July 20, 2024
6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 286 | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

6 Fights We Need to See After UFC 286

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    Leon Edwards

    Leon EdwardsCatherine Ivill/Getty Images

    UFC 286 went down on Saturday night in London, England, and the card laid the groundwork for a bunch of exciting new matchup possibilities.

    Headlining honors for the event went to a welterweight title fight, with champion Leon Edwards and challenger Kamaru Usman looking to settle a 1-1 tie on the former’s home soil. Despite entering the Octagon as a substantial underdog, Edwards gave the British fans the result they wanted, defeating Usman by majority decision.

    The co-main event saw Justin Gaethje take on Rafael Fiziev in a clash of top-10 lightweights. It was considered a Fight of the Night contender ahead of time, and it ultimately lived up to that hype, with Gaethje winning a majority decision after three thrilling rounds.

    Earlier on the main card, popular welterweight veteran Gunnar Nelson picked up a first-round submission win over Bryan Barberena, and Jennifer Maia slowed the rise of undefeated flyweight contender Casey O’Neill with a unanimous-decision win.

    The main card began with a nice performance from No. 4 middleweight contender Marvin Vettori, who defeated Roman Dolidze via split decision, while the undercard saw a number of rising prospects score impressive victories, including flyweights Muhammad Mokaev and Jake Hadley.

    Scroll on for the fights we want to see next when the dust has settled.

Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington

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    Colby Covington

    Colby CovingtonJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Now that he has put his rivalry with Kamaru Usman behind him, Leon Edwards can shift his focus to the lengthening queue of contenders waiting for a crack at the welterweight belt.

    In a perfect world, the next title shot would go to Belal Muhammad or Shavkat Rakhmonov, both of whom are riding impressive streaks. But this world is deeply flawed, and UFC president Dana White has already announced the next shot will go to Colby Covington, while Muhammad and Rakhmonov are likely to fight each other.

    Covington, who was Octagon-side for the UFC 286 main event, twice failed to swipe the undisputed title from Usman and is only one win removed from his second loss to the former champ. That win came against Jorge Masvidal, who is riding three straight losses himself.

    That’s not exactly the recipe for a title shot—and Edwards knows it—but there’s really no point fighting it. If it’s the fight White and the UFC want, it’s the one we’ll get.

    Besides, it’s not like it’s a bad fight. Covington might not be the most deserving contender, but as a relentless takedown specialist with endless cardio, he is a very tough style matchup for Edwards and might actually enter the Octagon as the favorite.

Kamaru Usman vs. Stephen Thompson

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    Kamaru Usman

    Kamaru UsmanJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Kamaru Usman is now riding back-to-back losses to Leon Edwards—a shocking fifth-round knockout last year and a majority decision at UFC 286.

    Those losses not only marked the end of his reign as the welterweight champion, but also as MMA’s pound-for-pound king.

    Still, Usman performed very well in his latest fight with Edwards—many fans actually scored the fight for him—and is unlikely to lose much ground in defeat.

    All it will take is another win or two for him to be right back in title contention.

    Our pick for his next opponent is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, a two-time welterweight title challenger and one of the most experienced contenders in the welterweight division.

    At this point, it’s hard to imagine the 40-year-old karate specialist becoming a champion in the UFC. However, he remains one of its top fighters, as he proved in his stunning win over Kevin Holland last year. He has also yet to fight Usman despite their corresponding time near the top of the weight class.

    Thompson recently requested that the UFC match him up with more strikers. Usman, a wrestler through and through, does not match that description, but the karate specialist would probably make some concessions given Usman’s standing in the weight class.

Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier II

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    Justin Gaethje punches Rafael Fiziev

    Justin Gaethje punches Rafael FizievJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Justin Gaethje’s thrilling majority decision win over Rafael Fiziev in the UFC 286 co-main event separated him from a submission loss to former lightweight champ Charles Oliveira in his last fight. It also affirmed his standing as one of the best fighters in the weight class and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.

    After the fight, Gaethje set his sights on a rematch with Oliveira, as well as a do-over with Dustin Poirier.

    Oliveira is currently booked to fight Beneil Dariush, who probably should have gotten the next shot at champion Islam Makhachev, but Poirier, as luck would have it, is available.

    Poirier and Gaethje first met in 2018. It was a wild, back-and-forth fight that Poirier ultimately won by fourth-round stoppage. Both men have accomplished a lot since then, and it’s been long enough that their first fight really has no bearing on the outcome of a potential rematch.

    It definitely makes sense for Gaethje. It also makes sense for Poirier, who recently rebounded from his own loss to Oliveira with a submission win over Michael Chandler.

    Book it for the summer and see if either man can prove they deserve a title shot more than Dariush or Oliveira.

Gunnar Nelson vs. Chiesa-Li winner

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    Gunnar Nelson

    Gunnar NelsonJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    We’ve seen very little of Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson over the past few years, but his first-round submission win over Bryan Barberena on the UFC 286 main card proved that he has still has the chops to beat some solid welterweights.

    We’re probably past the point where we should be matching Nelson up with top contenders. He’s 34 now and has stumbled in enough big fights that it seems unlikely he’ll ever be a serious threat to the welterweight title.

    However, there are some fun fights for him near the top of the weight class.

    Our pick is the winner of Michael Chiesa and Li Jingliang’s fight at UFC 287, set for next month in Miami.

    Chiesa is currently ranked No. 13 at welterweight and could take another step up the ladder if he beats the unranked Li. Li, meanwhile, will likely return to the rankings himself if he wins.

    That would make either man a bit of a step up for Nelson, but both potential matchups look winnable for the Icelandic veteran, and it’s hard to imagine either fight going the distance.

Marvin Vettori vs. Jared Cannonier

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Marvin Vettori of Italy punches Roman Dolidze of Georgia in a middleweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Marvin Vettori defended his No. 4 spot in the middleweight rankings at UFC 286, defeating Roman Dolidze by split decision in the main-card opener.

    After the win, he set his sights on the likes of middleweight champion Alex Pereira, former champ Israel Adesanya and No. 3 contender Jared Cannonier.

    Pereira and Adesanya are set to fight at UFC 287 next month, but Cannonier doesn’t currently have a dance partner. As luck would have it, the Alaskan knockout artist is one of the few top middleweights Vettori has yet to fight. He’s also riding a competitive win, having posted a split-decision against Sean Strickland last year.

    The fight makes a ton of sense from a rankings perspective, and the winner would be in arm’s reach of a title shot—though Robert Whittaker and Khamzat Chimaev might have something to say about that.

Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jake Hadley

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    Muhammad Mokaev

    Muhammad MokaevCatherine Ivill/Getty Images

    There are some really exciting prospects in the UFC flyweight division right now, and two of them were in action at UFC 286.

    First up was hyper-confident Brit Jake Hadley, who stopped Canada’s Malcom Gordon with a first-round body shot to improve to 2-0 in the Octagon. Next was UK-based Dagestani talented Muhammad Mokaev, who defeated Brazil’s Jafel Filho with a third-round rear-naked choke to bring his promotional record to 4-0.

    The two flyweights spent much of the lead-up to UFC 286 talking trash to each other and even had a run-in at the fighter hotel. While Mokaev stated after the card that he does not want to “go backwards” by fighting his countryman, there is clearly a score to be settled between them.

    It’s better to strike while the iron is hot on these grudge matches. We might as well book it now before either man loses their momentum. It looks like a wild matchup on paper, and it would tell us a lot about their respective ceilings in the increasingly hostile flyweight division.