While it was a rather bleak looking card at first glance, UFC 96 surely delivered on Saturday night and gave us many answers. If you enjoy stand-up wars, you got what you wanted on Saturday night and with only a handful of submission attempts all night, it isn’t surprising to see that no one was awarded with a ‘Submission of the Night’ bonus.
If my math is correct, half of the fighters showcased on Saturday night are now coming off wins and half are coming off losses. What does that mean for some of them moving forward?
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson
Quinton Jackson fought to a hard-earned decision on Saturday night and has been offered a May 23rd bout with Rashad Evans with a chance to regain his light heavyweight title. If he accepts, Jackson may decide to hold his training camp in Big Bear instead of traveling back to England. I believe that this is a great opportunity for Jackson and if he is healthy, he should enter training camp and push through. However, if his mind and heart aren’t in it, there is no reason to rush this fight. Jackson would be able to take off some time and fight the winner of Machida and Evans down the line without needing to fight again. This might be the best idea after seeing how it affected him when he learned he was being asked to fight in May, and not in July as previously thought.
Keith Jardine put forth a hard fight but as Dana said at the post-fight press conference, this guy simply can’t seem to put together back to back performances. Perhaps a match-up with Brian Stann could be lined up as a win would boost one of these fighters back into contention, while a loss wouldn’t be enough to completely derail either man.
Shane Carwin avoided the second round once again and showed some great resiliency when he was able to rebound from a hard shot early on. Though there are still many questions for Carwin to address, at some point we have to realize that he is just a beast. If Cheick Kongo is able to get through his fight next month, these two should be matched up immediately. If not, Junior Dos Santos might be a suitable opponent for Carwin next. The fact that only now is Carwin taking on fighting full time is downright scary. Watch out.
This defeat really hurts Gonzaga and it is really difficult to see where he goes from here. Gonzaga makes a lot of money for someone who isn’t typically a big draw, and he may be asked to restructure his contract a la Fabricio Werdum. It will be interesting to see what will happen if this does occur. If Gonzaga does stay in the UFC, perhaps a match-up with another up and comer, Cain Velasquez, would show us where both of these men are at in their careers.
Matt Hamill & Gray Maynard
Two other men who put in very impressive performances this past weekend are Matt Hamill and Gray Maynard. Both of these men have flown relatively under the radar, and it is time for them to take a step up in competition. Matt Hamill put Munoz to sleep with a huge head kick and showed us that maybe he did have the right game plan going into the Franklin fight. Okay, maybe not but the kid does have some skill on his feet, apparently. Maynard also keeps impressing, although the knock on him is his inability to finish fights. Though this might keep him out of the title picture in the near future, a win remains and win and he will keep moving closer and closer and a future shot. Perhaps Hamill could take on Thiago Silva sometime in the summer?
Brandon Vera & Kendall Grove
Two men on life support, Kendall Grove and Brandon Vera, were also able to stay alive and ensure that they remain relevant in the UFC. Expect both of these men to get back onto the main card the next time they fight, as they do remain draws. Vera is also someone who could take on Hamill next, if a Silva matchup doesn’t work. I expect to see Grove take on a former TUF contestant in his next fight in order to either help build him back up, or use his name as a stepping stone for a younger fighter.
With UFC 96 behind us we can now turn our attention to
the next Fight Night and the beginning of the new season of TUF on April 1st UFC 97. I will be in attendance and should have lots to say about that event leading up to it, and afterwards. I’m looking forward to it!