Robert Whittaker may be a burgeoning matchmaker.
The UFC middleweight champion already has his next opponent lined up after Israel Adesanya defeated Kelvin Gastelum in a Fight of the Year candidate to nab the interim belt. That set up a unification bout for later in the year.
He wants the event in September at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
On paper, it is a splendid idea. But what would it take to pull off and what else would be needed on the bill?
The Main Events
Picking between the two title tilts to determine which gets the top spot is not a difficult decision. Although Whittaker proposed the event, is in the higher weight class and would be the hometown draw, he will have to play second fiddle to the lightweights in this instance.
Nurmagomedov is simply the bigger pay-per-view draw.
After dominating Conor McGregor, Nurmagomedov's name hit new heights—or at least gained notoriety considering the post-fight brawl he helped to incite—and he earned new fans.
He has the right to be the A-side moving forward. It is not a bad thing for Whittaker or Adesanya, either. More eyes will be drawn to their fight, and greater revenue will be generated by Nurmagomedov's presence.
The timetable works well for all participants involved and would give the UFC another massive event for the Aussie crowd. Additionally, having the event in September would mean the promotion could possibly rebook the winners before the end of the year should they come out of their fights without major injuries.
Having these two unification bouts at the top of the card would make it an instant must-see and potentially make it the event of the year. The UFC would just need a few more bouts to make it every fight fan's can't-miss fall sporting event.
Filling Out the Main Card
How can the UFC book the remaining three bouts on the main card to bolster the bill?
Tai Tuivasa will battle Blagoy Ivanov on June 8 at UFC 238 in Chicago. Win or lose, Tuivasa should be slated to be the curtain jerker for the Sydney PPV.
Tuivasa is a fun, ranked heavyweight who happens to be a fan favorite. That is all that is needed for the opening bout on the main card.
Should Tuivasa lose to Ivanov, the UFC can select a lower-ranked heavyweight to give Tuivasa a favorable matchup. If Tuivasa is victorious, then he can be placed in a much more meaningful tilt that could vault him into contention.
Regardless of what happens at UFC 238, the opportunity for Tuivasa to kick-off the main card in a big way will be there, and the UFC should capitalize on it.
The UFC will need a cool-down fight before getting to the top three bouts on the card. There is no better choice than Dan Kelly.
Kelly wanted one final fight in 2018 so that his son could make the walk to the cage with him. The UFC dropped the ball and did not give him that fight.
He closed the door on his UFC career after the promotion failed him, as noted by Sherdog.com's Jacob Debets. Those doors would undoubtedly swing back open if the UFC made him the offer for the Sydney event.
The stakes are low. The UFC could choose any middleweight fighter to go against Kelly. The fight is simply about his swan song and giving everyone the emotional moment of Kelly's son walking to the cage with him.
The fifth and final main card slot should be a lightweight title eliminator that sets the stage for the main event.
Tony Ferguson @TonyFergusonXT
Passed my Med Eval last week. I’m excited about retaining my ufc Lightweight Status that was stripped due to injury. Khabib not actively competing over some time should be stripped. A high Rank title fight/superfight between @TeamKhabib & I is what the fans want #defendorvacate https://t.co/Iyq5Tff6ww
No. 2-ranked contender Tony Ferguson stated on Twitter that he passed his medical evaluations and is ready to return.
The former interim champ has a claim for a title shot, but the time away from the Octagon has seen him get shoved back into the mix. Returning from injury, a one-fight title eliminator should clear his path to the title shot he's been struggling to get.
Who stands opposite Ferguson? How about Justin Gaethje?
Gaethje is the No. 5-ranked lightweight and is riding hot after a phenomenal performance against Edson Barboza. The Ferguson-Gaethje matchup is sensational, and it could be the best pure fight on the card if the UFC books it.
Adding in the stakes of it being a title eliminator will help settle the dust cloud around the lightweight division and make for a fun night with the next title bout being known to all.
UFC Sydney Proposed Main Card
- UFC Lightweight Championship: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier
- UFC Middleweight Championship: Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya
- Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
- Dan Kelly vs. TBA
- Tai Tuivasa vs. TBA
That five-fight slate is a fan's dream for the fall. There is little reason for the UFC to balk at the idea. It would fill a massive stadium in Sydney and be a huge draw for the paying PPV audience.
The UFC should start dialing up Whittaker when they are in need of good booking ideas. The middleweight champion may have a career after his fighting days are done.