5 Fights We Need to See After UFC on ESPN 31
UFC on ESPN 31 went down Saturday night inside the UFC's Apex facility in Las Vegas, and despite a lack of pre-fight buzz, the card was extremely entertaining—maybe even one of the UFC's best of the year.
In the main event, former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo continued his march toward the bantamweight belt, defeating Rob Font by decision in a thrilling scrap.
In the co-main event, Rafael Fiziev picked up the biggest win of his UFC career, shutting out the lights on former training partner Brad Riddell with a third-round wheel kick
Other highlights of the main card included big wins from Jamahal Hill, Clay Guida and middleweight Chris Curtis, who respectively stopped Jimmy Crute, Leonardo Santos and Brendan Allen. The undercard, meanwhile, was no less entertaining thanks to impressive wins from the likes Dusko Todorovic, Manel Kape and Cheyanne Vlismas.
By the time it concluded, the card had opened the door to a number of alluring matchup options, including one with massive title implications.
Here are the fights we're hoping to see once the dust has settled.
Jose Aldo vs. TJ Dillashaw
Jose Aldo's bantamweight run didn't start the way he wanted, as he lost back-to-back fights to Marlon Moraes and Petr Yan, but he's gotten back on track in impressive fashion.
After picking up his third straight win by beating Rob Font in the UFC on ESPN 31 main event, he has a long list of exciting options for his next fight. If it's up to him, however, his next opponent will be former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
"Dillashaw's right there," he said in his post-fight interview with Daniel Cormier. "I want to fight Dillashaw."
We've long been calling for a fight between Aldo and his fellow former WEC champ Dominick Cruz, but after watching the Brazilian thump Font in Las Vegas, we're on board with the Dillashaw matchup.
It's increasingly clear that the fight would be competitive, and given that Dillashaw is riding an impressive decision win over No. 3-ranked contender Cory Sandhagen, it makes plenty of sense from a rankings standpoint.
Throw it on a pay-per-view main card, and give the winner a title shot.
Rob Font vs. Cory Sandhagen
Rob Font was close to a bantamweight title shot before he ran into Jose Aldo. When he's ready to resume his pursuit of that prize, he should be matched up with Cory Sandhagen.
Sandhagen is ranked No. 3 in the bantamweight division but will have to put in some work before he gets an opportunity to fight for the title, having recently lost a razor-close decision to TJ Dillashaw and then another in an interim bantamweight title fight with Petr Yan.
Like Font, he will soon be looking for the chance to get back on track.
It only makes sense that the two bantamweight contenders attempt to do so at each other's expense. It works from a rankings perspective, and if their recent fights are any indication, the likelihood of a thrilling scrap is incredibly high.
Rafael Fiziev vs. Gregor Gillespie
Rafael Fiziev picked up one of the biggest wins of his career in the UFC on ESPN 31 co-main event, knocking out Brad Riddell with a third-round wheel kick.
It's unfortunate that Fiziev's victory had to come against a man he considers a friend, but it should set him up for another huge opportunity in the crowded lightweight division.
We're hoping to see him matched up with American wrestling specialist Gregor Gillespie next. Gillespie, ranked No. 10 at lightweight, recently rebounded from a violent knockout loss to Kevin Lee—and a lengthy layoff—with a second-round TKO win over Diego Ferreira.
After beating the No. 12-ranked Riddell, who was briefly slated to fight Gillespie earlier this year, Fiziev is likely to land on the cusp of the lightweight top 10, so it makes sense as far as the rankings are concerned.
The fight would also be a classic striker vs. wrestler-style clash. Those are always fun to watch.
Jamahal Hill vs. Johnny Walker
Rising light heavyweight contender Jamahal Hill only needed 48 seconds to see off Jimmy Crute on the UFC on ESPN 31 main card.
The win helped Hill rebound from the first loss of his professional career: a violent stoppage at the hands of Scotland's Paul Craig at UFC 263 in June. Already ranked at No. 14 at light heavyweight and now a strong 9-1 overall, Hill can expect a tough test in his next appearance.
We're hoping to see him standing across the canvas from Brazil's Johnny Walker, the division's No. 10 contender.
Walker has long stood out as one of the light heavyweight division's most dangerous contenders but has struggled mightily with consistency of late, losing three of his past five fights, including a recent decision setback against Thiago Santos.
A fight between Hill and Walker would give the former the chance to take a huge step up the rankings and the latter to rebound from a rough patch. It also seems almost impossible that the judges would be required.
Manel Kape vs. Su Mudaerji
Former Rizin bantamweight champion Manel Kape got off to a rough start in the UFC flyweight division, dropping back-to-back fights to Alexandre Pantoja and Matheus Nicolau—though the latter was controversial.
To say Kape has gotten back on track would be an understatement.
After a first-round knockout of Ode Osbourne in August, Starboy added to his highlight reel on the UFC on ESPN 31 undercard, swarming Zhalgas Zhumagulov in a first-round TKO win.
While Kape has yet to beat a ranked foe in the UFC, make no mistake: he is one of the best flyweights in the promotion. To match him with any more unranked foes would be a waste. So from here, we would like to see him matched up with "The Tibetan Eagle" Su Mudaerji.
Like Kape, Mudaerji is a former bantamweight with two wins in the UFC flyweight division. And after he was forced out of a June fight with Tim Elliott because of a knee injury, he's without a dance partner for his next appearance.
It has all the makings of a fantastic flyweight fight. Hopefully the UFC has the sense not to bury it on an undercard.