Matches to Make for Winners and Losers from UFC 244
Who wants to play UFC matchmaker?
That's all there's left to do after witnessing the spectacular action that took place during UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday.
In the main event, Jorge Masvidal won the promotion's first BMF title belt with a stunning defeat of Nate Diaz by third-round TKO in a welterweight showdown so epic that even boxing's Canelo Alvarez had to wait for the UFC main event to finish before starting his own headline bout against Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas.
The co-main event featured Darren Till making a huge splash in his first fight in the middleweight. Till defeated stalwart contender Kelvin Gastelum by split decision in a fight that sets up Till nicely as one of the premier fighters at 185 pounds.
But the card was so much more than just those important clashes, and even the prelims delivered action-packed fights featuring exceptional performances from some of the best fighters in the world.
With UFC 244 in the rearview mirror, here are some ideas on who the winners and losers on the card should face going forward.
Preliminary Fights Quick Hits
Hakeem Dawodu def. Julio Arce by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
- Julio Arce vs. Kevin Aguilar
- Hakeem Dawodu vs. Ryan Hall
Lyman Good def. Chance Rencountre by TKO at 2:03 of the third round.
- Chance Rencountre vs. Ben Askren
- Lyman Good vs. Gilbert Burns
Katlyn Chookagian def. Jennifer Maia by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
- Jennifer Maia vs. Andrea Lee
- Katlyn Chookagian vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Jair Rozenstruik def. Andrei Arlovski by KO at 0:29 of the first round.
- Andrei Arlovski should retire.
- Jair Rozenstruik vs. Sergey Spivak
Edmen Shahbazyan def. Brad Tavares KO at 2:27 of the first round.
- Brad Tavares vs. Omari Akhmedov
- Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Uriah Hall
Shane Burgos def. Makwan Amirkhani by TKO at 4:32 of the third round.
- Makwan Amirkhani vs.Mirsad Bektic
- Shane Burgos vs. Jeremy Stephens
Corey Anderson def. Johnny Walker by TKO at 2:07 of the first round.
- Johnny Walker vs. Glover Teixeira
- Corey Anderson vs. Anthony Smith
Gregor Gillespie vs. Kevin Lee
Kevin Lee def. Gregor Gillespie by KO at 2:47 of the first round.
Headed into his first big test, Gregor Gillespie was considered one of the most promising and intriguing prospects in the sport. A supreme wrestler who had shown an impressive ability to drive his opponents into the mat like a nail, veteran contender Kevin Lee was supposed to give Gillespie his first big chance to show why his handlers believed their fighter had such an incredibly high ceiling.
But Lee, an excellent wrestler in his own right, never allowed Gillespie any takedown opportunities, and the two engaged in a striking match that ended when Lee landed an incredible kick on Gillepsie's chin.
Now it's back to the drawing board for Gillespie, a fighter who probably still has a bright future ahead of him after the stunning loss but who will need to learn how to make top-level opponents fight on his terms.
One name for Gillepsie that makes sense would be Anthony Pettis. The loss shouldn't dissuade the 32-year-old from seeking quality opponents, especially strong strikers like Pettis, who could simultaneously help him improve as an MMA fighter while also giving him a chance to earn his way up the rankings.
As for Lee, it appears the move back to lightweight and a change in trainer to Firas Zahabi paid off for the 27-year-old. He's probably not quite ready for a title shot, but a fight against Dan Hooker could help Lee to prove he's not just a one-kick wonder.
Derrick Lewis vs. Blagoy Ivanov
Derrick Lewis def. Blagoy Ivanov by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28).
Heavyweight contenders Derrick Lewis and Blagoy Ivanov showed what makes them dangerous among the powerful figures of the heavyweight division. Judges liked Lewis' heavier stikes over Ivanov's effective use of takedowns, and it's probably because there were so many more of Lewis' strikes than Ivanov's takedowns.
Neither fighter appears to be on his way to getting a title shot anytime soon. Lewis had lost two straight entering the contest but now has a chance to start climbing back toward the top of the heap.
A fight against Curtis Blaydes would make a lot of sense for Lewis. Blaydes has won two straight after suffering a knockout loss to Francis Ngannou last year, and neither contender has another big fight on the horizon. More importantly, under the right conditions, the winner of Lewis vs. Blaydes could be in a position to fight for a title shot sometime in 2020.
As for Ivanov, he proved his toughness against Lewis and that he was probably capable of consistently competing in a heavyweight division that lacks quality depth beyond the upper tier.
