2:10 AM ET
Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Khamzat Chimaev stole the show, as expected, at UFC 273 on Saturday night with a unanimous-decision win over Gilbert Burns in what Dana White called one of the greatest fights he’s ever seen. Featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski put on a show of his own with a fourth-round stoppage of Chan Sung Jung. And while Aljamain Sterling may not have silenced all of his critics, his split-decision win over Petr Yan to defend his bantamweight belt likely will shift his focus to a different opponent.
So who’s next for Chimaev? White had said Colby Covington was on deck if Chimaev won. Is that the right fight to make?
And while Yan believes he deserved the decision and wants a third bout against Sterling, who won the title when Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee on March 6, 2021, would the UFC be interested in the trilogy?
And what about Volkanovski?
Here’s who should be next — with a wild card — for those winners, as well as for Mackenzie Dern, who defeated Tecia Torres, by split decision.
Alexander Volkanovski keeps Chan Sung Jung guessing throughout their fight and wins the bout via technical knockout.
Alexander Volkanovski, featherweight champion
Who should be next: Max Holloway
This is a no-brainer. The trilogy fight between these two was supposed to happen at this event, but Holloway had to deal with a lingering injury. He was actually cleared in time to fight on Saturday, but the UFC had already moved on by that time with Jung as his replacement. Volkanovski is the champ — there is nothing to debate there. But because of how close his two victories were over Holloway, there’s always been a demand for them to complete the trilogy. Holloway has been something of a thorn in the champ’s side. Volkanovski hasn’t been able to move past him. A third win would obviously allow him to do that. And if Volkanovski can make a relatively quick turnaround, I believe it will happen in August.
Wild card: Henry Cejudo
I’m almost kidding. It’s not gonna happen. There is no other fight for Volkanovski, though. No other featherweight contender who might be worthy. No room for him to move up to lightweight for any reason. It’s the Holloway trilogy and nothing else.
But if Cejudo all of a sudden wanted to come out of retirement (and on his old contract, because it doesn’t seem as if the UFC wants to pay him more to do it), this fight would be fun.
Chan Sung Jung, featherweight
Who should be next: Giga Chikadze
Jung is 35 and says he still has a little left in the tank. Any road to another title shot seems unlikely, but he’s still highly ranked. He is most definitely still capable of headlining a card.
Chikadze is coming off a pretty dominant loss to Calvin Kattar. Prior to that fight in January, he was looking like a very legitimate title challenger. A win over Jung would throw Chikadze right back into the mix, amongst the top six or seven in the division. Stylistically, it’s a fantastic fight — as many of these are at featherweight, to be honest.
This is such a dynamic division right now. This is a strong fight, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it as a five-round main event.
Wild card: Arnold Allen
This isn’t a perfect option, since Allen is coming off a win. But Allen is still looking to build his profile, and a fight against Jung would do that. It’s also just a very fun fight. And even though Jung is coming off a loss, he’s still very highly ranked.
The UFC is looking at a return to England this summer. Jung vs. Allen in London would be a great fight for a multitude of reasons.
Khamzat Chimaev, welterweight
Who should be next: Colby Covington
Oh my goodness, what a fight. We wanted to see Chimaev tested, and we got it. And I’ll tell you what, that was one of those perfect situations for Chimaev, because defeat was staring him in the face. I think he made some mistakes in this fight. I think he probably took Burns lightly. He learned valuable lessons, and he didn’t have to take a loss. He’ll be more dangerous because of this. Covington is the obvious next fight. A part of me hates to see them fight because one has to lose and then you lose a potential title challenger. But Chimaev looked human in this fight, and Covington is one of the best in the world. It’s such a good matchup. Let’s go.
Wild card: Winner of Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards
That’s the next title fight. If Covington won’t fight Chimaev, if he isn’t interested, then there is nothing else to do but wait. Chimaev hates to wait, and maybe he’d want to move up for a middleweight fight while he waits his turn, but that was a tough fight he just had with Burns. Perhaps time off wouldn’t be the worst thing. Let him sit cageside for Usman vs. Edwards, and bring him into the cage to square off with the winner. Scenes. And a great way to end the year at welterweight.
