What a weekend for fight fans.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pulled out all the stops for a massive two-day mixed martial arts (MMA) extravaganza this past weekend (July 11-12, 2015), and both the UFC 189 pay-per-view (PPV) and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 Finale delivered the action combat sports fans were hoping to see live from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
According to UFC President Dana White, UFC 189 was the best event in promotion history, and he was probably quite pleased with the TUF Finale as well.
UFC 189 was highlighted by five main card finishes, including two incredible title fights that saw both Robbie Lawler and Conor McGregor leave the Octagon with belts firmly strapped around their waists.
On Sunday, Stephen Thompson attempted to replicate some of the magic fight fans saw the night earlier by bludgeoning Jake Ellenberger with a picturesque spinning heel kick en route to a first round knockout.
Check out the highlights here.
With that quick recap of the weekend's marquee bouts, it is now time to play matchmaker with our "Next Matches To Make."
Winner: Conor McGregor
Who Should He Fight Next: Jose Aldo or Frankie Edgar
Conor McGregor fulfilled his destiny in Las Vegas this weekend, and in doing so, he catapulted MMA into an entirely different era.
The uber-confident Irishman has talked the talk ever since joining UFC two years ago, but with detractors claiming "The Notorious" one was protected en route to a UFC title shot, McGregor silenced all doubters with a second round (technical) knockout win over Chad Mendes.
McGregor is now a UFC champion -- albeit interim -- and the impending battle with UFC champ Jose Aldo could very well be the biggest fight in promotion history.
UFC spent millions of dollars on a World Tour to promote Aldo vs. McGregor, put together some of the greatest promotional pieces in company history, and really put all its eggs into the McGregor basket.
Even though the fight never came to fruition with Aldo suffering a fractured -- or bruised? -- rib, McGregor did his part by defeating the short-notice replacement in Mendes to become a UFC champion.
If Aldo has a setback that further delays his battle with McGregor, the Irishman will undoubtedly be defending the interim title against former lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar.
Winner: Robbie Lawler
Who Should He Fight Next: Johny Hendricks or Carlos Condit
If you didn't already know, Robbie Lawler is a savage.
In one of the all-time great title fights, Lawler and Rory MacDonald exchanged haymakers in a violent and bloody affair that won't soon be forgotten.
Down on the judges' scorecards (see them here), the UFC champ stormed out of the gate in the fifth round, hurling "Ruthless" combinations at the "Red King" that ultimately forced the Tristar Gym product to give up after his face was completely rearranged.
After winning yet another rematch bout, it is more than likely Lawler will be facing off against yet another familiar foe his next time out.
Expect Lawler to battle former UFC champ Johny Hendricks in a trilogy bout later this year. If "Bigg Rigg" can't make it to the Octagon for whatever reason, I certainly wouldn't complain if former interim UFC champ Carlos Condit took his place.
Winner: Jeremy Stephens
Who Should He Fight Next: Dennis Bermudez
The featherweight division is absolutely stacked, so there is a plethora of options for Jeremy Stephens' next fight.
Considering Stephens' was losing all the way up to his beautiful flying knee knockout over Dennis Bermudez at UFC 189, I wouldn't be upset if UFC asked these men to tango once more.
The fight itself was absolutely enthralling, and Bermudez was unquestionably up on the scorecards before being finished.
Apparently, Dana White offered Bermudez a rematch at UFC 192, so let's see if that actually comes to fruition.
Winner: Gunnar Nelson
Who Should He Fight Next: Kelvin Gastelum
We already knew Gunnar Nelson was a wizard on the mat, but his improved striking is what led to his lightning quick submission win over Brandon Thatch at UFC 189.
Coming off a tough loss, Nelson needed a big bounce back win, and the Icelandic native came through in a major way in "Sin City."
Nelson has the grappling chops to finish anyone in the 170-pound division, but I still don't believe he is a top five threat just yet.
If Kelvin Gastelum is once again going to compete in the welterweight division, a bout with Nelson could be a barnburner and a major test for both men.
