UFC Fantasy Matchmaker: February 2015 Edition

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IFebruary 7, 2015

AP Images

There is an art to matchmaking in combat sports.

While some fights come together with natural ease, most bouts come about 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, but 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 the matchmakers, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby, are at their jobs.

When last month's installment of this series was published, there was an ominous shadow cast over MMA due to pound-for-pound great Jon Jones having tested positive for cocaine metabolites prior to his bout with Daniel Cormier at UFC 182.

But hey...there was no time to really worry about drugs and all that mess because Anderson Silva was on deck to make his return in a highly anticipated (wink) bout with Stockton's finest bad boy Nick Diaz at UFC 183.

There was going to be some good, old-fashioned violence to be had, and The Spider vs. Diaz was bound to lift dark clouds hovering over the sport. What could possibly go wrong?

My colleague, Jeremy Botter, addressed those matters in a great column earlier this week; therefore, let's get back to what this column is about. There are plenty of great slobber-knockers and dustups that could be put together, and here are a few potential matchups that could put the focus back on face-punching for a minute.

Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber

A strange phenomenon happens from time to time when divisional title races begin to heat up and take shape. Occasionally, a fighter will be worthy of title contention, yet there simply isn't a fight that makes sense for him to take.

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 17: Urijah Faber celebrates following his win against Iuri Alcantara in their bantamweight bout at TD Garden on August 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

This predicament has befallen two competitors at a time when they should be within striking distance of a championship opportunity in their respective divisions, but there isn't a logical opponent for either one of them to face.

That being said, the timing may finally be right for Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber to step into the Octagon and let the chaos ensue.

While The Answer and The California Kid are currently competing in two different divisions, both have been cast in the odd-man-out position. Irish sensation Conor McGregor leapfrogged the entire group of potential contenders ahead of him in the rankings to earn a showdown with featherweight king Jose Aldo this summer in Las Vegas.

As for Faber, the Team Alpha Male leader was slated to face Raphael Assuncao next month in Brazil, but the Brazilian's broken ankle didn't heal properly, and the bout was scratched.

This left Faber without an opponent and put him in the perfect position to face Edgar at UFC on Fox 15 in New Jersey on April 18.

Photo courtesy of @Joedaddy85

The fighting pride of Toms River turned the tides of a career-worst, three-fight skid and bounced back to reclaim his place as one of the best in the 145-pound ranks on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. Victories over Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn and Cub Swanson put the former lightweight champion back in a position of prominence, with a big-name opponent in his next fight all but guaranteed.

Nevertheless, Chad Mendes would be booked to face Ricardo Lamas at Fight Night 63, and that left the New Jersey native without a dance partner.

With Faber's schedule opening up, a showdown with Edgar would be an action-packed bout that would certainly register in the fan-friendly department. With his teammate, T.J. Dillashaw, currently holding the bantamweight strap, there is no room for Faber to go up in the 135-pound ranks; therefore, a trip back to the featherweight fold would be a logical detour.

Both Edgar and Faber are known to be two of the gamest fighters in the business, and a potential matchup between the two former champions would make a perfect co-main event for the UFC's return to Newark in April.

Ryan Bader vs. Alexander Gustafsson

It is a strange state of affairs on the current landscape of the UFC light heavyweight division.

Jessica Gow/Associated Press

With resurgent juggernaut Anthony Johnson's drubbing of Alexander Gustafsson to earn the next shot at Jon Jones, that leaves a bit of a mess where the rest of the pack in the elite tier of 205 is concerned. Both Daniel Cormier and The Mauler are coming off losses, while former champion Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader are currently sitting on winning streaks.

Those circumstances would seem to favor a Gustafsson vs. Cormier and Bader vs. Evans scenario, but UFC President Dana White recently stated the Swedish striker and the former Olympian would not be facing each other in their next outings. That leaves only a few options available, and it's anyone's guess as to where the chips fall on this one.

That said, the former Arizona State University wrestling standout squaring off with the former title challenger from Stockholm would be a suitable pairing. With D.C. and Evans originally slated to punch each other at UFC 170 before Suga was forced out with injury, remaking that fight would be an easy route to travel.

Granted, they are friends outside of the cage, but that didn't prevent the fight from being made the first time around, and it's doubtful that would affect it from being signed once more.

That leaves Bader vs. Gustafsson as a solid choice, and it would be an interesting stylistic matchup as well. The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner works behind a power-wrestling attack that he backs up with a heavy overhand right. The Power MMA leader also has a solid gas tank that would allow him to push the pace against Gustafsson and take the rangy Swede into deep waters.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

On the flip side, Gustafsson has done well against past opponents who chose to blitz him with offense (Vladimir Matyushenko, Jimi Manuwa)—a trait Bader has been known to employ.

Furthermore, coming off a stunning first-round TKO loss to Rumble in his own backyard at UFC on Fox 14 is certainly a memory Gustafsson would love to put in the rearview mirror. A fight with Bader this summer would allow him to do just that. 

Losing his long-awaited rematch with Bones in front of his hometown was undoubtedly a heartbreaker for Gustafsson, and he will want to get things headed back in the right direction again. A bout with Bader would be a high-risk, high-reward situation, but it's necessary if Gustafsson is hungry to regain his position in the light heavyweight divisional hierarchy.

The same rings true and even more so where Bader is concerned. The Arizona-based fighter has struggled to break through into the championship level of the division. A victory over Gustafsson would be his key to accomplishing that task. And while pairing a fighter coming off a win with one coming off a loss is typically avoided, it's passable in this setting.

Myles Jury vs. Norman Parke

The lightweight division is a shark tank of talent where breaking through into the upper ranks is a difficult task to accomplish. Both Myles Jury and Norman Parke had high-profile bouts as of late, and each was turned back in his effort to climb the 155-pound divisional ladder.

John Locher/Associated Press

The Team Alliance representative failed to hit the mark against Donald Cerrone at UFC 182 last month, and Stormin' Norman was bested by savvy veteran Gleison Tibau at Fight Night 59 on Jan. 18. Neither fighter looked impressive in his biggest fight to date, and a pairing of the two would provide at least one of them to correct things in swift fashion.

Although his loss to Cowboy was the first of his professional career, the setback and lackluster performance in that fight cost Jury some serious momentum, which is an unfortunate turn since he beat up Diego Sanchez and knocked out Takanori Gomi to get there. That leaves the Michigan native in a position where regaining his traction is a must. A bout with Parke would present an interesting matchup to do so.

While The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes lightweight winner is yet to crack the Top 10 in the lightweight collective, Parke was on his way to climbing the divisional ladder before Tibau edged him out via split decision in Boston.

Although Jury was a bit further up the lightweight hierarchy than Parke was before their respective losses, both need not only an opponent with a solid name but a fight that will pump some blood back into their respective styles. 

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Jury and Parke have both proved to be versatile fighters with the ability to finish wherever the action takes place. Furthermore, each man can push a fast pace, and that would make a potential pairing of the two a bout where exciting exchanges—on the feet or the ground—are likely.

A fight between Jury and Parke would also give the winner a chance to resume his quest for bigger things in the lightweight collective while pushing the loser further back for more development. 

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


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