UFC Fight Night 98 produced an exciting night of fights for the fans in Mexico City. On a night when a new winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America was crowned, Alexa Grasso, Diego Sanchez and Ricardo Lamas all brought heavy cheers from the crowd. The night ended with a stellar main event war between Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson.
The main card gave us six big fights and here, we’re going to take a look at the winners of those fights and step into the role of UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, looking for the next opponent for each.
Alexa Grasso vs. Felice Herrig
The UFC has come across plenty of talented prospects over the years that also have a lot of hype behind them. Mexico’s Alexa Grasso could be the next fighter placed into that category with fans believing she could be the next superstar. Other women such as Ronda Rousey and Paige VanZant have been seen in the same light.
With Grasso, the talent is clearly there. After all, she is 9-0 in her career. But she wasn’t exactly dominant against Heather Jo Clark. Yes, she beat her in a decision that wasn’t all that close. But Clark hung in there with her and hit her with some stiff shots of her own.
If UFC truly wants Grasso to be a star, it will be careful in how it searches for her opponents. In other words, baby steps should be taken, at least with her next fight.
Felice Herrig is a veteran who also at one time had the chance to derail the “hype train” that was VanZant. A fight between her and Grasso makes sense as it would slowly push Grasso up the strawweight ladder. Herrig is a middle-of-the-pack fighter in that division, so the baby steps approach with Grasso would apply by booking that fight.
Beneil Dariush vs. Gilbert Melendez
Beneil Dariush is a legitimate top 10 fighter in the lightweight division following his unanimous decision victory over Rashid Magomedov on Saturday night. It was just the second loss of Magomedov’s career.
The problem for Dariush is the fact that the division is the most competitive in the UFC. Most of the fighters inside the top 10 have future fights booked, but what about a fight with all-time great Gilbert Melendez?
Melendez has lost his last three fights and is just 1-4 since coming to the UFC. Many fighters are cut for a record like that, but Melendez still has a contract on the strength of his 22-6 career record. Surely he’d want to prove that he still has it, and a win over the rising Dariush could do that. For Dariush, a win over Melendez would position him in a fight with one of the top three or four guys in the division.
Martin Bravo vs. Cesar Arzamendia
Coached by Forrest Griffin on the most recent season of TUF: Latin America, Martin Bravo finished the competition with an impressive win over Claudio Puelles. Assuming he doesn’t return to his native featherweight division, he’ll now be thrust into the crowded scene at lightweight.
Cesar Arzamendia would be a good first opponent for Bravo. He has been knocked out in his last two fights and as a result, has tumbled toward the bottom of the rankings in the division.
Bravo is now 11-0 in his career but he’s also just 23 years old, so there’s no reason to rush him along.
Ricardo Lamas vs. Cub Swanson-Doo Ho Choi Winner
First off, credit to Ricardo Lamas for being willing to fight Charles Oliveira despite the fact that Oliveira missed weight by 10 pounds prior to the fight. Lamas then proceeded to submit him in the second round of their fight.
Lamas got a huge win, but the feathweight division is bottled up with contenders, largely due to the champion, Conor McGregor, continually fighting outside the division. Frankie Edgar is set to face Jeremy Stephens next Saturday night and Anthony Pettis has a date with Max Holloway. So where does that leave Lamas?
A fight with the winner of Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi, scheduled for UFC 206, makes sense. Lamas defeated Swanson back in 2011, but he’ll need to get at least one more win before he’ll be even remotely considered for a title shot in this division.
Diego Sanchez vs. Evan Dunham
At 34 years old, Diego Sanchez believes he may have one more title run left in him and after his impressive win over the heavily favored Marcin Held, who are we to say he doesn’t?
Sanchez outworked the grappler Held en route to a unanimous decision, but he has a bevy of fighters to leap if he’s ever going to be close to a title shot. Evan Dunham is an opponent in the division who he has yet to face and one who is on an impressive win streak. Sanchez may be able to get others to believe in his title aspirations if he could knock off Dunham.
Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov-Michael Johnson Winner
It’s impossible to deny Tony Ferguson a title shot at this point, particularly after he just became the first man in UFC lightweight history to win nine fights in a row. However, the winner of the fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Michael Johnson next Saturday will have a fair claim to a title shot as well.
A fight between the winner of that fight and Ferguson would allow the UFC to sift through the mess that is the top tier of the lightweight rankings and allow a true No. 1 contender to be decided.
That would give the winner of the fight between Eddie Alvarez and McGregor the chance to have a bit of a layoff, should they want that, to allow that No. 1 contender’s fight to be made.