In the main event of Sunday night’s UFC Fight Night 88, Team Alpha Male’s Cody Garbrandt sought to crack Thomas Almeida’s pristine 21-0 record. Neither the fight’s betting odds nor the fans seemed to give the 24-year-old much chance on this mission.
In the end, however, Garbrandt succeeded in the biggest way possible, flattening his fearsome foe with a rocket-fuelled right hand just 2:53 into round one.
With this emphatic win, the 24-year-old Garbrandt has established himself as one of the very best bantamweights on earth. Provided he keeps winning, he also looks like he could emerge as one of the division’s bigger stars, as he is just the kind of telegenic action-fighter that the fans will tune in to watch. What comes next for the surging bantamweight contender, however, is not especially clear. While Garbrandt has stressed that he’d like to compete at UFC 203, which will go down in his home state of Ohio on September 10, it’s hard to say who his next dance partner might be.
So, let’s weigh the options.
The most obvious next step for Garbrandt is probably Bryan Caraway, a top-10 fighter who also won big at Fight Night 88, taking a close decision from previously unbeaten prospect Aljamain Sterling. Yet it would not be surprising to see UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby steer clear of this potential booking. With his defeat of Sterling, Caraway proved himself as a capable prospect-killer. If Caraway and his ugly-but-effective style were to end Garbrandt’s streak too, which is entirely possible, the bantamweight division would have gone from three undefeated contenders to none in the span of a few months. This would be bad for business, and of course, the UFC is a business. Yes, while a bout with Caraway is certainly possible for Garbrandt, its probably more likely that the Team Alpha Male fighter is instead paired with an opponent who will oblige him in a fist fight, rather than attempt to drag him through grappling hell.
In this event, one of the more appealing choices for Garbrandt is the 10th-ranked John Dodson. Dodson has spent the last few years near the top of the flyweight division. Yet after a second loss to reigning flyweight king Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, he returned to the bantamweight division for a change of scenery. His first fight back in the division couldn’t have gone any better, as he smashed a veteran Manny Gamburyan to a first-round TKO. Dodson then, would represent a ranked and credible foe for Garbrandt, but also one who is likely to bang it out with him on the feet—just what the UFC and the fans want.
Another interesting next step for Garbrandt would be the streaking Jimmie Rivera, who now owns a spectacular 18-1 overall record and holds the number-14 spot in the bantamweight rankings. While the 26-year-old Rivera began his career as something of a decision fighter, he has lately discovered his Octagon-shaking power, and would likely oblige Garbrandt in a dangerous, stand-up fight. Yes, this prospective clash would almost certainly be a thriller, and the winner would be catapulted right to the top of the division.
Yet upon closer examination, there is one particularly clear choice for the streaking Cody Garbrandt: the winner of John Lineker and Michael “Mayday” McDonald’s July 13 showdown.
Now, the glaring problem with this prospective booking is that it’s possible that Lineker and Mayday—both wickedly powerful punchers—will injure the shit out of each other on fight night. Indeed, its possible that even the winner of this fight will need some serious time to recover. This, of course, would mean they wouldn’t be ready for Garbrandt’s planned UFC 203 homecoming.
Lineker and Mayday’s fearsome power—and the submission savvy that both have recently showcased—also means its possible that this fight could also be over in the blink, leaving the winner good and ready for another fight two months later. Is is likely? Perhaps not. Is it worth crossing our fingers for? Absolutely. Garbrandt versus either Lineker or Mayday would guarantee excitement, and from a rankings standpoint, this prospective fight makes tremendous sense for all parties. Yes, if the winner of Lineker vs. Mayday is suitably healthy, it’s worth praying to the MMA gods that Joe Silva pairs that winner with Garbrandt.
Whatever comes next for Garbrandt though, his youth, talent, and fan-friendly style guarantee him an exciting future in bantamweight division. Yes, whether it’s Lineker, Mayday, Dodson, Rivera, or a potentially hype-destroying showdown with Caraway, Garbrandt has plenty of interesting options ahead. And if he keeps winning—especially in the style with which he smoked Almeida—he will probably be banging on the door of the champ in the not too far off future.
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