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The Bottom Line: Coming Into Focus


Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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On back to back weekends, we’ve seen Ultimate Fighting Championship main event results produce intense jockeying for position for future title shots. Two weekends ago it was the thrilling Jiri Prochazka-Glover Teixeira title fight that led to discussions about whether Teixeira should get an immediate rematch. Meanwhile, Jan Blachowicz and Anthony Smith made it clear they thought they should be next for Prochazka—presuming Smith is able to get by Magomed Ankalaev in his next bout.

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This weekend, it was Josh Emmett eking out a narrow split decision victory over Calvin Kattar and using his post-fight interview to call for the next shot against the winner of the upcoming Alexander Volkanovski-Max Holloway title tilt at UFC 276. He even had his pitch worked out, that his division would benefit from new blood. It was a good effort to lobby the public given the winner of the upcoming Yair Rodriguez vs. Brian Ortega bout would seem to have the inside track on the next featherweight title shot. We’ll have a better sense of the choices after Volkanovski vs. Holloway, Rodriguez vs. Ortega and Smith vs. Ankalaev, but what looks to be the best choice in each division right now?

Light Heavyweight


Teixeira would have seemed an unlikely candidate for an immediate title rematch before his bout with Prochazka. The first-time champion had no successful title defenses and was the betting underdog, demonstrating a lack of confidence in his chances. Then, of course, came the fight. A back-and-forth battle with so much drama it almost felt unreal, Teixeira-Prochazka is likely going to win “Fight of the Year.”

Under different circumstances, there might be an inclination to defer the fight until later. However, the clock is ticking. Teixeira is 42 and if the rematch isn’t made now, there might never be another chance. Given the quality of the fight and the nature of the alternatives, it seems pretty certain to be the fight that fans most want to see next. That’s usually a prime if not the prime consideration for the UFC. Still, it’s not the sort of massive fight that closes the discussion.

Former champion Blachowicz also has expressed his interest in the next title fight after his victory over Aleksandar Rakic. He’s 6-1 in his last seven with the most high-profile array of opponents, including his victory over Israel Adesanya that was easily the biggest fight any of these candidates have had. Prochazka vs. Blachowicz also has a unique hook: the battle of Eastern European neighbors and friends. UFC loves to highlight its global reach and the Czech champion vs. the Polish ex-champ could pack a massive stadium in Poland, where KSW has long shown the viability of the market. That would have to be the tiebreaker though, because the win over Rakic was far from inspiring given the injury to Rakic that caused the finish.

In order for Teixeira or Blachowicz to get the next shot, Dana White will need to change his mind, because he said prior to Teixeira vs. Prochazka that the winner of Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith would get the next shot. Of course, White has been known to change his mind, particularly when it relates to fights that haven’t yet been decided. Between Ankalaev and Smith, they both have different strengths as alternatives. Ankalaev has more momentum with 8 straight UFC wins and has the more fearsome overall reputation. Smith has the bigger name, with UFC having put him in the main event for eight of his last nine fights.

Assessing the contenders, the winner of Ankalaev vs. Smith still seems the most likely next challenger assuming he wins impressively. If the fight is less than stellar, Smith might still get the next shot if he wins while Ankalaev would be more likely to be jumped by Teixeira. Blachowicz is the dark horse if there are issues with the other options.

Featherweight


Like at light heavyweight, there are four realistic next opponents for the winner of Volkanovski vs. Holloway, but one of them may not be as obvious at first blush. Emmett has staked his claim, while the winner of Rodriguez vs. Ortega is an obvious answer. The fourth, less obvious option we’ll get to later.

There’s no shame in Emmett trying to get a title shot and at 18-2 with five straight wins, he is hardly an unrealistic option. Still, there are a number of factors working against him. He only narrowly got by Kattar and most thought Kattar deserved to win. Sherdog’s scoring team on that night, Jay Pettry, Ben Duffy and Tristen Critchfield, all scored it for Kattar, as did I. Emmett also isn’t the most dynamic of personalities and lacks the star power of the other major options. As if that weren’t enough, few would give him much of a chance against Holloway or Volkanovski.

The winner of Rodriguez-Ortega will have a different type of case to be made. Neither has the recent winning streak of Emmett and both are coming off losses. However, both have strong overall résumés with exciting fight styles and neither man has lost to anyone other than Holloway or Volkanovski in the last five years. If Volkanovski retains and Ortega wins, that would also have the positive of being a fresh matchup. The biggest edge for both compared to Emmett is their fan followings, as Rodriguez and Ortega are two of the most popular fighters in the division.

As for the fourth potential option? Volkanovski himself. It’s highly unlikely Holloway would get another fight with Volkanovski immediately after losing to him for the third time. However, if Volkanovski loses to Holloway in a highly competitive bout, he’ll still have a 2-1 series lead to go with one of the most impressive résumés in the history of the division. Volkanovski also gave Holloway an immediate rematch when he beat Holloway for the title as Holloway was attempting his fourth successful defense of the title. Sound familiar? It won’t be hard at all for Volkanovski to lobby for a rematch under those circumstances even if some may scoff at going back to the same fight again.

The featherweight title picture feels more wide open than that at light heavyweight. I’d place my bet on the Ortega-Rodriguez winner taking on the Volkanovski-Holloway winner, but Emmett also seems viable and Volkanovski is a very real possibility should he lose a close fight to Holloway.

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