Who’s next for Chimaev, Volkanovski and Sterling?
2: 10 AM ET
Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Khamzat Chimaev stole the show, as expected, at UFC 273 on Saturday night with a unanimous-decision win over Gilbert Burns in what Dana White called one of the greatest fights he’s ever seen. Featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski put on a show of his own with a fourth-round stoppage of Chan Sung Jung. And while Aljamain Sterling may not have silenced all of his critics, his split-decision win over Petr Yan to defend his bantamweight belt likely will shift his focus to a different opponent.
So who is next for Chimaev White had said Colby Covington was on deck if Chimaev won. Is this the right fight?
And while Yan believes he deserved the decision and wants a third bout against Sterling, who won the title when Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee on March 6, 2021, would the UFC be interested in the trilogy? And what about Volkanovski.
Alexander Volkanovski keeps Chan Sung Jung guessing throughout their fight and wins the bout via technical knockout.
Alexander Volkanovski, featherweight champion
Who should be next: Max Holloway
This is a no-brainer. This was supposed to be the trio fight between these two, but Holloway was unable to attend due to a lingering injury. Although he was cleared to fight on Saturday, the UFC had already made plans for Jung to replace him. Volkanovski is the champion — there is no dispute there. Because of the closeness of his victories over Holloway, there has always been a demand to complete the trilogy. Holloway has been a constant thorn in the side of the champ. Volkanovski has not been able to overcome him. He would be able to do this with a third win. If Volkanovski can do a quick turnaround, I believe it’ll happen in August.
Wild card: Henry Cejudo
I’m almost kidding. It is unlikely. Volkanovski will fight in the only other possible match. There is no other featherweight competitor who could be worthy. There is no way he could move up to lightweight. It’s the Holloway trilogy and nothing else. But if Cejudo suddenly wanted to get out of retirement (and on his old agreement, because it doesn’t seem like the UFC wants him to make more), this fight would be great.
Chan Sung Jung, featherweight
Who should be next: Giga Chikadze
Jung is 35 and says he still has a little left in the tank. Although he seems unlikely to get another title shot, he is still highly ranked. He is still capable of hosting a card.
Chikadze is coming off a pretty dominant loss to Calvin Kattar. Before that fight in January, he looked like a legitimate title challenger. A win over Jung would bring Chikadze back into the fold, amongst the top six to seven in the division. It’s a great fight, stylistically speaking — as many of these fights are at featherweight to be honest.
This is a very dynamic division. This fight is very strong and I would love to see it as a main event of five rounds.
Wild card: Arnold Allen
This isn’t a perfect option, since Allen is coming off a win. Allen is still trying to build his profile and a fight against Jung would be a good option. It’s also a great fight. Jung is still highly ranked, even though he’s coming off a loss.
The UFC is considering a return to England in the summer. Jung vs. Allen in London would make a great fight for many reasons.
Khamzat Chimaev, welterweight
Who should be next: Colby Covington
Oh my goodness, what a fight. We wanted to see Chimaev test, and we got it. And I can tell you, it was one of those perfect circumstances for Chimaev because defeat was staring at him in the face. He made some mistakes during this fight. He probably took Burns lightly. He learned valuable lessons and didn’t have the burden of a loss. This will make him more dangerous. Covington is the obvious next opponent. Part of me hates to watch them fight, because one must lose and then you lose potential title challengers. Chimaev was human in this fight. Covington is a great fighter. It’s a great matchup. Let’s go.
That’s the next title fight. If Covington doesn’t want to fight Chimaev then he can wait. Chimaev doesn’t like to wait and might want to fight for a middleweight bout while he waits. However, he did have a difficult fight with Burns. Maybe he wouldn’t mind a little bit of time off. Let him sit in the cage for Usman vs. Edwards. Then, bring him into the cage with the winner. Scenes. It’s a great way for the year to end at welterweight.
