There were three fighters who came out of UFC 215 in a position to get championship fights next, although in all three cases, the odds are probably not in their favor.
Rafael dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, moved up to welterweight and scored a convincing one-sided win via first-round submission over Neil Magny. Magny had come into the fight ranked No. 6 in the division.
But the reality is that all three are probably not getting a title shot in their next fight.
For Shevchenko, even though a lot of people thought she won, there really wasn’t a lot of negative reaction to the decision. Most seemed to see it as it was, a close fight that could have gone either way. And being neither an exciting fight for spectators, nor a big drawing fight, isn’t going to likely make the UFC go out of its way to run it back.
Cejudo controlled the stand-up game against Reis, but he had lost twice in a row coming into the fight, against the two men who have been top two in the division since its launch, champion Demetrious Johnson and No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez.
The Benavidez example, having dropped two fights to the champion has kept him from getting a title fight, although there is a big difference. Benavidez lost a clear-cut decision and was then knocked out by Johnson, while Shevchenko’s losses were via more competitive decisions. Benavidez gave no indication in his two fights that he could beat Johnson, while Shevchenko’s performance in both fights showed she and champion Amanda Nunes are very closely-matched.
Cejudo also has a prior loss, a first-round stoppage, to Johnson. Still, Johnson vs. Cejudo is likely a more competitive fight than Johnson vs. Borg, who was put in the title shot position because he and Sergio Pettis were the two best guys in the division that Johnson hadn’t faced.
There is also a timing issue as Cejudo just fought, while Johnson, with his fight with Borg falling through, is likely looking at fighting right away.
For dos Anjos, the reality is champion Tyron Woodley suffered a torn labrum, so he’s likely to have at least one fight before Woodley can return.
Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of the show.
AMANDA NUNES – Back in 2008, when Manny Pacquiao defeated Oscar de la Hoya, it was one of those moments that happen fairly regularly where people declare boxing dead on a mainstream basis. de la Hoya was the biggest draw in the sport, and it was clear in that fight that time had passed him by as a fighter. He simply didn’t have the reflexes to keep the pace with his smaller opponent.
After the fight, Bob Arum said, as all longtime promoters say when a top drawing card is done, that it doesn’t matter. With Pacquiao winning, all the de la Hoya fans will become Pacquiao fans, and he’ll start putting the big numbers on the board.
It sounds wonderful in theory, and not only that, Pacquiao’s win gave him huge mainstream exposure and his drawing power increased tremendously, and he for years, was one of the key people keeping boxing strong past its hardcore fanbase.
But in real life, if that theory was correct, Nunes (15-4) would be a huge star based on first-round wins over Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey in her last two fights. But unlike Holm, who did pick up a lot of popularity for beating Rousey, but she was hurt by three straight losses. Meanwhile, Nunes vs. Shevchenko may have done the lowest pay-per-view number this year.
As far as who is next, there are really only three viable choices, Holm (11-3), Shevchenko (14-3) and Raquel Pennington (9-5). With the UFC seemingly wanting Holm to face Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title, that leaves Pennington, a winner of four in a row, as the most likely next opponent.
VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO – A name who could have faced Nunes next was Sara McMann, but she was submitted by Ketlen Vieira (9-0) on Saturday. A Shevchenko vs. Vieira fight makes sense, because whoever wins should be able to get the following bantamweight title shot.
HENRY CEJUDO – The former Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medalist put on a striking clinic in taking out Reis.
Provided nothing changes and Johnson faces Borg next in going for the title defense record, Cejudo (11-2) should face Sergio Pettis (16-2) in a bout for the top contendership. Cejudo vs. Joseph Benavidez (25-4) is also viable, as Benavidez won that on a split decision. But putting Benavidez against Cejudo again should only happen if the UFC is willing to match either winner with Johnson on the follow-up.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS – With Tyron Woodley out of action, dos Anjos should face Robbie Lawler (28-11) next in a match to determine who gets Woodley in his return. The other viable opponent looks to be Jorge Masvidal (32-12), but a win over Masvidal wouldn’t make him a sure thing for a title shot. A win over Lawler should make him the top contender unless Nate Diaz, Conor McGregor or Georges St-Pierre want a shot at Woodley.
JEREMY STEPHENS – Stephens (26-14) has gone back-and-forth over the last few years with strong wins over the likes of Renan Barao, Dennis Bermudez and Gilbert Melendez, but has losses to Renato Moicano, featherweight top contender Frankie Edgar and current champion Max Holloway.
From an excitement standpoint, the fight that seems to have the best chance of being exciting is with Brian Ortega (12-0).