On Saturday night, in the main event of UFC Fight Night 108, Russian-born Irishman and Conor McGregor training partner Artem Lobov stepped onto the canvas with the UFC’s fourth-ranked featherweight, Cub Swanson.
Given that Lobov entered this fight with an undeniably unimpressive 13-12-1 overall record, and a station well outside the featherweight top-15, it was widely claimed that this was an opportunity he didn’t deserve; that he’d only been granted this massive step up in competition on the strength of his relationship with the megastar McGregor. There was even some suggestion that Lobov didn’t belong in the UFC at all.
In the end, Lobov didn’t win his fight with Swanson. Yet despite his unimpressive record, despite the fact that he’s not ranked, he hung in there for five fun rounds with the elite featherweight, and actually managed to land more strikes on him than any of his previous opponents. He didn’t prove he was better than Swanson, but in battling him for a full 25 minutes, he proved, without a flicker of doubt, that he is a UFC-caliber fighter.
Having justified his place on the crowded UFC roster, Lobov now looks ahead to his next challenge under the promotion’s bright lights. This of course begs the question: who does he fight next?
Here are a few of the more interesting options.
While Lobov should be commended for giving Swanson a good fight, his failure to win means he’s likely to remain outside the featherweight top-15. As such, his next fight could well pit him against another fighter on the outside looking in.
When the featherweight talent pool is narrowed down to unranked fighters, one of the more interesting options for Lobov is Sam Sicilia. Sicilia, who trains alongside top fighters like Michael Chiesa and Julianna Peña, is currently in the midst of a rough patch, having lost his last three fights. That said, his fight-altering power makes him a dangerous test for most featherweights, and his willingness to bang it out with his foes makes him an exciting possibility for the brawl-craving Lobov.
Another interesting possibility for Lobov is Alex Caceres who, like Sicilia, currently sits outside the featherweight top-15.
Though he has lost his last two fights, Caceres has proven himself as one of the featherweight division’s most unpredictable and creative fighters. Given that Lobov, whose gloves rarely reside above his bottom rib, stands out as one of the more unconventional strikers in the featherweight division, this fight immediately looks like an interesting one. Furthermore, it makes plenty of sense from a rankings standpoint.
Doo Ho Choi:
Though Lobov is likely to remain outside the featherweight top-15 in the wake of his battle with Swanson, his fan friendly fighting style and association with McGregor may yet earn him another test inside the top-15.
When scanning the featherweight top-15, there are few more interesting options for Lobov than South Korean prospect Doo Ho Choi, who also recently had his rise halted by the veteran savvy of Swanson.
We’ve known for some time that Lobov and Choi both hit very hard. Yet in their battles with Swanson, they both showed that they’re also long on durability and heart. Given this, it’s very hard to imagine their pairing being anything short of sensational. Why not pit these two recent Swanson victims together, and see who is ready for another crack at the top-10?
You may be thinking, after coming up short against a top-10 opponent he arguably didn’t deserve, Lobov probably shouldn’t be awarded another top-10 foe—but hear me out.
Stephens just had his featherweight contendership status called into serious question when he was outhustled by the previously unranked Renato Moicano. As such, he’s likely to face a bit of a step down in competition in his next fight. Lobov would represent just that.
Furthermore, Stephens packs dynamite in both hands—and as he showed against Dennis Bermudez, his knees as well. He’s the kind of all-aggression finisher that is likely to give Lobov precisely the kind of brawl he desires.
And then, of course, there’s the narrative. At a press conference in the build-up to UFC 205, Stephens bravely attempted to lay the groundwork for a lucrative grudge match with McGregor, calling himself McGregor’s toughest test, and “the real hardest hitting 145’er.” Unfortunately, this attempt blew up in his face when McGregor claimed not to know who he was, casually asking “who the fuck is that guy” and inadvertently creating the most overused meme in MMA history.
But Stephens was never going to get that fight anyway. By the time UFC 205 rolled around, McGregor had moved far beyond the featherweight division, and even further away from featherweight fringe contenders. McGregor’s friend and training partner Lobov, however, is suddenly in the perfect position to serve as his avatar against Stephens. Given that Lobov also recently called himself the featherweight division’s hardest puncher, the timing really couldn’t be better.
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