With that being said, main card competitors Chael Sonnen, Travis Browne, Urijah Faber, Matt Brown, John Howard and Michael Johnson all picked up victories on Saturday night (Aug. 17, 2013) at TD Bank Garden, which means it's time to anticipate their next moves in their respective weight classes.
Indeed, after every fight card, MMA fans are already thinking about what the future holds for the stars of the show. With another night of action-packed fights, it's time to peer into our crystal ball and predict possible match-making scenarios.
Here we go, from bottom to top:
Winner: Michael Johnson
Who He Should Fight Next: Daron Cruickshank
Why They Should Fight: Johnson did what seemed like the impossible in defeating heavy favorite Joe Lauzon on enemy territory. Johnson looked unsympathetically ferocious, with his southpaw style being a huge problem for Lauzon the whole night. A curious matchup would have him continue his impressive return to form with a potential bout with Daron Cruickshank, who also likes to standup any chance he could get. Both have knockout power, both are mesmerizingly fast, and the thought of them constantly coming forward would be scintillating to say the least. Both men are back in the win column without losses and have recently fought in the month of August. This would be a gracious undercard fight for any of the high-profile events closing out the year. Plus, who doesn't like a fight between former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) contestants?
Winner: John Howard
Who He Should Fight Next: Andrew Craig
Why They Should Fight: Howard did not look extremely impressive and this fight was so close it was dependent on which judges worked in Boston last night. Nevertheless, Howard defeated the highly touted Uriah Hall and that cannot be denied. Maybe Hall was never what he was expected to be, since fights on The Ultimate Fighter are not exactly the equivalent to those in the UFC on the big scale. Howard showed he can hang in there and stay in the UFC for his second trip back to the promotion, but he should not exactly get someone of superstar proportions or a big step up ... maybe the equivalent type of guy.
There are a lot of names that could get tossed up, but why not pit him against another TUF alumni? Howard has had an interesting resurgence as of late, but honestly he usually comes up short in the higher profiled fights and sometimes a veteran in the smaller promotions pats up his record a lot easier.
Andrew Craig's brawling style, along with his powerful wrestling skills was problematic for Chris Leben in his last outing and he could be an interesting opponent for Howard. Forget solving a puzzle or bringing forth a gameplan because this fight would see both men trade, one guy go for a takedown and some more trading. Craig's ground game is decent, but that's where Howard needs some work. Not much, just a little fine-tuning. All in all, it would be another up-and-comer versus a man who's been down many roads in his career.
Winner: Matt Brown
Who He Should Fight Next: Winner of Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks at UFC 167
Why They Should Fight: If you're Matt Brown, assess your position: You're 6-0, winning five of those by stoppage, and you just knocked out a durable Mike Pyle in 0:29 seconds (a guy who has only been stopped by strikes four times in 35 fights).
Why take another fight, to risk losing your win streak? And if you lose, it's all gone -- you start from scratch.
The assumptions on Brown that he may be unable to deliver against either St. Pierre or Hendricks (especially the former) are understandable, but who really knows for sure? If your job is to finish and excite the fans because that's how you get title shots, well then Matt Brown has exceeded expectations. Besides, the winner of "GSP" and "Bigg Rigg" will need a fight regardless and if Hendricks upsets St. Pierre, that match up may be more realistic since they are the only men in the Welterweight division holding a six-fight win streak.
Regardless if pundits think Brown does not stand a chance against the illustrious St. Pierre, it does not matter. Maybe Brown's lack of popularity to the casual fan may need some work and his pay-per-view (PPV) status needs great improvement (his last four fights were broadcasted for free), but that is a job the marketing department could take care of.
Title shots were given for less and title shots are earned. Matt Brown deserves it.
Winner: Urijah Faber
Who He Should Fight Next: Michael McDonald
Why They Should Fight: Realistically, this is the only fight that makes sense for Faber and it would be a hell of a lot more dangerous than his past couple of opponents. Faber looked good on Saturday night but it certainly was not a walk in the park. Yuri Alcantara surprised the "California Kid" on many occasions and gave him a few submission scares, too.
With that being said, Faber should not fight another elite grappler or Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom; his next opponent should be the last step on the ladder to get back to the title; a well-rounded opponent capable of finishing a fight anywhere and that man is Michael McDonald. These two men were the last challengers to Renan Barao's interim Bantamweight title. And let's be real -- the 135-pound title picture is somewhat in shambles right now. Both these men are destined to fight for that title again so why not create a mini tournament: Faber takes on McDonald, Barao and Cruz meet in Feb. 2014 and the winners of both bouts meet in the spring or summer of 2014.
If Faber thought Alcantara was a risky fight, McDonald is as risky as they come. The blazing 22-year-old already looks like a veteran of the sport and he could pose some major problems in the striking department alongside some slick ground skills. Faber has not lost to an opponent in a non-title bout in his entire career during the span of 10 years.
This fight makes all the sense in the world.
Winner: Travis Browne
Who He Should Fight Next: Winner of Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett at UFC 164
Why They Should Fight: Browne's accomplishments on Saturday night were destructive but it is unsure if he did enough to overlap Fabricio Werdum as the next heavyweight title challenger, but at the same time he is inches away. Instead of having a title eliminator bout between the two, Browne should be able to get just one more quality victory and all fingers point to the winner of the pivotal heavyweight clash that serves as the co-main event at UFC 164.
Both Frank Mir and Josh Barnett have been around the sport a long, long time. And both have been former champions and have had some of the toughest fights out of all heavyweights in the history of the sport. Browne surely did impress against Overeem but does he have a win over an accomplished combatant who was highly successful for himself in the big leagues? That is all Browne needs to convince just about everyone he should be next in line for that title shot.
And let's face it, Browne versus either of those men would be a mouthwatering affair.
Winner: Chael Sonnen
Who He Should Fight Next: Wanderlei Silva
Why They Should Fight: Although many will make the case for Sonnen to fight Vitor Belfort -- and that's a possibility, too -- calling out Wanderlei Silva the way he did should guarantee their meeting in the Octagon. If Sonnen thinks logically about it, his return to the Middleweight division could not summon a better opponent that a man he's had a rivalry with for an umpteen amount of months now.
The complicated issue is that Sonnen's win was so amazing over "Shogun" that his next fight could be as eminent as his opponent on Saturday night. Why not match up two guys that want to fight each other so badly? At this point, Belfort and even Lyoto Machida could be getting overzealous with every possible opponent who has an impressive victory. If Sonnen wants to work his way back to the title and has expressed interest in a trilogy fight with Anderson Silva, middleweight is where it's at for him. There's bad blood between the two and although Sonnen could not have found a better way to reignite the fire in his career, one win over a quality opponent cannot make us forget about the past.
He beat a lesser version of what "Shogun" once was and needs to convince the masses his resurrection was not a one-time deal. He still needs to work his way to the title and a fight with Silva -- who has never been submitted in his career -- could prove for an interesting and ferocious scrap. Sonnen's gritty style and Wanderlei's harmful striking would clash and this could be a worthy main event on any fight card. Having this fight in Las Vegas, Brazil or even in Europe would be colossal.
That's a wrap for the UFC Fight Night 26 edition of "Matches to Make." Got any better match-making fantasies? Share them in the comments section below.