6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 257
UFC 257 is a card fight fans will be talking about for weeks to come for a laundry list of reasons—most notably because it was the night we saw Conor McGregor get knocked out for the first time in mixed martial arts.
In Saturday's much-anticipated headliner, the Irishman was put down by a volley of second-round punches from his former victim Dustin Poirier in a defeat that strips his brand of much of its remaining mystique.
That wasn't the only big moment of the UFC 257 card.
In the evening's co-main event, former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a splash in his UFC debut, turning off on Kiwi striking ace Dan Hooker's lights, while several other fighters also picked up statement wins on the card.
By the time all was said and done, fight fans were left with plenty to digest. Even with the dust settling however, there are several matchups that stand out as must-makes in the near future.
Here are six fights we're hoping to see in the aftermath of UFC 257.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
UFC 257 will go down as one of the most watched pay-per-views of 2021 despite widespread technical difficulties. Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler both made the most of their positions atop this blockbuster card.
Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion, took center stage first, leveling the highly regarded Dan Hooker in the first round of his UFC debut. He then plunked a cherry on top of that performance by cutting a WWE-worthy promo targeting several of the UFC's top lightweights.
Poirier, the former interim lightweight champion, took to the cage soon after, looking to avenge a 2014 knockout loss to Conor McGregor. He succeeded in the most impressive way possible, decimating McGregor with a volley of punches in the second round to become the first man to stop the Irish knockout artist with strikes in 27 fights.
In the wake of Chandler's and Poirier's jaw-dropping victories, it seems fitting that they be matched up against each other—and with the lightweight title on the line.
Contrary to UFC President Dana White's optimism that the division's champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, will delay his retirement and fight one last time, Nurmagomedov has made it pretty clear that won't be happening. If that's the case, it's a matter of time before he relinquishes the title and the UFC calls on two other top lightweights to fight for the throne.
Chandler and Poirier should be the lightweights who get that call.
Naysayers will no doubt argue that streaking Brazilian contender Charles Oliveira deserves the opportunity instead of Chandler. That's fair, but Chandler vs. Poirier just feels like the fight to make. Maybe it's recency bias, but we're sticking to our guns. Oliveira can fight the winner.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
Heading into UFC 257, most of us could envision a world where Conor McGregor was taken down and submitted or beaten by decision after five grueling rounds. Few people could imagine the Irish knockout artist succumbing to his own best weapon.
That's exactly what happened when he fought Poirier in the card's main event.
After his shocking TKO loss Saturday, McGregor's future is uncertain, to say the least. Any hope of luring Nurmagomedov out of retirement for a second fight has vanished, and the appeal of his returning to the boxing ring to fight Manny Pacquiao hinged greatly on his reputation as one of the best strikers in MMA—a reputation that took a hit when he wilted under Poirier's punches.
That being said, McGregor says he intends to continue fighting, and he does have a few interesting options remaining. Chief among them is a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz.
McGregor and Diaz are tied 1-1 after the latter won the first fight by submission and the former evened the score with a decision win in the rematch. There's always been widespread interest in a tiebreaker between them, and now that both men are riding losses—Diaz hasn't fought since he was walloped by Jorge Masvidal in 2019—the timing feels perfect.
Dan Hooker vs. Justin Gaethje
Dan Hooker hoped to play the spoiler against former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, who made his debut in the UFC 257 co-main event. Unfortunately for the Kiwi striker, things didn't go as planned.
Far from it.
While Hooker was believed to have a striking advantage in this matchup, he found himself on the receiving end of a brutal, first-round TKO and will now make the long journey back to New Zealand with the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth.
Once he's home, Hooker's first priority will probably be some downtime. Eventually, however, he will be ready to return to the Octagon. And when he does, it should be for a fight with Justin Gaethje.
Gaethje, a wrestler with big power not unlike Chandler, has not fought since he was choked unconscious by UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in October and is no doubt eager for an opportunity to get back into the win column.
Match him up with Hooker in a Fight Night main event and see who can justify their position among the sport's best lightweights.
Joanne Calderwood vs. Lauren Murphy
Scottish flyweight contender Joanne Calderwood got back to winning ways in the middle bout of the UFC 257 main card, striking her way to a unanimous-decision win over Jessica Eye.
Calderwood was slated to challenge Valentina Shevchenko for the UFC flyweight title in July, but the fight fell through when Shevchenko suffered an injury. Rather than wait for Shevchenko to heal, Calderwood took a fight with Jennifer Maia, which she wound up losing by first-round submission.
While the Scotswoman's win over Eye was likely not enough to earn her another date with Shevchenko, it was sufficient to earn her a fight with a top-five foe.
From here, we would like to see her matched up with No. 3-ranked flyweight contender Lauren Murphy, who, after a submission win over short-notice replacement opponent Liliya Shakirova, called for her own crack at Shevchenko. The matchup would give both women the opportunity to lay claim to a title shot, and it would probably be a fun one to watch too.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Marina Rodriguez picked up one of the biggest wins of her career in the UFC 257 main card opener, derailing the hype train of Amanda Ribas with a blistering, second-round knockout.
With this highlight-reel win, which registered as a significant upset, the Brazilian announced herself as a contender in the stacked strawweight division. As she put it in her post-fight interview with commentator Jon Anik, "now you know who I am."
Given that Rodriguez was ranked two spots ahead of Ribas at No. 8, it's hard to say how much ground she has gained in victory. Whatever the case, she's earned a big step up in competition.
We would love to see her get that against former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It feels like a long shot given that Jedrzejczyk is one of the biggest stars in women's MMA, and that she's made it pretty clear she's only interested in marquee fights at this stage of her career, but the pair are easily the best muay Thai specialists in their division. That's reason enough to book the fight. It would probably be a thriller, chock-full of that special kind of violence you only get from specialists in The Art of Eight Limbs.
But if Jedrzejczyk isn't interested in fighting somebody so far below her in the rankings, a fight between Rodriguez and No. 6-ranked contender Claudia Gadelha would also be fun.
Whomever Rodriguez fights next, the future looks bright.
Julianna Pena vs. Holly Holm
No. 7-ranked bantamweight contender Julianna Pena got back to winning ways on the UFC 257 undercard, rebounding from a submission loss to Germaine de Randamie with a submission win over former title challenger Sara McMann.
In her post-fight interview with Anik, Pena called for a crack at seemingly unbeatable bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. While it's always nice to hear fighters shoot for the stars with their call-outs, it's unlikely Pena will get her wish. Not only is Nunes tied up with a March 6 featherweight title fight opposite Megan Anderson, but Pena is also just one fight removed from a stoppage loss. It would be great to see her get a UFC title shot eventually, but it's not the right time.
Instead, Pena should be matched up with former UFC bantamweight champ Holly Holm, who is riding a comprehensive decision win over Irene Aldana and holds the No. 2 spot in the bantamweight rankings. Granted, this would be a step up for Pena, but it's surprising the pair haven't shared the cage already. The matchup is compelling on paper.
The biggest upside for Pena is that a win would make her claim to a bantamweight title shot hard to argue against. Book it for the main event of a UFC Fight Night or throw it on a pay-per-view main card.