Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
Derrick Lewis provided us with the biggest main event upset (+320) since Michael Bisping defeated Luke Rockhold all the way back at UFC 199. How impressed were you with Lewis’ performance and who would you like to see him fight next?
William: Coming into this fight I think I expected what most viewers and oddsmakers were: a wrestling-heavy approach from Blaydes to try and wear Lewis out. We did not see that at all. What we saw was one or two takedown attempts and a single leg very well defended by Lewis that let him keep the fight on the feet. He was waiting for that uppercut or a knee up the middle all night, and when he landed it it immediately put Blaydes out.
For who he should fight next, that’s where it gets a bit more complicated. The top of the heavyweight division is a bit of a logjam at the moment. With Miocic-Ngannou next month and Jon Jones potentially fighting the winner of that, he doesn’t have a title shot in the near future. He called out Allistair Overeem in his post fight interview, and while I’m sure Overeem would be game, I don’t like that fight at all. I’d like to see Lewis fight the loser of that title fight next month. And while picking the winner of this weekend’s Gane-Rozenstruik is tempting, I think Lewis deserves someone of a little higher profile. This gives him some time off while providing him a legitimate path to a title shot.
Nick:. Once again, Derrick Lewis proved that MMA skills are irrelevant if you possess the power to end the fight with a singular punch, especially in the heavyweight division. Curtis Blaydes was winning on the feet, keeping his distance and picking Lewis apart. He was fighting an awesome fight and then, boom, night night.
Maybe a dynamite uppercut is the ultimate takedown defense and everyone has been wrong this entire time? Having bet on Blaydes, the proposition of Lewis’ one-punch power was scary, but I thought Blaydes would be prepared enough to avoid it. I was wrong.
You have to respect Lewis’ game plan, though. He said in the post-fight interview that he was seeking that exact uppercut the entire time and he was willing to sacrifice the scorecards in order to land it. He knew his bounds. He knew the only way he could win was by landing that punch, and he executed. Quite impressive.
Lewis is kind of stuck in purgatory and he knows it. He mentioned in the press conference that the prospect of a title fight is probably further off than most people think, especially with Jon Jones’ arrival at heavyweight in the coming months. I’d love to see Lewis fight the winner of Saturday’s main event between Jair Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane.
Zack: First off, I’m not sure why the line was so tilted in favor of Blaydes in this fight. Of course he was ranked higher and probably did deserve to be favored, but not by this much of a margin. When you’re getting this high up in the contender conversation at heavyweight, anything is possible, and Lewis showed that.
It’s tough for me to say I was impressed by Lewis because he displayed power that we already knew he had and he was losing the fight to that point. Blaydes was picking him apart in the first round and Lewis told the media that he wasn’t really feeling awake in the first round, so his lack of aggression makes sense. Regardless, Lewis didn’t look great until he caught Blaydes with the uppercut that ended the fight and while that land was impressive, it wasn’t necessarily manufactured.
I really like Lewis as a fighter but I didn’t really see anything on Saturday night that made me feel like he’s more of a title threat than he was prior to the knockout. I love Lewis and want to see him keep knocking people out, but he didn’t dominate that fight by any means and didn’t really impress me along the way.
For Curtis Blaydes, it’s hard not to feel for him as most fans thought he had already done enough to deserve a title shot. Who would be a good opponent for Blaydes once he is healed up?
William: I definitely feel for Blaydes in this situation. He had done enough and won enough to warrant a title shot, the heavyweight division has just been so clogged of late it hasn’t worked out in his favor. He definitely needs to take some time off after getting knocked out like that. Not only did he get stiffened badly, he took two big shots while he was out cold. He should stay on the shelf until the early fall.
As for a return fight, I don’t think this loss puts Blaydes far down the ladder. I think he could come back and fight the winner or loser of Gane-Rozenstruik this weekend if those guys aren’t otherwise tied up. Both would be a higher profile and winnable fight, and would catapult him back into that upper echelon of the heavyweight division.
Nick: The Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier trilogy really jammed up this division for three years and it’s tough to see all of these worthy contenders be relegated to fighting multiple ranked fights without getting a title shot. Blaydes is a victim of that. However, Blaydes had the opportunity to vault himself right into the conversation with a win on
Saturday and he didn’t take advantage of it. The fight game is the fight game. You just have to keep winning.
This will certainly be a tough pill to swallow for Blaydes. The most important thing is that he takes ample time before returning after getting brutalized like that. Six months is kind of the unwritten timeline needed to come back following a violent knockout, so it could be awhile before we see Blaydes again. If Lewis gets the winner of Rozenstruik vs. Gane, I don’t see why Blaydes wouldn’t just fight the loser some time in the fall months. Makes the most sense to me.
Zack: I’m pretty much with Nick on this question. The first thing that came to mind was letting the losers of these back to back heavyweight sweepstakes get back in the saddle against each other. Be it Gane or Rozenstruik, that would be a good title eliminator that could vault the winner back into the “one fight away” conversation.
Rumors have started to swirl around former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw coming back from a two-year substance suspension. Who would be a good matchup for Dillashaw in his return to the Octagon?
William: In recent interviews, TJ Dillashaw seems to think he is deserving of a UFC title shot in his return fight. I could not disagree more and think it would be disgusting if he was granted one coming off of his two year suspension. I like two possible matchups for his return fight. In two weeks, Dominick Cruz is facing off against Casey Kenney and if Cruz emerges victorious, I would absolutely be interested in a rematch between those two. Cruz defeated Dillashaw in their first encounter for the belt and the second fight should be just as interesting.
