May 19, 2024

UFC 291 fight fallout: Justin Gaethje, Alex Pereira approaching title shots, what’s next for Dustin Poirier

Justin Gaethje certainly fits the BMF bill as he looks to parlay his new silver trophy into a shot at UFC gold. UFC 291 played host to Justin Gaethje’s revenge on Dustin Poirier, Alex Pereira’s successful light heavyweight debut and more. Saturday’s fights in Salt Lake City unlocked a myriad of exciting possibilities for the future.

Gaethje vs. Poirier 2 did not replicate the Fight of the Year nature of their 2018 encounter, but Gaethje has firmly cemented himself into the discussion for the 2023 Knockout of the Year. Gaethje channeled welterweight champion Leon Edwards — who knocked out Gaethje’s teammate Kamaru Usman in the same city 11 months earlier — by uncorking a head kick KO against Poirier that immediately ended the fight. Gaethje made it clear that his intention is to fight for the UFC lightweight title, which will be contested by Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira at UFC 294 in October.

Pereira is another fighter closing in on a title shot. Salt Lake City hosted Pereira’s light heavyweight debut as the former middleweight champion took a narrow split decision against former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. UFC fans also witnessed an important win for Kevin Holland who begins his ascent up the UFC’s official welterweight rankings, though he hinted he may go back up to middleweight.

Let’s take a look at where UFC is headed in the aftermath of UFC 291.

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Lightweight division

UFC lightweight championship — Islam Makhachev-Charles Oliveira winner vs. Justin Gaeethje: There is no doubt in my mind that Gaethje deserves a third crack at the UFC lightweight championship. Gaethje told CBS Sports that he requires ample recovery time from his gruelling training camp. That lines up nicely with the time it’ll take Makhachev and Oliveira to schedule another fight after their rematch at UFC 294 in October. UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski has called for a second fight with Makhachev, but he should instead focus on a deserving challenger in his own division, Ilia Topuria. The only thing that could complicate Gaethje’s timeline is if Oliveira beats Makhachev and the UFC books an immediate trilogy. There wouldn’t be a clear opponent for Gaethje in that scenario unless he waits for the trilogy to wrap. But for now, it’s gold or bust for “The Highlight.”

Dustin Poirier vs. Beneil Dariush or Makhachev-Oliveira loser: Poirier vs. Dariush is the fight I’d most like to see. Dariush was snubbed from a title shot before underperforming against Oliveira. It’s an interesting clash of style between two dynamic fighters, but I’m not confident Poirier will accept the fight. Poirier told reporters at the UFC 291 post-fight press conference that he’s not interested in fighting up-and-comers or prospects. Dariush is a highly-touted veteran but might lack the name value to spur Poirier as he winds down his career. The other option would be booking Poirier against the loser of Makhachev vs. Oliveira 2. The former would be a fresh matchup and the latter an exciting rematch.

Light heavyweight division

Vacant UFC light heavyweight championship — Jiri Prochazka vs. Alex Pereira: It’s the only fight worth making for the UFC light heavyweight title. Both are darlings of the hardcore fanbase with dynamic, potent strikes. The matchmaking is strong enough to sell on quality alone, but there is also an intriguing promotional angle to the fight. Prochazka defeated Glover Teixeira — Pereira’s mentor and dear friend — to capture win the 205-pound strap in CBS Sports’ 2022 UFC Fight of the Year. Pereira could achieve a measure of vengeance by taking out Prochazka. It also pits two of the fastest-rising stars in UFC history. Prochazka won the UFC light heavyweight title in his third UFC fight; meanwhile, Pereira won the UFC middleweight title in four Octagon appearances. The kicker is that Prochazka never lost the title. He vacated it in November 2022 due to injury and is primed for a comeback.

Jan Blachowicz vs. Nikita Krylov: Blachowicz looked good early against Pereira but fatigue got the better of him in the second and third rounds. Blachowicz is still an elite light heavyweight but he needs to recalibrate after going 1-2-1 in his last four. Prolific finisher Nikita Krylov is on the best run of his UFC career with three straight wins. Krylov is nipping at Blachowicz’s heels in the official UFC light heavyweight rankings and Blachowicz needs a step back in competition. This could be a solid Fight Night headliner or pay-per-view main card fight at a European event.

Welterweight division

Kevin Holland vs. Vicente Luque: Holland teased a move back to middleweight, citing the uncomfortable weight cut, but he looked sharp at welterweight. Holland wanted a spiritual BMF fight at 170 pounds. Fortunately, there are a number of action fighters at welterweight. Luque and dos Anjos headline a UFC Fight Night on Aug. 12. Luque always produces fireworks and RDA is certainly capable of magic against the right opponent. Candidly, I’m not invigorated by the idea of former UFC lightweight champion dos Anjos fighting former middleweight contender Holland, but Luque vs. Holland is a delightfully wicked idea.

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