With another trip to the Apex Center for UFC Vegas 76 in the books, it’s time to speculate on upcoming opponents for the event’s main card winners like Sean Strickland and Grant Dawson.
Sean Strickland vs. Robert Whittaker/Dricus Du Plessis loser
After an aggressive start from Abus Magomedov, Sean Strickland did exactly what we know him for. Marching forward with a steady output of punches in the second round, Strickland’s weaponized cardio and indifference to getting hit were too much for the Russian-born German.
However impressive Sean Strickland was in this win, it shouldn’t improve his standing in the middleweight division very much. A top-10 fighter finishing someone who hasn’t cracked the rankings and has little name value isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. To add salt to the wound, his contemporaries near the top are already paired up and/or trapped in this odd mix of 185ers.
The loser of Robert Whittaker and Dricus Du Plessis is probably the best we can do at the moment unless Strickland takes another backstep in the rankings. With the winner expected to be the challenger to Israel Adesanya’s throne in September, the odd man out can duke it out with Strickland for a chance to reinsert themselves in the mix. Whittaker and Du Plessis will meet this coming Saturday at UFC 290.
Grant Dawson vs. Mateusz Gamrot
It lacked the entertainment value we normally look for in the lightweight division, but Grant Dawson deserves a ton of respect for the way he manhandled Damir Ismagulov. For the full 15 minutes, Dawson controlled the action and completely neutralized the former M-1 champion. His permanent move to American Top Team means that everyone at 155 will have their hands full.
Fortunately, there are more than a few opponents that make sense for Dawson and they all can produce more fireworks than what we received last night. Because the Nebraska native is undefeated in the Octagon, a big step up feels appropriate so let’s see how he’ll do with Mateusz Gamrot. “Gamer” was last seen winning a split decision over Jalin Turner in March.
Michael Morales – Mike Mallot
Michael Morales passed a significant test defeating Max Griffin by unanimous decision. Griffin has been a reliable gatekeeper for the welterweight division since joining the UFC roster in 2016 and has turned away several young prospects since.
While the athletic disparity between the undefeated rising star and the 37-year-old vet was apparent early into their contest, the most impressive part of Morales’ performance was his refusal to take the passenger seat. He denied Griffin’s repeated attempts to transform the pace of the fight and stayed true to his game plan.
Perhaps this is premature but let’s Morales in front of Mike Mallot next. They’re both Contender Series alum that has done nothing but impress since jumping into the Octagon. It’ll be exciting and could have ramifications as they reach their full potential in years to come.
Ariane Lipski vs Jasmine Jasudavicius/Tracy Cortez winner
Ariane Lipski has undoubtedly improved since her first Octagon appearance in 2019. “The Queen of Violence” showed patience and level-headedness in her split decision win over Melissa Gatto which previously escaped her. It’s not hard to envision Lipski sacrificing defensive sensibilities in favor of throwing strikes while leaving herself open to Gatto’s potent weapons.
With that being said, Lipski is still short of the expectations many had for her after her run as KSW flyweight champion. Let’s put her up against the winner of Jasmine Jasudavicius and Tracy Cortez. Jasudavicius and Cortez are confirmed for a September fight night.
Benoit Saint-Denis – Thiago Moises
Much was made of the successful debut of Ismael Bonfim at UFC 283. The hype was justified as he and his brother Gabriel provided one of the more memorable moments for the Brazilian crowd. The oddsmakers were on board with adding another chapter to that story. However, Benoit Saint-Denis didn’t care and gave gamblers who believed in him an extra bonus with a late first-round submission win.
Saint-Denis has looked nothing short of dominant in all three of his Octagon performances. It’s time to push him past less proven fighters on the UFC payroll. A bout with top 15-level fighter Thiago Moises feels right. Moises most recently submitted Melquizael Costa at UFC 283 in January.
Nursulton Ruziboev – Gregory Rodrigues/Denis Tiuliulin winner
Nursulton Ruziboev showed exactly how dangerous fighting a taller fighter with more range can be. Despite taking heavy leg kicks from Bruno Ferriera, “The Hulk” was still within the 76’ reach and caught a crushing counter right hand before the fight ended with ground and pound.
As he was making his debut in the promotion, it’s likely not a wise idea to throw Ruziboev into the deep end of the middleweight division pool just yet. The winner of Gregory Rodrigues and Denis Tiuliulin makes sense here. Tiuliulin and “Robocop” are on the preliminary card for UFC 292 in August.