With another night of action in the rearview mirror at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s shoes, and play UFC matchmaker for UFC 259‘s key winning and losing fighters outside the main event.

Dominick Cruz

Jose Aldo

Should fight: Jose Aldo
Why they should fight: Former UFC and WEC champ Dominick Cruz got his hand raised for the first time since UFC 199 in June 2016 when he edged out Casey Kenney by split decision in a competitive fight.

Cruz showed a lot of the tools in his game that made him such an effective bantamweight for so long. There may be a slight drop-off to what he once was, but if he can stay healthy and active, there’s no reason to think “The Dominator” doesn’t belong fighting at the highest level.

A matchup will fellow ex-UFC and WEC featherweight titleholder Aldo (29-7 MMA, 11-6 UFC) fits the bill. It’s something we could only dream of years ago when they were ruling over their respective weight classes, but now that Aldo has seemingly committed to the 135-pound division long term, the timing is right.

Aldo is fresh off beating Marlon Vera in a similar surging contender vs. legend matchup as we just saw with Cruz and Kenney. Since they both overcame the challenges, it’s a good time to pair them up, but you never know when the chance could slip away for good.

[embedded content]

Aleksandar Rakic

Magomed Ankalaev

Should fight: Magomed Ankalaev
Why they should fight: Aleksandar Rakic thinks he deserves a light heavyweight title shot after beating Thiago Santos by unanimous decision in an important fight for the weight class. Unfortunately for him, the nature of his performance and timing appear to be two enemies.

Jan Blachowicz defending the title in the UFC 259 main event was a good thing for all the existing contenders. The champ said he wants a roughly six-month layoff before getting back in the octagon, at which point he’s expected to put the belt on the line against Glover Teixeira. It remains to be seen how long the winner of that fight could take to turn around, which means Rakic could be looking at minimum of nine months off if he’s adamant about waiting.

It’s also possible that Jiri Prochazka could slide past him in the queue if he beats Dominick Reyes in their main event May 1, especially if it’s exciting.

Rakic’s past two wins against Santos and Anthony Smith have been unspectacular, and he might need one more to prove his point. In terms of which is available, surging contender Ankalaev (15-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) might be the best fit.

Yes, Ankalaev would be a step down for Rakic in the rankings, but if he could snatch the Russian’s winning streak, he would have a near-bulletproof argument to challenge for the strap.

[embedded content]

Islam Makhachev

Rafael dos Anjos

Should fight: Rafael dos Anjos
Why they should fight: The post-fight callout from Islam Makhachev directed toward Tony Ferguson was perfect. He said he wants to do it on behalf of his friend Khabib Nurmagomedov since that fight never materialized, which is all good stuff from his perspective. Is it going to happen, though? It feels unlikely.

Makhachev (19-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) submitted Drew Dober in the third round of their lightweight bout to extend his UFC winning streak to seven consecutive fights. All respect to him for aiming high for a name like Ferguson, but it makes little sense for “El Cucuy” to take that one right now unless he wants to put himself at serious risk of a third consecutive loss.

That doesn’t mean hope is lost for Makhachev in terms of a high-profile fight, though. And he should be looking to reschedule a bout with former UFC champ dos Anjos (31-13 MMA, 19-11 UFC) after their matchup was scratched twice in 2020.

Dos Anjos is coming off a victory over Paul Felder in his return to 155 pounds in November, and given his history of taking any fight the UFC puts in front of him, he’d likely sign on the dotted line for Makhachev a third time.

[embedded content]

Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan

Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling

Should fight: Each other
Why they should fight: This one is a no-brainer.

Petr Yan became the first fighter in UFC history to lose to a title by disqualification when he landed an illegal knee on Aljamain Sterling in the fourth round of their bantamweight championship contest. Regardless of any opinions to the contrary, the right decision was made in the moment by all involved. The only option now is a rematch.

UFC president Dana White has already said he wants to book Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) vs. Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) again as soon as possible, and both men appear all in on it, too. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for Sterling to recover from whatever head trauma he endured from the strike before a date is finalized.

[embedded content]

Megan Anderson

Cris Cyborg

Should fight: A Bellator featherweight
Why they should fight: This is not a “you’re not good enough to be in the UFC, go to Bellator” type of argument for Megan Anderson after she got washed out in her first UFC title opportunity. It’s more about it being a better fit at this stage of her career.

UFC 259 marked the final fight on Anderson’s UFC contract. She didn’t finalize a new deal before challenging Amanda Nunes for the belt, which could mean she either bet big on herself believing in an upset, or the UFC brass forecasted this result and thought her value wouldn’t be there beyond this fight.

With a record six appearances in the women’s featherweight division, Anderson (11-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC) has fought everyone and done about everything she can to stay afloat in the UFC’s most neglected weight class. It’s been a frustrating burden for her, and now she can free herself of it.

Bellator, as we know, has shown far greater commitment to its 145-pound division. Anderson would have multiple fresh matchups waiting for her in Bellator, and champ Cris Cyborg is a fight that eluded her in the UFC. At this stage, it just seems like the better fit.

[embedded content]

Amanda Nunes

Julianna Pena

Should fight: Julianna Pena
Why they should fight: The epic run of Amanda Nunes went through Anderson with ease as she recorded her second title defense of the women’s featherweight belt, becoming the first in UFC history to now have multiple title defenses in two divisions.

Unless a radical shift occurs, there’s no one out there who can prove to be a challenge to the women’s MMA GOAT. It’s best to just keep feeding Nunes (21-4 MMA, 14-1 UFC) fights and sit back and witness greatness as it’s happening in real time, but the problem is, we’re starting to run out of fights.

UFC boss White said post-fight at UFC 259 that, due to the quickness of Nunes’ first-round submission win over Anderson, he’s looking to turn “The Lioness” around in short order with a defense of her women’s bantamweight title. And he hinted Pena (10-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) as the probable opponent.

Pena is one of the few highly ranked names who has yet to share the octagon with Nunes. “The Ultimate Fighter 18” winner was supposed to face Holly Holm on May 8 in a potential title eliminator, but Holm suffered an injury and pulled out. That may have been the best scenario for Pena, because she could be moved right into the title shot.

Is there anything that leads us to believe Pena could pose any type of real threat to Nunes? Not currently, but that’s the position we’re in with Nunes’ level of dominance.

[embedded content]