The winner of the upcoming Alexander Volkov vs. Greg Hardy bout would provide good action as well as an opportunity for Ivanov to move the needle. Volkov dominated Lewis in his most recent fight before getting stopped in stunning fashion with just two seconds left in the fight. Hardy is a tremendous athlete who is looking for a big win to prove he deserves a top-10 ranking.
Ivanov would make a compelling matchup for the winner of that fight.
Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque
Stephen Thompson def. Vicente Luque by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-27).
Stephen Thompson delivered a masterclass over Vicente Luque in a fight that proved Wonderboy was still a top contender. The 36-year-old joyfully kickboxed his way to a dominant win over the durable but outmatched Luque to prove his recent losing streak was due way more to the elite fighters he was facing rather than anything inherently wrong with his game.
Luque is a fan-friendly, aggressive fighter who just couldn't figure out Thompson's elite kickboxing style. The 27-year-old probably still has a good career ahead of him, so it's important for him to get back into the Octagon against solid opposition.
A fight against No. 12-ranked Robbie Lawler would be a barn-burner. More importantly, it would give Luque the chance to show he's still a rising contender among the 170-pounders despite the loss at UFC 244.
As for Thompson, the American appears to be ready to head back into the fray against other elite welterweights. Rafael dos Anjos is ranked No. 5 in the division, and the winner of Thompson vs. Dos Anjos would be on track to land even bigger gigs against more important names.
While Thompson looks as good as ever, he shouldn't waste what comparatively little time he has left in his career fighting lesser opponents. The closer he gets to 40, the harder fighting at the highest level will be for him, so it will be important for him to focus on top-ranked fighters like Dos Santos so he can work his way back into contention.
Darren Till vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Darren Till def. Kelvin Gastelum by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 27-30).
There were some who thought Darren Till might not be the same fighter after suffering consecutive losses Tyrone Woodley and Jorge Masvidal.
But others saw Till as just too naturally large a man to be cutting down to 170 pounds and that his move to 185 would work wonders for the popular fighter from Liverpool. That seems to be the case after his excellent win over Kelvin Gastelum, who was one of the hottest contenders at middleweight heading into the fight.
Gastelum just didn't seem to have any tactical advantages in the fight, but it's not certain he would experience the same against other top middleweights. He looked the part of future champ in going five close rounds with UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya last time out, so he would be smart to aim high for a fight against No. 2 middleweight contender Paulo Costa next.
Costa is undefeated and probably deserves a title shot, but since he's probably going to have to wait for that to happen, he should do the next best thing and face Gastelum.
As for Till, it seems like a good bet that he will keep getting big fights in his new weight class.
That Till was able to consistently make the 170-pound limit of the welterweight division appears to have been a miracle in retrospect. When the bell rang, Till sure looked a lot larger than Gastelum, and his ability to muscle his way out of Gastelum's usually strong grasp left the fighters competing on their feet for most of the night.
Till's always been a long and sharp striker, and that appears to be even more the case at 185 pounds. After the win, he figures nicely into the top level of the division, where Adesanya reigns. It was an impressive win, but Till probably needs one more big fight before securing a title shot.
A bout with Robert Whittaker would give both fighters a good chance to see where they stand. For Till, he would be able to confirm whether he's a legit middleweight contender or just a welterweight who happened to be in the right fight.
For Whittaker, Till would represent a chance to get back into the win column with a big name after suffering a loss to Adesanya last time out.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz
Jorge Diaz def. Nate Diaz by TKO at 5:00 of the third round.
This fight was as scintillating as promised for as long as it lasted, but when the ringside physician stopped the contest after the third round because of a cut over Nate Diaz's eye, MMA fans were left wondering just how robbed they should feel about missing out on more of the great fight that was unfolding before their eyes.
Masvidal's powerful punches and thudding body kicks gave him a huge edge, but the ever-resilient Diaz was landing his own strikes and is renowned as a fighter who gets stronger and better as contests wear on.
With fans booing loudly at the doctor's decision and almost everyone in the world left wondering whether Masvidal was on his way to the win, the only opponent for each man now is the other.
Even Masvidal and Diaz know that.
Both seemed eager to sign up for the rematch as soon as the fight was stopped, and that's exactly the right move. While Masvidal was probably winning, there have been much bloodier fights—even some featuring Diaz himself—that other doctors had let continue.
Masvidal ended the night with the BMF title wrapped around his waist, something the UFC only intended to be a one-time thing, but it sure looks like it will be up for grabs again in the assumed rematch everyone in MMA wants to see next.
Masvidal vs. Diaz 2 is the only thing that makes sense for both fighters.