Armchair Matchmaker

UFC 254 Post-Fight Matchmaker

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UFC 254 was one of the most hotly-anticipated cards of the year, and it did not disappoint. The event featured a lot of finishes, as well as a lot of implications for contenders in many of the UFC’s divisions. The UFC 254 Post-Fight Matchmaker parses through all of this, determining the next opponents for the winners of the night’s main card fights.

UFC 254 Post-Fight Matchmaker

Magomed Ankalaev vs. Johnny Walker

After several unsuccessful bookings, the grudge match between Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba was finally settled when Ankalaev defeated “The Hulk” via first-round knockout. He has looked more and more like a contender each time out, and his next fight should reflect that. Johnny Walker would fit that bill. In his most recent fight, he defeated Ryan Spann by first-round knockout to snap a two-fight skid. A Walker-Ankalaev fight would be a great balance of flash and substance, where the winner would have the opportunity to face one of the division’s elite.

Lauren Murphy vs. Cynthia Calvillo

Lauren Murphy continued her win streak, defeating late replacement Liliya Shakirova by submission in the second round. She is now 5-1 since moving to flyweight, including a four-fight win streak. Murphy made her case for a title shot in the post-fight interview, but with a title fight already lined up between Valentina Shevchenko and Jennifer Maia, a lot could happen between now and the next title fight. Especially with the insertion of former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade into title considerations, a lot is up in the air right now. To strengthen her case, Murphy should once again book a scrap with Cynthia Calvillo, her original opponent for this event. Calvillo defeated former title challenger Jessica Eye in her flyweight debut, putting her right in the thick of the division right away. The winner of this fight would have a serious case for the Shevchenko-Maia winner.

Phil Hawes vs. Dusko Todorovic

“Megatron” Phil Hawes made good on his UFC debut, quickly dispatching opponent Jacob Malkoun in just 18 seconds. Once seen as one of MMA’s hottest prospects, Hawes fell on hard times a few years ago but is now back on the right track. Since returning to fighting last year, he has won all of his fights by first-round finish, and his record is now 9-2. Another fighter who made his UFC debut this month was Dusko Todorovic, who defeated Dequan Townsend by second-round ground-and-pound. Todorovic has ten career MMA fights and is undefeated at 10-0. A matchup between these two would be a fun stylistic fight between two Dana White Contender Series alums that could determine a fresh contender for the middleweight division.

Alexander Volkov vs. Alistair Overeem

After the main event loss back in June, “Drago” Alexander Volkov got back on track by defeating Walt Harris via TKO early in the second round. He has split wins and losses in his last four fights. However, in a thin heavyweight division, any kind of win streak can put a fighter in immediate contention. Alistair Overeem is in a similar position, winning two fights in a row by TKO following a last-second loss at the end of last year. A win for either fighter can get them right on the cusp of title talks after showing many improvements of late.

Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya II

Since losing the middleweight title last year, Robert Whittaker has been on a tear. His unanimous decision victory over Jared Cannonier further proved that in what was billed as a title eliminator in the pre-fight buildup. This fight, plus his unanimous decision win over Darren Till this summer, has put the Aussie back on the right track. At this point, there is no other fight to make for the middleweight title. A rematch with Israel Adesanya is likely imminent, but only time will tell if the outcome will be different than the second-round knockout loss that “The Reaper” suffered at UFC 243.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. No one

In the much-anticipated main event, Khabib Nurmagomedov went out and did what fans have become accustomed to seeing over the course of his 29-fight career: apply an insurmountable amount of pressure combined with an unmatched ground game. That became too much for Justin Gaethje, who succumbed to a triangle choke early in the second round.

The more surprising aspect of the night, however, was Nurmagomedov’s decision to retire. His desire to fight declined significantly after his father’s death in July. His mother wanted “The Eagle” to retire immediately, but he made a promise to retire after this fight. This retirement does seem to be permanent, and it is certainly well-earned. His legacy will be remembered as one of the greatest fighters in UFC history and retired at the top of his game.

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Nate Freeman is from Birmingham, AL, and has been an MMA fan since 2013 after buying UFC Undisputed 2009 for $2 from a second-hand electronics store.

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