Thursday, July 25, 2024

UFC 303 fight fallout: Best fights to make for Alex Pereira, Jiri Prochazka, Diego Lopes and more

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Alex Pereira makes a compelling argument for being the UFC’s second-biggest star. The light heavyweight champion outclassed Jiri Prochazka in their short-notice rematch at UFC 303 before delivering a highlight-reel knockout. Pereira desires to fight at heavyweight but one obstacle remains at 205 pounds.

Pereira and Diego Lopes were arguably the biggest fan-favorites heading into International Fight Week’s big pay-per-view. They channeled that goodwill into winning performances that will meaningfully advance their careers. Ian Machado Garry is another fighter tending in the right direction after beating Michael “Venom” Page. The divisive fighter boasts the longest active win streak in the UFC welterweight division and is tied for third all-time with welterweight champ Leon Edwards.

International Fight Week is officially over but we’re only halfway through the year. Take a look below at fights matchmakers should eye closely heading into the second half of 2024.

Light heavyweight

Alex Pereira vs. Magomed Ankalaev: Pereira is short on enticing opponents at light heavyweight. That will spur conversations about a move to heavyweight. but I don’t care to see it until Tom Aspinall gets his overdue undisputed title unifier. Ankalaev is the most deserving contender and will be a meaningful test of the champ’s grappling. A win over Ankalaev clears Pereira of his 205-pound responsibilities and hopefully gives time for Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic to come to fruition. If the stars align, an undisputed heavyweight title fight between Aspinall and Pereira makes perfect sense next year.

Jiri Prochazka vs. Jamahal Hill: Respect to Prochazka for rescuing UFC 303, but he did it to his career’s detriment. Prochazka only had a few weeks to study what went wrong in his first loss to Pereira. It wasn’t enough. Prochazka is now effectively locked out of a title fight while Pereira is champion and suffered a potentially career-altering KO loss. Jan Blachowicz doesn’t have a timetable for his recovery from a shoulder injury but a fight between Prochazka and Hill should be fun. It’s an exciting meeting between strikers that allows the winner to rebuild.

Welterweight

Ian Machado Garry vs. Colby Covington: I was prepared to reward Garry with a fight against No. 1 ranked UFC welterweight Kamaru Usman with a decisive win over Page. Unfortunately, he narrowly defeated a lower-ranked contender in a dull fight that could have gone Page’s way had he not made poor tactical choices. Garry deserves to fight up the ladder after defending his spot but I’d avoid pitting him against other rising contenders Shavkat Rakmonov or Jack Della Maddalena. I’m not a fan of killing off contenders. The build between Garry and Covington would be insufferable, but at least the UFC can guarantee trash talk. A fight against the winner of Gilbert Burns vs. Sean Brady is also suitable.

Michael Page vs. Vicente Luque or Nick Diaz: Page made careless errors, particularly by relinquishing top position halfway through a swing round. MVP is still an asset to the promotion. He tried to make the fight exciting but couldn’t keep Garry off him. MVP also took the division’s No. 7 ranked contender to a competitive decision. The winner of Luque vs. Diaz on Aug. 3 will be closely ranked to Page. Luque is generally an all-action fighter who compliments Page’s style; meanwhile, a Diaz fight is a fantasy booking you wouldn’t think possible.

Featherweight

Diego Lopes vs. Josh Emmett: Credit to Lopes. His short-notice featherweight fight with Brian Ortega was bumped to lightweight on Thursday and subsequently moved to a 165-pound catchweight against Ige on four hours’ notice. A win over Ortega would have thrusted Lopes into title contention but a competitive win over Ige slows his progress. A fight between Lopes (No. 14) and Emmett (No. 7) sounds like gangbusters. Emmett is coming off an all-time KO of Bryce Mitchell that earned him a KO of the Year honorable mention. It might be unfair to have Emmett fight contenders behind him in back-to-back appearances, but Lopes is one of the more popular fighters in the division. It’s a great chance for Emmett to build momentum in a fight that should produce a highlight.

Dan Ige vs. Edson Barboza 2: Ige did the UFC a huge favor and should be rewarded. Ige defeated Barboza via split decision in 202. That’s long enough to warrant a rematch considering their standings in the featherweight division. There aren’t many other viable options for Ige unless he wants to fight an unranked opponent and that wouldn’t be fair after he stepped in for Ortega hours before Saturday’s co-main event.

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