THE FINISHING KICK – NOVEMBER 9
By Paul Wales

WHAT’S NEXT AFTER UFC 268

What a night of fights! UFC 268 finally arrived this past weekend and the card lived up to the hype to say the least with huge implications on the future of multiple divisions.

Gaethje vs Chandler started off the pay-per-view card and was exactly as advertised as both lightweights were trading punches with reckless abandon with Gaethje coming out on top via unanimous decision in a fight that made a great case for Fight of the Year honors.

Marlon Vera added a front kick KO to his highlight reel to finish UFC legend Frankie Edgar and show that he’s more than just an up and coming prospect in the bantamweight division.

The rematch between Rose vs Weili was a completely different fight from their first matchup. Both women went back and forth for 5 rounds with Rose’s ground-game being the deciding factor as she successfully defended her title via split decision.

Arguably the most heated rivalry in the sport today headlined the event, Usman vs Covington 2 delivered another close back and forth battle. Usman wobbled Covington early with two huge knockdowns in the second round, but Covington’s toughness was on display and was able to push through the adversity and keep the fight close during the championship rounds. Usman was declared the winner via unanimous decision and retained his welterweight champion status, showing the world why he is ranked the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. The entire fight card was filled with fireworks and entertaining fights that included the most combined significant strikes on a card in UFC history, vicious knockouts, and even a heavyweight knocking an opponent out with a spinning wheel kick followed by a front flip celebration that went viral on social media. 

From top to bottom, UFC 268 was wild and exciting. But looking back at UFC 268, what do the results of this card mean going forward for the UFC?

First, let’s start off with the lightweight division. The title picture in the lightweight division is up for debate. With Oliviera vs Poirer already set to determine the king of the lightweight division on December 11, top ranked lightweights had title shot opportunities in mind going into their next fight. Last week, we saw Khabib’s prodigy, Islam Makhachev, dominate Dan Hooker and submit him in the first round to extend his win streak to 9. Makhachev’s Khabib-like style has been unstoppable lately and with the longest win streak in the division (tied with the champion Oliviera), he believes he deserves a title shot.

On the flip side, Gaethje vs Chandler featured two top 5 ranked lightweights who just came off losses in title fights. Both fighters claimed their fight determined the #1 contender and who was next in line to fight the winner of Oliviera vs Poirer. With Gaethje coming out on top and his last loss being to the best lightweight of all time, Khabib Nurmagamedov, Gaethje wants the title shot he believes he deserves. But another factor to take into account is Gaethje’s only other loss in the UFC is to Dustin Poirer in 2018. 

No matter what Dana White decides to do after the outcome of Oliviera vs Poirer, someone is going to make someone else mad. That’s just how stacked the lightweight division is. Not to mention the lightweight division also has 3rd ranked Beneil Dariush, who has a 7 fight win streak and just came off a dominant win over Tony Ferguson, and the biggest name in combat sports, Connor McGregor, who had his trilogy fight with Poirer cut short when his leg freakishly snapped at the end of the first round and is now working his way back from injury. 

In my opinion, I think Gaethje should be next in line for a title shot. Gaethje just beat Chandler, who not only just fought for the title, but had Oliviera on the ropes at the end of the first round before Oliviera caught him with a big punch early in the second round and finished the fight. Also, when Gaethje lost to Poirer almost 4 years ago, it was a wild and exciting brawl that was anyone’s fight before Poirer finished him in the 4th round.

Throwing Gaethje in there with either Poirer or Oliviera would most likely be a wild and exciting main event to determine the lightweight champion. The argument for why Makhachev should be next in line for the title is strong as well, but I think he needs to fight another top ranked opponent before getting his title shot. His victory over Dan Hooker is his only win against a top 10 opponent, and Hooker recently has losses to both Chandler and Poirer within the last year.  That fight could be  against Beneil Dariush, who has a strong ground game as well, or the loser of Oliviera vs Poirer. If Makhachev wins his next fight, then I think he’s next in line for a shot at the title after Gaethje.

The women’s strawweight division is now in an unfamiliar state after Rose Namajunas came out on top in her rematch against Weili. Both Rose and Weili have dominated this division over recent years. Rose won her first strawweight title with a surprise first round TKO victory over dominant champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, then beat Joanna again in their rematch before losing her title to Jessica Andrade but avenged her defeat in their next matchup, which earned her another title shot against Weili. After Andrade won the title from Rose, she defended her title against Weili in her next fight, and Weili knocked her out 42 seconds into the first round. Weili then successfully defended her title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in an all out war that earned Fight of the Year honors in 2020 before her fight against Rose Namajunas.

Both Rose and Weili have asserted themselves as the two best fighters in their division. With Rose ending the idea of a potential third trilogy fight with Weili, it looks like Rose should remain champion for the next couple years. Rose’s next fight will most likely be against Carla Esparza, the 3rd ranked strawweight (behind Weili and Joanna) who currently has a 5 fight win streak but hasn’t fought someone of the caliber of Joanna or Weili. After that fight, unless someone comes out of nowhere and surprises the division, I think this is the beginning of a title reign that will last as long as Rose wants it to. As for Weili, I think her next fight should be a rematch of what was Fight of the Year a year ago. A rematch against Joanna would get a huge draw because of how close and entertaining the first matchup was. If Weili defeats Joanna again, she solidifies herself as the #1 contender and is probably one more fight away from a title shot, but if Joanna wins it sets up an exciting trilogy fight to settle the score. 

The welterweight division is in a similar dilemma following Usman vs Covington 2. After this fight, it was clear that these two are the best welterweights on the planet with Usman being the slightly better fighter. Even Dana White said that if it weren’t for Usman, Covington would be the champion at welterweight. When asked about what’s next for him, Colby Covington said a grudge match against his former roommate Jorge Masvidal makes the most sense. They were both teammates and close friends but had a falling out which led to bad blood between the two that has spilled out to the media. Covington also suggested a fight against Dustin Poirer, who is a former teammate of his who Colby also has bad blood with as well. Two losses against Usman puts Covington in a tough spot, but Covington believes that he is destined to taste UFC gold again even if he has to face Usman for a third time down the road.

Kamaru Usman is cleaning out the welterweight division. He claimed the welterweight title from Tyron Woodley, defended it against Jorge Masvidal and Covington twice, he beat Gilbert Burns, and he looks like he’s getting better and better after every fight. Usman has beaten most of the division and the rest of the ranked opponents in the division haven’t earned big enough wins in order to deserve a title shot. People want Usman to move up to middleweight to take on Israel Adesanya, but Usman has said that the blockbuster matchup is unlikely because of their close relationship. The next guy in line for a title shot is Leon Edwards, who currently has a fight against Masvidal slated for December 11th. Edwards hasn’t lost a fight in his last 10 fights, but his last loss was to Usman in 2015, and his last fight was against Nate Diaz, who he dominate for 4 rounds, but Diaz had Edwards knocked out on his feet in the last minute of the fight before being saved by the bell and winning via unanimous decision. If Edwards handles his business against Masvidal, he’s probably next in line for a title shot, but I don’t think he has a shot at beating Usman. The only person I see giving Usman a run for his money is Khazmat Chimaev. He’s a young and upcoming fighter who has only absorbed 2 strikes in his 4 fights in the UFC. Chimaev is dominating his opponents but needs a couple more wins against ranked opponents before he earns a title shot. Usman is just different with how great and dominant he has been, the only thing I can imagine slowing him down is Father Time who just happens to be undefeated.