Mark Munoz vs. Chael Sonnen
Anderson Silva is injured and on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time. There’s also the little fact that Silva has very little desire, if any, to face Chael Sonnen a second time. Silva always used to find Sonnen’s antics cute and perhaps a little annoying, but he always shrugged them off and went about his day because he knew a rematch with Sonnen would be highly profitable.
But Sonnen’s recent desire for Silva’s wife to make him a steak and maybe engage in a little post-dinner ass-patting threw a wrench in the proceedings. Silva wants no part of Sonnen, and if it seems like the Oregon native crossed an invisible line in Silva's mind this around around, well, that’s because he has.
With all of that in mind, let’s take the two guys who are probably the top two contenders in the division and put them together. Both guys want shots at Silva and both of them probably won’t get them any time soon for very different reasons, so why not make the next logical fight? If Munoz can get past Sonnen, he certainly deserves a title shot, and if Sonnen dominates Munoz like he did Brian Stann at UFC 136, there’s no way Silva can make the claim that he doesn’t deserve a shot.
Renan Barao vs. Joseph Benavidez
Barao should be in line for a title shot in the bantamweight division, a weight class with few outstanding challengers separating themselves from the pack. Twenty-seven wins in a row cannot be denied, no matter where the majority of them took place.
But with the next crack at the injured Dominick Cruz likely coming from the Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles bout at UFC 139, the only thing that makes sense is for Barao to face more top-shelf competition.
Top-shelf competition is what Benavidez provides. The Team Alpha Male fighter finds himself in a strange holding pattern, forced there by his proclivity for beating all top contenders while not quite getting over the hump against Cruz. He’s likely heading to the flyweight division in the first half of 2012, so a loss against Barao wouldn’t harm his career. A Barao win would mean the world for him and cement him as the next guy in line for the championship when the Cruz/Faber/Bowles shuffle concludes next summer.
Both British newcomers had excellent nights at UFC 138, with Mills destroying Chris Cope and Maguire proving himself a formidable grappler against Justin Edwards.
Maguire was nearly knocked out by Edwards in the first round of their bout, but rebounded in fine fashion by out-grappling Edwards on the way to a lopsided decision win. Mills, meanwhile, utterly destroyed Cope in the best display of plum clinch technique since Anderson Silva rearranged Rich Franklin’s face (twice) several years ago.
It’s a striker vs. grappler battle, which we love, and it’s a chance for two promising British welterweights to separate themselves from the pack and from each other.
Terry Etim vs. Joe Lauzon
With Maguire vs. Mills, you’ve got a striker vs. grappler battle. You’ll find none of that nonsense here. Etim vs. Lauzon was supposed to happen way back at UFC 118, but Etim’s health issues forced him to withdraw from the fight.
Eighteen months later and with Etim recovered from his injuries, there’s no better time to make the fight happen. Lauzon’s defeat of Melvin Guillard didn’t make him a contender in the lightweight division, at least not yet, and he needs an opponent. Both fighters are fresh off quick submission wins and, let’s face it, the grappling-fest that would ensue between Etim and Lauzon would be fantastic. You know it would.
Thiago Alves vs. Rory MacDonald
I know Rory MacDonald is already booked into a fight with Brian Ebersole. What sense does that fight make?
Ebersole is an entertaining character and one wacky human being, but is he really going to serve as foil for the likes of Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz or Carlos Condit? He’s not. So why risk one of your best welterweight prospects by putting him in the cage with a guy who might very well beat him and derail his hype train before it ever gets moving down the tracks?
Alves makes much more sense as a potential opponent, if only because he’s a known commodity and, if he beats MacDonald, there’s somewhere you can go with him. With Ebersole, there is no such upside.
Follow Jeremy Botter on Twitter @jeremyheavymma