5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 42

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IDecember 5, 2022

5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 42

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    Stephen Thompson
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    UFC on ESPN 42 went down on Saturday night in sunny Orlando, Florida, and it was, without any exaggeration, a thriller.

    Headlining honors for the card went to a welterweight scrap pitting two-time title challenger Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson against the enigmatic Kevin Holland. Wonderboy has been in a couple of stinkers over the years, and you really never know what kind of performance you're going to get from Holland.

    However, the two headliners brought out the absolute best in each other for one of the best fights of the year, with Wonderboy ultimately winning by TKO when Holland's corner called off the fight between the fourth and fifth rounds.

    In the co-main event, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos turned back the clock with a vintage performance, submitting the always-tough Bryan Barberena with a neck crack in Round 2.

    Before that, the main card kicked off with five-straight stoppages. Chief among those were Roman Dolidze's vicious TKO of Jack Hermansson at middleweight, Matheus Nicolau's KO of Matt Schnell down at flyweight, and Sergei Pavlovich's KO of Tai Tuivasa up at heavyweight.

    Like we said, it was a great night of fights.

    Keep scrolling for the matches we're hoping will be made when everyone is healed up.

Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira

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    Stephen Thompson kicks Kevin Holland.
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Stephen Thompson gave us one of the best performances of his career last Saturday, out-striking a tough Kevin Holland to a fourth-round TKO in an instant classic.

    At the event's post-fight press conference, the victorious karate specialist encouraged UFC matchmakers to continue to pair him with other strikers, and we are here for that suggestion. Clearly, he's at his best in that kind of matchup, and given that he is 39 years old and still some distance from another title shot, we may as well oblige him. Let the man have some fun.

    Unfortunately, Thompson has already fought most of the strikers in the welterweight Top 10—some of them quite recently, such as Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. So, if he wants to fight another striker, he will need to go down the rankings to the No. 14 spot, which is currently occupied by Brazilian highlight machine Michel Pereira.

    Pereira is a wild man on the feet. He is always throwing jumping and spinning attacks and mixes in cartwheel kicks and other ridiculous moves for good measure. He and Thompson match up beautifully on paper, and with wins in his last five fights, this is an opportunity the Brazilian definitely deserves.

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Conor McGregor

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    Rafael dos Anjos
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, who has been around even longer than Stephen Thompson, also gave us a vintage performance at UFC on ESPN 42, submitting the ridiculously tough Bryan Barberena in Round 2 of a welterweight fight.

    In his post-fight interview, he called for a fight with former two-division champ Conor McGregor, who is still the biggest star in the sport.

    People are always calling out McGregor, to the point that it often comes across as desperate or even delusional. But dos Anjos has as much claim to that lucrative match-up as anyone. In fact, with Nate Diaz—McGregor's chief rival—no longer in the UFC, dos Anjos might be the best man to welcome McGregor back to the cage.

    They were supposed to fight back in 2016, with dos Anjos' lightweight belt on the line, but the Brazilian suffered an injury in the training and was replaced by Diaz, who defeated McGregor to kick off one of the sport's great rivalries.

    Today, when McGregor is riding back-to-back stoppage losses to Dustin Poirier and, therefore, miles from a title shot, he really couldn't ask for anything better than a fight with dos Anjos, who is both a respected name and a solid challenge.

    Of course, McGregor will need to re-enter the USADA testing pool for the fight to happen, but it sounds like dos Anjos is willing to wait, and who can blame him? This would be the biggest opportunity of his career.

Roman Dolidze vs. Derek Brunson

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    Roman Dolidze TKOs Jack Hermansson.
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Georgia's Roman Dolidze was one of the biggest winners of the entire UFC on ESPN 42 card, asserting himself as a bona fide middleweight title contender with a violent TKO win over eighth-ranked Jack Hermansson.

    That victory will send Dolidze crashing into the middleweight rankings, where fights with the division's best fighters await.

    Our choice for his next opponent is American wrestler Derek Brunson. Brunson has stood out as one of the best middleweights in the world for years, even if he has thus far failed to work his way to a title shot.

    In his last fight, he suffered a jarring TKO loss to fellow contender Jared Cannonier. That was almost a year ago, so he is surely eager to get back in there and move on with his career.

    Let him try against Dolidze, and trust that the winner will be a serious part of the middleweight title conversation.

Matheus Nicolau vs. Brandon Royval

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    Matheus Nicolau.
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Matheus Nicolau is a contender for the flyweight title. At this stage, there's no denying it.

    At UFC on ESPN 42, the Brazilian picked up his sixth straight victory—his eighth in the Octagon—by flattening Matt Schnell with a volley of second-round punches.

    Unfortunately for him, a title shot is likely out of the question right now, as undisputed champ Deiveson Figueiredo and interim champ Brandon Moreno will first need to unify their titles at UFC 283 in January.

    The good news is that he has plenty of other options in the increasingly crowded UFC flyweight division.

    Our pick is a fight with No. 4-ranked contender Brandon Royval. Royval is currently recovering from a wrist injury–he was supposed to fight later this month–but is probably the best option available for Nicolau, given that No. 3 contender Kai Kara-France is set to fight No. 5 contender Alex Perez at UFC 284 in February.

    If Nicolau is willing to wait for Royval to heal up, this is the fight to make. And if he wins it, it's going to be very hard to deny him a title shot.

Sergei Pavlovich vs. Ciryl Gane

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    Sergei Pavlovich punches Tai Tuivasa.
    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    There's a new title contender in the heavyweight division, too.

    We're talking, of course, about Russia's Sergei Pavlovich, who pummelled the notoriously durable Tai Tuivasa to a first-round knockout on the UFC on ESPN 42 main card.

    Pavlovich, a former Fight Nights Global champion, lost his UFC debut to Alistair Overeem. However, that was an obscenely tough challenge for his first fight on the big stage, and he has rebounded with five-straight first-round stoppage wins, including ones over Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis. That's the recipe for a title shot, but he'll probably need one more victory to make it happen.

    Our pick is a fight with former interim champion Ciryl Gane, who is also riding an impressive stoppage win over Tuivasa.

    It's a great matchup on paper, and it would be tough to deny the winner a crack at the champion Francis Ngannou—presuming the Cameroonian-French juggernaut can work out a new deal with the UFC.