UFC 303 — Next fights for McGregor, Chandler, Pereira, Lopes

Though the fight card for UFC 303 was continually shuffling until the last minute, the UFC still managed to produce a pay-per-view event that featured star power and rising talent.

In the main event, light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira earned another second-round knockout over former champ Jiří Procházka to retain the title. Pereira also beat Procházka by second-round knockout at UFC 295 in November. Pereira and Procházka took the fight on short notice after the original main event between Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler was canceled due to McGregor’s broken toe.

The co-main event between Diego Lopes and Dan Ige ended up being the story of the night as Ige stepped in at the very last minute to replace Brian Ortega, who was forced to withdraw Saturday afternoon due to illness. Lopes beat Ige by decision to continue his ascension in the rankings.

With so much turnover from this weekend’s pay-per-view, what should be next for the big names of UFC 303 — even those who didn’t make the final fight card? Let’s take a look.

Alex Pereira, light heavyweight

Who should be next: Magomed Ankalaev

It’s hard to make a case for anyone else, quite honestly. Pereira’s beaten three of the top four ranked contenders in the division. The No. 5 ranked contender, Aleksandar Rakic, is coming off a loss. Pereira has stated he will take that fight and likes the fact that it’s a matchup fans believe he has a good chance of losing. Pereira and the Glover Teixeira camp want to silence the naysayers by showcasing his improved grappling. The question becomes one of Ankalaev’s availability. He has not fought since January and has only fought twice in the past two years. Depending on that, he is the clear choice for next.

Wild card: Khalil Rountree Jr.

Rountree was initially supposed to face Jamahal Hill at UFC 303, but was pulled when he self-reported taking a supplement that contained a banned substance and was suspended for two months. Any doping violation isn’t a good development, of course, but in terms of malicious intent, this one is on the lighter side. His style is a home run matchup for Pereira. He would be a big underdog, but the division is light on contenders and Pereira prefers being an active champion. Whether he’s next or not, Rountree isn’t far removed from a title shot. There will be opportunities to hand out at this weight class and he’s in a good position to receive one.

Diego Lopes, featherweight

Who should be next: Alexander Volkanovski

I wouldn’t suggest this fight if it weren’t for Volkanovski’s desire to fight as much as possible. Volkanovski is arguably the greatest featherweight of all time. He deserves to face Ilia Topuria in his next appearance to reclaim his 145-pound belt. But this man does not want to wait, ever. He wants a fight sooner rather than later and has teased the idea of fighting at lightweight while he waits for his featherweight shot against either Topuria or Max Holloway. If he wants to fight that badly, I’d be in favor of him facing Lopes. It’s a massive jump for Lopes, but this sport is about striking while the iron is hot, and Lopes is on fire. Lopes had three first-round finishes in his past three fights going into his one, then he accepted Ortega at 145, Ortega at 155 and Ige at 165. Those are things the UFC rewards. The sport would be up for a fight like this.

Wild card: Winner of Arnold Allen vs. Giga Chikadze at UFC 304

Allen vs. Chikadze takes place on July 27 in Manchester, England. It’s a big fight for the division, not to mention a fun one stylistically. Regardless of who wins, both will still have work to do to get to a title shot. They might not want to face someone lower in the rankings at first, but given Lopes’ rising stock, he represents a big fight. The winner of that fight vs. Lopes could determine future title contention.



Dan Ige, Diego Lopes fight to decision in short-notice co-main event

Dan Ige and Diego Lopes fight all three rounds in the co-main event of UFC 303.

Ian Machado Garry, welterweight

Who should be next: Colby Covington

Covington isn’t interested in this fight and I get it, but at some point he will have a hard time turning it down. Machado Garry was already ranked No. 7 coming into this one. He’s undefeated and has now won eight in a row in the UFC. I don’t know what other options there are for Covington. He says he’s a big name and only wants big fights and he’s not wrong, but he’s also coming off probably the worst performance of his career against Leon Edwards. I’m a little surprised Machado Garry wants this fight as much as he does, because it would likely turn into an ugly fight week between the two and I don’t believe Machado Garry actually enjoys that kind of negative energy — but it would be a big name for his hit list. It would be great if the UFC made it a five-round main event. Perhaps in Dublin?

Wild card: Shavkat Rakhmonov

These two have trained alongside each other in South Florida, but they’ll square off if they have to. They’re both undefeated. They’re both seen as future title contenders. They will likely fight one way or another, and it could be next. But the Covington matchup is the one to explore first.

Michael Chandler, lightweight

Who should be next: Justin Gaethje

I just don’t think Conor McGregor fights again at this point. He never seemed that into the idea of fighting Chandler in the first place. The odds of him returning after this long layoff to a fight he doesn’t seem keen on anyway — I don’t see how that adds up. Chandler has held out a reasonable amount of time. There wasn’t any great option for him to pass up while he waited for McGregor, but to wait longer feels risky. I know Gaethje still needs a little time before coming back. Let Chandler wait a few more months to see what happens with McGregor, and if there’s nothing on the books, pursue a matchup with Gaethje. Gaethje put his No. 1 contender spot on the line at UFC 300, did the company a solid and ended up losing his place in line. Reward that risk by booking him against Chandler and calling it a No. 1 contender fight.

Wild card: McGregor

The other option is to wait for McGregor. At this point, though, it feels more like a wild card than a guarantee that it will ever happen.

Conor McGregor, welterweight

Who should be next: Michael Chandler

If he fights, it should be Chandler. Simple and straightforward. It’s what’s right, for one, but beyond that, it’s also the matchup the UFC has invested. The only option that would trump it would be…

Wild card: Max Holloway

Because Holloway is so big at the moment, based on what he did at UFC 300, this fight would be a blockbuster home run. But Holloway is headed back to 145 pounds, most likely. And even if he were to stay at 155 pounds, he’s not going, nor should he go to 170. And McGregor isn’t going back to 155 any time soon.

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