UFC 194: Where do we go from here?

The gauntlet of UFC’s three fight cards in three days is finally over, and man, what a ride. The landscape of the UFC fundamentally changed over the last few days. From the emphatic defeat of Paige VanZant to Frankie Edgar’s devastating first-round knockout of Chad Mendes to two new champions crowned at UFC 194, things have never been more interesting for UFC as we head into 2016.

UFC 194 was the weekend’s crown jewel, and there’s no shortage of new developments that came out of Saturday’s card. So what’s next for some of that event’s participants?

Tecia Torres def. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger by unanimous decision

Torres was originally scheduled to face Michelle Waterson, who had to bow out due to injury. UFC brought in Lybarger from the regional circuit – most notably Resurrection Fighting Alliance, where she is the organization’s reigning women’s strawweight champion. Lybarger put forth a valiant effort on short notice against the top-5 Torres, but Torres picked her apart for a unanimous decision victory.

It’s likely UFC will give Lybarger another opportunity, not only for filling in on short notice but also for being one of the top female strawweight fighters on the regional MMA scene. That’s a division UFC is still looking to fill with talent to challenge the seemingly unbeatable champion Joanna Jedrzeczyk. A bout between Lybarger and the former World Series of Fighting women’s strawweight champion Jessica Aguilar would be an interesting matchup, if nothing else then to see which champion from another organization can cut it on the big stage of the UFC.

For the undefeated Torres, a no. 1 contender fight against Rose Namajunas, who’s coming off a dominant victory over the highly-touted Paige VanZant, would be an interesting clash of styles between the precision striker Torres and the dangerous submission artist in Namajunas.

Urijah Faber def. Frankie Saenz by unanimous decision

Just when you’re ready to write Urijah Faber off, he reminds us that he’s still a viable challenger. He threw the kitchen sink at the tough Saenz, who showed he could take a punch. But Faber left no doubt who the victor was, and said after his win that he wants to face the winner of T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title.

Since Faber is the ultimate company man and has history with both Dillashaw and Cruz – which will lend itself nicely to promoting a fight between Faber and either competitor – it’s likely he will get his wish. Hopefully the victor from Dillashaw/Cruz emerges relatively unscathed, so we can have that title fight sooner rather than later. I recently remarked to a friend how unfortunate it was that Faber and Cruz never completed their trilogy. Hopefully, I’ve spoken too soon.

I hope Saenz enjoyed his brief foray into headlining with being the “main event” of the UFC 194 prelims against Faber. He gave a great effort, but it’s likely his next fight will be against the most recent The Ultimate Fighter winner at bantamweight on a much earlier prelim fight card.

Max Holloway def. Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision

Holloway’s redemption tour continued with an impressive showing against Stephens. Holloway has been on an absolute tear since he lost to Conor McGregor in 2013, and this victory should allow Holloway to enter the conversation into getting a title shot sooner rather than later. Although McGregor’s first title defense as champion should come against Frankie Edgar, a bout between Holloway and former champion Jose Aldo makes a lot of sense.

There are those who are clamoring for Aldo to receive an immediate rematch for the title, but UFC seems to have little interest in making that happen in favor of a fresh matchup between McGregor and Edgar. Another fresh matchup between Aldo and Holloway would make sense, and would go a long way toward determining if Holloway is truly ready to challenge for a title.

Stephens can probably settle comfortably into the role of gatekeeper at featherweight to see if fighters like Darren Elkins or Tatsuya Kawajiri are ready to enter the upper echelon of one of UFC’s deepest divisions.

Demian Maia def. Gunnar Nelson by unanimous decision

There are no two ways about it – Maia absolutely dominated Nelson. This fight was billed as a possible jiu-jitsu clinic, and in a way it was. Except it was Maia delivering the clinic all by his lonesome by tying up Nelson throughout and battering him mercilessly.

This is the type of performance Maia needed to re-establish himself in a deep division like welterweight. Even if either of these matchups would be terrible for him, Maia needs to face someone like Tyron Woodley or Johny Hendricks if he wants a shot at the title. But Maia would need to really improve his striking game first.

Nelson has been a highly-touted prospect, but has now lost two out of his last three fights. His days as a PPV main card fighter are probably over for the time being, but he can probably still land a spot on the main card of television or Fight Pass cards.

Yoel Romero def. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by split decision

I scored the fight for Souza, personally, so it was a bit of a surprise to me that Romero was declared the winner. This was billed as a no. 1 contender fight at middleweight, so it’s pretty straightforward that Romero’s next fight should be against new middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.

This loss shouldn’t hurt Souza too badly, since he and Romero were ranked second and third (respectively) coming into the fight. Souza is still a dangerous contender and will be back in the title discussion sooner rather than later. A fight against a resurgent Vitor Belfort could put Souza back in that discussion much sooner.

Luke Rockhold def. Chris Weidman by third-round TKO

Rockhold battered Weidman in incredibly brutal fashion to secure the middleweight title. Both of these guys were at the top of their games coming into this fight, but Weidman just looked overwhelmed from the beginning. Rockhold’s first title defense should come against Yoel Romero, though he said he was willing to grant Weidman a rematch. But much like McGregor, I’m sure UFC has little interest in making his first title defense a rematch of such a one-sided affair.

If Weidman doesn’t receive a rematch, he could be the one to face Souza next for a possible title shot, or maybe even someone like Michael Bisping, who’s still hanging around the top 10 at middleweight and traded barbs with Weidman in the past.

Conor McGregor def. Jose Aldo by first-round knockout

This was probably the most shocking result of the entire card. Even if you picked McGregor to win, it’s highly unlikely you thought he would win with the fastest knockout in UFC title fight history. A straight hook to Aldo’s chin was all it took for his lights to go out and crown McGregor the undisputed featherweight champion.

As I said before, people are clamoring for Aldo to receive an immediate rematch, invoking Ronda Rousey’s rematch with Holly Holm as justification. While that argument has plenty of merit, Rousey is getting a rematch because … she’s Ronda Rousey. She is still one of the biggest draws in MMA, along with McGregor. While McGregor is now UFC’s biggest draw and a rematch with Aldo would do big business, it’s clear UFC wants to move McGregor on to fresh matchups.

As I also stated before, Edgar should be first in line against McGregor. If that’s the case, Aldo will likely be offered a fight against Max Holloway. However, if McGregor decides to move up to lightweight, there’s a possibility Aldo would get another title shot – against Edgar.

There are still some uncertainties in UFC’s featherweight division. In fact, the only certainty right now is that McGregor is the world’s top featherweight fighter, and one of the pound-for-pound best in all of mixed martial arts.

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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