After one of the most outrageous fight weeks in memory, we finally made it to UFC 223. Nine fights which remained on the card and while they may have lacked in highlight real finishes, they more than made up for it with some exciting, back and forth battles and some serious displays of heart.
Let’s take a look at what could be next for new lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and the other winning fighters.
Devin Clark (9-2-0)
In picking up a comfortable unanimous decision victory over Mike Rodriguez, Devin Clark moved back into the win column following his loss to Jan Blachowicz at UFC Fight Night 117.
Clark moves to 3-2-0 in his UFC career and a match up with Khalil Rountree (6-3-0) seems like a logical next step. Rountree is 2-3-0 in the UFC and is coming off of a loss to Michal Oleksiejczuk at UFC 219 last December. A win for either fighter would push them one step closer to breaking into the UFC light heavyweight rankings.
Ashlee Evans Smith (6-3-0)
In a match up which represented the 125lbs debut for both fighters, Ashlee Evans Smith won every round on the score cards on her way to a unanimous decision victory over Bec Rawlings. Evans Smith appeared bigger and stronger in coming down from 135 lbs than her opponent who was making the step up from strawweight and it showed in her performance.
For her second flyweight bout, Rachel Ostovich (4-3-0) would provide Evans Smith with an opportunity to gain a foothold in the rankings. Ostovich hasn’t fought since a winning effort at the TUF 26 finale against Karine Gevorgyan and as a natural flyweight would provide a sterner test for Evans Smith.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier (11-2-0)
Canadian Gangster, Olivier Aubin-Mercier added a fourth win to his UFC win streak with an impressive first round TKO victory over Evan Dunham. The win moves the “Quebec Kid” to a record of 7-2-0 in the UFC.
In his next fight, Aubin-Mercier will look to cement his place in the UFC lightweight rankings. Beneil Dariush (14-4-1) is currently ranked at number 15 in the lightweight division and would be the perfect opponent to welcome Aubin-Mercia to the rankings. Dariush is 0-2-1 in his last three fights following losses to Alexander Hernandez and Edson Barbosa either side of a draw against the man Aubin-Mercia just defeated, Evan Dunham.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-2-0)
Bringing the preliminary card to a close, former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz earned a split decision victory to end the four fight win streak of Felice Herrig. Speaking after the fight, Kowalkiewicz voiced her desire to earn another shot at the UFC strawweight title.
A rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-2-0) seems inevitable if Kowalkiewicz is to fight her way back into title contention. The two Polish stars last met at UFC 205 where Jedrzeczyk won a comfortable victory over her compatriot. If Kowalkiewicz can demonstrate that she has improved enough to topple Joanna in a rematch, that will surely be enough to earn her another opportunity to become the UFC strawweight champion.
Chris Gruetzemacher (14-3-0)
With an impressively dominant TKO win over veteran Joe Lauzon, Chris Gruetzemacher snapped his two fight losing streak and picked up his first UFC win since his debut. It was a professional performance from the 31-year-old former TUF contestant and it came as little shock when Lauzon’s corner called an end to the fight after the second round.
For Gruetzemacher’s next fight, I’d like to see him matched with Ross Pearson (20-14-0, 1 n/c). Pearson is coming off a decision win over Mizuto Hirota at UFC 221. Both fighters are 1-2 in their last three fights and a win for either fighter would move them a step closer to the UFC lightweight rankings.
Zabit Magomedsharipov (15-1-0)
In an incredibly entertaining fight of the night, Zabit Magomedsharipov impressed with a decision win over an extremely game Kyle Bochniak. In his post fight interview, Zabit called for a match up with number 10 ranked featherweight prospect Yair Rodriguez. Yair responded on Twitter saying, “Congrats on a great win Zabit. It would be an honor to fight you one day. We’ll have to meet each other in the Top 10 which I know you’ll make quickly. My next fight coming up, so stay tuned.”.
There can be no doubting the talent of Zabit and it makes sense for him to take on a ranked opponent in his next fight. Darren Elkins (24-5-0) is currently ranked at number nine in the featherweight division and is carrying a six fight win streak. Elkins is another incredibly tough fighter and has the necessary skills to test Zabit in a way that he has not yet been tested in his short UFC career.
Renato Moicano (12-1-1)
Renato Moicano bounced back from a third round submission loss to Brian Ortega at UFC 214, earning a comfortable unanimous decision win over Calvin Kattar. Moicano dominated the final two rounds of the fight, peppering Kattar with leg kicks on the way to ending his opponents 10 fight win streak.
Veteran featherweight Ricardo Lamas (18-6-0) is coming off a loss to Josh Emmett last December and is 3-3 in his last six fights. With Moicano looking to climb the rankings, number 7 ranked 35-year-old Lamas would make for an interesting test.
Rose Namajunas (8-3-0)
In her first defense of the UFC strawweight title, Rose Namajunas proved that her first victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk was no fluke, picking up a unanimous decision victory after an entertaining 5 round battle.
While Jedrzejczyk remains convinced that she did enough to win the fight, it is time for Rose to move on from the dominant former champion and focus on building a legacy of her own. Jessica Andrade (18-6-0) is the next logical contender for the title and would present an interesting challenge for the champion. Andrade has the ground skills to test Rose with seven of her 18 victories coming via submission. With Claudia Gadhela and Karolina Kowalkiewicz both also looking for another crack at the title, there are no shortage of options for “Thug” Rose over the coming months.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0-0)
After perhaps the most dramatic fight week on record, Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision to claim the UFC lightweight championship. Khabib could be forgiven for being a little less than his absolute best considering Iaquinta was the fourth opponent scheduled to face him in just over a week. Despite this, the 29-year-old never really looked troubled by Iaquinta and finally captured the belt he has coveted for so long.
Post fight, Khabib suggested a match up with all time great Georges St.Pierre. As fun as that fight would be, talk naturally turned to Conor McGregor (21-3-0). Considering the events of fight week and the genuine tension which exists between them, no opponent makes more sense for Khabib right now than the Irishman. Speaking about the prospect of facing McGregor in the octagon, the new champion confirmed that he was eager to make it happen.
“I hope he’s gonna fight. We have to fight. Make world tour everywhere, Tokyo, Moscow, Dublin, Los Angeles, Rio. Big world tour, promote this fight, and fight end of the year, biggest arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. Why not? Or maybe in Zaire or Philippines. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter, I’m here. He want to become lightweight champion? He have to fight with me. Now, no more this all fake champions. You guys remember when he put tweet, ‘Beg me.’ Please, beg me.
“We have to finish this. It’s going to be very big fight. It’s going to be very big fight, I think. Let’s go. I am ready for this. November, September in Moscow, November in New York. Any time. Let’s go. Let’s fight in Africa or somewhere. I am here.”
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Conor McGregor in Africa for the UFC lightweight title? Who doesn’t want to see that?