Last week, former two-time flyweight title challenger John Dodson announced his move up to the bantamweight division. The move isn’t a complete shock as Dodson is likely not going to get another title opportunity and has a history with UFC bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillashaw, who he knocked out to win The Ultimate Fighter 15 in his UFC debut.
The move up opens a realm of possibilities from a matchmaking perspective as the bantamweight division is rift with splendid matchups for the “Magician.” Here are four ways Dodson could be booked for his debut:
Set-up Fight: George Roop, Yves Jabouin, Enrique Briones
This is the safest way to book Dodson. A “set-up fight” is essentially made to give one fighter (Dodson in this case) a relatively clear path to winning in impressive fashion. A lot of set-up fights are “squash fights” (lopsided bookings) and Briones would qualify in that category as the Mexican is way below Dodson’s skill level and sets Dodson up for a high chance of a beat down.
Roop and Jabouin are unranked veterans who still possess enough skill to make the fight competitive but they’re two guys with one foot out the door and their fading chins scream highlight-reel knockout for the Greg Jackson disciple.
Rebound Fight: Francisco Rivera, Mitch Gagnon, Russell Doane
Dodson faces little shame in losing to arguably the greatest fighter on the planet, Demetrious Johnson but a loss is a loss and Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have a tendency to book two losing fighters against each other in hopes one of the two will get back on track to contendership.
In this case, someone like Rivera or Gagnon are logical choices. Rivera is coming off a submission loss to John Lineker in a barnburner brawl and Gagnon lost to former champion Renan Barao in a spirited effort. Rivera is currently ranked No. 13 in the official UFC rankings and Gagnon was previously ranked No. 15. Doane is a highly touted prospect who was upset by Jerrod Sanders and is also another possibility.
Contender’s Fight: John Lineker, Bryan Caraway, Raphael Assuncao
It’s a longshot that a fighter re-entering the weight class quickly gets a high profile contender’s fight, but the UFC seems very high on Dodson. His only losses have come against Johnson and he owns a victory over the division’s champion, Dillashaw. These factors could fast forward Dodson’s trip to the title picture.
Lineker was previously in a similar situation to Dodson and passed his bantamweight bout with flying colors by dispatching the gritty Rivera in a one-round slugfest. A bout against him is almost guaranteed to produce heavy levels of face smashing.
Caraway has recently received a lot of heat for not taking fights but is coming off a huge victory over former title contender Eddie Wineland and is in the title picture. Assuncao is the last man to defeat Dillashaw but has been hampered by a foot injury. If he isn’t fighting for the belt, he’ll likely be in a No. 1 contender’s fight.
Gatekeeper Fight: Takeya Mizugaki, Brad Pickett, Eddie Wineland
The term gatekeeper is a contentious one as it’s used to denote a fighter who is good enough to keep his standing in the UFC but not quite good enough to rise higher. Putting the gatekeeper stamp on a fighter all but means the fans and media have given up on the fighter ever challenging for the title but still recognize them as valuable enough to be given meaningful fights. That is where veterans like Mizugaki, Pickett and Wineland lie right now.
Mizugaki is coming off a solid win over Roop in his native Japan but his back-to-back stoppage losses to Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling and history of losing contender fights would make him a gatekeeper.
Pickett is a well-rounded vet who has a penchant to get into Fight of the Night worthy brawls. He’s lost three in a row and four of his last five so a win over him won’t mean much but his name still has enough weight and he’s bound to entertain.
Wineland was a former title contender and WEC champion who has seen better days. Now on a two-fight losing streak, he’s likely on his last UFC legs but is still a ranked fighter.