Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
Playing fantasy matchmaker is one of the most enjoyable things to do for mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, and with UFC 158: "St. Pierre vs. Diaz" behind us, we put ourselves in Joe Silva's shoes to play matchmaker for the event's main card winners.
UFC 158: "St. Pierre vs. Diaz" is in the books and with the organization's first Canadian event of 2013, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) delivered a tremendous night of mixed martial arts (MMA) action.
Georges St. Pierre, Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, Chris Camozzi and Mike Ricci were the big winners Saturday night (March 16, 2013) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, picking up victories over their respective opponents on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card.
After every fight card, fans wonder who the winners will be matched up with next. With another night of heart-racing fights in the rear-view mirror, it's time to look forward and put ourselves in Joe Silva's shoes to play UFC matchmaker.
Here we go:
Winner: Mike Ricci
Who He Should Fight Next: Rustam Khabilov
Why They Should Fight: Mike Ricci proved he is worthy of a place on the UFC roster when he defeated Colin Fletcher by decision of the UFC 158 PPV opener. Likely fighting for his job in the world's premier MMA organization, the Canadian picked up a career changing win in Montreal.
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old, the long road to the top of a stacked lightweight division is only going to get more difficult from here on out.
Historically speaking, the UFC brass will usually bring a runner-up from The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality show along slowly against other unproven talent in their weight class, which is likely the route they will go with Ricci.
A perfect option for "The Martian" would be to face Rustam Khabilov, a Russian fighter with a clean (1-0) UFC record that saw him ragdoll Vinc Pichel around the Octagon for a first-round knockout. Both fighters have proven capable of finishing their opponents and matching them up would make for a fun 155-pound bout.
Winner: Chris Camozzi
Who He Should Fight Next: Brad Tavares
Why They Should Fight: Chris Camozzi and Brad Tavares picked up impressive wins within one month of each other, Camozzi over Nick Ring at UFC 158 and Tavares against Riki Fukuda at UFC on FUEL TV 8 in Japan.
Both men appear to have come out injury-free, which means the timing would line up perfectly for them to face off in what would be an exciting middleweight contest between two fighters looking to emerge from the middle of the pack in the weight class.
While Camozzi has had more success on the ground in his career, he, like Tavares, enjoys a good stand-up slugfest and there's a very good chance that's what the fans would get when you throw the two 185-pound competitors in the cage together.
Both men have significant momentum behind them with three and four-fight win-streaks inside the Octagon, respectively, but only one can continue to build momentum in their career. The loser goes back to the drawing board.
Winner: Jake Ellenberger
Who He Should Fight Next: Rory MacDonald
Why They Should Fight: Before Rory MacDonald suffered an injury that opened up a spot for Nate Marquardt on the UFC 158 fight card, he was scheduled to fight against Carlos Condit at the Montreal event. Now that "The Natural Born Killer" has dropped two-straight fights, it doesn't make sense for "Ares" to face him in his return to the Octagon, and since Jake Ellenberger picked up an emphatic win over Marquardt to improve his stock in the welterweight rankings, a meeting with MacDonald when the Canadian is healthy is an appealing option.
A match up between Ellenberger and MacDonald would be a highly competitive bout between two hungry, young fighters in the weight class.
Ellenberger is on the hunt for a welterweight title shot, and before losing to Martin Kampmann three fights ago was on the brink of earning a chance at the gold. The Nebraska native is still young at only 27 years old and is eager to climb the ladder. He would without a doubt present the sternest challenge MacDonald has seen to date because of his wrestling and thunderous knockout power.
MacDonald has yet to earn a victory over a true Top 10-ranked opponent and Ellenberger would be exactly that.
Considering the landscape of the welterweight division, there are few better name opponents than MacDonald for Ellenberger to face. Hopefully the young Canadian will make a quick return to action so the match up can become a reality.
Ellenberger vs. MacDonald could easily serve as one of the featured bouts on a PPV card or headline a free card on FX or FUEL TV.
Winner: Johny Hendricks
Who He Should Fight Next: Georges St. Pierre
Why They Should Fight: Johny Hendricks made it very clear before and after UFC 158 that he is the No. 1 contender in the welterweight division, and regardless of what happens with the champ, Hendricks should be the next one at 170-pounds fighting for the gold.
"Bigg Rigg" has disposed of six opponents in a row with three of them being brutal knockouts. In that span, he has defeated two former No. 1 contenders in Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, a man people were on their way to calling the 2012 "Fighter of the Year" in Martin Kampmann, and the former interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit.
Hendricks vs. Georges St. Pierre is a fight most people want to see and a fascinating style match up. St. Pierre hasn't fought a southpaw with wrestling in years, and a southpaw with the wrestling and one-punch knockout power of Hendricks poses a serious threat to the champion.
Winner: Georges St. Pierre
Who He Should Fight Next: Johny Hendricks
Why They Should Fight: The future of Georges St. Pierre is really up to him at this point. It seems the ship on the long-awaited superfight with Anderson Silva has officially sailed (or hasn't it?), meaning "Rush" is going to stay in the welterweight division and fight the next top contender.
If that's the case, and there is no "super" showdown with the "Spider," St. Pierre's next fight books itself.
Bring on "Bigg Rigg."
For a lengthy explanation on the entire situation and what "Rush" should do next, read "Who is next for Georges St. Pierre?"
That ends this edition of Joe Silva's shoes. What do you think of these potential match ups? Do you agree? Disagree?
Let us know in the comments section below what fights you would make if you were in Joe Silva's shoes and played the role of UFC matchmaker.