuncao's current position in the 135-pound mix could potentially make a bout between the two the major opportunity he needs to take a giant step forward.

That said, the risk/reward factor wouldn't be the same on Assuncao's side of the table. Yet, with the current lineup of bouts already on the docket, he very well may not have too many options available.

 

Yuri Alcantara vs. Johnny Eduardo

For the final offering in this month's installment, we are going to stay in the bantamweight fold for another potential tilt. Where the previously listed bout between Assuncao and Caraway could hold heavy implication on a future title shot at 135, this next bout would be a fan-friendly scrap guaranteed to bring the ruckus. 

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While Yuri Alcantara and Johnny Eduardo may not carry much in terms of name recognition with the UFC fanbase, both fighters have been looking like monsters as of late.

Alcantara has found victory in three of his last four outings, with two of those wins coming by way of finish. His most recent win came at the expense of Vaughan Lee back in May as he salted the British fighter via first-round knockout. Alcantara's stoppage of Lee was his second consecutive win inside the Octagon and helped him regain some of the ground he lost due to his setback against Faber.

Eduardo also knows a thing or two about starching the opposition in the opening frame, as he's coming off the biggest win of his career over Eddie Wineland at Fight Night 40 back in May. The 35-year-old Brazilian was a heavy underdog going into the tilt with the former WEC bantamweight champion, but he pulled off a shocking upset when he leveled the Indiana native with nasty shots in the first round of their bout. 

Although Wineland was figured to have the advantage in the stand-up department, Eduardo's boxing looked crisp as he battered the former title challenger every step of the way until he scored the finish late in the opening round. His victory in Cincinnati guaranteed bigger things were coming his way, and a matchup with Alcantara would be a suitable fit.

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While Eduardo has won 13 of his last 14 fights, he's still relatively new to the UFC fold and a bout with Alcantara would provide a suitable risk/reward for both fighters. In addition to what a potential bout would yield, their respective fighting styles would have a high probability for the poetic violence that has been known to unfold once the cage door closes.

Both Alcantara and Eduardo are known to push the pace and are capable of getting the finish whether the fight is standing or playing out on the canvas. Granted, the winner of this prospective tilt wouldn't be on the fast track for title contention anytime soon, but a full-tilt scrap with high entertainment value could certainly serve to raise the stock of both fighters.

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise. 

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