MMA Ratings Podcast

July 13, 2020

UFC 251: What's Next For The Three Champions Following the First "Fight Island" Event

By Adam Martin

UFC 251 was billed as the promotion's big blockbuster event of the summer, and while it didn't live up to the hype of the most stacked card of the year, it was still a solid offering with a number of meaningful fights. Three of those important bouts took place on the main card, as two champions defended their crowns and one fighter won a vacant title. In today's article, I'll give my thoughts on who Kamaru Usman, Alexander Volkanovski, and Petr Yan should fight next.

Kamaru Usman

The UFC Welterweight Champion Usman defended his belt for the second time with a dominant unanimous decision win over Jorge Masvidal. We all know that Masvidal took the fight on short notice and this wasn't Usman's best performance, but he did what he needed to do to get the job done. The win improved Usman's UFC record to 12-0, and he's won 16 straight fights overall. He's the best.

For Usman's next fight, there are a number of potential challengers, though Gilbert Burns seems like he has the best chance to be next in line. After all, Burns had the title shot in his pocket before testing positive for COVID-19. It seems harsh to punish a guy for getting sick, and UFC President Dana White has already said that Burns will get the next title shot. But we all know it's never that clear cut, and there are other fighters in the welterweight division who could fight Usman next instead of Burns.

If it was up to Usman, he'd fight Georges St-Pierre next, but GSP is retired and seems unlikely to be coaxed back to fight Usman. As intriguing as a fight as that would be, it seems like a risky fight for GSP to take coming out of retirement, and the financial incentive isn't there, as Usman isn't a big draw. Usman may want this fight, but it seems unlikely that he will get what he wants. It might not be a fun fight for casual fans, but for hardcore fans, GSP vs. Usman is a very interesting matchup.

You then have to look at the other contenders at 170 lbs in Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, and Stephen Thompson. Covington is coming off of a TKO loss to Usman in his last fight, but it was an incredible fight at UFC 245, and he showed that he can hang with the champ in that fight. Edwards, meanwhile, has won eight straight fights and is deserving of a title shot. And Thompson is still one of the best in the world and makes for an intriguing style matchup for Usman. I still think Burns probably gets the next crack at the belt, but these other fights are certainly intriguing as well.

Alexander Volkanovski

The UFC Featherweight Champion Volkanovski defended his belt for the first time with a controversial split decision win over Max Holloway. The fight was very competitive, to be sure, but from my vantage point, Holloway did enough to win three rounds and therefore take the belt. There's still a chance the UFC could run back the bout for a trilogy between both these guys, but the smart money is on the matchmakers giving other fighters in the division the chance to fight for the belt next instead.

If that's the case, then realistically there are four fighters who could get the next crack at 145-pound gold. They are Chan Sung Jung, Brian Ortega, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Yair Rodriguez. The UFC is hoping to book Jung vs. Ortega and Magomedsharipov vs. Rodriguez for fights later this summer or in the fall, so the more impressive winner of either of those bouts could step in to fight Volkanovski for the belt. Or, the UFC could just pick one of these four men and give him the next title shot now.

All four of these names would certainly be interesting fights and all four are deserving. Jung is 3-1 since returning to the sport and is coming off of a huge TKO win over Frankie Edgar. His lone loss during that stretch came to Rodriguez in a "Fight of the Decade" candidate back at the UFC's 25th anniversary show in 2018. It's been a while since that fight, so while Rodriguez probably should be ahead of Jung in the rankings, they are actually somehow flip-flopped at the moment.

Rodriguez is 8-1 with 1 NC in the UFC, so he's very deserving of a title shot, but Magomedsharipov is a perfect 6-0 in the Octagon and riding a 14-fight win streak overall. As for Ortega, he's 6-1 with 1 NC in the UFC, but hasn't fought since losing via fourth round TKO to Max Holloway in 2018. He's still in the conversation, but I believe he needs a win. So to me, it comes down to Jung, Rodriguez, and Magomedsharipov. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of them, and ultimately it's the UFC matchmakers' call.

Petr Yan

The new UFC Bantamweight Champion Yan won the vacant title with a vicious fifth-round TKO over Jose Aldo in the most impressive performance of his career to date. The 27-year-old Russian improved to 7-0 in the UFC and is currently riding a 10-fight win streak overall, which should put him in the conversation for the top 15 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Now the question is, what's next for the new champ?

There are a number of options for Yan to defend his title against in his next fight. The first option is Aljamain Sterling. UFC President Dana White said at UFC 250 when Sterling vanquished Cory Sandhagen with a first-round submission that Sterling would be next in line, and after racking up five straight wins and an 11-3 overall record in the UFC, he deserves to fight for the belt in his next fight.
However, White changed his tune following UFC 251, and now there's no guarantee Sterling will get the next title shot. It's not fair, but we all know that this sport is not about fairness.

Instead, the title shot could go to Marlon Moraes or Cody Garbrandt. Moraes is the #1 ranked contender in the division and has a 5-2 overall record in the UFC, with a win over Jose Aldo in his last fight. As for Garbrandt, he's just 1-3 in his last four fights, but the UFC loves him and he's a former champ who is coming off of a KO of the Year candidate over Raphael Assuncao. Although I personally believe Sterling has earned his title shot, I won't be surprised if the UFC goes a different direction if they deem Yan against either Moraes or Garbandt bigger fights financially.

As you read, there are numerous possibilities for all three men, and ultimately it will be up to the UFC to make those decisions. If I had to guess, I'd expect to see Gilbert Burns, Chan Sung Jung, and Aljamain Sterling getting the next title shots, but in this day and age you never really know what's going to happen, and it will be interesting to see who the UFC chooses to match these champions up with for their next bouts.

UFC 251
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal (UFC Welterweight Championship): Kamaru Usman def. Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46).

UFC 251
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 2 (UFC Featherweight Championship): Alexander Volkanovski def. Max Holloway via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47).

UFC 251
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo (UFC Bantamweight Championship): Petr Yan def. Jose Aldo via TKO (ground-and-pound) at 3:24 of Round 5.

UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal (formerly UFC 251: Usman vs. Burns) was due to take place June 6, 2020 at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. Due to ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus, the event was rescheduled/relocated to July 11, 2020 at Flash Forum in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Click HERE for more UFC 251 Post-Fight Analysis

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