What’s next for Anthony Pettis, Stephen Thompson and other UFC Nashville fighters?

MMA


Former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis came roaring back to life on Saturday in a highlight reel knockout over Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night in Nashville.

Pettis, 32, went into the welterweight contest on a 3-6 skid. Part of the reason he even wanted the 170-pound fight, in fact, was due to a lack of exciting options in his own 155-pound weight class. After that performance, the options for Pettis’ next bout are seemingly endless.

What’s next for ‘Showtime,’ Thompson and the other big names of UFC Fight Night? Here’s ESPN’s take.

Anthony Pettis, lightweight/welterweight

Result: Defeated Stephen Thompson via second-round KO
Next: Winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza on March 30

Pettis is going to wherever the biggest fight is. Yes, he just knocked out a two-time title challenger at welterweight, but that doesn’t guarantee his immediate future will be in that division. He’s not even that big for a lightweight, relatively speaking. His next move will be based on caliber of opponent, not weight.

If Gaethje beats Barboza next weekend in Philadelphia, pairing him with Pettis at 155 pounds is a no-brainer. If Barboza wins, it’s less so (they previously fought in 2016). If Pettis’ next fight isn’t against one of these two, I think it will be the winner of the Rafael dos Anjos, Kevin Lee welterweight bout on May 18.

Honestly, my No. 1 choice for Pettis would actually be Jose Aldo at 155 pounds. That fight was booked back in 2013 when Aldo was the 145-pound champion, but Pettis had to pull out with a knee injury. It’s a fight that would still motivate Pettis, and make a lot of sense for Aldo, who says he’s retiring at the end of the year despite still performing at a high level.

Stephen Thompson, welterweight

Result: Lost to Anthony Pettis via second-round KO
Next: Robbie Lawler

Heartbreaking result for Thompson, who is now suddenly 1-3-1 in his last five contests. It’s not time to panic about the 36-year-old. Saturday was the first time he’s ever been finished in his MMA career, and the other losses during this skid were by a very narrow margin. Some thought he beat Tyron Woodley in 2017, and Darren Till in 2018.

Prior to Saturday’s loss, Thompson was the perfect candidate to headline a UFC Fight Night event on June 22 in his native South Carolina — but that timeline may be pushing it now. Either way, pairing him with Lawler makes perfect sense. Fun fight stylistically, and I’m still not in love with the idea of a Lawler, Ben Askren immediate rematch.

Result: Defeated Justin Willis via unanimous decision
Next: Stipe Miocic

On one hand, this performance showed, once again, why there’s ample reason to get excited about Blaydes. Willis is a legitimate heavyweight, and it turned out he wasn’t in the same league as Blaydes. But on the other hand, as dominant as it was, this performance isn’t going to significantly bolster Blaydes’ title aspirations. For Blaydes, this was a very nice rebound from his first-round loss to Francis Ngannou in November. Not much more.

It’s important though, because it puts him on track in the rankings for a No. 1 contender-type matchup. And it sure looks like that would be against Miocic. Book Ngannou vs. Junior dos Santos on the same night as Blaydes vs. Miocic and see who asserts himself as ‘next-in-line.’ Biggest question is whether Miocic would accept that, or feel it does little for him.

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UFC president Dana White lays out his plan to decide the title picture for the bantamweight and flyweight divisions.

Result: Defeated Deiveson Figueiredo via unanimous decision
Next: Joseph Benavidez

I guess? I mean, everything is still so weird with this division. The champ, Henry Cejudo, is likely moving up to face Marlon Moraes for the bantamweight title this summer, per UFC president Dana White. And I can’t ignore the UFC’s decision to let most of its flyweight roster go earlier this year. I just don’t see the promotion reversing course on that. The 125-pound weight class has been (and remains to be) on borrowed time.

It’s very unfortunate circumstances for Formiga and Benavidez, who each deserve a title shot. The only thing those two can really do as this all plays out though, is stay the course. Right? This fight (which would be a rematch of a 2013 bout Benavidez won by knockout) does make sense, even if we have no idea how it fits into the bigger picture.

Result: Defeated JJ Aldrich via second-round TKO
Next: Rachael Ostovich

Barber wants the fast track, and she can rest easy knowing she’s going to get it. She couldn’t get off the fast track even if she wanted to at this point. She is the youngest fighter on the UFC’s roster, and the promotion is going to challenge her. But that said, Barber and the UFC would be wise to remember she is just 20 years old. Keep these challenges manageable.

Ostovich is eight years older, but only has two more pro fights on her record. She’s the right kind of opponent for Barber, and she also has name recognition, which should satisfy the UFC (and Barber’s) desire to build her brand. Barber is not an easy fighter to matchmake, honestly, because you want to manage her success along with her need to develop. A fight against Ostovich would accomplish both.



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