After a lulling start to the main card of UFC on ESPN 2, three consecutive explosive stoppages closed out the show with the hotly anticipated headliner between Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza delivering as expected.
With a fast-paced start that saw two of the sports best leg kickers exchanging kick for kick in the middle of the Octagon, Justin Gaethje’s power and durability proved to be that extra step above his Brazilian counterpart as a right hook on the cage brought about ‘The Highlight’s’ second first-round KO in as many fights.
Gaethje now holds the distinction as the only fighter to have won a post-fight bonus in each of his first five bouts in the UFC and there’s a serious case to be held that he is the most exciting fighter in the history of MMA.
Where Gaethje goes next is a big question that the UFC has to answer as the lightweight division is as complicated and talent stacked as it’s ever been. To help out the promotion, here is our suggestion for what should be next for the former WSOF champion as well as for Saturday nights biggest winners:
Justin Gaethje vs. Iaquinta/Cerrone Winner
Fortunately for the UFC, when booking a Justin Gaethje fight you can’t really go wrong. ‘The Highlight’ is such an exciting fighter that it seems almost impossible to imagine the 30-year old in a bad fight.
With his latest win over Edson Barboza, Gaethje will climb the UFC rankings and he should be top five at the least when they are next updated.
As for who he should face next, the upcoming Al Iaquinta – Donald Cerrone bout should have its winner earmarked as the next potential opponent for Gaethje.
Jack Hermansson vs. Uriah Hall
While David Branch hasn’t had the best run since returning to the UFC, many would have doubted that the talented black belt would be submitted by Jack Hermansson when their fight was announced.
With less than 50 seconds on the clock however, Hermansson had dragged Branch to the mat and sunk in a guillotine choke that forced Branch to tap out.
After scoring the biggest win of his career, Hermansson needs to build on his quick work against Branch and face another top-ranked middleweight contender.
With Uriah Hall perpetually straddling the line between looking like a potential title contender and gatekeep to the stars, a match-up between Hall and Hermansson would catapult the winner onto big things at 185 lbs.
Josh Emmett vs. Mirsad Bektic
Josh Emmett looked to be heading toward a decision loss at the hands of Michael Johnson at UFC on ESPN 2 but Emmett had the one true equaliser in the fight game in his right hand: knockout power.
Landing a movie style overhand right that launched the spit from Johnson’s mouth, Emmett scored a one-punch knockout in the third and final round to banish the demons of his own KO loss in his last outing.
Emmett’s power is a serious problem for whoever he faces next and with Mirsad Bektic hovering around the same spaces in the UFC rankings, a fight between the two makes a lot of sense.
Michelle Waterson vs. Claudia Gadelha
While I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see the UFC put Michelle Waterson in a title fight next, ‘The Karate Hottie’ simply needs another big win when compared to the likes of Tatiana Suarez.
Admittedly, Waterson put on a calm and composed performance against former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz on Saturday night and at another time, that would be more than enough for a chance at securing UFC gold.
With such a backlog of talent ahead of here however, Waterson should have to add one more marquee name to her resume and a fight with Claudia Gadelha would present that opportunity.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Cortney Casey
Closing out the preliminary card, Marina Rodriguez showcased her huge talents against the insanely tough Jessica Aguilar en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Rodriguez’s vast arsenal of strikes both at range and in the clinch would more than likely have caused a stoppage against any other opponent but nevertheless, Rodriguez should be a name on everyone’s watch list in the strawweight division.
With Rodriguez deserving of a top 15 opponent in her next outing, Cortney Casey would make for a tough fight.