27 Mar

Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili, next fights for Dustin Poirier and Michael Page

Great matchmaking leads to even more great matchmaking. UFC 299 was a loaded card from top to bottom and the promotion can follow up in big ways.

UFC bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley wants a super fight against featherweight champ Ilia Topuria, but there is a contender who rightfully deserves a crack at “Suga.” Merab Dvalishvili has the best resume among any active bantamweight contender. His list of beaten opponents might even be better than the champ’s. UFC president Dana White said that Dvalishvili was next in line after UFC 298 and the promotion had him weigh in as the backup fighter for Saturday’s pay-per-view in Miami. All signs point to O’Malley vs. Dvalishvili next.

Then there’s the matter of Dustin Poirier. The veteran striker remains an elite lightweight and is closing in on another title shot. Michael “Venom” Page made good on his transition from Bellator to UFC. He didn’t show enough to suggest a UFC welterweight title in his future, but there are fun fights to make for him against name opponents.

Let’s break down the best fights to make in the bantamweight, lightweight and welterweight division after UFC 299.

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Bantamweight division
UFC Bantamweight Championship — Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili: White doesn’t sound keen on Ilia Topuria vs. O’Malley next. Thank goodness because Dvalishvili is long overdue for a bantamweight title shot. The Georgian is on a record nine-fight bantamweight winning streak — 10 including a catchweight win — and has defeated UFC champs in his last three fights. There may not be a fighter right now more deserving of a title shot in any division. Dvalishvili will likely hold the record for most UFC takedowns one day. That’s an interesting puzzle for O’Malley to solve and a win that really validates his superstar ambitions. There is also a rivalry between the two stemming from O’Malley’s knockout of Dvalishvili’s close friend Aljamain Sterling.

Marlon Vera vs. Deiveson Figueiredo or Cody Garbrandt: Vera vs. Figueiredo sounds like fireworks. The expectation is the former UFC flyweight champion will run through Garbrandt at UFC 300. It’s unclear how long “Chito” needs to recover from the damage he took in the O’Malley fight. The five-week separation between UFC 299 and UFC 300 helps line up Vera’s timetable with the other two men. Figueiredo is possibly the hardest-hitting flyweight in history. The power stuck with him in his bantamweight debut against Rob Font. That sounds like an appealing scrap, a necessary step back in the division for Vera and a step towards a second UFC title for Figueiredo.

Petr Yan vs. Henry Cejudo: Yan is another tantalizing matchup for either Vera or Figueiredo. But since we’ve matched those two already, let’s try something different stylistically. Yan’s defensive wrestling held up against Song Yadong and he won the fight, but he was badly biting on Song’s takedown feints. It seems the 50 takedowns that Dvalishvili attempted in Yan’s last fight are still haunting him. Matching him with Cejudo is a great way to test that. Cejudo was competent against Sterling and Dvalishvili, but it looks like his title days are behind him. A battle between two former champs is a great way to get someone back in the mix.

Lightweight division
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan, Justin Gaethje or Max Holloway: Poirier defended his status against a rising contender in Benoit Saint Denis. Now he can turn his attention back to the UFC lightweight championship. Poirier is among the greatest UFC fighters never to win an undisputed belt. A head-kick KO loss to Gaethje set him back, but he’s still in the mix. Poirier will have to wait for Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan and Gaethje vs. Holloway to play out at UFC 300. Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan is supposed to be a title eliminator but the winner of Gaethje vs. Holloway is a viable fight for champion Islam Makhachev. There are too many moving parts to nail down one opponent for Poirier. His most likely path to the title is either facing the loser of Oliveira-Tsarukyan or the winner of Gaethje-Holloway. If for some reason Gaethje or Holloway get the next title shot, Poirier could face the winner of Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan. It’s not like winning a title eliminator is an iron-clad claim to a UFC title fight anyway.

Welterweight division
Michael “Venom” Page vs. Stephen Thompson: It could be a snoozer or absolute magic. Either way, it’s a stylistic dream match that needs to be made. MVP and “Wonderboy” are the two best sport karate fighters in MMA. Page looked slick in his UFC debut and should be ranked in the UFC’s official welterweight top 15 next week. White said they need to matchmake Page carefully. Thompson makes a lot of sense. “Wonderboy” needs a step back in competition, it’s a chance for Page to crack the Top 10 and they both most recently defeated Kevin Holland.

Jack Della Maddalena vs. Ian Machado Garry: It’s time to put the new wave of UFC welterweights against each other. Della Maddalena scored a Hail Mary knockout of Gilbert Burns with less than two minutes left on Saturday. With Della Maddalena, Garry and Shavkat Rakhmonov all likely in the top half of the welterweight rankings, they’ll need to fight each other soon. It sounds like Rakhmonov is on the UFC’s radar for a title fight against Leon Edwards, despite Belal Muhammad being overdue for his chance. Della Maddalena vs. Machado Garry is a great way to tee up another future title challenger. Both guys are smooth operators on the feet and it should make for a fun stylistic fight.

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