UFC on ESPN+: Matches to Make for the Winners and Losers
The UFC on ESPN era began on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York...and it did not go well.
After a solid start to the night, things took a nosedive and ultimately climaxed with a dissatisfying disqualification finish in the co-main event and a quick stoppage in the headlining bout between flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
There were some highlights, of course, as Paige VanZant scored a sneaky submission win over Rachael Ostovich, and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone re-established himself as a top-tier lightweight by besting Alexander Hernandez. Still, having the top four fights underwhelm on such a big card is unideal.
Things don't end here, though! Before long, each and every fighter who competed at UFC Fight Night 143 will be back in the Octagon looking to either bounce back or keep their momentum rolling. So what does the future hold for everyone who competed in Brooklyn? And whom should they face next?
Read on and find out!
Preliminary Fight Quick Hits
Donald Cerrone def. Alex Hernandez by TKO via Punches at 3:43 of Round 2
Cowboy called out Conor McGregor, and the former champ-champ obliged! Hopefully, that comes to fruition. Unfortunately for Hernandez, his momentum is stopped dead, and he's likely up for an under-the-radar fight with somebody like Dan Hooker or Stevie Ray.
Joanne Calderwood def. Ariane Lipski by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Great showing by Joanne Calderwood, who reasserted herself as a legitimate contender with a convincing win here. The flyweight rankings are a hodgepodge of names right now, but facing a fellow UFC contender like Liz Carmouche or Nicco Montano is the way to go. As for Ariane Lipski, anyone coming off a loss works. Roxanne Modafferi, maybe?
Alonzo Menifield def. Vinicius Moreira by TKO via Punches at 3:56 of Round 1
It's still really early, but Alonzo Menifield is a big, strong dude who can punch really hard. He could fight a ranked opponent like Nikita Krylov next or fight somebody making their UFC debut because this division is a mess! Vinicius Moreira, meanwhile, is now 0-1, so he will fight either a rookie or somebody on a skid like Marcin Prachnio or Adam Milstead.
Cory Sandhagen def. Mario Bautista by Submission via Armbar at 3:31 of Round 1
Cory Sandhagen is now 3-0 in the UFC, which lines him up for a stiffer test. An established guy like Rick Glenn or Cub Swanson would be a good fit for him. On the flipside, Mario Bautista is no 0-1 in the UFC. A debuting opponent or any other struggling newcomer is the way to go with him.
Dennis Bermudez def. Te Edwards by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Dennis Bermudez won and retired, so no real fight there for him! Te Edwards is now 0-2 in the Octagon, which could mean the end for him. If not, any random debuting opponent works for his next outing.
Geoff Neal def. Belal Muhammad by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Huge win for Geoff Neal, who is lined up to fight a fringe top-15 player like Islam Makhachev or Charles Oliveira. Tough blow to Belal Muhammad, however, but he finds himself in the same situation as potential opponents like Clay Guida and Bobby Green.
Chance Rencountre def. Kyle Stewart by Submission via Rear-Naked Choke at 2:25 of Round 1
Both men are upstarts in the overflowing welterweight division. Both welcoming an alum from Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series makes sense, as does any other debuting talent.
Glover Teixeira vs. Karl Roberson
Glover Teixeira def. Karl Roberson by Submission via Arm Triangle at 3:21 of Round 1
The UFC is officially using Glover Teixeira as a stepping stone right now, but Karl Roberson wasn't quite able to take advantage of that. Despite rocking Teixeira early with elbows, he wasn't able to seal the deal on the ground. That opened up the opportunity for the Brazilian to leverage his veteran savvy and grappling base to score a huge comeback win.
He'll need to score several more wins in order to free himself from that booking position, which means he's likely to face up-and-comers like Roberson for the foreseeable future. Misha Cirkunov fits that bill, but re-making the fight with Ion Cutelaba is also very possible. A veteran coming off a loss like Jimi Manuwa also makes sense.
Roberson, meanwhile, finds himself in light heavyweight purgatory. With a 2-2 record in a super-thin division, he might fight a ranked legend like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua next, or he could fight somebody making their UFC debut. We'll just have to see!
Paige VanZant vs. Rachael Ostovich
Paige VanZant def. Rachael Ostovich by Submission via Armbar at 1:50 of Round 2
This fight panned out quite similarly to the opening bout. Rachael Ostovich looked excellent early, taking down Paige VanZant at will and out-scrambling her at every turn, but fortunes change in a flash in MMA. Getting overzealous attempting a submission, Ostovich wound up mounted by VanZant and never got back up.
It's an incredibly sad turn for Ostovich, who seemed poised to score a feel-good win following a horrifying domestic violence case, but a critical victory for VanZant, who desperately needed a victory to retain her in-cage legitimacy.
