Fights To Make Following UFC 281
Every November, the UFC stops at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. You can bet your bottom dollar that this MSG card will always be a banger, and UFC 281 did not disappoint. We saw two title changes, a fight of the year candidate, and finishes galore from top to bottom.
As I always do after every PPV, I will look into my crystal ball, play matchmaker and book the main card fighters their next fights. If you want an example, check out my fights to make following UFC 280. Here are my picks for fights to make following UFC 281.
Dan Hooker (W) vs. Claudio Puelles (L) (Lightweight Bout)
Claudio Puelles was going into this fight with Dan Hooker as a slight underdog but was viewed as a very tough test for Hooker as he returned to lightweight.
While Puelles has all the makings of a bonafide contender at 155, he was finished by Hooker in the second round. At 26 years old, he should still be viewed as that rising star. The UFC can now go in two directions: 1.) give him another established name like Drew Dober, or 2.) put him against another big-time prospect like Joel Alvarez. Alvarez is also coming off a loss in his last fight, and I think this would be a bigger fight to make.
Meanwhile, Hooker finally got back into the win column. After losing four of his last five, he got a desperately needed win at UFC 281. It’s clear that he should remain at lightweight. I believe the best fight to make is Hooker against Jalin Turner. Turner has been fantastic in the UFC, and a win over a big name like Hooker could elevate him into the top 10 and have him hunting some bigger fights. On the flip side, a win over an up-and-coming fighter like Turner would re-establish Hooker as a legit contender in the division.
Frankie Edgar (L) vs. Chris Gutierrez (W) (Bantamweight Bout)
Frankie Edgar is retired and the UFC did him dirty by giving him a guy like Chris Gutierrez for his last fight. Edgar’s durability had been shot in his last few fights, and they knew that. Instead of giving him a guy that matches up well with him, they fed him to the wolves. This wolf is a heavy hitter who is relentless in looking for the finish. Edgar deserved better than what he got at UFC 281.
I don’t blame Gutierrez for taking this fight. He knew going into this fight he would likely come out on top, and with a name like Edgar on his resume of wins, it was only going to do great things for him. If the UFC wants to continue to build Gutierrez up and give him established fighters, look no further than Raphael Assuncao. Assuncao picked up a much-needed win over Victor Henry in his last fight and is looking to build a winning streak yet again. Both men benefit from this fight.
Dustin Poirier (W) vs. Michael Chandler (L) (Lightweight Bout)
In our UFC 281 preview, this was the fight most writers were looking forward to the most on this card. In typical fashion with these two fighters, they did not disappoint. I think the easiest option for Poirier is a move up to welterweight and a fight against Colby Covington. These two have no love lost, and would be a mega fight and would easily co-main International Fight Week. Imagine the promos.
Chandler is in a weird spot, though. With his loss on Saturday, he falls to 2-3 in the UFC. However, he is among the most entertaining fighters in the division, so he will 100% get a big fight. He said after his last fight he would love to welcome back Conor McGregor to the UFC, I believe that is an excellent option if McGregor ever does return. Is it crazy to also want to move Chandler up to 170 and see him fight Gilbert Burns? The options are really endless for him at welterweight, honestly. He and Belal Muhammad would be loads of fun as well.
Carla Esparza (L) vs. Zhang Weili (W) (Women’s Strawweight Championship)
Y’all are really going to hate these next two fights to make following UFC 281, because they are boring and feel like cop-outs. However, I do believe that these ladies should run it back. The only other option for Weili is Rose Namajunas, who she has already lost two twice, and who dropped the belt in the first place in a snoozer of a fight against Esparza. Esparza, meanwhile, is also head and shoulders better than most fighters under Rose in the rankings. Amanda Lemos and Esparza would make a bit of sense and Weili-Rose 3 could be an option, but I would have them run it back.
Israel Adesanya (L) vs. Alex Pereira (W) (UFC Middleweight Championship)
Again, this feels wrong and lame to do, but these guys HAVE to run it back. Adesanya cleaned out that division, so there is literally no one else for him to fight. He also shouldn’t move up to 205 — that certainly didn’t go well for him the last time he did that. While the UFC would have loads of options for Pereira now that he is champion, they can’t ignore the fact that he was down 3-1 going into the fifth, arguably with a 10-8 round on that scorecard as well. There is too much money to be had in this fight for all parties around, plus who wouldn’t want to see these guys go at it again?
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