8 Fights We Need to See After UFC 266

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor ISeptember 26, 2021

8 Fights We Need to See After UFC 266

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    Saturday's UFC 266 card in Las Vegas can safely be called one of the promotion's best events of the year. It dazzled from beginning to end.

    The card was topped by a featherweight title fight between champion Alexander Volkanovski and challenger Brian Ortega. The fight, which Volkanovski won with a sound unanimous decision, instantly clocked as one of the best fights of the year—and one of the best featherweight title fights of all time.

    In the UFC 266 co-main event, UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko authored yet another effortless-looking win, this time sniping Lauren Murphy en route to a fourth-round TKO triumph. 

    Before the title fights got underway, former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler spoiled the return of  fan favorite Nick Diaz with a third-round TKO. That impressive showing was preceded by a big win from Curtis Blaydes, who defeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik by decision, and another from Jessica Andrade, who thumped Cynthia Calvillo to a first-round TKO. 

    Throw in a handful of epic undercard fights, and you've got the recipe for a Card of the Year contender. It was the kind of card that will keep fans talking for days. One of the recurring topics of conversation, as always, will be what's next for the stars of the card. Keep scrolling for our takes.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway-Yair Rodriguez Winner

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    UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski put forth a masterful performance in the UFC 266 main event, defending his strap with a vicious decision victory over Brian Ortega. The win, which was arguably the most impressive of his career, pushed him onto a 20-fight win streak and reaffirmed his status as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters alive today.

    But what's next?

    Our hope is that Volkanovski will next defend his title against the winner of a planned showdown between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez.

    Volkanovski has beaten Holloway twice previously, but both wins were competitive decisions, so the grounds for a trilogy fight certainly exist—particularly if the popular Hawaiian gets by Rodriguez. As for Rodriguez, his claim to a title shot will be all but undeniable if he gets by Holloway, and he'd represent a new and interesting challenge for the champ.

    Either way, we would get a great fight and Volkanovski would get another great opportunity to cement himself as a generational talent.

Brian Ortega vs. Calvin Kattar

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    Brian Ortega's UFC 266 featherweight title fight with Alexander Volkanovski didn't go the way he planned—far from it. Instead, he was brutalized for the vast majority of their five-round fight, ultimately leaving the cage with some terrible bruising and no belt.

    From here, Ortega's first priority should be rest. The kind of punishment he sustained against Volkanovski potentially shaved years off his career—and it wasn't even the first tough loss he's sustained. His brain and body need a break before he even thinks about returning to the Octagon. 

    Eventually, of course, Ortega will be ready to fight again. When he is, he should be matched up with Calvin Kattar, who is on the mend after a similarly brutal decision loss to Max Holloway. Both featherweights are tremendously exciting, and both have proved they have heart for days. It's hard to imagine their potential pairing being anything short of thrilling, and the winner would take a big step back toward title contention.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Amanda Nunes III

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    UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko is out of options. She has been so dominant, so unbelievably destructive, that she is completely out of viable challengers. In fact, after her fourth-round TKO win over the completely outmatched Lauren Murphy at UFC 266, she really only seems to have one option: a superfight with UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes.

    Shevchenko and Nunes have fought twice previously, both times in the bantamweight division. Nunes won their first two encounters, but both of those victories were incredibly competitive decisions.

    The grounds for a trilogy fight have existed for years. Now that Shevchenko has cleared out her division—something Nunes has done at both bantamweight and featherweight—it's time to pull the trigger. Of course, Nunes will need to get by Julianna Pena at UFC 269, but that feels like a certainty.

    Once she's through that challenge, she owes Shevchenko another opportunity, with the bantamweight belt on the line. It's either that or both women take extended vacations while they wait for new contenders to emerge.

Robbie Lawler vs. Nate Diaz

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    Former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler looked as good as he has in years on the UFC 266 main card, spoiling the return of fan favorite Nick Diaz with a second-round TKO. In victory, Lawler avenged a 2004 knockout loss to Diaz—coincidentally with the very same punch Diaz beat him with all those years ago: the check right hook.

    The victory ended a four-fight losing streak for Lawler, and while he's no longer ranked at welterweight, he suddenly has plenty of exciting options at his fingertips. Arguably the most exciting of the bunch is a fight with Nick's younger brother, Nate Diaz.

