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Former champ Luke Rockhold returned to the UFC middleweight title contender mix on Saturday when he put a thorough beating on David Branch in the UFC Fight Night 116 main event.
Rockhold’s (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) ground game was far too much for Branch (21-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) to handle in the FS1-televised headliner, which took place at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. He battered his opponent with strikes for the second-round stoppage, putting Rockhold back in the queue of 185-pound contenders.
The finish in the main event concluded a main card where five of six fights ended inside the distance. Mike Perry (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), Anthony Smith (27-13 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Gregor Gillespie (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and Kamaru Usman (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) all stopped their opponents in exciting fashion, while Justin Ledet (9-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) was alone in winning on the scorecards.
After every event, fans wonder whom the winners will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s shoes, and play UFC matchmaker for UFC Fight Night 116’s winning fighters.
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Should fight: Dmitriy Sosnovskiy
Why they should fight: In what was arguably the most forgettable bout on the card, Ledet made a successful return from a lengthy layoff with a split-decision victory over short-notice UFC newcomer Zu Anyanwu.
Ledet essentially jabbed his way to a win on the scorecards, giving him a win that pushed him to 3-0 in the UFC heavyweight division. Ledet has shown flashes of brilliance in his fights, but his performance against Anyanwu did not provide much excitement for his next trip to the octagon.
Perhaps Ledet deserves a bit of slack for having to change to a new opponent on short notice. Because of that, he should get the fight he was originally intended for against Sosnovskiy (10-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC). The pair has already been booked to fight twice, but each time it’s fallen through. It’s possible it’s time to just move on from the fight, but given they’ve already trained to face off so many times, it would be interesting to see how it plays out.
Should fight: Santiago Ponzinibbio
Why they should fight: Usman has been nothing short of sensational since making his UFC debut, and Sergio Moraes was the next victim in his run toward the top of the welterweight division, courtesy of a first-round knockout.
Usman made some bold statements about where he sees himself among the contenders at 170 pounds, and he’s already taken aim at current champion Tyron Woodley. He’s not going to get that fight next, but if he continues to knock people out in a similar fashion to Moraes, it won’t be long until he’s fighting for UFC gold.
By adding dangerous striking to his already existing standout wrestling game, Usman is evolving into a threat on multiple levels. There aren’t many who will be capable of stopping his game, but Ponzinibbio (25-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) could be equipped to handle it.
The Argentinian is riding the second-longest UFC winning streak in his division behind Usman following his knockout of Gunnar Nelson at UFC Fight Night 113 in July, and a matchup between the two streaking fighters could have a big impact on the future of the weight class.
Should fight: Vinc Pichel
Why they should fight: Highly regarded lightweight prospect Gillespie had another promising performance early in his career when he submitted Jason Gonzalez in the “Fight of the Night.”
Gillespie improved his record to 10-0 when he came out on the top of a back-and-forth war by submitting Gonzalez with an arm-triangle choke in the second round. “The Gift” has strong wrestling and improving striking, and at 30, still has a lot of upside as someone to watch at 155 pounds.
Gillespie’s first three UFC performances have come against opponents with limited UFC experience. It’s time for that to change, and Pichel (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) is someone who has been around the promotion for several years on top of appearing on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.
Pichel is riding a three-fight winning streak with his most recent octagon appearance being a first-round knockout of Damien Brown at UFC Fight Night 110 in June. If he could hand Gillespie his first loss, he would make a big statement that he’s not going to be pushed around by anyone with hype.
Should fight: Uriah Hall
Why they should fight: The second coming of Smith in the UFC took another memorable step forward when “The Lionheart” scored yet another come-from-behind knockout victory, this time at the expense of Hector Lombard.
After falling behind on the scorecards in the middleweight fight, Smith landed a fight-ending combination of strikes to extend the former Bellator champ’s losing skid to four fights. Smith said prior to the bout that he needed to get past Lombard to prove his worth, and he did just that.
Smith was arguably released prematurely during his first UFC stint in 2013. He’s put together a 4-1 run since coming back this past year, and his maturity is evident. Smith should be in for another noteworthy fight, and Hall (13-8 MMA, 6-6 UFC) fits the description.
Hall scored a massive knockout win of his own against Krzysztof Jotko on the preliminary card, helping him bounce back from a three-fight drought. “Primetime” is a lethal striker when he’s on, and if he shows up on point, Smith would surely have his hands full.
Originally meant to fight Alves (22-11 MMA, 14-8 UFC), “Platinum” had no hesitation in taking another matchup when the former UFC title challenger pulled out on three days’ notice. Perry delivered another violent finish due to strikes, and afterward he called out former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler to a future matchup.
Perry deserves credit for aiming high, but it’s likely much bigger fights are in Lawler’s immediate future. Because of that, rebooking the showdown with Alves seems much more realistic. It still makes sense despite Perry’s win, and facing “The Pitbull” still represents the most high-profile fight of his career.
Should fight: Yoel Romero
Why they should fight:
Watch the video above to see why Rockhold should fight Romero (12-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) next.
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