UFC Fort Lauderdale featured a new middleweight contender, a few veterans returning to the winning column, and a handful of back-and-forth fights. In the main event, Jack Hermansson solidified his status as one of the best at 185 pounds with a unanimous decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. In the co-headliner, former NFL player Greg Hardy bounced back from a disqualification loss in his January debut with a one-sided TKO of Dmitrii Smoliakov.
How close is Hermansson to a title shot? Is Hardy ready for a step up in competition?
It’s time to answer those questions and more by pairing up many of the UFC Fort Lauderdale fighters with potential future opponents. Like Zane Simon, I’ll try to stick to the Joe Silva and Sean Shelby method of pairing winners up with winners and losers up with losers, but no guarantees. Let’s do this.
Jack Hermansson: Man, what a win by “The Joker.” I, like most, picked Souza to win this fight. I just felt like he would be too much, too soon for the rising Swede. But I was most certainly wrong. He landed hundreds of shots over the course of the five-round affair on Saturday, and even managed to take the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace down a couple times. Souza hurt Hermansson in the third round, but besides that it was a near perfect display for the underdog. Already going against what I said about the Silva/Shelby rule, I would like to see Hermansson fight Kelvin Gastelum next. Gastelum is coming off an interim title loss to Israel Adesanya in one of the greatest fights of all time. Before that, Gastelum beat Souza in a narrow decision. This would give Gastelum an opportunity to bounce back and get right back into the title picture, but it would also give Hermansson a chance to earn a title shot against the winner of Robert Whittaker vs. Adesanya. This is also assuming Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa is rebooked for later this year, which as of now seems likely.
Ronaldo Souza: This was a disappointing loss for the Brazilian veteran — not because he looked especially bad in the cage, but because his title aspirations are likely over. If the 39-year-old ever wanted to fight for UFC gold (which he should have done by now, for what it’s worth), he needed to beat Hermansson. I don’t know how much longer Souza has left in the sport, but assuming he plans on sticking around for a little while longer, a fight against Brad Tavares makes sense to me. Tavares, who hasn’t fought since a July loss to Adesanya, sits just outside the top 10 at middleweight. Other options for Souza include Jared Cannonier if he beats Anderson Silva next month, Uriah Hall, or Antonio Carlos Junior.
Greg Hardy: Whether or not you believe Hardy deserves to be in the UFC or on any sort of public stage given his domestic violence past, one thing is clear: Hardy is an athletic guy with a lot of power. And sometimes in the heavyweight division, that’s all it takes to do well or at least rack up a few wins. That said, Hardy’s skillset is still very raw, and he should be brought up slowly. I’m not sure if Daniel Spitz plans on fighting anytime soon, as he hasn’t stepped into the Octagon since 2017, but if he does, give him to Hardy next. At 6’6”, Spitz presents a new challenge to Hardy in the form of his height and reach advantage. It would be interesting to see how Hardy handles that and whether or not he can close the distance and land shots on his opponent.
Greg Hardy should fight Francis Ngannou next.
Mike Perry: “Platinum” bounced back from a November loss in a “Fight of the Night” affair against Alex Oliveira. Perry will probably never be a legitimate contender in the welterweight division, but he will always be an action-packed fighter and gets a lot of love because of it. I wouldn’t mind seeing him up against a top 15 opponent in his next outing, just to see if he can perhaps make some sort of a run. It would make sense for him to fight Geoff Neal or Belal Muhammad, who both sit just outside the rankings. You could also give him Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who recently cracked into the top 15 himself. But Perry has had beef with Darren Till in the past and with Till on a two-fight skid, the time is finally now for that matchup to happen.
Alex Oliveira: It’s unfortunate to see Oliveira on a two-fight skid, because he’s such a fun character in and outside the Octagon. But at the same time, I realize whether he wins or loses, the excitement level of his fights doesn’t change. His back will be up against the fence in his next fight, however; not too many UFC fighters get away with a three-fight skid without getting released. I would like to see him square off with either Bryan Barberena or Emil Meek next.
Glover Teixeira: Looking at the light heavyweight rankings following Teixeira’s submission of Ion Cutelaba, there isn’t one matchup that really stands out, but there are several that would be at least acceptable. I could see Teixeira in a fight against Dominick Reyes, who beat Volkan Oezdemir in a controversial decision last time out. But I’d rather see the Brazilian veteran fight Nikita Krylov, who recently returned to the winning column with a stoppage of Ovince Saint Preux. This matchup allows the top contenders at 205 pounds to settle their business against one another (Teixeira and Krylov are outside the top 10), gives Teixeira the chance to put together another winning streak, and gives Krylov an opportunity to add a win over a big-name opponent to his resume.
Cory Sandhagen: Disregarding the actual rankings for a minute, if you walk into a fight with John Lineker and come out victorious, you’re immediately a contender at bantamweight. Sandhagen will have a number next to his name next week and deservedly so. The rising star proved he’s a forced to be reckoned with at 135 pounds. Unfortunately for him, the division is one of the best in the promotion right now, so he’s not quite yet in the title picture. It puts him in a position to fight a highly ranked opponent, though — how about the winner of Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan or Rob Font?
John Lineker: After Saturday’s defeat, Lineker should fight Thomas Almeida for the junior violenceweight title he still somehow holds despite the Sandhagen loss. Or, if the UFC is off the Cody Garbrandt train now, a previously booked fight against “No Love” makes sense, too. Take all my money!
Carla Esparza: The strawweight division is so good right now, it’s tough to see where former champ Esparza fits in. She snapped a two-fight skid with a win over former Invicta FC champ and UFC newcomer Virna Jandiroba, but she’s still a little ways away from getting a crack at the belt she once held. With Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade booked for May and Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff booked for June, it’s pretty clear what direction the UFC is headed in terms of the next couple title fights. Esparza should fight a rising contender in Weili Zhang next. Zhang is coming off a major win over Tecia Torres, but needs one more win before being considered a legitimate threat to the title. And on the other hand, Esparza would move up a few spots in the rankings if she beat Zhang, so it’s a win-win situation all around.
Other fights: Ion Cutelaba vs. Ovince Saint Preux; Roosevelt Roberts vs. Matt Frevola; Augusto Sakai vs. Marcin Tybura; Andrei Arlovski vs. Marcelo Golm; Virna Jandiroba vs. Ashley Yoder; Takashi Sato vs. Dwight Grant; Gilbert Burns vs. Gregor Gillespie; Jim Miller vs. John Makdessi; Angela Hill vs. Marina Rodriguez; Dhiego Lima vs. James Krause