Gilbert Burns, welterweight
Who should be next: Jorge Masvidal
Let’s reward Burns, right? He will fight anyone. He will do it when the UFC asks. He was willing to fight in the fight that the rest of the division did not want in Chimaev and he almost pulled it off as a significant underdog. He accepted all that and put on one his best performances, even though he lost. He deserves another big fight after this one. He is loved by his fans, and rightfully so. Burns is a fighter, he’s entertaining and humble, and he never quits. Masvidal hasn’t won in his three previous fights but he’s as well-known as anyone in the division and is still ranked. This is it.
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) April 10, 2022
If Edwards loses to Usman, this makes a ton of sense — although I will say, I think the UFC would take a close look at Edwards vs. Masvidal, which would leave Burns on the outside. If Usman loses, he may get an immediate rematch or not with all the great options at welterweight. There are many moving parts to this fight. I don’t know if Usman and Burns would ever fight again unless there was a title at stake. Perhaps not. If it isn’t Masvidal, this one makes the most sense from a rankings standpoint.
Aljamain Sterling wins his long-anticipated rematch with Petr Yan via split decision at UFC 273.
Aljamain Sterling, bantamweight champion
Who should be next: TJ Dillashaw
Whether you agree with the scorecards of Saturday or not, you might as well move beyond the Sterling-Yan matchup. Because the UFC will. Sterling already has. It was a close fight, which could have gone either direction, but the UFC isn’t about to make it back. Dillashaw has been waiting for the title shot since he came back and beat Cory Sandhagen last July. Waiting is not the right term. He’s been recuperating from injuries sustained in that fight. Sterling wants to fight him. It’s the most important title fight the UFC can make at bantamweight. It will be the next. Dillashaw told me he’d like to do it on Oct. 22 in Abu Dhabi, but he’ll do it wherever Sterling wants.
Wild card: Petr Yan
If the UFC doesn’t do Dillashaw for whatever reason, then running this back would be the only thing that makes sense. If enough people are outraged by the decision, a third meeting might be scheduled. I don’t see that happening.
Petr Yan, bantamweight
Who should be next: Merab Dvalishvili
It might look bleak for Yan right now after losing to the same opponent twice in title fights, in heartbreaking fashion. He was hurt in the first meeting when he used an illegal knee and it cost him dearly. It was difficult to lose the second one via split decision. In reality, he is not far from the belt. This fight makes perfect sense to me. Sterling is Sterling’s friend and teammate, Dvalishvili. This fight already has a story. Yan could be a striker with anyone, but I think this fight is the best because of the story.
Wild card: Dominick Cruz
Cruz is one of the biggest names in the division and, in my opinion, the greatest bantamweight of all time. Cruz is not in his prime but he deserves a big fight that could give him one last chance at the UFC title. Yan fits the bill. Yan is a formidable opponent and Cruz would have need to be perfect. Can Cruz execute a strategy similar to that of Sterling? Absolutely. Yan faces a legend in the division. Cruz faces someone who can win him a belt. Win, win.
Mackenzie Dern, strawweight
Dern fights mean. Dern fights because she believes in her chin and resists pressure. She is willing to fight in a telephone booth. It leads to chaos which is a benefit because she can be dangerous in a scramble, or snatching submissions. She still has a lot to do in her career, and it will be exciting before it ends. Her skills are constantly improving between contests. Andrade will be returning to flyweight and will be facing Lemos, a true up-and-comer. In a perfect world Dern would be active. There is no rush. She doesn’t need to get to a title fight in 2022. Keep building. This matchup would be a real test.
Wild card: Amanda Ribas
This might sound weird because Ribas is moving up to flyweight. She fights Katlyn Chookagian on May 14. If she were to lose that fight and decide she wants to retest 115, I think this matchup could make a ton of sense. Ribas holds a win over Dern from 2019. If Ribas beats Chookagian, obviously she’ll stay at 125. Even if Ribas loses that fight, she could still keep her flyweight weight. I can see a world where this fight takes place, and it’s all about keeping Dern active. There aren’t many people in the division who rank ahead of her right now.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.