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The Next Step: My thoughts on future opponents for the UFC 82 combatants

After watching a big card like UFC 82, I always find it entertaining to play matchmaker and think of what the next step for each fighter on the card is.

Twenty fighters gave it their all on Saturday and now I get to squeeze myself into the 4 foot 2 frame of UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva and state my beliefs on who they should be stepping in front of next.

Should prove to be some fun.

John Halverson (lost to Jorge Gurgel via unanimous decision) – This was his second UFC appearance and even though it was a much better showing than the stupidity that was the Roger Huerta clash, he showed that he was not up to snuff talent-wise. I have doubts the UFC have an interest in keeping him around and I believe the next time he fights will be under a smaller shows banner.

Jorge Gurgel (beat John Halverson via unanimous decision) – Gurgel will probably always be around. He’s good for the Ohio based shows as he usually helps get the fans interested early as he is almost their adopted son if you will. Gurgel is basically the ultimate gatekeeper. He is very hard to finish which means he is a big test skill and endurance wise for UFC newcomers and promising prospects. Someone like a Matt Wiman seems a reasonable choice for a future opponent.

Luke Cummo (lost to Luigi Fioravanti via unanimous decision) – Cummo showed terrible wrestling against Luigi which is made worse by the fact that his jiu jitsu isn’t quite up to the level it needs to be to counter act that disadvantage. It was a disappointing result for Cummo as he looked to just be finding his feet and about to go on a little run in 170 lbs. division. Regardless, his place in the organisation is still safe due to ties to TUF and the face his weirdness has drawn him a pretty solid fan base. If I were Joe Silva I’d have Cummo once again relegated to the undercard of UFN against another TUF alumni. A match between he and Tommy Speerwould be a good fight even if Speer doesn’t get past Anthony Johnson at UFN 13.

Luigi Fioravanti (beat Luke Cummo via unanimous decision) – Luigi’s performance reminded me a lot of Assuerio Silva’sperformance against Cheick Kongo. He isn’t known for his takedowns but he just didn’t want anything to do with his opponent’s stand up. You have to give him credit for completely neutralising Cummo’s game but I wouldn’t expect him to win any new fans if he keeps performing like that. I get the impression that Luigi will forever be a middle-tier welterweight in the UFC and a benchmark for TUF graduates to adhere to. Thus my next opponent for Luigi would be TUF 6’s Jared Rollins.

David Bielkheden (lost to Diego Sanchez via first round submission) – He was completely over-matched and overwhelmed by Sanchez and at no opportunity was he able to get his game going. He’ll stay around in the UFC if only to fill out European undercards. I expect to see Bielkheden on the London card in June facing off against either Paul Taylor or Paul Kelly.

Diego Sanchez (beat David Bielkheden via first round submission) – After falling from grace with two consecutive losses, Diego was given a victory on a platter so that he could start building himself back up. I expect to see him slightly more tested in his next fight against someone with a little more name recognition. A fight against Akihiro Gono will help sort out where both fighters lie in the stacked 170 lbs. division.

Dustin Hazelett (lost to Josh Koscheck via 2nd round TKO) – Hazelett looked good standing up in the first round against Koscheck and when the fight hit the ground he showed how dangerous he was there too as he immediately looked to lock up a triangle. However it wasn’t enough to overcome a possessed Josh Koscheck. I would like to see Hazelett up against Chris Wilson next as I think it would be a true test of each other’s skills.

Josh Koscheck (beat Dustin Hazelett via 2nd round TKO) – Koscheck’s stand up looked the best it ever has against Hazelett. I was never truly sold on his striking until that fight. I always thought he was too eager to throw huge haymakers that left him open for counter punching, but he showed good all around striking against Hazelett. I wouldn’t be disappointed in a fight between Koscheck and Gono or against either Karo Parisyan or Thiago Alves. However if Parisyan beats Alves (which I think he will) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Karo sit out until he finally gets that title shot.

Jake O’Brien (lost to Andrei Arlovski via 2nd round TKO) – Just like my fellow writer, Adam Morgan I really don’t care to see O’Brien fight ever again. He has a very limited skill set which he uses to full effect. He has shown no desire to test himself standing or to advance position on the ground. When Arlovski landed in mount, O’Brien just flailed helplessly. However, he still has a place in the organization whether I like it or not and I would like to see him matched up against some form of jiu-jitsu specialist just so that O’Brien can be at least tested when he’s laying on top of them. Gabriel Gonzaga anyone?