The women's flyweight division still doesn't have a defined hierarchy, and that means that it's tough to pin down what the future holds for either woman. For VanZant, that means she could wind up in a top contender's bout opposite someone like Jessica Eye or Nicco Montano, or she could end up crushing a freshly called-up tomato can in a Fight Night main event. Ostovich, meanwhile, could be paired with literally anybody coming off a loss.
Joseph Benavidez vs. Dustin Ortiz
Joseph Benavidez def. Dustin Ortiz by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
The lack of certainty when it comes to the future of the flyweight division makes it tough to peg what the future has in store for either man. Still, Henry Cejudo's win over TJ Dillashaw puts Joseph Benavidez in an ideal position going forward.
The two faced off back in 2016 with Benavidez coming out on top of a narrow split decision, given an asterisk by a questionable point deduction in the first round. A rematch has always felt like an inevitability and, assuming the flyweight division isn't shuttered, there's no better time than the present.
If the division is shuttered, that leaves Benavidez in an awkward-yet-manageable spot. His long-term prospects aren't great given how he is legitimately undersized at 135 pounds, but he's only a win away from a grudge match with friend-turned-enemy Dillashaw. If he can get by somebody like Aljamain Sterling or Jimmie Rivera, he could get a crack at gold in the twilight of his career.
As for Dustin Ortiz, well, he's not so fortunate.
His winning streak was killed by Benavidez, and that leaves him in a no man's land at both bantamweight and flyweight. He'll find himself competing in random undercard bouts in either division for the time being, but there's an off chance he could simply get cut from the promotion alongside fellow 125-pounders like Ulka Sasaki and Justin Scoggins.
Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros
Gregor Gillespie def. Yancy Medeiros by TKO via Punches at 4:59 of Round 2
Gregor Gillespie posted a dominant win over Yancy Medeiros, and that indicates he has a bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, in the super-competitive lightweight division, there just isn't much room for many up-and-comers.
Though Gillespie could realistically challenge a top-five name like Dustin Poirier or Tony Ferguson, he'll likely be forced to take the slow road. That means he'll be forced to work with fighters on the periphery of the top 15 for his next few fights. That might mean somebody like No. 12-ranked Francisco Trinaldo, but it could also lead to no-win contests against anonymous-yet-formidable challengers like Islam Makhachev or Gilbert Burns.
Medeiros, unfortunately, now finds himself in the lightweight quagmire. There are literally dozens of high-end talents who he could face off with that offer little upward momentum individually. The best-case scenario would be a fight with a recognizable veteran like Jim Miller or Diego Sanchez. Much more likely, however, is a matchup against a highly talented no-namer like Drakkar Klose or Alan Patrick.
Greg Hardy vs. Allen Crowder
Allen Crowder def. Greg Hardy by Disqualification at 2:28 of Round 2
Greg Hardy's controversial UFC debut couldn't have gone any worse for him. The disgraced ex-NFLer was flustered throughout his fight with Allen Crowder and seemingly vented that frustration by nailing him with a blatantly illegal knee to the head in the second round, leading to a disqualification loss and a cascade of derisive chants from the crowd.
A case can be made that this was due to his inexperience (this was Hardy's fourth pro fight), but the optics of Hardy responding to a taunting opponent with an illegal move are undeniably awful.
Ultimately, though, this loss doesn't change anything when it comes to the former Dallas Cowboy. He's still a superb athlete, blue-chip prospect and somebody fans will tune in to watch (even if it's just in hopes of watching him lose). Also, he's still wildly green to the point where the UFC needs to match him up with rookie opponents.
Even if he won this fight, Hardy would have been fighting against the softest opposition the UFC could muster, so this loss doesn't change much.
As for Crowder, the UFC rarely responds well to fighters beating their favorite upstarts (look at what happened to Bryan Barberena after derailing Sage Northcutt). Look for him to be buried on the prelims of the least-visible cards the UFC has planned.
Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw
Henry Cejudo def. TJ Dillashaw by TKO via Punches at 0:32 of Round 1
Henry Cejudo made UFC President Dana White very, very unhappy by beating TJ Dillashaw.
The UFC prez was visibly pouting as he put the new UFC belt around Cejudo's waist and came just short of stamping his foot when talking about the finish at the event's post-fight press conference, describing the stoppage as "early" and "horrible" despite the fact that, well, it wasn't either of those things. He ultimately came short of vowing a rematch between the two, but Dillashaw himself said he wants a do-over (at 125 pounds, no less).
If the flyweight division is shuttered, the rematch almost certainly happens at 135 pounds. And if it isn't? There's still an off chance it happens again at 125.
That said, both men have solid contenders waiting for them, and that's who they should be fighting regardless. As stated, Cejudo needs to get revenge on Joseph Benavidez at some point, and the stars have aligned for him to do so. As for Dillashaw, Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes both deserve a crack at gold.