In the main event of UFC 272, Colby Covington won a long-awaited grudge match against Jorge Masvidal, outpointing his former friend over five rounds.
With each fighter having unsuccessfully challenged reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman on two occasions, even Covington has some work to do to get back to a title shot.
Here’s a look at whom the American should fight next as he looks to stay on the edge of the title picture at 170lbs, as well as where Masvidal and the other protagonists from Saturday’s event in Las Vegas should turn.
Colby Covington vs. Gilbert Burns/Khamzat Chimaev
Covington has lost twice to Usman but could make the case for a third shot at the “Nigerian Nightmare” with another big win following his victory over Masvidal. Perhaps Covington needs two more wins to get back to Usman, though the champion looks set to defend his belt against a game Leon Edwards in the near future, and a fresh face atop the division would likely shorten Covington’s route to the summit.
If the former interim champion can get past former title challenger Burns or rising star Chimaev, he will be considerably closer to the gold. Burns and Chimaev go head-to-head at UFC 274 in May, so the winner of that bout makes sense as Covington’s next opponent.
After beating Masvidal, Covington actually called out another former teammate in Dustin Poirier, who has teased a move up from lightweight. That fight would make the UFC a good amount of money and follow a build-up that would surely be engaging, but it seems unlikely that Poirier would give Covington what he wants by agreeing to step in the ring with him.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Conor McGregor
Masvidal is 37 and is on a three-fight losing run. He has twice challenged for the welterweight title and twice lost. He is unlikely to ever become champion but just signed a lucrative new multi-fight deal with the UFC. As such, the best approach for a fighter who still brings a rare name value is to pursue money fights.
The biggest on the table would be a clash with McGregor, who is on a two-fight skid and also seems unlikely to become a champion again. A potential contest between the Irishman and Masvidal would presumably take place at welterweight, although the American has experience at lightweight, where McGregor held the title between 2016 and 2017.
McGregor may just no longer be able to hang with the best at 155lbs, while Masvidal could do with a break from facing elite wrestlers. He and McGregor would probably produce an exciting, stand-up fight that might well deliver a finish.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev
Dos Anjos dominated late replacement Renato Moicano through five rounds on Saturday, with the latter’s corner arguably guilty of prolonging their fighter’s punishment by not throwing in the towel.
Dos Anjos, 37, excelled on his feet and on the mat to roll back the years, easily outpointing his fellow Brazilian in their lightweight co-main event. The reality is, however, the biggest names at 155lbs would all be favored against the former champion, and his originally-scheduled bout with Rafael Fiziev should perhaps be rearranged for Dos Anjos’ next outing.
Kyrgyzstani Fiziev is on a five-fight win streak and also beat Moicano in that run, establishing himself as a sizeable problem in the division. If Dos Anjos can get past the contender-in-the-making, an excuse can be made to book him against a big-name opponent.
Bryce Mitchell vs. Dan Ige
Mitchell remained undefeated on Saturday by defeating veteran Edson Barboza – easily the biggest scalp the American has taken so far in his UFC career.
Mitchell pressured the Brazilian throughout, forcing grappling exchanges that he dominated with ease, though “Thug Nasty” also dropped the former lightweight in a surprising moment of slick striking, proving that his immense wrestling threat is not his only asset as he looks to keep climbing the rankings at 145lbs.
The win moved Mitchell into the top 10 at featherweight, and the obvious options for his next opponent are ninth-ranked Ige and eighth-ranked Giga Chikadze. Ige is on a two-fight losing streak, while Chikadze’s long winning run was ended in his last bout of him. Ige presents a slightly easier match-up for Mitchell, whose potential in and out of the ring should be capitalized upon by the UFC.
Kevin Holland vs. Geoff Neal
Holland’s phenomenal 2020 saw the American fight and win five times, securing four stoppage victories in that run. A disappointing 2021 followed, however, with back-to-back losses preceding a No Contest.
The loquacious Holland has dropped from middleweight to welterweight to reinvigorate his career, with Saturday’s clash with Alex Oliveira marking “Bigmouth”’s debut at 170lbs. After a worrying first round, Holland responded perfectly by flooring his experienced opponent early in the second round, before swarming the Brazilian with ground strikes to get the finish.
Holland’s popularity and past impressive performances at middleweight mean a top-10 foe should not be out of the question next time out. Geoff Neal, whom Holland beat via TKO before either man made it to the UFC, is a sensible option, with a stand-up contest likely to play out – meaning Holland wouldn’t have to worry about the wrestling that troubled him during his underwhelming 2021.