This is the second part of my series on playing "Fantasy Matchmaker" for major MMA promotions such as UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, and Dream.
And you thought "Fantasy Matchmaker" meant you had a chance with Arianny Celeste, didn't it? Although a new ring-girl pairing of Arianny with the WEC's Brittany Palmer would certainly be just as pleasing to watch as some of these fights.
Using the latest news and currently signed deals as a backdrop, these are fights that would generate interest and build future contenders.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION
Signed: Shogun Rua vs Rashad Evans for the UFC LHW crown. Patience is needed for this one to come around in spring/summer of 2011. The triumvirate of top fighters in the stacked division will pit Rua in a challenging matchup against Evans. The LHW title hasn't found a permanent home in over four years, and the paper-rock-scissors in styles between Rua-Evans-Machida could rotate the belt around in the foreseeable future.
Fantasy: Rafael Cavalcante vs Gegard Mousasi. Just as the UFC has suffered from the "revolving door" of LHW titleholders, so has Strikeforce over the past two years, with no fighter successfully defending his belt. Cavalcante upset King Mo, who had upset Mousasi, so let's see what the third matchup in that trio would be like. Mousasi has tremendous tools and is the newly crowned Dream Light-Heavyweight champ (which isn't nearly as impressive as it sounds). Do not misunderstand me, I really like Mousasi as a fighter and hope that his dalliance in Japan's Dream is short-lived because he will grow lazy fighting the lesser competition at the 205 and above weight classes over there. He needs to re-enter the Strikeforce competition and a "unificiation" bout between Strikeforce and Dream could be a big way to re-establish the buzz he lost against Mo Lawal.
The winner of the Rampage and Machida fight will most likely get the next title shot after their upcoming matchup in November 2010. But that is a long time to wait since the Rua-Evans fight might not take place until May of 2011, so this fight could create a possible "interim title" between that winner and the winner of...
Signed: Ryan Bader vs Jon Jones. It was officially confirmed on the UFC 126 card in February, and the UFC isn't slow playing the growth of these two young stars any longer. As a matchup this is a great one, with the unorthodox and free-styling Bones Jones against the stoic and disciplined Bader. I would expect this fight to live up to all the hype, and the next great star of the marquee division to emerge. As stated earlier, this could setup to be a "interim title eliminator" if Rua-Evans takes too long to develop.
Signed: Forrest Griffin vs Rich Franklin. Also officially signed for UFC 126, these two fan favorites will get their last shot at setting themselves up for a title run at the 205 pound belt. Neither guy is getting younger and neither has had an overly impressive fight since 2008, in my opinion. One thing is certain, this will be an entertaining brawl as both fighters bring the pace and let things fly. The Super Bowl will have a tough time competing for as many hard hits as this night will deliver.
Strikeforce has a dearth of 205 pounders that can challenge for their title, but the two biggest names will tangle in December of 2010, with Dan Henderson and Babalu Sobral giving us a solid pairing. Sobral was outclassed by Mousasi to lose the title then rebounded in a catch-weight fight against Robbie Lawler, while Hendo dropped a middleweight title fight to Jake Shields, now a UFC welterweight. You see where this is going, but let's hope for an entertaining battle between these two well-respected veterans as the winner will become the new #1 contender with Mo Lawal out for the first half of 2011.
The other legitimate contender would come from the rumored matchup in December between Roger Gracie and Mike Kyle. Gracie choked out Kevin Randleman in his 205 debut, while Kyle has strung a winning streak together to get back into Strikeforce after dropping a heavyweight match to Werdum. Kyle also has an impressive win over current champ Cavalcante on his resume.
Fantasy: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs Matt Hamill. Little Nog ran off track of his title chase when he battled Bader to a decision, while Hamill continues his roll through aging UFC stars. Dana White promised Hamill a "Top 10" fighter" after dispatching Tito Ortiz via decision. There aren't too many options out there for Hamill in the first part of 2011 with that criteria but Lil Nog is a "top 10" guy, and this matchup would certainly be a good draw and a good matchup for either fighter. Can Lil Nog finish off a strong wrestler? Can Hamill's hands handle Lil Nog's boxing?
Just For Fun Fights:
Fantasy: Ricardo Arona vs Randy Couture. Rumors of the UFC close to signing Arona have been gaining steam and signing this fight would almost assure that he would try his comeback in the UFC. Anyone that watched Pride from 2002 to 2006 will get excited by a Ricardo Arona vs Randy Couture battle. The Natural (now 47) was in the midst of his wars with Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort while Arona (now 32) built a rivalry with Wanderlei Silva and the Rua brothers. Arona can be the most impressive fighter today's MMA fans have never seen, it would be great to get him into the UFC and what better "welcoming party" than the legendary Couture? This one could be classified in the "eliminator" category as well, but the "fun factor" overwhelms the change in the pecking order such a fight would bring.
Fantasy: Phil Davis vs Ricardo Romero. Mr. Wonderful (Phil Davis) still has to dispatch Tim Boetsch in November, but assuming he does he needs a real challenge to show the UFC brass he can be a part of the next generation of LHW studs. Romero is a bright prospect in his own right, despite his age (he made his UFC debut at the age of 32). The accomplished BJJ practitioner has successfully adapted to MMA fighting and could be the serious BJJ threat the division lacks. Phil Davis is a collegiate wrestling star who has some solid BJJ skills of his own to make this grappling match a very interesting one.
Fantasy: Loser of Machida/Jackson vs winner of Thiago Silva/Brandon Vera. Unless that results in a Thiago Silva-Lyoto Machida rematch, whatever other matchups shake-out from those two fights could provide a very entertaining matchup. Rampage vs Thiago? That would be some fireworks. Rampage vs Vera? another interesting matchup. Machida vs Vera? likewise. Sign me up!
Please check back in the next few days for the next in the series, as well as those previously published!