Winner: Thomas Almeida
Who Should He Fight Next: Francisco Rivera
Thomas Almeida is 23 years old, 20-0 in MMA, and has 19 finishes to his name.
"Thominhas" is one terrifying individual.
After a tough first round against Brad Pickett, Almeida launched into the air and delivered a sensational flying knee knockout just seconds into the second frame.
The knockout was the Brazilian's second straight inside the Octagon, but it is important to note that both came against 36-year old veterans clearly on their way out of MMA.
With that being said, it is time for Almeida to take a step up in competition, and with the heavy handed Francisco Rivera sitting at No. 10 in the bantamweight division, I can only hope Joe Silva and Sean Shelby match the two finishers against each other.
Winner: Stephen Thompson
Who Should He Fight Next: Jorge Masvidal or Gunnar Nelson
I know Stephen Thompson deserves a ranked opponent his next time out after his gorgeous spinning heel kick finish over Jake Ellenberger, but a potential fight with Jorge Masvidal is just too good to pass up.
Not to mention the former lightweight knocked out Cezar Ferreira only about an hour before "Wonderboy's" stupendous head kick highlight.
If UFC wants to go a different route and give Thompson his much deserved shot at the top 15, I say schedule the savvy grappler Gunnar Nelson against the deadly striker in a battle of opposing styles.
Regardless, whoever "Wonderboy" fights next, he has demanded your attention after his win in Las Vegas.
Winner: Kamaru Usman
Who Should He Fight Next: Alex Garcia
Blackzilians product Kamaru Usman is the latest TUF victor, earning a hefty $300,000 check for submitting American Top Team (ATT) bruiser Hayder Hassan with an arm-triangle choke in the second round last Sunday evening.
Usman has a lot of potential, but he is definitely not ready to take on any top-15 fighters in the UFC right now.
Considering Alex Garcia defeated Mike Swick last night, I would be intrigued to watch "The Dominican Nightmare" take on the hard-hitting Usman.
Winner: Michael Graves
Who Should He Fight Next: Yan Cabral
Michael Graves was only one of five TUF contestants from this season to get a chance to earn a roster spot in the UFC, and he put together a workmanlike performance against Vincent Luque on Sunday night to prove he is ready for the spotlight.
At 5-0, Graves has a lot of potential, but is still very raw overall. With a strong wrestling background, I'd like to see Graves take on a fighter who has the abilities to trouble the TUF product on the mat.
With Yan Cabral coming off a submission victory his last time out, I think a fight with Graves makes sense for both men.
Winner: Jorge Masvidal
Who Should He Fight Next: Stephen Thompson
As I already mentioned, a Jorge Masvidal vs. Stephen Thompson bout would be absolutely bananas and almost guarantees a "Fight of the Night" award.
After being on the wrong end of a few decisions at 155 pounds, "Gamebred" opted to stop draining himself with the weight cut and move up to the 170 pound division, and that paid major dividends when the ATT veteran knocked out Cezar Ferreira with an elbow and a few follow up punches (watch it).
If Masvidal doesn't get Thompson next, I wouldn't mind seeing him battle the winner of Neil Magny vs. Demian Maia.
Winner: Michelle Waterson
Who Should She Fight Next: Tecia Torres or Randa Markos
"The Karate Hottie" was impressive in her Octagon debut, choking out Angela Magana in the third round after basically dominating the entire fight.
The former Invicta champ should skyrocket up the rankings, but it remains to be seen what UFC wants to do with Waterson next.
I personally would love to see Tecia Torres battle Waterson, but the "Tiny Tornado" could be too high up the rankings right now. If that's the case, a bout with Randa Markos makes sense to me.
Winner: Maximo Blanco
Who Should He Fight Next: Mike De La Torre
There is not much to say here other than Blanco hurt De La Torre in the opening moments of their main card bout at the TUF 21 Finale, but Yves Lavigne stepped in far too early to call a stop to the fight.
Blanco may have celebrated a 16 second (technical) knockout win, but I would be stunned if UFC didn't give De La Torre the rematch.