    Obviously, this fight would come with a built-in revenge narrative, as Nate would look to avenge his brother's UFC 266 loss. The fight also makes sense from a matchmaking perspective, as both Lawler and the younger Diaz brother seem to have entered the phase of their careers when it's more about fun fights than it is chasing titles. 

    The real appeal of this fight, of course, is how the two match up on paper. Lawler and Nick Diaz dropped jaws at UFC 266. It's possible Lawler and Nate Diaz would give us an even better fight. It'd make a perfect pay-per-view co-main event—just make sure it's five rounds. 

Nick Diaz vs. Donald Cerrone

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    Fans are going to be divided on Nick Diaz's performance against Robbie Lawler. On the one hand, he definitely showed flashes of his former brilliance, brutalizing Lawler's body with his trademark punches in bunches. On the other hand, he seemed to wilt in the face of Lawler's relentless pressure and looked like a man who wasn't really enjoying himself in the final moments of the fight.

    After his UFC 266 loss to Lawler, it's hard to say if the elder Diaz brother will ever fight again—or if he should even be allowed to by his team. If he does fight again, UFC brass will want to be careful who it matches him up with. There's no need to subject the 38-year-old to further punishment against the cream of the crop.

    One fight that does make sense for Diaz is a bout with fellow veteran and fan favorite Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Unlike Diaz, Cerrone has been frenetically busy for most of his UFC career, but the 38-year-old has recently struggled to find wins, with four losses and one no contest in his last five fights.

    If he and Diaz are determined to fight again, pit them against each other, and make sure the loser rides off into the sunset with their head held high.

Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus

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    UFC 266 featured two important heavyweight fights.

    First up, rising contender Chris Daukaus picked up the biggest win of his career so far, shutting the lights out on No. 7-ranked contender Shamil Abdurakhimov in the second round of an undercard scrap. Then, in the second bout of the main card, No. 4-ranked contender Curtis Blaydes rebounded from a knockout loss to Derrick Lewis with a lopsided decision defeat of Jairzinho Rozenstruik. From here, it only makes sense to match the two big men against each other.

    In his post-fight interview with commentator Daniel Cormier, Daukaus expressed interest in a fight with the Blaydes-Rozenstruik winner. While Blaydes didn't mention Daukaus in his post-fight interview—he targeted Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones—he's previously stated that he doesn't really care who he fights as long as he's getting paid. 

    It would be a classic striker vs. grappler showdown with a spot in the heavyweight top five on the line. Throw it on a pay-per-view main card.

Jessica Andrade vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2

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    Jessica Andrade entered the cage at UFC 266 with the goal of distancing herself from a recent stoppage loss to flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. She accomplished that mission in decisive fashion, with a first-round knockout over Cynthia Calvillo, who had never been stopped before. 

    After her win, Andrade announced her intention to return to the strawweight division, where she was briefly the champion in 2019. Specifically, she targeted reigning champion Rose Namajunas and former champion Weili Zhang, who are slated for a championship rematch at UFC 268 in November. 

    Given that Namajunas and Zhang are tied up, a more suitable option for Andrade would be a rematch with her fellow former champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

    Andrade would no doubt leap at a chance for redemption against the Polish striker. Jedrzejczyk, meanwhile, hasn't fought since an early 2020 decision loss to Zhang and needs to fight—and beat—somebody like Andrade if she intends to stay relevant.

    Book the two former champs for a rematch and see which woman can stake their claim to another title shot.

Merab Dvalishvili vs. Rob Font

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    Georgia's Merab Dvalishvili improved to five in a row in the final bout of the UFC 266 undercard, clobbering the always-dangerous Marlon Moraes to a second-round TKO triumph. The win was particularly impressive given that Dvalishvili very nearly had his batteries knocked out in the first round.

    After this come-from-behind win over Moraes, who was ranked sixth at bantamweight heading into the fight, Dvalishvili is likely to leap into the division's top 10. More importantly, he's likely to be rewarded with another huge opportunity.

    We're hoping he's matched up with Rob Font.

    Like Dvalishvili, Font is on a nice streak, having won his last four. The No. 4 contender's current streak is highlighted by a comprehensive decision defeat of former bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt and a stoppage win over Moraes. The fight makes all the sense in the world from a rankings standpoint, and the winner would have legitimate claim to a bantamweight title shot.

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