UFC 286 is now one for the books and we look ahead at five fights to make after the latest PPV.
5 Fights to Make after UFC 286
Gunnar Nelson vs. Randy Brown
Gunnar Nelson delivered what was possibly the most impressive performance of the evening against long-time brawler, Bryan Barberena and looked better than ever, utterly dominating and picking up a first-round submission victory which looked to be almost effortless.
After showing that he is back and more than capable of getting the best of the lower level gatekeepers of the welterweight division a step up in competition is needed to truly analyse how much Nelson has improved in his lengthy absences from the cage. After picking up two decision losses in a row to both Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns in 2019, Nelson took over 2 years to make a return to the octagon with a dominant decision win against Takashi Sato in March 2022. Almost exactly a year later he improved on this performance with a dismantling of Barberna.
Now riding a two fight win streak Nelson should be looking to continue the momentum he now has behind him and if he has aspirations about breaking into the top 15 then a step up in the level of opposition is needed. Randy Brown would provide that step up. Generally only losing to ranked fighters, Brown holds a record of 10 – 5 in the promotion with his losses coming against the likes of Vicente Luque, Belal Muhammad and current top prospect Jack Della Maddalena in his most recent outing. Before the Maddalena loss, Brown was riding a 4 fight win streak. It is clear that Brown is a dangerous opponent and if Nelson could pick up a win over him it would go a long way to securing himself a possible ranked opponent in the not-so-distant future.
Justin Gaethje vs. Dustin Poirier
Justin Gaethje represents somewhat of a problem for the lightweight division. Many felt that Rafael Fiziev was the heavy favourite going into the bout and for all the wars, losses and wins that Gaethje has had he represents stagnation rather than progression for the division. Yet despite the doubters and naysayers, after a razor-close first round, Gaethje cruised to an emphatic decision victory over Fiziev and has shown that his time at the top of the division is not done just yet.
He has stated that he wants to take one last run at the title and he will likely keep fighting until his next loss. After fighting an opponent ranked lower than himself in Fiziev, Gaethje will be looking upwards towards the top end of the decision for his next opponent. With the winner of Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush looking likely to receive the next title shot there leaves only one realistic name for Gaethje to fight which could propel himself back into the title picture.
This, of course, is Dustin Poirier. Gaethje has fought Poirier before back in 2018 in what was a thrilling fight where Poirier managed to pick up the victory by TKO. Since then Poirier has cemented himself at the top of the lightweight contenders and has fought for the belt twice. A win over Michael Chandler back in November 2022 sees him sitting comfortably at number 2 in the rankings and a win for either man would see them in an excellent position to get a title shot after the Oliveira and Dariush contest.
Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington
Leon Edwards showed the world that his head kick knockout victory over Kamaru Usman to win the belt was no fluke with an excellent performance and picking up the decision victory at UFC 286. While ordinarily there would be much talk and speculation as to who the champion’s next opponent would be the UFC have already made it very clear as to who they are aiming to give the next shot to.
The presence of Colby Covington at the weigh-ins as an alternate is undoubtedly a massive signal that the UFC intends for him to be the next matchup for Edwards. Despite only fighting once a year since 2020 and the meteoric rise of Belal Muhammad through the rankings, Covington remains the UFC’s favourite to gain the title shot, as per recent comments by Dana White confirming this. With his only loss coming to Usman since 2015, Covington has transformed himself from a talented but fairly unknown prospect into one of the biggest and possibly most disliked names in all of MMA. His antics outside of the cage have brought him notoriety and fame. His last fight against Jorge Masvidal saw Covington pick up the victory before the two were engaged in an attack in downtown Miami several weeks later which has developed into ongoing legal developments. Covington has not fought since and his return to the octagon will surely be an emphatic one. While possibly no longer the most deserving fighter of a title shot, Covington is surely the biggest name that Edwards could fight right now and a win over him would certainly only bolster the champs resume, defeating the two men who dominated the rest of the division for the better part of 5 years.
Mokaev vs Perez/Kape
Muhammad Mokaev was a prospect who generated a huge amount of hype when signed to the UFC. Undefeated as both an amateur and in the professional ranks, Mokaev defeated Jafel Filho at UFC 286 to take his record to 10 – 0 as pro and cemented his status as a top 15 ranked fighter. The flyweight, however, did not have the smoothest of nights despite the result going in his favour. Filho caught Mokaev in a kneebar which would have caused most fighters to tap and the extent of the damage done to Mokaev’s knee remains to be seen. Providing that the knee is not too badly injured and another fight could happen within a year then Mokaev will be looking towards establishing himself in the rankings of a division which is possibly the most competitive it has ever been at the moment.
With almost all members of the top 10 currently scheduled to face one another the fight that seems most likely for Mokaev would be the winner of the upcoming bout between Alex Perez and Manel Kape. Perez and Kape are ranked at 6 and 9 respectively and either one would provide an excellent springboard for Mokaev to climb inside the top 10 and possibly even break the top 5. With the popularity that he has enjoyed and the hype he has generated, it is not hard to imagine the UFC attempting to push a star who can bring some excitement to a division which has historically been its least popular.
Jack Shore vs Dan Ige
While only just making his debut in the featherweight division, the skill of Jack Shore has long been on display. Six fights in the bantamweight division, 5 wins and a place within the top 15 rankings allow Shore to move up the rankings quickly in his new division as long as he keeps putting on high-quality performances. After his decisive submission win over featherweight stalwart Makwan Amirkhani, Shore needs to look for an opponent that will allow him to break into that elusive top 15.
The fight that makes sense right now would be someone like Dan Ige. Ige is an established name at featherweight and a victory over the Hawaiian always looks good on a fighter’s resume. Currently ranked at number 13, Ige would be the perfect opponent that would allow Shore to break into the rankings and continue to work his way up with a fight against someone firmly in the top 10 surely following a win over Ige. Currently coming off a knockout win over Damon Jackson, Ige was riding a three fight losing streak against immediately some of the best fighters in the division. He too will be looking to establish himself inside the top 10 once again and despite Shore not being ranked, his previous exploits at Bantamweight mean that a victory over the welshman would certainly be a credible one and an impressive feather in Ige’s cap.