Armchair Matchmaker: UFC 166 Edition

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UFC 166 will go down as one of the promotion’s greatest events, with a plethora of exciting fights and jaw-dropping finishes.

Cain Velasquez retained his heavyweight title once again with a dominant performance over Junior dos Santos, battering the former champ for four and a half rounds until referee Herb Dean mercifully stops the bout midway through the final round.  Despite showing improved takedown defense since their last meeting, Dos Santos found his back against the cage for nearly the entirety of the fight, taking serious damage from inside the clinch. Velasquez would separate at times and land massive combos, then instantly re-engage in the clinch, never allowing Dos Santos much room for action of his own.

Former Olympian, Daniel Cormier cruised to another victory in a one-sided affair against Roy Nelson, showing off more boxing skills than usual en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision. For the second straight fight, Nelson wasn’t able to get anything going offensively. Cormier mixed in takedown attempts and cage clinches with his improved stand-up skills, to keep Nelson off-balance for three rounds.

Lightweights Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez stole the show in a three round, “Fight of the Year” candidate. While Melendez was the better fighter for the majority of the fight, he’d sporadically throw technique out the window and engage in epic exchanges, trading punches in flurries with Sanchez. To add even more drama to the fight, Sanchez dropped Melendez in one of their heated exchanges, but would survive and earn the deserved unanimous decision.

So what’s next for some of the fighters from UFC 166? Here’s my take:

Cain Velasquez:

Fabricio Werdum has waited on the sideline since June in hopes of getting the next title shot, and it looks like his wish will come true. Following the UFC 166 broadcast, Dana White said that Werdum is likely the next in line and that it “makes the most sense.”

Junior Dos Santos:

With another one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos likely falls out of title contention for the foreseeable future. There are currently several rising title contenders that Dos Santos could be a challenging litmus test for, including Josh Barnett, Travis Browne, and Stipe Miocic.

Daniel Cormier:

Now that friend and training partner, Cain Velasquez has solidified his title as baddest heavyweight on the planet, all signs point to Daniel Cormier shedding more weight and heading to the 205-pound division. With Glover Teixeira up next and a likely rematch with Alexander Gustafsson on deck, an immediate title shot against Jon Jones is unlikely. There’s several meaningful, challenging options for him at light heavyweight including the Rashad Evans/Chael Sonnen winner or the Dan Henderson/Vitor Belfort victor.

Gilbert Melendez

Thanks to Anthony Pettis changing the 155-pound landscape with his win over Ben Henderson at UFC 164, Melendez finds himself once again on the short list of title contenders in the division. Likely he’ll need one more win against another contender, someone like TJ Grant or Rafael dos Anjos.

Gabriel Gonzaga:

Gabriel Gonzaga took another step towards entering the heavyweight division’s top 10 with a first round knockout victory over Shawn Jordan at UFC 166. He’s now 4-1 since returning to the UFC and will likely get a step up in competition. Antonio Nogueira, Roy Nelson, or Stipe Miocic are possible choices.

John Dodson:

Dodson proved once again he’s one of the top three flyweights in the world, with a stunning first round knockout win over Darrell Montague. Despite losing to champion Demetrious Johnson just last January, Dodson is clearly the most deserving title challenger after Johnson faces Joseph Benavidez in November.

Jessica Eye:

Widely considered one of the top women’s flyweight in the world before her UFC signing. Jessica Eye proved she can compete with the best at bantamweight with a decision victory over former Strikeforce champion, Sarah Kaufman.  The win skyrockets her in the top echelon of the division, and likely puts her in a title eliminator fight with the Alexis Davis/Liz Carmouche winner or Sara McMann.

On the Chopping Block: Dustin Pague, Jeremy Larsen, Mike Rio, George Sotiropoulos

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