By Scott McMurray
November 16th, 2008
If there was ever pressure on an UFC event to deliver it was at UFC 91: Couture versus Lesnar; and boy did it deliver.
Only one of the PPV’s nine bouts went to the judges scorecards and even that won fight of the night honours (Riley over Gurgel) and four of the shows five main bouts ended in the first round. It surely was one of the most exciting and action packed cards of the year. In fact the only questions left to be answered is what is next for the victors? Lets start with Dustin Hazelett.
Cincinnati native Hazelett scored a first round submission victory over Tamdan McCrory. Hazelett showed us all just why he has recently earned his BJJ Black belt under Jorge Gurgel with a slick omoplata to arm bar submission, so what is next for him? Well apart from hopefully a shave Hazelett is in a tight spot. While he can comfortably beat fighters such as McRory his loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 82, as entertaining a bout as it was, serves as a reminder that he is not ready for the upper echelons of the UFC’s stacked 170lb division at this stage. With that in mind a bout between Hazelett and the winner of the upcoming Chris Lytle/Marcus Davis bout at UFC 93 would certainly give Hazelett a step up in competition without feeding the talented 22 year old to the wolves.
Another fighter in a tricky situation is Brazilian Demian Maia. Considering the lack of depth in the UFC’s 185lb division it would be tempting to push the 9-0 (4-0 in UFC) BJJ expert all the way to a title shot following his first round submission victory over Nate Quarry, however that would be premature even by the UFC’s standards. The truth is Maia needs to seriously work on his stand-up skills before he is ready for a crack at Anderson Silva and his 185lb crown. More likely is a bout with Ricardo Almeida or even Nate Marquadt. Yushin Okami and Denis Kang could also make good match ups however those two seem like more probable title contenders should they defeat Dean Lister and Alan Belcher respectively. Maia has also been linked with a coaching role in the upcoming season of the Ultimate Fighter which would lead to a fight with Michael Bisping in the summer.
Despite what Dana White would have us believe the UFC’s heavyweight division is not brimming with fighters ready to challenge for the title, so it would have no doubt come as a relief to see Gabriel Gonzaga recorded a first round knock out over newcomer Josh Hendricks. White and former champion Randy Couture mentioned fighters such as Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin however both men are at least two solid wins away from a title shot. Fabricio Werdum also tasted defeat recently as did Heath Herring. A Cheick Kongo fight would be interesting and could serve as a possible number one contenders match. As could a bout with the loser of the upcoming Frank Mir/Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira fight. However right or wrong Gonzaga could find himself back in title contention sooner rather than later.
The second to last victor to be looked at is Kenny Florian. “K-Flo” submitted former lightweight contender Joe Stevenson in the first round. Florian himself competed for the vacant 155lb title at UFC 64 losing a five round decision to Sean Sherk and according to UFC President Dana White Florian will receive his second shot at the title now held by BJ Penn. Despite White’s assurances it cannot be taken for granted that Florian’s next bout will be against the pride of Hilo, Hawaii for two reasons. Reason number one is Penn’s next fight will be in the 170lb welterweight division against Georges St Pierre; and it is for the welterweight title. Should Penn defeat GSP he may choose to stay at 170lbs and defend the title against number one contender Thiago “Pit bull” Alves and chase a lucrative third fight with St. Pierre. Penn is known to love a challenge (he moved to light heavyweight to fight Lyoto Machida) and he may prefer to chase glory at a higher weight. Reason number two is Florian himself. Florian has a true fighters spirit, as shown by taking the Stevenson fight while as the number one contender after beating Roger Huerta at UFC 87. It may just be Kenny can’t wait for a space to open in BJ Penn’s busy schedule, only time will tell.
Last but not least is Brock Lesnar, the UFC’s new heavyweight champion. Where do you go after defeating a true MMA legend in Randy “The Natural” Couture? Well Lesnar’s first title defence is already set as he faces the winner of the interim heavyweight championship bout between Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira and former heavyweight king Frank Mir. That bout will take place at UFC 92 on the 27th of December, however lets take a minute to look at the two possible match ups. Nogueira would be a great opportunity for Lesnar to silence any remaining critics. Ranked number two in almost every top ten rankings, “Big Nog” has undoubtedly the best BJJ in the heavyweight division, coupled with some very good boxing Nogueira is an extremely dangerous fighter for Lesnar to face at this stage in his career – however a win would surely move Lesnar straight up the rankings and silence the shouts from some within the MMA community that he doesn’t deserve his current title. A fight with Mir on the other hand is much more appealing to Lesnar on a personal level – Lesnar even admitted he wants Mir to win. This stems from the fact Mir handed Lesnar his defeat at UFC 81 – which was Brock’s debut in the company. A rematch with Mir would give Lesnar the opportunity to avenge that loss; something which appeals to every fighter. In all honesty either match could be looked into in much greater depth however that shall remain for another time, either way it shall all be much clearer come December 27.