After a particularly entertaining return to the T-Mobile Arena, it’s time to propose potential next fights for Alexander Volkanovski, Alexandre Pantoja, and the three other fighters from Saturday’s main card.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Illia Topuria
Just a few months ago, Alexander Volkanovski came within a hair of becoming the UFC lightweight champion. Saturday, he reminded us that the featherweight division belongs to him. Despite the best efforts of an always-game Yair Rodriguez, the interim champion could do nothing to stop the pound-for-pound leader.
With five successful defenses under his belt so far, Alexander Volkanovski has more than earned his place among the greats. The hunt for his sixth title challenger should stop at number five ranked Ilia Topuria. Topuria was last seen several weeks ago dominating Josh Emmet in an extremely lopsided decision.
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Moreno
The UFC is way too quick to pull the trigger on a rematch. And today, so are we. It’s hard to not want to see more of Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Moreno. Their previous bouts were filled with chaotic action and last night’s five-round spectacle upped the ante with a technical prowess and maturity that was previously lacking.
The problem with pairing the newly crowned Pantoja with a fresh opponent is there isn’t a crystal clear challenger. Brandon Royval and Amir Albazi come to mind, but they could be placed in a number one contender bout to clear the smoke. This paves the way for another opportunity to see Pantoja and Moreno battle.
Dricus Du Plesis – Israel Adesanya
For several years now there has been a clear separation between Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, and the rest of the middleweight division. Dricus Du Plessis changed all of that with his second-round TKO victory over “Bobby Knuckles”. If you couldn’t tell by the cringe-worthy in-cage promo at UFC 290, all roads for the South African lead to “The Last Stylebender.”
The only thing that could derail this promotion layup is the nine-week turnaround necessary for this matchmaking gamble to pay off. Du Plessis will be expected to heal any nicks and bruises Whittaker gave him, endure a training camp, and go through another grueling weight cut. A lot can go wrong. As of now, Du Plessis is penciled in to meet Adesanya at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia for a crack at the divisional crown.
Dan Hooker vs. Arman Tsrukyan
As is usually the case in the lightweight division, Dan Hooker and Jalin Turner put on a show at UFC 290. While outshined by the flyweight title fight later in the evening, their back-and-forth brawl was deserving of some post-fight recognition. Hooker went through the fire to get the split decision win.
The City Kickboxing product should be rewarded with a match-up in the top 10. Arman Tsrukyan would be a good candidate. Last month, Tsrukyan defeated Claudio Puelles via TKO.
Bo Nickal – Chris Weidman/Brad Tavares winner
When the unheralded Val Woodburn was tapped to face Bo Nickal on short notice, there was an understandable amount of eye-rolling. Not that the previously scheduled fight with Tresean Gore was met with any excitement, but reaching so deep into the regional scene made it feel like the UFC was content with rolling out anybody with a pulse to keep the hype train rolling. Nickal’s 38-second TKO win certainly supported that theory.
If Nickal is getting pay-per-view main card placements and the backing of the marketing machine, let’s not do this halfway. Instead of handpicking opponents for the undefeated 27-year-old, let’s challenge him and hopefully learn where his ceiling is. That’s why the winner of Chris Weidman and Brad Tavares makes sense. A former champion like Weidman could give Nickal’s resume much-needed name value. Also, Tavares has been a dependable gatekeeper and could do the same for Nickal. Weidman and Tavares are scheduled for UFC 292 in August.