Unlike a few recent shows, UFC 196 lived up to the hype: Nate Diaz upset heavily-favored Conor McGregor while Miesha Tate finally reached the top of the UFC, choking out Holly Holm to win the women’s Bantamweight title.
McGregor’s loss was the latest in a quick flurry of major upsets. In the past four months, the UFC has seen some of its biggest names and most bankable stars lose: Ronda Rousey’s loss to Holm in December, Jose Aldo’s 13-second loss to McGregor in December, and Anderson Silva’s shocking loss to Michael Bisbing have left the UFC without anyone who seems unbeatable (Although I’d argue Jon Jones was pretty damn close to unbeatable prior to his issues).
For some, that means the UFC is in trouble. They argue that because McGregor, Rousey, Aldo and Anderson have all lost recently, it leaves no one to sell major pay per views. It’s an interesting theory and one that has some credence, for sure. However, I’d argue that wins by other fighters is good for business.
The two “upsets” (I hate to call upsets in a sport where one solid punch can change the course of a fight for anyone) helped set up three possible major fights over the next few months, all of which are capable of headlining and creating millions of buys of a pay-per view.
Fight 1: Miesha Tata vs. Ronda Rousey
Although I think Dana White would love this fight to happen at UFC 200 on July 9, I would hazard a guess that both Rousey and Tate will want additional time. Tate (18-5) is coming off a brutal five-round brawl with Holm that saw both fighters suffer a lot of punishment, She is going to need a month (at least) simply to recover before she even thinks about resuming some sort of training schedule. On a side note, huge credit to Tate for pulling herself off the canvas after back-to-back brutal losses to Cat Zingano and Rousey in 2013. For many, two losses would be the start of the end, but Tate bucked up and has now won five straight, culminating with her title win Saturday night.
Rousey, on the other hand, was obviously mentally and physically drained after three fights in less than 9 months in addition to publicity for her book and filming several movie roles. Although devastating at the time, the loss could be a blessing in disguise for Rousey, who needed a break from everything to center herself. My guess is she still needs a couple more months (as White hinted at during the post-fight press conferences) so this fight might not happen until September or October, maybe even November. Rousey obviously did everything the UFC asked of her and more, and she certainly deserves a shot at the title.
Fight 2: Nate Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler: Another fight that likely needs to be delayed a bit, as Diaz has fought twice in the last 77 days. He is definitely going to need some time to recover before fighting again.
Diaz is always good at fight promotion; he says whatever is on his mind and is a great sound byte. When motivated, he is one of the best fighters in the sport. UAfter a year away from the octagon, Diaz made a dominant return at UFC on Fox in December, picking apart a tough Michael Johnson. In late February, he took on the McGregor fight on 11 days’ notice after Rafael dos Anjos broke his foot and was forced to withdraw. His stunning win has catapulted him back to the top of not only the contenders’ list, but also the list of those who can headline a pay-per view card and sell buys. A fight with Ruthless Robbie Lawler is not only a great match-up in stye, but also in the way their careers have gone.
Like Diaz, Lawler went though a pretty nasty losing streak. From June of 1999 (a quick loss to Jake Shields) through July of 2012 (a loss to Lorenz Larkin), Lawler wenr just 3-5 in Strikeforce Despite his record, the UFC felt Lawler had the type of spirit and style they liked, and they brought him on board. Since then, Lawler has been one of the most dominant fighers in the UFC, going 8-1. The only loss was to Johny Hendricks (via unanimous decision) in a fight for the vacant welterweight title. He rebounded from that loss with fight straight wins, including a split decision over Hendricks, a masterpiece over Rory McDonald (the 2015 Fight of the Year), and his brilliant slugfest with Carlos Condit to win the welterweight title on January 2 (already a strong candidate for 2016 Fight of the Year).
These two have followed similar career paths and you can count on a war (and a great PPV buy) when they finally meet.
Diaz also has to case to face RDA, who owns a decision win over Diaz from 2014 (at catchweight as Diaz missed weight).
Fight 3: Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo or Frankie Edgar
McGregor may have lost at UFC 196, but it has not tarnished his legacy. One, he was taking on a guy at short notice. Two, he jumped two weight classes to fight Diaz at 170 (he was scheduled to fight RDA at 155 and fought Aldo at 145). The aura of invincibility might be gone, but McGregor is still the top draw in the sport. No matter who he fights next, he will draw people in with his ability, but also his showman’s flair. People who love him will watch, just as people who hate him.
Both Aldo and Edgar have huge fan bases who will buy to watch them fight anyone, never mind McGregor. Aldo will be looking to avenge his first defeat in over a decade, while Edgar will be looking to win his first title since losing the UFC Lightweight title to Benson Henderson by unanimous decision on February 26, 2012. He lost the ensuing rematch with Henderson (split decision) and also dropped a unanimous decision to Aldo in his only bid for the featherweight title on February 2, 2013. Edgar is an intriguing candidate for me seeing he has never been submitted or knocked out — all four of his loss have come via decision. He would pose an interesting challenge to McGregor.
Like Diaz, McGregor has fought often of late (three times in eight months and four in 13 months) and could use some rest. Of course, the guy loves to fight and he loves to make money, so I’d expect him to fight sooner rather than later.
When will these fights happen? Who knows? The fact remains each is likely to happen (Rousey vs. Tate 3 has already bee confirmed as Tate’s next fight.,though no date has been set) and that each of these fights can sell PPVs on their own, so it will be interesting to see which fight goes where. One of these fights is going to have to headline UFC 200, possibly with either RDA defending his title against Eddie Alvarez, the Khabib Nurmagomedov/Tony Fergsuon winner or even Diaz, or some combination of those four contenders squaring off for an interim belt if RDA’s injury is going to keep him out long term.
My best guess:
UFC 200: Lawler vs. Diaz/RDA vs. Alvarez OR RDA vs. Diaz/Lawler vs. Condit 2
UFC 201: McGregor vs. Aldo (though I’d rather see Aldo vs. Edgar) with Holm/Zingano (possibly)
UFC 202: Tate vs. Rousey 3