UFC 281 – Who will be next for Alex Pereira, Israel Adesanya, Zhang Weili, Dustin Poirier and more?
Adesanya injured Pereira late in the first round, then dominated the match on the ground in the third before Pereira took over in the final round, forcing referee Marc Goddard to stop the fight after landing a flurry of punches on Adesanya.
And now? Is a revenge in play? What other options does Pereira have?
Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler fought to remember, with Poirier stopping Chandler in the third round with a rear-end choke in their bloody lightweight bout. Should a title fight be next for Poirier? And Chandler? Where does he go from here?
Dan Hooker was only 1-4 going into the fight, but his second-round TKO win over Claudio Puelles put him back in the conversation for a bigger fight early next year. Same for flyweight. Erin Blanchfield after dominating Molly McCann. A fight against Maycee Barbier could be a must if they fight next.
Brett Okamoto shares his thoughts on the fights that could be coming in 2023 for some of the stars at UFC 281.
Alex Pereira, middleweight champion (defeated Israel Adesanya by TKO in the fifth round to win the title)
Who Should Be Next: Revenge
I call it the second fight between these two, not the fourth. They fought in kickboxing, a different sport, and they were just two totally different versions of themselves. They have both matured so much from those fights. In terms of rivalry, it was the best chapter and the most complete versions of themselves. They have to push him back. Adesanya had basically cleaned up the division before this, and he deserves an immediate rematch. It seems obvious.
Wildcard: Robert Whittaker
If Whittaker beats Paolo Costa at UFC 284 on Feb. 11, I could see the blow coming to him. I should see what Adesanya wants to do – when he wants to fight next. And what the UFC wants to do. I would include Costa in that perspective, but he made it clear he was leaving the UFC, win or lose, after Whittaker. If he wants to rethink that, he would be in that mix. I’m sure Whittaker watched some of the wrestling exchanges from this fight and was licking his lips.
Zhang Weili, Women’s Strawweight Champion (defeated Carla Esparza via second-round submission to win the title)
Who should be next: Rose Namajunas
It feels like recycling the same title fights in this division, but the circumstances demand it. And for the most part, the fights have been matched incredibly well. It’s been an entertaining split in recent years. It doesn’t seem fair to ask Zhang to jump straight into a title defense against a woman she’s fought twice (and lost twice) in the past 1.5 years, but if we’re stating the facts, it’s the right fight to make. Namajunas lost the title to Esparza in a bizarre fight that could have gone either way. Namajunas-Zhang 2 was close, so a trilogy fight makes sense for just about every reason you can think of.
Wildcard: Amanda Lemos
If the UFC (or Zhang) really wants to do something different, Lemos is a solid option. She has one-punch knockout power and is coming off a UFC Fight Night main event victory against Marina Rodriguezan opponent who had built up a lot of momentum before the fight.
Dustin Poirier, lightweight (defeated Michael Chandler via third-round submission
It seemed obvious to me at the start of the week, to me – that if Poirier won, his next shot would be a title shot. Why wouldn’t it be? He was the No. 2 ranked contender in the division heading into this game, trailing only Charles Oliveira, who just lost to Makhachev. He’s still a name, less than a calendar year removed from beating Conor McGregor — twice. And this performance against Chandler will only increase his stock. Poirier deserves the opportunity and fits well with either option. It gets tricky if Volkanovski wins, as Volkanovski would likely drop back down to 145 pounds to defend his featherweight title, but Makhachev vs. Poirier is a great title fight.
Wildcard: Raphael Fiziev
The UFC reviewed Fiziev vs. Justin Gaethje, but if it doesn’t go together, Fiziev vs. Poirier is a terrific fight. At first glance, it’s hard to see why Poirier would take this fight. It’s basically all risk. But Poirier is a madman who likes to fight frequently. He doesn’t like extended holidays. If he’s in, that’s good.
Michael Chandler, lightweight (lost to Dustin Poirier via third-round submission
Who should be next: Conor McGregor
How many times have we mentioned this? Chandler has fought in the UFC five times, and we said it five times. Chandler is on a shortlist of the most entertaining fighters in MMA. It is all gas, from the first bell. He knows how to build a fight. Chandler versus McGregor is a perfect fight. Exactly when McGregor will fight again, if ever, you never know. But again, Chandler is coming out of a situation where he’ll likely need some time off after taking damage on Saturday. There’s no Nate Diaz to the UFC (at least for now) for McGregor to return. McGregor vs. Chandler sells, but again, we’ve said this before.
Wild card: Wait?
Chandler needs a few parts to reset before we know what’s next for him. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the case when you’re a big name, but you don’t string together enough wins. If he wants to come back faster, he may have to fight for the rankings. A rising competitor who needs a higher rank fight.
Chris Gutierrez, bantamweight (defeated Frankie Edgar via first-round knockout)
Who should be next: Pedro Munhoz
This was Frankie Edgar’s last fight and in these situations sometimes the winner gets credit and sometimes not. Sometimes we attribute the victory to their opponent who has one foot out. In this case, it’s both. Everyone would agree that it was probably the right time for Edgar to end his storied career, but most would agree that Gutierrez looked impressive with his performance. He is a growing force in this division. It’s time to book him against a name in the rankings, who must defend his place. And this is Munhoz. This was basically the situation Munhoz found himself in for his last fight against Sean O’Malley, and it ended in a no-contest. So, book him a similar fight.
Wildcard: Adrian Yanez
If you want to have some fun, we could do two more intriguing contenders and rising forwards at bantamweight against each other. And you know what? You could make it a main event. These two don’t have the usual name value you’d see in a main event, but sometimes the UFC may decide to to tell about people to care about, and giving these two that kind of promotional boost could be a brilliant thing.
Dan Hooker, lightweight (defeated Claudio Puelles by second-round TKO)
Who should be next: Jalin Turner
Hooker wants to fight at UFC 284 in Australia, and you know the UFC will oblige. Expect him on this card, in a big spot. He is very popular in the region and will be on the main map. If you’re the UFC, you want to put that attention to good use and partner Hooker in a fun fight where the UFC will benefit no matter what. That’s what makes Turner perfect. If Turner wins, he’s a rising candidate who adds a big name to his resume. If Hooker wins, it will likely be in a fun fight and re-solidify him as a serious name at 155. Turner has won five contests in a row, and wouldn’t you know, his last was against Hooker’s teammate, Brad Riddell.
Wildcard: Renato Moicano
Moicano also gave an excellent performance on Saturday, which also came at the expense of Riddell. Moicano is unranked and Hooker deserves it, but honestly the number doesn’t matter to Hooker’s fight now. A quality fight that people want to see should be the goal. And that would be acceptable.
Erin Blanchfield, flyweight (defeated Molly McCann via first-round submission)
Who should be next: Maycee Barber
No exaggeration, Blanchfield just became “Must Watch” with this win. It wasn’t just that she beat McCann, or even dominated her — it was just the clear and obvious skill she showed in doing so. Everything from level changing to dismounting, position advancement, control and composure, Blanchfield’s skills are fearsome. And she’s only 23.
In some ways, she is what we thought Barber would be and always can be. Barber is also a super talent at a very young age. I don’t like the idea of them pairing up early in their careers, but the storyline is great and would build the winner. Barber said she was at the end of her UFC contract in July, so we will need clarity on that. But it could be this one.
Wildcard: Andrea Lee
To be frank, this is a style match that would likely favor Blanchfield on paper. But it would test her against someone with a dangerous strike and a lot of experience. And also, the rankings say this one makes perfect sense. Lee is No. 9 at the moment.