Option 1: The winner of Carlos Condit v. Rory MacDonald (UFC 115, 6/12)
By beating Diego Sanchez, Hathaway proved that he should enter the discussion of potential contenders in the UFC Welterweight division. He’s not a contender yet, but a win over either Condit or MacDonald would be another strong push in the right direction. Alternatively, if either Condit, the former WEC Welterweight champion, or MacDonald, who is also undefeated can beat Hathaway, they will very much find themselves in the thick of the title hunt. That Condit v. MacDonald will take place on June 12 puts the winner, barring injury, on a near identical fighting cycle to that of Hathaway.
Option 2: Dong Hyun Kim
Two undefeated fighters coming off of victories over champions from The Ultimate Fighter on the same event. It’s almost too perfect a match not to make. The winner here will absolutely move into title contention with maybe just one more victory needed to face Georges St. Pierre. The problem is that neither Hathaway nor Kim are, at this point, going to yield great returns in terms of buy rate, live gate, and so forth if matched against St. Pierre. Fortunately for them, a champion on the level of St. Pierre sells himself, and while an opponent with a bigger name helps to sell the event, St. Pierre against anyone is going to do big business. St. Pierre against any undefeated fighter is going to have a certain caché, even if the fighter isn’t established as a star.
– Dong Hyun Kim
Option 1: Chris Lytle
Lytle will first have to get past Matt Brown, whom he will fight at UFC 116 on July 3 in what may be one of the great slugfests of the year, but there is evidence to suggest that this fight will happen. First, this match was scheduled for UFC 110 before Kim withdrew due to a knee injury and Lytle went on to force replacement Brian Foster to submit with a kneebar in a somewhat poetic finish. Second, with a win over Brown, Lytle will have earned three victories in a row in the meat grinder than is the UFC’s Welterweight division, and that would warrant some discussion about Lytle’s potential as a contender. Then there’s the fact that Kim is also entering his name into the discussion of contenders, and a win over Lytle, who has been somewhat of a gatekeeper thus far, would legitimize his contendership. Finally, as with just about any Lytle fight, the match would be wildly entertaining.
Option 2: John Hathaway
Again, the timing and credentials of each fighter make this a near-perfect match. If the UFC is ready to give Kim a chance to become a legitimate contender, this is the way they will go. Stylistically, it’s intriguing as well. Can Kim use his judo to take down Hathaway, whose takedown defense was a strength against Sanchez? Can Hathaway pick Kim apart on the feet the way he did Sanchez? It would be a treat to see such questions answered.
– Efrain Escudero
Option 1: Jeremy Stephens
Following his loss to Evan Dunham, Escudero is on the outside looking in towards becoming a contender in the UFC’s Lightweight division. The win over Dan Lauzon helped move him in the right direction, but only slightly. While the lost to Dunham indicates that Escudero isn’t quite ready to face top talent in the division, he still only has one career loss, so it’s not as though he should linger around the lower levels of the division. A match against Jeremy Stephens, who surprised many when he defeated Sam Stout at UFC 113 earlier this month, would pit two similarly ranked opponents against each other while weeding out the potential contender from the also-rans. Of course, someone else on the UFC 114 card expressed an interest in fighting Jeremy Stephens (well, “Jeremy Stevenson,” whoever that is), and that someone would also make a reasonable opponent for Escudero.
Option 2: Melvin Guillard
After defeating Waylon Lowe, Guillard talked about title shots and called out a fighter he had only just made up. Presumably he meant Jeremy Stephens, but maybe he meant fellow Team Jackson fighter Joe Stevenson. Doubtful, considering their strict policy against fighting teammates, but can’t you see Guillard ignoring that policy? Either way, another option that he failed to mention is Escudero,who fought just a little while after he beat Lowe. Escudero v. Guillard would have the potential to be as explosive as the final moments of Escudero v. Lauzon, only we’d likely not have to wait as long to get to that point in a match that would almost certainly not go the distance. A win here would better justify any discussion of a Guillard title shot, but regardless of who wins, he will remain two or three fights away from contention.