June 14, 2024
UFC 286 fight fallout: What’s next for Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier 2

Leon Edwards is still the UFC welterweight champion, Justin Gaethje remains a force to be reckoned with and Kamaru Usman is on the outside looking in of the title picture for the first time in four years. Pick up the pieces from UFC 286 on Saturday night and there is a lot to sort out.

Edwards and Usman head their separate ways following the conclusion of their trilogy. Edwards leaned on tremendous defensive wrestling and superior striking to cinch the series in the main event from London on Saturday night. Colby Covington, who weighed in as Saturday’s backup fighter, waits in the wings for a potential title shot but he isn’t the only one.

Gaethje, meanwhile, turned back the clock in a hard-nosed showing against Rafael Fiziev as he pursues one last shot at the UFC lightweight world championship. Plus, Marvin Vettori held onto his place in the middleweight pecking order.

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Let’s dig into all the matchmaking available in the aftermath of UFC 286.

Welterweight Division

Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns: There is a serious lack of undeniable contenders at welterweight now that Edwards and Usman have completed their trilogy. Covington hasn’t fought since March 2022 and bounced back from a loss. Khamzat Chimaev badly missed the welterweight limit in his last fight and is nowhere to be seen with expectations of moving up to middleweight. Belal Muhammad has the best active record but has yet to beat anyone currently ranked in the top five. Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal have a date at UFC 287 in April. Finally, Shavkat Rakhmanov is an oncoming storm in the division but isn’t at title challenger status quite yet.

UFC president Dana White said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference that Edwards vs. Covington is next. That’s fine. Alternatively, Burns has a better case than most if he beats Masvidal handily. If Masvidal beat Burns, UFC might lean into the bad blood stemming from a backstage brawl in 2019 between Edwards and Masvidal. But it’s laughable to give Masvidal the title shot after Covington recently beat him.

Kamaru Usman vs. Belal Muhammad: Muhammad is long overdue for a fight against one of the very best at welterweight. We’ve seen Usman fight Covington and Masvidal twice each. Usman would also probably avoid fighting his friend Burns after their world title fight. Usman vs. Muhammad gives Usman a small but necessary step backwards while giving Muhammad a well-deserved big name. Usman vs. Chimaev is another fight that is very intriguing and has name value to it, but I’m hesitant to matchmake for Chimaev at welterweight until we see what his long-term plans are.

Lightweight Division

Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier 2: Gaethje finds himself in an unusual position. Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush should determine the next No. 1 contender for Islam Makhachev’s UFC lightweight title. He recently beat Michael Chandler, who is tied up with Conor McGregor and “The Ultimate Fighter.” You could pair Gaethje with the recently victorious Mateusz Gamrot, but Gaethje just fought and defeated someone ranked lower than him in the UFC’s official rankings. The only fight that makes sense for Gaethje is a rematch of his classic war with Dustin Poirier from 2018. Both men are near the top of the division and lack a clear next opponent. The winner has the style and star power to call out the winner of Makhachev vs. Dariush or Oliveira.

Rafael Fiziev vs. Mateusz Gamrot: There is no shame in losing to Gaethje. Fiziev looked tremendous over the course of two-and-a-quarter-rounds. His speed is unfathomable and his power would put out most lightweights. He showed great durability against Gaethje and should is still a major threat to anyone in the division. Gamrot sits directly behind Fiziev in the UFC’s rankings. Both are hungry, fresh faces among the lightweight elite. It’s a classic pairing of high-level striker vs. grappler. Let’s see who is ready to make another run at the top.

Middleweight division

Marvin Vettori vs. Dricuss du Plessis: Vettori narrowly edged out Dolidze in a fight that could have gone either way. Vettori will likely hold onto his No. 4 spot in the UFC’s middleweight rankings without much room to grow. He’s lost a combined three fights to Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, two of the three contenders ranked ahead of him. You could pair Vettori with Cannonier (No. 3) who is coming off a labored split decision win over Sean Strickland. Unfortunately, there isn’t an appetite to see either in the title mix right now. So let’s use this opportunity to possibly build a fresh face in the division. Vettori should be paired with heavy-handed du Plessis. The two most concerning components of du Plessis’ game are his endurance and his striking defense. Vettori would certainly push the pace, while Cannonier can do some serious damage. Let’s give du Plessis one final test before propelling him into the title picture.

Roman Dolidze vs. Sean Strickland: Dolidze has a lot going for him: durability, power and a strong submission game. It’s his offensive wrestling and stamina that need the most work if he wants to make a serious run at the top of the division. Strickland is coming off a split-decision loss to Cannonier. Dolidze vs. Strickland has serious Fight of the Night potential and puts the winner back on track.