Andrei Arlovski (beat Jake O’Brien via 2nd round TKO) – My next opponent for Arlovski is very simple, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He is currently the only UFC heavyweight on a 3 fight win streak besides the current interim champion. He is the logical choice for the next challenger, he just has to sign a contract extension with the UFC. Entertaining fights wait outside the UFC however, if the two parties cannot come to a successful resolution.

Chris Wilson (lost to Jon Fitch via unanimous decision) – Wilson looked good in the first round against Fitch. He cracked him a number of times and showed decent takedown defense. As I mentioned above, I think Dustin Hazelett is the best next opponent for Chris Wilson.

Jon Fitch (beat Chris Wilson via unanimous decision) – This one is also a no brainer. Jon Fitch should get the winner of Georges St. Pierre and Matt Serra. He has gone 8-0 in the UFC against basically the entire middle to upper tier of the division and has earned his shot at the title. Karo would probably disagree though.

Evan Tanner (lost to Yushin Okami via 2nd round KO) – Tanner’s fight dampened my enjoyment of UFC 82 a little as I was really hoping he could pull out a victory. He looked good with his hands to begin the first round but looked a little tentative in the good exchanges with Okami. I hope to see Tanner still ready to fight and prove himself and I would match him up against the winner of Jason MacDonald and Joe Doerksen.

Yushin Okami (beat Evan Tanner via 2nd round KO) – He looked like he was trying to be more aggressive against Tanner but he still wasn’t setting the world on fire with his pacing. Regardless of style however, he has earned the right to face off against Anderson Silva in the champ’s next title defense.

Alessio Sakara (lost to Chris Leben via 1st round TKO) – I find myself feeling sorry for Sakara every time he loses. He has very fast and accurate hands but his chin just keeps letting him down. He took a few good shots from Leben but I was always sensing that it was a matter of time before he would be put on Queer Street. I’m not sure if we will see Sakara in another UFC event. If we do it will only be on the undercard of a European show. I think it will be best for Sakara to either be transferred over to the WEC or just retreat to an small promotion to hone his skills further.

Chris Leben (beat Alessio Sakara via 1st round TKO) – Love him or hate him, Chris Leben puts on exciting fights. I thought after watching the Terry Martin fight that Leben had adopted a new strategy. He appeared to be less inclined to lead with his chin and windmilling his arms. But against Sakara we saw the old Leben, who has complete disregard for his opponents punching power. He seems to have gotten his confidence back after suffering 3 losses in 4 fights and I think a rematch with the reinvigorated Patrick Cote would help show where they both stand in the division.

Cheick Kongo (lost to Heath Herring via split decision) – I still have no idea why Kongo decided to work his ground game against Herring. If this fight stayed standing I expected Kongo to pick apart Herring’s wild striking but for some reason he just didn’t want to utilize his best asset. In regards to a next opponent for the Frenchman, it’s hard to look past Tim Sylvia who has been very vocal about his desire to fight him. They are both coming off of disappointing losses and I think it would be an interesting fight.

Heath Herring (beat Cheick Kongo via split decision) – I gained a new found respect for Heath Herring after listening to him in both the pre-fight and post-fight press conferences. He seems very upbeat and excited about fighting which is very hard not to like. This victory doesn’t put him in line for a title shot by any stretch, (I think Herring said it best in the post fight press conference when he said, “I don’t know if the world is ready for Herring Nogueira 4″) but with maybe one or two more victories I could see the UFC getting behind Herring and somehow finding a way to market a title fight featuring the “Texan Crazy Horse”. In regards to his next opponent I think the UFC may match him up against Eddie Sanchez which would most certainly quench Herring’s thirst for a stand up fight.

Dan Henderson (lost to Anderson Silva via 2nd round submission) – There is no shame in losing to two of the best fighters in the world in your past two fights. In the first round of his clash with Silva he looked to be fulfilling the predictions of many people but in the second round he felt the power and precision of the most dangerous middleweight in the world. Having listened to a lot of Dan Henderson’s interviews he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would want to take an “easy” fight to recharge his batteries. You couldn’t blame him if he did though considering the last 3 fights he has been in have all been title fights. If the decision was up to me to decide his next opponent, I would matchup ‘Hendo’ with Nate Marquardt. The winner of that fight earns a rematch with “the Spider”.

Anderson Silva (beat Dan Henderson via 2nd round submission) – He has basically cleaned out the entire middleweight division and I think the only fight that he really “needs” at 185 lbs. is a rematch with Yushin Okami. I am under no illusion that Okami will pose any sort of threat to Silva but Okami has paid his dues and Silva still has the DQ loss on his record.

Well there we have it. My thoughts on the next opponents or moves for all 20 participants of UFC 82. Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments section below.

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