The closing scene of Saturday’s UFC on FOX 23 broadcast was women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes inside the cage facing off with her top contender, Valentina Shevchenko.
Shevchenko (14-2) by all rights should get the next title shot for a belt that in its four-year history has likely produced more revenue than any UFC championship during the same period of time. Shevchenko beating Julianna Pena wasn’t a surprise, but her winning the grappling exchange and finishing the fight via submission was hardly expected.
Shevchenko and Nunes (14-4) are hardly strangers. The first impression watching them stand next to each other was just how much bigger Nunes actually is. It appeared that if UFC had a 125-pound division for women, that Shevchenko would be perfectly sized for it. Shevchenko came into UFC as a kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter, a sport where she went 58-2-1, and won multiple world titles at weights ranging from 121 to 132 pounds.
The second impression as they were standing there was the memory of their previous encounter, on March 5, 2006, when the two opened the UFC 196 pay-per-view show.
Nunes took a unanimous decision. The short version is that Nunes outstruck Shevchenko and got a takedown in the first round. In the second round, Nunes spent most of the round on top and bloodied Shevchenko up, and worked for a choke. Two judges scored that 10-8. But Nunes did fade in the third round, and Shevchenko won both the grappling and the striking in that round.
The thought process was that Nunes was tiring and if it was a five-round fight, perhaps the fight would have ended as a draw.
Nunes may also opt to move up and go after the new featherweight title, in particular if Holly Holm comes out a winner over Germaine de Randamie in their Feb. 11 fight in Brooklyn to determine the first champion of the new division. If Ronda Rousey doesn’t fight again, and with the retirement of Miesha Tate, Holm is the woman left standing as UFC’s best-known female star, and likely it’s biggest remaining draw in the division.
It was Shevchenko that knocked Holm out of the bantamweight title picture with a decision win on a FOX show that was UFC’s most-watched summer television event since leaving Spike TV. That speaks for Holm’s drawing power, particularly since Shevchenko, who beat Holm with 4.7 million viewers watching, headlined Saturday’s show on FOX and couldn’t put big numbers on the board against Pena.
And that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the title fight. From the beginning of the Rousey era in 2013, through Tate vs. Holm, Tate vs. Nunes and Nunes vs. Rousey, it’s been a division that has garnered surprising interest nearly every time out. How much steam with the viewing public that Nunes picked up for her destruction of Rousey is the big question. But it’s a safe bet it won’t be enough to keep such a fight from having the least interest of any title fight in the division to date.
Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five on the show.
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO – Shevchenko’s logical opponent is Nunes. But if Nunes goes after the heavier title, and Shevchenko needs to take a fight rather than sit out, her most logical opponent would be Raquel Pennington (9-5), coming off her win over Tate.
JULIANNA PENA – Pena (9-3) has a lot of different directions she could go next. The winner of the Feb. 19 fight between Sara McMann (10-3) and Liz Carmouche (11-5) would be a good one. Similarly, the loser of Holm (10-2) vs. De Randamie (6-3) could also be a high-profile opponent.
JORGE MASVIDAL – Masvidal (32-11) scored the biggest win of his career with his second-round stoppage on Donald Cerrone. It’s clear the fight to make for him would be former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler (27-11). If that fight were to be made, the winner should be in line for a championship shot.
Masvidal being in a position to be in a title eliminator proves the value of calling your shot. Masvidal, after his Dec. 3 win over Jake Ellenberger, issued a challenge to Cerrone. Cerrone was both higher ranked and a bigger star, and seemingly in line for a far more high-profile opponent. But once Masvidal put the fight out there, Cerrone accepted the challenge for a fight that probably wouldn’t have been made had Masvidal not called him out first.
DONALD CERRONE – Cerrone (32-8, 1 no contest) now has to regroup after previously going 4-0, all by finish since his move to welterweight at the start of 2016. He has the option of moving back to lightweight, or staying at welterweight.
At welterweight, Neil Magny (19-5) would make an interesting opponent since they are two of the most active fighters in the company. If Carlos Condit (30-10) has interest in fighting again, a Cerrone vs. Condit fight is a fight that would look great on any card.
As a lightweight, Will Brooks (18-2) would make for a potential good first opponent back.
RAPHAEL ASSUNCAO – Assuncao (24-5) was announced at one time for a bantamweight title shot at then-champion Renan Barao in 2014, but fell victim to a nearly three-year period of injury after injury.
Assuncao talked of a title shot against champion Cody Garbrandt, but with Garbrandt hooked up with TJ Dillashaw as rival coaches on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, that’s not happening any time soon.
The best opponent he could face would be Dominick Cruz (22-2), since a win there would almost guarantee him a title shot. If that’s not in the cards, Jimmie Rivera (20-1) would be a strong next match.
Source:: mma fighting