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This past weekend at UFC Fight Night: Bader vs. St. Preux, Zach Makovsky entered the Octagon buoyed by a four-fight win-streak. Across the canvas stood Jussier “Formiga” da Silva. Had Makovsky beaten Formiga, he’d probably be looking at more than just a win bonus. A victory may have earned him a shot at the winner of UFC 178’s flyweight title fight between Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Chris Cariaso. However, in MMA no outcome is certain, and Makovsky’s title hopes were dashed by his opponent’s formidable grappling. And while this was certainly the outcome Formiga hoped for, it may not have been the best outcome for the division as a whole. These are the reasons.
It is widely believed that Mighty Mouse will defend his belt with relative ease at UFC 178. This is not to demerit Cariaso’s skills, but it can’t be denied that he’s not quite on par with the champ’s recent competition. Provided that Johnson doesn’t underestimate his underdog opponent, which seems unlikely, it’s safe to assume that the belt will remain on his mantle. This assumption rendered pre-Formiga Makovsky extremely important. Before last weekend, Makovsky was a fresh face on a solid win streak, but best of all, he was one of the few fighters near the top of the flyweight division whom Mighty Mouse hadn’t already trounced. That made him a valuable asset.
Now, it could be argued that, in victory, Formiga has assumed Makovsky’s role, that he is now near the top of the ladder. But his recent knockout losses to John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez are hard to forget. With that in mind, it is unlikely that the UFC is willing to invest in selling him as a title challenger just yet. So, if not Makovsky—and if not Formiga—who might be on tap for the winner of Johnson vs. Cariaso? That’s suddenly a difficult question to answer.
A few weeks ago the answer would have been simple: John Dodson. Dodson has fought Mighty Mouse before, and while he came up short on the score cards, he was able to rock the champ—he’s really the only fighter on the roster who can match Mighty Mouse’s blistering speed. A rematch between the two would not be a difficult thing to sell. Unfortunately, due to a bite from the injury bug, “The Magician” won’t see any action until 2015.
Beyond Dodson, the next best options seem to be Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall or John Lineker, who are expected to square off later this year. Following a shaky start to his UFC career (which included a draw with and loss to Johnson), McCall has righted his ship with two wins over Iliarde Santos and Brad Pickett. And while a two-fight win streak isn’t particularly impressive on its own, McCall’s competitive first fight with Johnson makes a rematch a credible option. Linker on the other hand, is 1-1 in his last two, having most recently thrashed Alptekin Ozkilic with third-round punches. A win over McCall might be enough to justify his shot at the title, but his name is still synonymous with missing weight. Despite having made weight on his last two attempts, Lineker, at 24, may still have some growing up to do before he finds himself under the bright lights of a title fight. Furthermore, thanks to a hand injury sustained by McCall, the scrap between the two isn’t likely to go down for some time. When recovery times are factored in, neither man would be ready for a title fight until sometime in 2015.
So who’s left? Between his recent loss to the champ and suspension for steroid use, Ali Bagautinov will have to make miracles happen to earn another crack at the champ. The same goes for Joseph Benavidez, who has lost twice to Johnson. Beyond them are the young contenders. There’s Kyoji Horiguchi, Norifumi Yamamoto’s star protégé, who looks to have all the promise in the world but lacks the signature win required for a title shot. There’s also Dustin Ortiz, who is coasting on a three fight win-streak. Unfortunately, all three of those wins were split decisions, which diminish his credibility as an immediate contender.
Last but not least are promising contenders like Henry Cejudo and Ray Borg, who are far too green to mention in the title conversation.
Demetrious Johnson has made like a mouse and quietly cleaned out his division, and all he has left for UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby are crumbs—a pool of top-level fighters he’s already beaten and up-and-comers on modest win-streaks. Aside from Cariaso, who fits into the latter category, Makovsky looked like the last real challenger in the champ’s immediate future. With Makovsky’s loss to Formiga, and the rest of the division already booked or nursing injuries, it’s difficult to say who could be next for the unheralded king of the flyweights. Will Mighty Mouse have to wait around until a justified contender makes himself known? Or is it time to start talking super fights in the lower weight classes?
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