When the UFC announced their initial plan to host three consecutive events on December 10th, 11th, and 12th (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night), fans reacted with guarded excitement: This is great, but is it too much? Who will headline the cards? With so many individual events plagued by injuries, what happens when three cards get struck down by the injury bug?

Of course, the initial reservations quickly gave way to growing buzz when the UFC released the week’s schedule: On Thursday, a Fight Pass card headlined by exciting female strawweight fighters Rose Namajunas and Paige VanZant; on Friday, the Ultimate Fighter reality show finale would feature Chad Mendes vs Frankie Edgar in a de-facto number one contender match; and the main course, UFC 194, headlined by the year’s most highly anticipated title fight as top pound-for-pound Brazilian featherweight Jose Aldo would seek to defend his belt against the pride of Ireland, Conor McGregor. The 194 co-main event would be an equally intriguing middleweight match-up between current champ Chris Weidman  who had been on a tear since beating then-pound-for-pound best fighter in the world Anderson Silva – and number one contender Luke Rockhold.

After taking in all three events this past weekend, fans are feeling the communal hangover of what may be the biggest weekend in UFC history.  By almost all measures, the weekend was a huge success, capped off by the mega-event of UFC 194 on Saturday, December 12th, when the whole mixed martial arts world watched McGregor starch Jose Aldo with a left hook that sent the champ flying face-first into the canvas at only 13 seconds into their fight.

Now, as the victors enjoy their spoils and those defeated return home to lick their wounds and re-evaluate their game plans, we have to ask the same question we ask after each event: What’s next for the big winners?

Conor McGregor

Possible Fights: Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo, Winner of Donald Cerrone vs Rafael Dos Anjos

McGregor put an emphatic stamp on the UFC 194 weekend by smashing Jose Aldo with a brutal left hand, ending the Brazilian’s 4 year run as Featherweight champion, and demolishing Aldo’s 10-year unbeaten streak in violent fashion. He’s now the undisputed featherweight king and, as such, can throw around his money-generating leverage when it comes to talking to UFC brass about his next opponent.

Frankie Edgar’s flash knockout of Chad Mendes at the Ultimate Fighter finale left very few questions about who the real new number one contender is. However, few could argue that Aldo — the UFC’s first and only featherweight champ up until now — is undeserving of an immediate rematch, even if the first fight ended in such a definitive manner.

But McGregor himself has other plans.

In the lead-up to the fight, McGregor theorized that he could be the UFC’s first concurrent dual-weight class champion by taking the featherweight belt from Aldo, then moving up to 155lbs to challenge the winner of next weekend’s lightweight title fight between Rafael Dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone. While the UFC historically shuns this sort of talk, with McGregor they may show more flexibility for a couple of reasons: 1) He’s a massive featherweight who cuts an enormous amount of weight to make the 145lbs limit; 2) He’s fought and held titles at 155lbs in other promotions; 3) He’s already trash-talked his way into both Cerrone’s and Dos Anjos’ conversations by calling them out at recent press conferences; and 4) Like it or not, McGregor is a self-promoting, money making machine.  At a time when many of the UFC’s marquee stars are temporarily out of the spotlight (Ronda Rousey just got crushed by Holly Holm, Georges St. Pierre is still in semi-retirement, and Jon Jones, Nick Diaz, and Anderson Silva are all dealing with their own legal and regulatory issues), McGregor provides that extra promotional pop to help pad the UFC’s bank account.

If the winner of Cerrone vs. Dos Anjos emerges clean, healthy, and without controversy, letting McGregor challenge for the 155lbs belt would set another historical precedent and add a little extra shine to the lightweight division. Otherwise, Edgar is the most likely candidate (more on him later).

Luke Rockhold

Possible Fights: Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Vitor Belfort

Wow. When people said that kickboxing and grappling would make all the difference leading into UFC 194’s middleweight championship fight, we mostly assumed it would be Rockhold’s technical and versatile kicks versus Weidman’s smothering grappling game.

Not so.

After a couple of back-and-forth rounds between the two top middleweights in the world, with excellent grappling and striking on display from both fighters, Weidman got a little too cocky and threw a sloppy spinning head kick. Rockhold immediately capitalized, taking Weidman to the ground. What ensued from there was nothing short of one of the most dominant and savage displays of ground and pound in MMA history, as Rockhold rained down punches and elbows from top position, while the bloodied and battered Weidman tried to convince referee Herb Dean that he was still conscious and in the fight. Weidman barely survived Round 3, but he wouldn’t be so lucky in the 4th, as Rockhold got him to the ground and continued the onslaught until the ref had seen enough, stopping the beating and declaring Rockhold the new UFC middleweight champion.

Even with the knowledge of such a dominant finish over Weidman fresh in our minds, the right move would be to give the former champ a chance to reclaim what was so violently taken from him at UFC 194. It was Weidman’s first professional loss, and his performances as champ have all been stellar, whether you look at his five-round war with Lyoto Machida or his first-round annihilation of Vitor Belfort. However, this was a tough loss for Weidman, both mentally and physically.  We may have to give him some time to recover and then see where he’s at mentally and where the MW division stands once he’s ready to fight again.

