Should Jon Jones be next to challenge UFC heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic?


A high-action main event capped off UFC 252 and Stipe Miocic heads back to Ohio with the UFC heavyweight title and intentions on healing up. Daniel Cormier put up quite a fight and had the champ rocked at a few moments, but the former two-division champion exited the Octagon with a loss and said he has fought his last fight. And it was a good one.

Miocic and Cormier weren’t the only ones to own the spotlight Saturday night in Las Vegas. Marlon Vera and Jairzinho Rozenstruik managed to secure knockouts of their own, and Merab Dvalishvili lived up to his nickname — “The Machine” — with a dominating performance over the typically explosive John Dodson.

On the other hand, Sean O’Malley, one of the UFC’s most-hyped prospects, suffered his first loss and an injury that will put a temporary halt on the “Suga Show.”

So where do each of them go from here? UFC president Dana White was clear that Francis Ngannou is next in line, but he also said Jon Jones moving to heavyweight is “very interesting.”

So which is it?

And could anyone lure Cormier out of retirement? Brett Okamoto plays matchmaker and looks at who the biggest fighters on the card could have lined up for them next.

Stipe Miocic (defeated Daniel Cormier by unanimous decision)

Who should be next: Jon Jones

I know, I know. Jones is not the No. 1 heavyweight contender. Francis Ngannou is. Francis Ngannou is the No. 1 contender … and then some. He’s as deserving of a title shot as one could possibly be. And under normal circumstances, I would 100 percent, without question, say that Ngannou should be next for Miocic.

But here’s the deal: By defeating Cormier in the trilogy, Miocic has solidified himself as the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time. Plus, he already has defeated Ngannou once. As much as I’m sure everyone would love to see how a second fight between them would go, I don’t see the upside for Miocic. Why would he want that fight again? He has proved everything he needs to prove already against Ngannou. There’s only one fight for Miocic now: Jon Jones.

Wild card: Francis Ngannou

Look, this should probably be the answer for “What should be next.” But for the reasons I just laid out, I think there’s only one way for Miocic to build off what just happened: to go even bigger and face the light heavyweight champion.

But if that fight doesn’t come together, Ngannou obviously deserves it. And a second fight between these two would be fascinating and offer quite a storyline.

Daniel Cormier (lost to Stipe Miocic by unanimous decision)

Who should be next: Retirement

I hate to say it, because I truly love covering a Cormier fight week, but now is the time.

Cormier had said he would retire by his 40th birthday, but he put it off by more than a year. The people around him, who are close to him, are telling him it’s time. His family wants it to be time.

Cormier is one of the absolute best to ever do it. His only losses were to the greatest of all time in Jones, and the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time, Miocic. Though you can’t say Cormier is walking away from the sport “on top,” he kind of is. What is the top of MMA? Competing against the absolute best of your generation and making millions to do it.

Cormier is a true legend and even though he lost Saturday night, he’s walking away on top.

Wild card: Jon Jones

If Cormier wants to fight one more time, there is literally only one final fight to do. And again, for the record, I don’t like this idea.

I think the Jones-Cormier rivalry is over. It’s not as personal as it once was. Now Cormier, 41, is coming off a loss. Jones is 33. This fight would make very little sense, but if Cormier is sticking around, who else is there? Francis Ngannou needs to fight for the title. What’s Cormier going to do? Come back for a rematch against Derrick Lewis?

If Jones were to move up to heavyweight, and the UFC sold that fight as his chance to prove he deserves a title shot there and Cormier’s last shot at beating him, the fight would obviously sell. And it would even be a good fight. And it would make Cormier a lot of money.

I’m against it, but it’s the only option for Cormier aside from retirement.

Marlon Vera (defeated Sean O’Malley by first-round TKO)

Who should be next: Rob Font

O’Malley was going to be shooting for a top-five opponent with a win, so now that Vera beat him, does he get that? Top five still seems a little too soon to me. How about top 10?

I’ll admit right off the bat, I’m a fan of Font’s style. He’s from New England and shares similarities with his featherweight counterpart Calvin Kattar. He’s well-rounded, a fun boxer and he’s established. I’m all for it.

Wild card: Winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Pedro Munhoz on Aug. 22

The timing works out. Edgar might be looking for a bigger name if he wins, but Vera’s stock has never been higher. Munhoz would also be a great stylistic fight.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik (defeated Junior dos Santos by second-round TKO)

Who should be next: Derrick Lewis

Rozenstruik rebounded well from a disastrous loss to Francis Ngannou his previous time out. That’s the kind of loss that might haunt him if Ngannou stays ahead of him in the rankings (or has the belt), but it really didn’t knock him down too far in the rankings.

His next move seems obvious to me. Neither Rozenstruik nor Lewis will be fighting for the belt next, but they’re in the conversation with another win. It’s a compelling matchup between two sluggers and it makes sense in the rankings.

Wild card: Winner of Alistair Overeem vs. Augusto Sakai on Sept. 5

Overeem vs. Sakai is the first main event in September. If Overeem wins, he and Rozenstruik make a very fun matchup between two established knockout artists. And if it’s Sakai, he’d be coming off a win over a big name in Overeem and straight into another one in Rozenstruik.

Junior dos Santos (lost to Jairzinho Rozenstruik by second-round TKO)

Who should be next: Loser of Alistair Overeem vs. Augusto Sakai on Sept. 5

If Overeem loses, he and dos Santos have a history, as dos Santos lost to him in December 2015. It’s actually a little surprising they’ve never run that one back. If Sakai comes up short, he’d still be relatively highly ranked at heavyweight. Another matchup against a big name like dos Santos would fit the bill.

Wild card: Anthony Johnson

I keep hearing Rumble is coming back. It might still be too far away for dos Santos’ liking, and Johnson might still want to fight at light heavyweight … but if Rumble comes back in the halfway immediate future, and he decides to do it at heavyweight, who says no to this one?

Merab Dvalishvili (defeated John Dodson by decision)

Who should be next: Raphael Assuncao

Dvalishvili is on a serious tear and the sky is the limit for this 29-year-old. He’s a ball of cosmic energy, fighting in a pandemic in which the UFC needs guys who want to fight every weekend, and has a style that is built for the smaller Octagon. I honestly don’t know how high Dvalishvili is going to be ranked at the end of his career, but it could be high. Very, very high.

I don’t see anyone slowing him down right now. Assuncao, whether he likes it or not, is that guy who is still in the top 10 but is in no position to turn down fights. He has lost three in a row. His spot in the rankings is on the line, and Dvalishvili deserves a shot.

Wild card: Jimmie Rivera

Rivera is ranked No. 7 in the UFC rankings. Dodson was No. 12. You have to believe Dvalishvili will be knocking on the door of the top 10 after this one. The fight makes a ton of sense in the rankings, and Rivera would be a very fun challenge. I can’t say for sure Rivera has what it takes to defend Dvalishvili’s takedowns, but I also can’t say with any certainty he can’t.

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