Gilbert Burns, welterweight
Who should be next: Jorge Masvidal
Let’s reward Burns, right? This guy will fight anyone. He’ll do it whenever the UFC asks. He was willing to take the fight the rest of the division didn’t want in Chimaev, and he very nearly pulled it off as a significant underdog. He accepted all of that, and put on one of the best performances of his career, even in a loss. He deserves another big fight, coming off this one. Fans love him, as they should. Burns comes to fight, he’s entertaining, he’s humble, he doesn’t quit. Masvidal hasn’t won in his past three fights, but he’s got as big a name as anyone in the division, and he’s still ranked. This is the one.
Right call! But what a damn fight boys!!! @KChimaev and @GilbertDurinho take a bow fellas !
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) April 10, 2022
Wild card: Loser of Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards
If Edwards loses to Usman, this makes a ton of sense — although I will say, I think the UFC would take a close look at Edwards vs. Masvidal, which would leave Burns on the outside. If Usman loses, he might get an immediate rematch, or not, with all the good options at welterweight. There are a lot of moving parts in all of this, and I don’t know if Burns and Usman would ever fight again, unless there were a title on the line. Maybe not. But from a rankings perspective, this is the one that makes the most sense, if it’s not Masvidal.
Aljamain Sterling wins his long-anticipated rematch with Petr Yan via split decision at UFC 273.
Aljamain Sterling, bantamweight champion
Who should be next: TJ Dillashaw
Whether you agree with the scorecards of Saturday or not, you might as well move beyond the Sterling-Yan matchup. Because the UFC will. Sterling already has. It was a close fight that could have gone either way, but the UFC is not about to run it back again. Dillashaw has been waiting for the title shot since he came back and beat Cory Sandhagen last July. Waiting is probably not the correct term, he’s been recovering from injuries suffered in that fight. Sterling wants to fight him. It’s the biggest title fight the UFC can make at bantamweight right now. It will be next. Dillashaw told me he’d like to do it on Oct. 22 in Abu Dhabi, but he’ll do it wherever Sterling wants.
Wild card: Petr Yan
If the UFC doesn’t do Dillashaw for whatever reason, then running this back would be the only thing that makes sense. Maybe if outrage over the decision is high enough a third meeting would be booked. But I do not see that happening.
Petr Yan, bantamweight
Who should be next: Merab Dvalishvili
It might look bleak for Yan right now after losing to the same opponent twice in title fights, in heartbreaking fashion. He cost himself in their first meeting with an illegal knee, and he paid dearly for it. Then, to lose this one, via split decision was tough. But in reality, he’s not far off from the belt. And this fight makes all the sense to me. Dvalishvili is Sterling’s teammate and close friend. There’s a built-in story behind this fight already. I wouldn’t mind seeing Yan against someone who will strike with him, but I think this is the one to make because of the story.
Wild card: Dominick Cruz
Cruz is one of the biggest names in the division and, in my opinion, the greatest bantamweight of all time. Cruz is no longer in his prime, but he’s deserving of a big fight, one that could get him one last shot at a UFC title. Yan fits that bill. Yan is a scary opponent, and Cruz would have to be perfect. Is Cruz capable of pulling off a game plan similar to what Sterling just did? Absolutely. Yan fights a legend of the division. Cruz fights someone who can get him to a belt. Win, win.
Mackenzie Dern, strawweight
Who should be next: Winner of Jessica Andrade vs. Amanda Lemos on April 23
Dern fights mean. Her constant pressure forces opponents into a fight, and Dern believes in her chin. She’s willing to fight in a phone booth. And it leads to chaos, which benefits her because she is dangerous in a scramble or snatching a submission. She’s got a lot of career left, and it’s going to be interesting before it’s all said and done, because she continues to improve between each contest. Andrade is coming back to the division from flyweight, and she’s facing a real up-and-comer in Lemos. In a perfect world, Dern stays active. There’s no rush. She doesn’t need to get to a title fight in 2022. Keep building. This matchup would be a real test.
Wild card: Amanda Ribas
This might sound weird because Ribas is moving up to flyweight. She fights Katlyn Chookagian on May 14. If she were to lose that fight and decide she wants to retest 115, I think this matchup could make a ton of sense. Ribas holds a win over Dern from 2019. If Ribas beats Chookagian, obviously she’ll stay at 125. And even if she were to lose that bout, she could stay at flyweight. But I could see a world in which this fight happens, and again, it’s about keeping Dern active. And there aren’t many options right now who are ranked ahead of her in the division.