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By Matt Pelkey, MMATorch Columnist
After a wild finale of the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter Saturday night, it's time to figure out what's next for the top winners and losers. The bantamweight and featherweight divisions are about to get an influx of talent and depth unlike any season of TUF has provided since Season 10: The Heavyweights. 135 and 145 are both about to get four or five fighters who not only already have the skills to make an impact, but have been introduced as personalities to the public over the last few months. The season's winners, Diego Brandao at featherweight and John Dodson at bantamweight, enter their UFC weight-classes a step or two ahead of the winners of the last several seasons. Plus, let's not forget the main event. While Jason "Mayhem" Miller goes directly from the penthouse to the outhouse (or at least to the middle of the pack at middleweight, which only FEELS like an outhouse), victor Michael Bisping finds himself one more win away from a title shot. Now, let's do some fantasy booking, shall we?
Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher
I know Alan Belcher is pining for Wanderlei Silva for his next fight, but a win over Bisping would put him much closer to the goal he's been aiming for his last several fights: a crack at the champ. Should Bisping win, he'd have five wins in a row over Belcher, Jason Miller, Jorge Rivera, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Dan Miller. That's a plenty good enough resume to earn a title shot. I've heard calls for Bisping to face the winner of Vitor Belfort-Anthony Johnson, but I think Belfort lamps Bisping, and does anyone really wanna see Belfort-Silva 2? Give me the match-up that guarantees a fresh contender at 185.
Jason Miller vs. Cung Le
I called for this immediately following the fight in my live coverage, and I'm sticking by it. Cung Le prefers making movies to fighting, and while Miller is a lifetime mixed martial artist, he also likes making money in front of the camera. There's really no telling where either guy sits in the UFC's middleweight division in the eyes of the UFC brass, so why not match them up together to watch their contrasting personalities and styles go at it? If Miller wins, he gets to play Le's part in his next movie, and if Le wins, he gets to host the next season of Bully Beatdown. We're all winners.
Diego Brandao vs. Tyson Griffin
I know Griffin's stock has fallen off a cliff in his last several fights, but he's still a name and a stern test for any TUF winner in his first fight. Griffin has the skills to test Diego as long as he can avoid the power, but the suspect chin to allow for a highlight reel victory for Brandao should he connect. Obviously Griffin didn't win his last fight, so this goes against Joe Silva's usual booking strategy, but why sacrifice one of your young up-and-coming fighters at 145 to Brandao? He, along with fellow winner John Dodson, should be matched-up tougher than previous season's winners right out of the gate, and Griffin fits the bill, despite his recent struggles.
Dennis Burmudez vs. Pablo Garza
Burmudez is a talented fighter who simply got caught Saturday night. He had Brandao in serious trouble before succumbing to one of the slickest armbars you'll ever see. With solid power and striking, good cardio, and a wrestling background to support it all, it seems submission defense will be his most glaring issue for the time being. Garza is a helluva tough first assignment, but Burmudez will have the power advantage and should be able to win striking exchanges. On the mat, Dennis "The Menace" should find himself in top position, where Garza's long limbs will offer him ample opportunity to show off what improvements in defense he's made.
John Dodson vs. Darren Uyenoyama
Uyenoyama probably isn't in the risk/reward ratio range Dodson would like for his first fight, but bantamweight lacks a "Tyson Griffin"-type for Dodson who offers the holy trinity for TUF winners: a name, a challenge, and a potentially easy path to victory. Uyenoyama offers the last two, but lacks the big name. He showed off high-level grappling in his last fight when he out-worked "Kid" Yamamoto to a decision victory. If he can plant Dodson on his back and keep him there, we'd get a much clearer picture of where the TUF 14 winner stands in the division. Problem is, nary a man has been able to take Dodson down, and no one has been able to keep him there. If Dodson could avoid the takedowns (likely), he should be able to style on Uyenoyama on the feet.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Ken Stone
Dillashaw is a raw prospect out of Team Alpha Male out in Sacramento, so you know what to expect: Good wrestling, good top control, raw but improving striking, and a nasty guillotine. He'll be brought along a little slower than the rest of the fighters from the show, and Stone, an American Top Team product, would provide a nice test. Stone's lone strength lies in his submission game, so the match-up would provide Dillashaw with a choice: Do I take it to the mat and put my sub defense to the test, or do I keep it standing and test my striking against someone of equal skill level?
Tony Ferguson vs. Nik Lentz-Mark Bocek winner
El Cucuy is ready for a test. He's bested veterans Aaron Riley and Yves Edwards on the feet, but it's time to put his vaunted defensive wrestling to the test. Enter the Lentz-Bocek winner. Both are very similar fighters (Lentz the stronger wrestling, Bocek the stronger submission artist, both elite MMA grapplers) who would at least commit to getting the fight to the mat, as it represents the only path to victory for both. Ferguson is still at the testing stage. He's passed the striking test twice. If he can do the same against the grappling of either Lentz or Bocek, I'll be ready to buy in, and he'll be ready to be shot up the lightweight ladder.
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