Who should be next for Jon Jones and Valentina Shevchenko?


HOUSTON — Valentina Shevchenko held serve with ease at UFC 247. Jon Jones and Derrick Lewis earned their wins too, but barely. Many questions remain about the futures of this trio. Jones has openly spoken about moving up to heavyweight. Shevchenko is looking for a real challenge in the flyweight division. Lewis wants to get himself back into title contention.

As for Dominick Reyes and Katlyn Chookagian, it’s time to take a step back. There’s no shame in losing to two of the sport’s best, but now it’s time to rebuild and work back to another title opportunity. Let’s take a look at who may be standing across the cage from tonight’s standouts in the future.

Who’s next for Jon Jones?

Should be next: The winner of Corey Anderson vs. Jan Blachowicz on Feb. 15.

This is not the most exciting option, coming off Jones’s riveting, back-and-forth five rounder with Reyes. But even after Saturday, he’s still in a “line up the next one” phase of his career and I don’t think an immediate rematch with Reyes is the answer.

Years ago, he had plenty of enticing matchups, including former champions like Lyoto Machida, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans. A knockout artist in Anthony Johnson was an exciting opponent, as was a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson and a rivalry with then-undefeated Daniel Cormier. Those fights just aren’t there at the moment. It’s quantity over quality right now for Jones. He’s adding numbers to his resume, not big names.

That will change when he moves up a weight class. Jones’ inevitable move to heavyweight will be a huge story when it happens, but the timing isn’t right for that to happen now.

Heavyweight is in a logjam as it is. Champion Stipe Miocic and Cormier need to schedule a trilogy bout. Francis Ngannou is lurking at the top, as is Curtis Blaydes. That heavyweight division will need Jones at some point, but not right now. And until the time comes to jump to heavyweight, Jones’s only option is to take on the next challenger, which is currently Anderson or Blachowicz.

Dark horse: Dominick Reyes

The boos were heavy as the result was read, but that’s somewhat to be expected in a close fight. Any time a fight is close, especially one that was potentially as shocking as this one, fans are going to argue the result. There is probably enough people out there who want to see a rematch, but the fact is, Jones rose to the occasion in the fifth round and more or less dominated that round. An immediate rematch is a possibility, but it’s not completely necessary.

Who’s next for Dominick Reyes?

Should be next: Loser of Anderson vs. Blachowicz

No need to overthink this as the rankings are pretty clear. Reyes’ first UFC title shot was not a success, but he’s still very highly ranked and has plenty of time to reach the top again.

Quietly, Anderson vs. Blachowicz is a very good, important fight at 205 pounds. Anderson has won four in a row, over good competition in Johnny Walker, Ilir Latifi, Glover Teixeira and Patrick Cummins. Blachowicz has been equally as impressive, winning six of his last seven, over the likes of Jacare Souza, Luke Rockhold and Jared Cannonier. If the winner of that Feb. 15 bout moves on to a title shot, as he should, pairing Reyes with the loser seems pretty obvious.

Dark horse: Aleksandar Rakic

Like Reyes, Rakic is one of the most impressive new faces at light heavyweight. He’s only 28 and has the look of a future title challenger.

Rakic is coming off his first loss in the UFC, a split decision to Volkan Oezdemir in November. From a rankings standpoint, this doesn’t make as much sense as the other option, but it might be an even more exciting matchup.

Who’s next for Valentina Shevchenko?

Should be next: Joanne Calderwood

Shevchenko is so ridiculously dominant right now — and the expectation is that’s not changing any time soon — you almost don’t want to book her potential opponents against anyone else for the fear they may lose, and you’ll be down an option. Shevchenko wants to fight as much as four times per year. That’s a lot of bodies to go through at 125 pounds. Title shots might start falling to anyone in the Top 10 she hasn’t beaten yet, just for the sake of seeing her fight someone new.

With that in mind, there is no need to book Calderwood another fight before she gets a title shot. What’s the point? She’s 1-1 in her last two, and the win was by split decision. That’s not usually the makings of a UFC title challenger. But this is not a normal division. It is anything but. Calderwood is 3-1 since 2018, and she has more finishing prowess than most of the women at 125 pounds, which is a good thing to have if you’re hunting an upset.

I am all for an active Valentina Shevchenko. Let’s keep this show going. Calderwood is next up.

Dark horse: Jennifer Maia

Maia is coming off a loss to Chookagian in her last bout and it seems highly, highly unlikely she’d find her way into a title shot. However, the UFC is taking a pay-per-view to Brazil in May. UFC president Dana White has already said he’s interested in booking a bantamweight title fight between Henry Cejudo and Brazilian legend Jose Aldo, who is also coming off a loss.

If Shevchenko wants a quick turnaround and expresses interest in going to Brazil, it wouldn’t be the most shocking decision if the UFC went with Maia.

Who’s next for Derrick Lewis?

Should be next: Curtis Blaydes

Look, Blaydes isn’t going to be happy with anything other than a title shot. He believes he deserves it, and it’s hard to argue with him. But the reality for Blaydes, and we brought this up after he knocked out Junior dos Santos, is that he just has nowhere to go right now. Miocic vs. Cormier III is the fight the UFC wants. Francis Ngannou is on deck after that, at least for now. Unless Blaydes is willing to just sit for an extended period of time, which he doesn’t want to do, he’s going to have to take another fight.

Frankly, Lewis seems like a favorable matchup for Blaydes, whose strengths include his wrestling and cardio. Cardio was another question mark for Lewis on Saturday. It seemed better than it’s been, but it’s still a potential liability still against Blaydes. Lewis is a fan favorite, so even though Blaydes won’t get the title shot he wants, he’ll at least be getting an opponent who generates interest. And it’s a chance for Lewis to face an elite opponent, and prove he’s a legit threat to the belt.

Dark horse: Alexander Volkov. If Blaydes gets stubborn and doesn’t want to fight anyone, the UFC will need an opponent for Lewis and Volkov, who hasn’t fought since November. These two met in October 2018 and it was a riveting fight. Volkov dominated, until Lewis hurt him late and put him away. That was the fight that included a memorable post-fight interview and led to Lewis’ title shot against Daniel Cormier. They could run this back.

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