6 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 26
UFC on ESPN 26 went down Saturday night in Las Vegas, and like many under-the-radar cards, it overdelivered in terms of action.
In the main event, rising lightweight contender Islam Makhachev picked up yet another impressive win, this time dispensing of the outmatched Thiago Moises with a fourth-round submission. In the co-main event, former women's bantamweight queen Miesha Tate returned from a lengthy hiatus to stop Marion Reneau with strikes in the third round. Elsewhere on the card, we witnessed impressive victories from the likes of Mateusz Gamrot, Billy Quarantillo, Daniel Rodriguez and Amanda Lemos.
Those who missed the card are no doubt regretting it today, and those who were shrewd enough to tune in will be talking about for days to come. As ever, one of the main topics of conversation will be what's next for the stars of the event.
Keep reading for the fights we're hoping to see once the bumps and bruises have healed.
Islam Makhachev vs. Rafael dos Anjos
After walloping Thiago Moises in a fourth-round submission win in the UFC on ESPN 26 main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov stablemate Islam Makhachev is now a fantastic 20-1 overall and 9-1 in the UFC.
Despite his success, Makhachev has yet to fight a top-10 opponent. That trend can't continue after his lopsided win over Moises. He's ready to start mixing it up with the division's apex predators.
While fights with former Nurmagomedov rivals like Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor would be interesting, Makhachev called his shot after his win Saturday, setting his sights on former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
He and Dos Anjos, who recently burst back into lightweight title contention with a win over Paul Felder, have been scheduled to fight on two previous occasions to no avail, so there's some history there. The fight also makes plenty of sense from a rankings standpoint and would undoubtedly deliver in terms of entertainment.
Make it a Fight Night main event or throw it on a pay-per-view main card.
Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm 2
Former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate returned from a five-year layoff in the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 26, picking up a third-round stoppage win over the retiring Marion Reneau. All things, considered, it was a miraculous performance from the mother of two and former ONE Championship executive. Her timing was great, her cardio was as good as ever. It was as if she fought as recently as June.
With her win over Reneau, Tate is likely to burst back into the bantamweight top 10, where a number of exciting fights await. Perhaps the most alluring of the bunch is a rematch with a fellow former champ in Holly Holm.
Tate and Holm first met at UFC 196 in 2016. On that night, Tate pulled off an epic comeback, putting Holm to sleep with a fifth-round rear-naked choke to win the title.
The circumstances of their first meeting alone make a 2021 rematch plenty interesting, but both women seem to want the fight too.
"You can dominate a fight and it can still slip through your fingers in the last remaining minutes," Holm wrote on Instagram ahead of UFC on ESPN 26. "I'd love to get the chance to redeem that loss. You want to see it too? Holm vs Tate 2?"
Tate responded in the UFC on ESPN 26 post-fight press conference:
"I think a fight with Holly a second time would be great. There's a lot of women in the division. Name them all. I don't know where I'll come in the rankings right now, but I'm never one to say I deserve this or I deserve that. I understand I've got to continue to climb, but whoever's name on that list to get to the top, that's fine with me.
"I'm sure Holly and I, I have no doubt about it, before I retire her and I will fight again."
Mateusz Gamrot vs. Renato Moicano
After a hiccup against Guram Kutateladze in his UFC debut, former two-division KSW champion Mateusz Gamrot is now on a two-fight streak with wins over Scott Holtzman and Jeremy Stephens—the latter of whom he defeated with a first-round kimura at UFC on ESPN 26. With those wins, Gamrot has improved his overall record to a fantastic 19-1 overall and reaffirmed himself as one of the top lightweights in the world.
With a record like that, which also features wins over the likes of Norman Parke and Kleber Koike Erbst, Gamrot could probably be given a ranked foe without much protest. However, there's no need to rush the 30-year-old. Let's give him one more tough test outside the lightweight top 15 before we give him a crack at an opponent inside it—a test like Renato Moicano.
Moicano, a former featherweight contender, recently moved up to lightweight in search of greener pastures. Since changing divisions, he's gone 2-1, sandwiching a knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev with submission wins over Damir Hadzovic and Jai Herbert.
The experienced Brazilian should be able to give us an excellent sense of whether Gamrot is ready for the big dogs of the lightweight division.
Billy Quarantillo vs. Charles Rosa
Pretty much every major sportsbook had Billy Quarantillo listed as an underdog for his UFC on ESPN 26 main card fight with Gabriel Benitez. He proved the lot of them wrong, scoring a third-round stoppage win over his durable foe in a fight that also happened to register as a 2021 Fight of the Year contender.
After his epic win in Vegas, Quarantillo made life easy for the UFC's matchmaking team, calling for a fight with the always entertaining veteran Charles Rosa—just as soon as he's back from his honeymoon.
Rosa is riding a split-decision win over Justin Jaynes and seems like a great test for Quarantillo at this juncture. In fact, if Quarantillo were to win the fight, it might even be enough to earn him a crack at a top-15 foe.
Daniel Rodriguez vs. Muslim Salikhov
Daniel Rodriguez is the kind of fighter you wish the UFC could put on every single fight card it promotes. He's that fun to watch.
The Californian welterweight added to his highlight reel in the final bout of the UFC on ESPN 26 undercard, sniping short-notice replacement opponent Preston Parsons in a first-round TKO win.
After this win, D-Rod should be matched up with "The King of Kung Fu," Muslim Salikhov, who earned the No. 15 spot in the welterweight rankings with recent wins over Laureano Staropoli, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Francisco Trinaldo.
Naysayers may argue that Rodriguez hasn't earned a scrap with a ranked fighter, particularly given that he lost a decision to Nicolas Dalby two fights ago, but we beg to differ. Outside of that loss to Dalby, he's looked incredible in the Octagon, picking up wins over the likes of Tim Means, Dwight Grant and Mike Perry.
Besides, just think how fun this fight would be.
Amanda Lemos vs. Nina Nunes
Heading into UFC on ESPN 26, Brazil's Amanda Lemos already had the No. 14 spot in the promotion's strawweight rankings and a reputation as one of the most promising fighters in the division. She reminded the world why she's so highly regarded once the cage door closed Saturday, delivering an impressive—if slightly early—stoppage win over Mexico's Montserrat Ruiz.
With her big win at UFC on ESPN 26, Lemos is 10-1-1 overall and very much deserving of a big step up in competition. The Brazilian, who is easily one of the nastiest punchers at 115 pounds, should get that step up opposite the No. 7-ranked Nina Nunes—the wife of featherweight and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
Nunes, while still a tough out for any strawweight in the UFC, is on a skid after back-to-back losses to Tatiana Suarez and Mackenzie Dern and is no doubt keen to get back on track. Maybe she can make it happen against Lemos, or maybe she will be the third woman in a row to wilt in the face of the Brazilian's furious firepower.