Opinion: What next for Yair Rodríguez and the other main card winners at UFC Denver?

The UFC celebrates it’s 25 year anniversary this week and to mark the occasion the promotion went back to where it began all those years ago, in Denver, Colorado.

It was a momentous occasion for both the promotion and the sport as a whole and the anniversary fight card certainly did not disappoint. The main event alone felt like the perfect fight to celebrate a quarter of a century of the Ultimate Fighting Championship with Yair Rodríguez and Chan Sung Jung putting on a fight of the year worthy performance before Rodríguez ended the fight with arguably one of the single greatest knockouts of all time.

Let’s take a look at what could be next for ‘El Pantera’, ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and the other main card winners following an entertaining evening in Denver.

Mike Trizano (8-0-0)

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It was a fight many people thought should have happened during season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter. Season winner Mike Trizano finally squared off with “Violent Bob Ross” Luis Peña in what turned out to be an extremely even, entertaining fight. When all was said and done, Trizano did enough to leave with the split decision win and the knowledge that he has successfully defeated the man many considered to be his biggest challenge in the TUF house.

Up next for “The Lone Wolf” should be Rustam Khabilov (23-3-0). The experienced Russian has emerged victorious in his last six UFC appearances and is coming off a narrow split decision win over Kajan Johnson at UFC Moscow this September.

JacksonWink trained Khabilov has been a decision machine during his winning run with all six victories coming courtesy of the judges.

Khabilov would certainly be the biggest test of Trizano’s career but facing someone with more than three times the professional experience will be an excellent test for the 26-year-old kickboxer after handing “Violent Bob Ross” his first pro loss.

 

Maycee Barber (6-0-0)

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Highly touted prospect Maycee “The Future” Barber made a winning start to her UFC career, defeating fellow debutant Hannah Cifers via TKO in the second round. Barber never looked troubled by her visibly smaller opponent, despite Cifers demonstrating an impressively strong chin while eating a number of big shots from the 20-year-old.

It was one way traffic for the majority of the fight and once Barber took Cifers down and landed with top control, raining down viscous elbows, it was more apparent than ever that this was a mismatch. Two minutes into the second round, the referee stepped in to stop the punishment (hope you were watching, Mario), handing Barber her third consecutive TKO win due to ground & pound.

Speaking after the fight, Barber was quick to confidently call out fellow undefeated prospect Mackenzie Dern (7-0-0). While you could easily make a case for that fight to happen, I’d rather see Barber take a more considered path to continue her development before challenging anyone in the top 15.

Talented Invicta veteran Livia Renata Souza (12-1-0) is undefeated in her last three fights, including a quick fire submission win over Alex Chambers in her UFC debut at UFC Sao Paulo. A threat on both the ground and the feet, “The Brazilian Gangster” would make for an excellent test for Barber.

A win over the promising Brazilian would guarantee “The Future” a shot at a ranked opponent in her next outing and if Dern is still on her mind at that point, I am sure that will be the fight which is made.

 

Beneil Dariush (15-4-1)

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It may not have been full of fireworks, but Beneil Dariush did exactly what he needed to do to pick up the unanimous decision win against a tricky opponent in Thiago Moises.

The win was Dariush’s first for two years, ending an unfortunate run which saw the Kings MMA product pick up losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez, split by a draw against Evan Dunham.

Chris Gruetzemacher (14-3-0) is in a similar position having endured a rough 12 months where he went 0-2-0 before getting back on track with a decisive win over UFC veteran Joe Lauzon back in April. A win over Gruetzmacher would set Dariush up perfectly to make another run at the UFC featherweight rankings and put his rough spell firmly in the rear view mirror.

 

Germaine de Randamie (8-3-0)

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Germaine de Randamie is back. After declaring herself unable to step up and face Cris Cyborg following her controversial featherweight title win over Holly Holm last year, de Randamie made her return from the wilderness to earn a comfortable unanimous decision win over Raquel Pennington.

“The Iron Lady” now has four consecutive wins and will likely find herself inside the top three when the bantamweight rankings are updated later this week.

Realistically there are two options for de Randamie’s next fight. A rematch with Holly Holm (12-4-0), this time at 135lbs, or a showdown with the undefeated Brazilian phenom Keten Vieira (10-0-0).

My preference would be a match up with Vieira. The 27-year-old Brazilian was due to face Tonya Evinger in September but had to withdraw due to injury so we know that she isn’t interested in just sitting around waiting for Amanda Nunes to rejoin the division following her UFC 232 super fight with Cyborg.

That said, I’m sure many people wouldn’t be disappointed to see Holm look to avenge the loss she took when the two last fought.

 

Donald ‘Cowboy Cerrone (34-11-0)

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Without question, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs “Platinum” Mike Perry would have been a solid main event for any UFC Fight Night card. Former team mates turned foes with no shortage of bad blood between Cerrone and Perry’s coach, Mike Winklejohn – the fight sold itself.

In the end, the outcome all came down to a poor decision on the part of Perry, who chose to take the fight to the ground against the considerably more experienced Cerrone. Perry’s take down was the beginning of the end with Cowboy always looking dangerous off his back and ultimately eliciting a tap from Perry due to a nasty looking armbar with just 15 seconds left in the opening round.

Speaking with reporters after the fight, Cerrone revealed that the UFC have already shared their plans for his next fight with him and that it would take place at 155lbs.

Cowboy described his opponent as an exciting fighter and appeared to be looking forward to the fight. As far as exciting lightweights go, Cerrone could do a lot worse than being paired with Justin Gaethje (19-2-0).

Gaethje got back into the win column with a rapid fire first round KO of James Vick back in August, snapping a two fight losing streak along the way. “The Highlight” is a bonus machine and no matter what happens, the fans would absolutely be the winners should these two warriors find themselves locked in the octagon together.

 

Yair Rodríguez (11-2-0)

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What. A. Fight.

Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to witness a fight which delivers in every conceivable way. A fight which will stand the test of time and end up being featured on a “greatest fights of all time” style list at some point in the future. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung vs Yair Rodríguez was one of those fights.

These two warriors delivered 25 minutes (almost) of non stop action which left both men in the hospital when it was all said and done. If you haven’t seen it yet please stop reading, go and watch the fight and then rejoin us for the rest of this article.

Behind on the scorecards, Rodríguez delivered arguably the greatest knockout of UFC history, finishing The Korean Zombie with a stunning reverse elbow with literally one second left on the clock in the fifth and final round. It was the jaw dropping ending the fight deserved (although not what ‘TKZ’ deserved at all).

There are a few potentially explosive fights which could be made once Rodríguez has had sufficient time to recover from the injuries sustained in his war with The Korean Zombie.

It’s understandable that people would be calling for the Mexican to finally face Zabit Magomedsharipov. It’s less understandable that some are calling for a rematch with Frankie Edgar (seriously?). Both of those fights will likely happen in good time but for now, I’d like to see something a little different.

Jeremy Stephens (28-15-0) is coming off a loss to Jose Aldo and is apparently struggling to find an opponent. The prospect of Stephens squaring off with Rodríguez is certainly an enticing one. While Stephens undoubtedly has experience on his side, the Mexican star is one of the most unconventional and creative strikers in the division and has more than enough in his tool kit to cause Stephens some problems.

If anyone tells you they wouldn’t be excited to see these two talented strikers slug it out, they’re lying. Don’t believe them.

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