UFC 249 brought live sports back with a bang on Saturday evening. The card was stacked, having exciting fights and prominent fighters throughout the card. So much so, in fact, that the UFC 249 Post-Fight Matchmaker had to be split up into two articles. This first article covers the night’s prelims. Here is a look at who the winning fighters from the prelims should face next.
UFC 249 Post-Fight Matchmaker: Prelims
Ryan Spann vs. Paul Craig
“Superman” Ryan Spann survived a late barrage from Sam Alvey to pick up a decision victory. Spann was the largest favorite on the card but did just enough to come out with the win. It showed that Spann still has some room to improve before working towards contention. Prior to the mass cancellation of fights, he was matched up with the “Bearjew” Paul Craig. That is still a good test of skills for him, and this is a solid matchup between two fighters looking to work their way into the rankings.
Bryce Mitchell vs. Ryan Hall
“Thug Nasty” Bryce Mitchell put on a performance that was nothing short of a grappling masterclass. He showed complete dominance over Charles Rosa, attempting an array of submissions and pushing a relentless pace. Mitchell’s next fight deserves to be against a ranked opponent as a result. Grappling fans would salivate at the opportunity to see him face someone like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu “Wizard” Ryan Hall, who is looking for a fight after his matchup with Ricardo Lamas was cancelled. A true contrast in personalities, Hall and Mitchell would put on a show and, in Mitchell’s case, be a showcase of his new camouflage Reebok fight shorts.
Vicente Luque vs. Robbie Lawler
Both Vicente Luque and Niko Price are never in boring fights. Their rematch at UFC 249 was no different, putting on a show for fight fans until a doctor declared Price unable to continue due to cuts and swelling. Luque has proven that he can compete with some of the division’s best. However, at 28, Luque still needs to win a couple of fights before being considered a true title contender. Robbie Lawler has been at the top of the mountain but has only won one fight since losing to Tyron Woodley at UFC 201. Nonetheless, Lawler is one of the most exciting fighters in UFC history. A Luque-Lawler fight is a classic matchup between the old and new guard, and a guaranteed contender for Fight of the Night.
Carla Esparza vs. Yan Xionan
Former champion, “Cookie Monster” Carla Esparza edged out Michelle Waterson by split decision to get to three wins in a row. Esparza has been on an impressive run since losing to Tatiana Suarez in 2018 and is slowly making her way back into the title picture. Another fighter on an impressive streak working towards contention is Yan Xionan. With everyone ahead of Esparza having already fought her, matched up, or injured, Xionan is a reasonable matchup for her. It serves as an opportunity for the UFC to develop another Chinese star if Xionan beats Esparza, and puts Esparza in a position to work towards getting her title back.
Aleksei Oleinik vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
Pressure was the key for “The Boa Constrictor” Aleksei Oleinik, as he never gave Fabricio Werdum a chance to get going on the feet en route to a decision victory. At 42, Oleinik is likely close to retirement and should not fight any of the division’s elite. He can still fight at a high level though, so a ranked opponent should still be on the horizon for him. Fellow Russian Shamil Abdurakhimov beats a lot of high-level competition, but cannot seem to get over the hump towards contention. At 38, “Abrek” is likely one loss away from being in the same position as Oleinik. Let them fight in Russia because it could serve as Oleinik’s retirement bout while also being a fight that gives Abdurakhimov one more push towards contention.
Anthony Pettis vs. Al Iaquinta or Rafael dos Anjos
In a rematch between two lightweight legends, at welterweight, Anthony Pettis edged out Donald Cerrone by decision. Now 2-1 at welterweight, Pettis may have found a new weight class. This puts Pettis in an interesting position. He is not in a spot to contend at welterweight or lightweight, but still puts on plenty of fun fights. At lightweight, a fight with Al Iaquinta sounds pretty fun and is in a ranking position that makes sense for him. However, if he stays at welterweight, Pettis should get a chance to avenge a loss. Pettis lost his lightweight title to Rafael dos Anjos by decision in 2015, and both have had an up-and-down experience since then. Combining that with RDA calling Pettis out post-fight, it seems like the time is now for this rematch.
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