This last weekend Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida saw his hopes of capturing another UFC title quickly dissipate as he was submitted in the second round by former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold. At 36-years old, the chances of Machida climbing back to the top of the ladder are less and less with each passing year, however he is still a legitimate top-tier fighter and a big enough draw to render top billing.

With that said, he makes for an interesting matchup for anyone in the division, which is filled with popular veterans and rising stars alike. Should his next opponent be another top-five ranked fighter, or maybe someone who is also a main event draw? Or maybe The Dragon should take on someone lesser known but potentially just as dangerous.

No. 5: Winner of Uriah Hall vs. Rafael Natal

A match with either of these game opponents would be perfect for all involved and could easily headline a Fight Night in Brazil. Hall and Natal will square off on the undercard of UFC 187 next month, so timing is perfect. The winner of this bout will be right on the cusp of the top-15, and much deserving of a step up in competition. Machida may be looking for a tune-up fight against someone who will stylistically complement him before taking on another top-5 fighter, and both Hall and Natal serve that purpose. It would also be a good way for Machida to show that age had nothing to do with his last performance, or serve to propel his opponent into contendership should he fall again.

No. 4: Tim Kennedy

Kennedy last fought in September of last year where he lost to Yoel Romero in one of the most controversial fights in recent memory. Before that he was on a  four-fight win streak and working his way into a title shot, however that loss not only put a stop to talk of titles but also seemed to take away much of the Army Soldier’s drive to continue. While not officially retire, Kennedy has made it clear he’s not in any rush to return to the Octagon, but perhaps the possibility of taking on The Dragon might be just enough to get him back into the cage. This would not only be a big fight for the fans, but a win would put him right back into contention and in a great position to rematch the last two men to beat him, Romero and Rockhold.

No. 3 Thales Leites

The dark horse of the division, which is ironic since this is a fighter who previously competed for the title, Leites has been slowly working his way up the rankings since his return to the UFC. His record is now at 5-0 since coming back and he is sitting comfortably at No. 9 in the rankings, and is much deserving of a higher billing. He is equally as experienced as Machida, presents a unique set of challenges to make the matchup interesting, and is on one of the most impressive streaks in the entire UFC. Leites last competed in January and is currently without a who, when or where for his next fight. No doubt he would be willing to wait a little longer it meant facing the former champion.

No. 2: Michael Bisping

The Count does have a fight coming up against C.B. Dollaway at UFC 186, and a loss would not only send him plummeting down the rankings but make him 2-4 in his last six outings, he is still one of the most popular fighters on the entire roster, and win, lose or draw, a perennial top-10 fighter who would be deserving of a shot against Machida. This is also a fight that seems like it should have happened already. Furthermore, if Bisping comes out with the “W” on Saturday, then his fight against Machida would be that much more significant in the division. If not, then it would still be a perfect one to prop up a less than stellar PPV (which is nothing new for Bisping).

No. 1: Yoel Romero

While Machida may have put up a great effort against current champion Chris Weidman, his fight against Rockhold was very one-sided from start to finish. With that said, the only way he can ever become the No. 1 contender again will be by taking on the highest ranking guys available, and right now that is the very dangerous No. 6-ranked Yoel Romero, who was supposed to fight Jacare Souza last weekend. With Machida’s medical suspension and Romero out for his knee injury, the return of both fighters could time perfectly for a matchup. Romero may not be a young spruce, he is on the rise, and while he doesn’t have the MMA experience Machida does, he does bring with him a lifetime of world class wrestling. Since Rochold and Jacare made it pretty clear they both think they deserve either the next title shot, or a fight with each other, Romero will have to make a big statement against a big name in order to shake things up.

About The Author

Justin Fuller
Associate Editor/Senior Writer

Justin Fuller is a writer, broadcaster, and video personality. With a background in sports talk radio, he now runs his own podcast, "The Fuller Fight Factor LIVE." In addition to his media work, he is also an MC and ring announcer. You can find him in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area.