In the meantime, don’t expect Rockhold to sit around on his butt for too long now that he’s got the Middleweight belt.  The division has never been more dangerous, and Rockhold himself has a few ideas for his next possible match-up.  When asked by media at the post-fight press conference what would be his next move, he didn’t mince words when asking for Vitor Belfort “on a silver platter”.  Belfort is the last man to beat Rockhold, knocking him out with a vicious head kick and handing him his only UFC loss. Rockhold would then go on a five-fight win streak, including his win over Weidman, but you can tell that the Vitor loss still eats away at the new him.  Belfort lost his own championship bid against Weidman earlier this year and has only fought once since then, KO-ing Dan Henderson in November.  While a one-fight win streak doesn’t usually warrant a title shot, the storyline of Rockhold avenging his only loss in the UFC may be too good to ignore.

Another contender emerging from UFC 194 is Cuban Olympic wrestler Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero, who beat Jacare Souza by decision in what many considered a potential number one contender match-up. Although it was a somewhat underwhelming performance, Romero is powerful, fast, and has an Olympic-caliber wrestling background. The problem is, he’s trying to run a monster truck on a gas tank built for a lawnmower. He’s dangerous, but he tends to fade after the first round. If Rockhold can defend against Romero’s opening barrage of punches and takedown attempts — and we have no reason to believe he can’t — he will drag Romero into deep water and take him out, most by connecting his shin bone to Romero’s skull.

Frankie Edgar

Possible Fights: Conor McGregor, Max Holloway

Just one day prior to UFC 194, former Lightweight champ and current featherweight contender Frankie Edgar took care of business with a flash knockout of Chad Mendes just two minutes into their main event of the Ultimate Fighter Finale.

In a perfect world based on merit, skill, and performance, Edgar would be signing his contract to fight Conor McGregor at this very moment. Since moving down to featherweight and losing his initial title fight to then-champ Jose Aldo, Edgar has been on a tear, winning five straight fights including Friday’s KO of the normally iron-chinned and dangerous Mendes. Unfortunately for Edgar, MMA is a fickle sport where merit can often take a back seat to buzz and pay-per-view buys.

The truth is, Edgar will probably have to wait and see what the UFC and McGregor decide to do after Cerrone and Dos Anjos throw down at UFC on Fox 17. If McGregor moves up to 155lbs to challenge for the LW championship, Edgar may decide to sit on the sidelines and wait for McGregor to come back to the 145lbs division to defend his belt.

The more likely scenario, however, is that Edgar gets matched up with the streaking Max Holloway.  The 23-year-old Hawaiian is on an eight-fight win streak going back to January 2014. In fact, his last loss was to the current Featherweight kingpin more than two years ago. Pitting Edgar against Holloway would keep the division active and put an end to any questions as to who owns the number one contender spot.

Rose Namajunas

Possible Fights: Tecia Torres, Michelle Waterson

Rose Namajunas took her fight against tough prospect Paige VanZant on short notice after VanZant’s original opponent, Joanne Calderwood, had to withdraw due to injury.  Many viewed Namajunas as a big step up in competition for the young fighter, but very few could have predicted just how big of a skills gap would be on display.  Namajunas controlled every aspect of the fight, from striking to grappling, to clinch work, to you name it. She landed more shots on the feet while taking almost no damage from the ever-aggressive VanZant, reversed VanZant’s takedown attempts, landed her own takedowns, and continually threatened with submissions on the ground, before finally sinking in a rear naked choke midway through the fifth round.

The UFC’s Strawweight division is still young. In fact, it was only a year ago that Carla Esparza beat Namajunas to become the inaugural Strawweight champion.  And it’s exciting, with a full roster of prospects and contenders looking to make their case for a title fight.  Namajunas is right there in the mix, but she still needs one or two more marquee wins to earn her shot at the number one spot.

Two potential match-ups come in the form of Tecia “The Tiny Tornado” Torres and Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson. Torres is 7-0 in her MMA career and won a dominant decision on the UFC 194 undercard. She may need some time to heal up from the fight, but would offer a strong grappling test for Namajunas. Meanwhile, Waterson is a female MMA pioneer who made her career outside of the UFC at Atomweight (105lbs) but moved up to 115lbs to join the top MMA organization in the world. After winning her first fight in July, she was scheduled to take on Torres at UFC 194 but had to withdraw due to injury. Depending on her timeline for recovery, a fight between Waterson and Namajunas has the potential for fireworks, with the winner emerging one step closer to their shot at UFC gold.

About The Author

Jonny Hodds
Contributor

Jonny Hodds geeks out over MMA, RPGs, comic books, board games, documentaries, and all things horror/sci-fi/fantasy related. When he was 10 years old, he was shown a karate video of a “master sensei” getting kicked in the junk repeatedly without flinching. To this day, he still believes this is the only true form of mixed martial arts. He also spends far too much time online for his own good.