Lyoto Machida in hindsight might have been better served staying on the sidelines.
Derek Brunson put away the former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder with punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 119 main event on Saturday at Geraldo Jose de Almeida Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In his first appearance since June 27, 2015, Machida checked out 2:30 into Round 1. He has not won a fight in 1,044 days.
Neither man bucked conventional wisdom with his approach. Machida bounced in an out of range while searching for one of his patented precision counters, only to be countered himself. Brunson clipped “The Dragon” with a sweeping left hook, punched him to the canvas and then drew the curtain with violent ground-and-pound, his assault leaving no doubt that he was the better man. It was the 14th first-round finish of the Wilmington, North Carolina, native’s career and puts him in prime position to challenge one of the top contenders at 185 pounds.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Brunson vs. Machida,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
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Derek Brunson vs. Luke Rockhold: Brunson has operated on the periphery of title contention for some time now, and while a victory over a diminished Machida does not figure to change his situation much, it will keep his name in the conversation. The 33-year-old has rattled off back-to-back wins -- a 76-second knockout of four-time Olympian Daniel Kelly preceded his latest performance -- since he wound up on the wrong side of a controversial decision against Anderson Silva in February. Michael Bisping, Georges St. Pierre and an injured Robert Whittaker figure to keep the top of the division tied up well into 2018, giving Brunson the chance to zero in on other contenders. Rockhold struck former two-division World Series of Fighting champion David Branch into submission at UFC Fight Night 116 in September.
Colby Covington vs. Stephen Thompson-Jorge Masvidal winner: An NCAA All-American wrestler with undeniable skills and the moxie to back them up, Covington has become known as much for his mouth as he has for his accomplishments inside the cage. The once-beaten American Top Team representative continued to morph into a serious contender at 170 pounds, as he claimed a unanimous decision from a bloodied Demian Maia in the co-main event. According to preliminary FightMetric figures, Covington connected with 121 total strikes and denied all 13 of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s takedowns in their 15-minute encounter. The abrasive 29-year-old now finds himself on a five-fight winning streak, his stock pointing upward.
Pedro Munhoz vs. John Dodson-Marlon Moraes winner: Munhoz registered the most significant victory of his career, as the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion submitted Team Sityodtong standout Rob Font with a one-arm guillotine in their bantamweight showcase. Font, who had never before been knocked out or submitted, tapped to the choke 4:03 into the first round. Munhoz, 31, has now won four straight, three of them by guillotine choke-induced submission, and is beginning to make waves at 135 pounds. Dodson and Moraes will square off at UFC Fight Night 120 on Nov. 11 in Norfolk, Virginia.
Thiago Santos vs. Ramazan Emeev: Hiccups against Gegard Mousasi and Eric Spicely notwithstanding, Santos has established himself as one of the most feared competitors in the UFC’s middleweight division. The Brazilian did nothing to damage his reputation at UFC Fight Night 119, where he blew away Jack Hermansson with punches in the first round of their encounter. Santos, 33, has finished all three of his opponents -- Hermansson, Gerald Meerschaert and Jack Marshman -- since he submitted to Spicely’s rear-naked choke a little more than a year ago. The line for those daring enough to face him figures to remain short. Emeev made his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 118, where the onetime M-1 Global champion walked away with a three-round unanimous decision over Sam Alvey on Oct. 21.
John Lineker vs. Dominick Cruz-Jimmie Rivera loser: Though he carries a well-earned reputation as one of MMA’s most powerful punchers, Lineker maintains a surprisingly modest knockout rate: He sports only 13 of them among his 30 professional wins. In his first outing since suffering a broken jaw in a Dec. 30 loss to T.J. Dillashaw, “Hands of Stone” settled for a unanimous decision against Marlon Vera. Lineker landed 43 more total strikes and 28 more significant strikes than the Team Oyama export, controlling much of their three-round battle with power punching bursts. Still just 27 years old, he has won seven of his past eight bouts and remains an important piece to the UFC’s bantamweight puzzle. Cruz and Rivera will face off in a possible title eliminator at UFC 219 on Dec. 30.