If that fight doesn’t work out, Rob Font is a name that intrigues me as well. Coming off of an impressive win versus Marlon Moraes, he has a ton of momentum. That would be a real litmus test for Dillashaw to see just where he’s at following this long layoff. At the moment, the bantamweight division is absolutely loaded and I’m excited to see another former champ thrown into the mix.
Nick: Dillashaw’s return throws gasoline on the fire in the crowded bantamweight division, and I can’t wait. It will be interesting to see if he’s lost a step, is a victim of ring rust, or is still the championship-level fighter we all once knew him to be prior to his suspension. Giving him a top five opponent seems a little unfair, because I don’t think a fighter should be rewarded for cheating. Unfortunately for those who are in that line of thinking as well, it appears the UFC is planning to throw him right into the mix in terms of title contention.
My first choice for an opponent for Dillashaw is Jose Aldo. A bout between two legends, former champions and huge names in the sport would serve as an awesome co-main event on a blockbuster PPV card this summer. Apparently there are talks of a potential Aldo vs. Garbrandt matchup, though, so if that happens Dillashaw will need to find someone else. As much as everyone loves Frankie Edgar, I don’t really want to see him in the Octagon anytime soon (or ever again, for that matter) after the terrifying knockout loss he suffered to Cory Sandhagen a few weeks ago, so you can take that out of the equation.
The last name I’ll toss out there is Rob Font, who’s coming off a huge win over Marlon Moraes back in December. Font doesn’t necessarily have the same promotional value as Aldo or Edgar, so if the UFC is shooting for a big-sell fight he might not be the one, but it’d still be an awesome stylistic matchup.
Regardless of who Dillashaw gets right away, his career resurgence will add just another wrinkle to an already stacked division.
Zack: I’m really siding with Nick a lot on these questions this week! I have to agree with everything Nick is saying in his opening point about TJ. The thoughts of ring rust are the first thing to float around my head when you mention Dillashaw’s name, especially when we see what happened to Conor last month. Regression is real in this sport and Dillashaw is 35. He’s more than capable of coming back to be a great fighter, but it’s tough to do.
In addition, how fair is it to the other guys in this ridiculous division to let Dillashaw come back and leapfrog all of them to take a top contender position after cheating? It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, but Dana White rarely ever does the right thing and has proven time and time again that money is the priority over consistency, consideration, or ethics in general, so I doubt those will be a deterrent in this scenario.
I also like the thought of a return against Aldo. Jose hasn’t been great recently but he’s good enough to keep fighting high level contenders consistently. You’re telling me that fight wouldn’t draw eyes? It would. However, I think the better solution might be one of the fighters who will be on the card this coming weekend in Jimmie Rivera or Pedro Munhoz. Be it the winner or the loser, I don’t really care, but either of those guys would be a very good challenge for someone like Dillashaw and a win would be a statement that he’s not done because of his absence.
Bellator recently announced its 8-man bracket for the light heavyweight championship tournament featuring many former UFC stars. Who is your early favorite to win the tournament?
William: I absolutely love what Bellator has done with their light heavyweight division. With Corey Anderson, Yoel Romero, Ryan Bader, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Lyoto Machida the draw is absolutely stacked. I love the matchups and the potential for such great fights in the finals and early on. Starting with Yoel Romero versus Rumble Johnson is guaranteed to bring fireworks.
I think I’d have Romero as my early favorite, but I’m curious to see how he adjusts to 205. He didn’t have great reach for a middleweight, so as a LHW he will be at an even bigger disadvantage. My sleeper for the tournament is Corey Anderson. He was a top five UFC LHW when he was released and had beaten some of the best in the business. His wrestling is elite, and his striking has been catching up to his wrestling as of late which makes him as dangerous as anyone in the draw.
Whoever wins, I can’t wait to see it happen and watch some action packed fights.
Nick: A lot of people were complaining about the fact that Yoel Romero and Anthony Johnson are fighting in the first round. Personally, I think it’s a great idea, because we get to see that fight right away, regardless of what happens, as opposed to one of them unexpectedly losing early on in the tournament.
Given the fact that Romero remained competitive against the most elite fighters in the world all the way up to the point where he was unexpectedly cut by the UFC, I’ll have to lean his way in terms of favorite to win the whole thing, even at 43 years old. That being said, he has been fighting at middleweight for the past decade and we’re not really sure how he’ll handle the extra 20 pounds.
I think a guy that no one seems to be talking about is Corey Anderson. It wasn’t long ago when Anderson was tearing through the UFC light heavyweight division and was assumed to be the next challenger to Jon Jones’ throne. In 2018 and 2019, he went on a 4-fight win streak with victories over Patrick Cummins, Glover Texeira, Ilir Latifi and Johnny Walker. Then Jan Blachowicz’s “Polish Power” turned his lights out last February and that was the end of Anderson’s UFC run.
Anderson is still only 31 years old, appears to have a lot left in the tank and certainly possesses the world class skills necessary to win the whole tournament. Being opposite of Romero and Johnson in the bracket doesn’t hurt his chances, either.
Zack: Just about every week I end up advocating for UFC tournaments to come back in one way or another, so I’m really excited for this new development. While there’s a lot of nostalgia going on here and that doesn’t usually make for the best fights, there’s also a lot of good talent that can really fight. I’ve always thought that Bellator’s light heavyweight was their best division and putting on this tournament I think proves that.
As for who my favorite to come out victorious, I have to turn to Vadim Nemkov. Yes, Yoel still has gas in the tank, Davis and Bader are both really, really good, and Corey Anderson is more than capable of wiping out most light heavyweights in the world, but Nemkov would be a serious title contender in the UFC. He hasn’t lost a fight since his Rizin days in 2016 and absolutely battered Ryan Bader in August. He’s one of the most dangerous fighters in the world and I’m looking forward to seeing him in this format. Hell, I’m looking forward to this format in general.