We’re back for the first UFC Matchmaker of the year. This feature will include fighters who competed in December of last year. We will look at potential match-ups for Aspen Ladd, Geoff Neal, Chase Hooper and Chan Sung Jung.
Aspen Ladd was one of the hottest undefeated prospects coming into 2018. Holding a record of 8-0 and finishing all but one of her opponents, Ladd was booked in her first main event. This came in July and on the day of the weigh-ins, Ladd struggled to make weight. Although she did notch the 136lbs mark, it arguably took a big chunk out of her durability. She was TKO’d in just 16 seconds.
Ladd returned at UFC on ESPN 7 against Yana Kunitskaya. In a close fight, Ladd exploded out of her corner in round three, knocking the Russian down and eventually getting the TKO victory 33 seconds into the final round.
In a fairly shallow women’s bantamweight division, the champion Amanda Nunes has defeated almost everyone there is. Assuming that Ladd doesn’t get a title shot off the back of just one win, there is only one fight to make.
In a #1 contenders fight, Aspen Ladd should face Irene Aldana. Aldana recently competed against Ketlen Vieira, brutally knocking her out in the first round. This handed Vieira her first loss in the professional ranks. Riding a two-fight winning streak, Aldana has been extremely active in 2019. Competing four times, notching 3 wins, two finishes and a close split decision loss, this should be rewarded.
The winner of this potential bout would be the clear #1 contender for Nunes’ crown. Both women would provide the champion with a look she hasn’t seen before and could lead to exciting match-ups in the future.
Geoff Neal put on his most impressive performance at UFC 245. He became the first man to knockout the gritty Mike Perry and extended his undefeated run to seven. ‘Handz of Steel’ has an impressive four finishes in his five UFC wins, with only Belal Muhammad being able to go the distance. Currently ranked #11, it is time Neal got a top 10 opponent or an opponent who will enhance his position at 170lbs.
We could see Neal against #12 Vicente Luque. Luque is coming off a loss to Steven Thompson, but prior to this went on a six-fight winning streak. Luque is known for being tough, gritty and an impressive striker. This is likely to play into Neal’s game, who also favours life on the feet.
Another potential opponent could be Santiago Ponzinibbio. Neal would be welcoming Ponzinibbio back after a 14-month hiatus. The Argentinian has been suffering from injuries which have kept him out of action but is riding a seven-fight winning streak. On this streak, he has finished four opponents and been in two main events. With a win over either Luque or Ponzinibbio, Neal would surely climb the UFC welterweight rankings.
Young UFC star, Chase Hooper
Chase Hooper made his promotional debut, finishing Daniel Teymur at UFC 245. At 20 years old, Hooper has already progressed to 9-0-1, with seven finishes. He also holds a 5-0 amateur record. The important thing for Hooper is not to rush his UFC career. Still only 20, he has time on his hands.
Who should he be matched up with next? We could see him matched with Seung Woo Choi, who competed and won soon after Hooper did. Choi is 1-2 in his UFC career.
Austin Arnett would also be a viable opponent for Hooper. 1-3 in his UFC career, Arnett is yet to get going. Only defeating Humberto Bandenay in his UFC career, Arnett has not lived up his previous record. Arnett certainly holds the experience over Hooper with 22 fights to Hooper’s 10. With a win over Arnett, Hooper could set himself up for a big 2020.
The resident UFC Zombie, Chan Sung Jung
Zombie had a quality 2019. Going 2-0, knocking out two top contenders in Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar, both in the first round, both main event slots. Jung has featured in main event slots in his last six bouts, going 4-2, finishing all of his wins. He beat Yair Rodriguez for 24 minutes and 59 seconds, before a freak knockout.
Who should he face next? There are arguably three key options. Firstly, former longtime featherweight champion, Max Holloway. Holloway lost his title at UFC 245 and it is currently unclear whether he will gain an immediate rematch. Holloway and Jung could easily be a #1 contenders fight. These two have never faced each other, despite being longtime, major players in the division.
The second possibility is for Jung to face Zabit Magomedsharipov. Magomedsharipov has been on a tear since joining the UFC, progressing to 6-0. The Russian has been really tested in his most recent two bouts. What we really need to see is Magomedsharipov tested over five rounds. We have seen his gas tank appear to suffer at the end of three rounds, both against Kyle Bochniak and Calvin Kattar. Jung against Magomedsharipov is the fight that should be pushed to progress the division forwards.
A fight that could be made, although it seems unlikely could see Jung realising his second title shot at 145lbs. He called for a fight with champion Alexander Volkanovski following his win at UFC Busan. He stated clearly ‘I want Volkanovski’. It would certainly be an entertaining fight and could be the way the UFC choose to go. As we know, the promotion is attempting to break further into the Asian market. By putting Volkanovski up against the South Korean, it would realise a further probe into the market.