6. Hyun Gyu Lim vs (12)Mike Pyle
Mike Pyle is comes from a KO win over T.J. Walderburger in February, his most recent loss coming from a brutal 1st round KO by the hands of Matt Brown. Hyun Gyu Lim comes from a unanimous decision loss in the first UFC event of 2014, where Tarec Saffiedine (ranked 9th in the division) nearly hacked his leg in half in a five round war. Lim is an exciting prospect with a 75% knockout ratio (9 of 12 wins by KO, 7 in the 1st round), and he displayed true heart in his last outing. This fight will give both fighters a chance to make a case for a top-ten opponent.
5. (14)Gunnar Nelson vs (11)Jake Shields
Jake Shields did not look like his usual self in his bout against Hector Lombard. He struggled for three rounds in a futile effort to take Lombard down, while his standup was virtually nonexistent. His only offensive was a desperate guillotine that was far too little, far too late. Gunnar Nelson (12-0, undefeated), on the other hand, looked promising as ever in his first round submission victory over Omari Ahkmedov, dominating the fight on all fronts. Nelson is a finisher, a truly well rounded mixed martial artist with only one decision win. This fight will give Shields a chance to bounce back from his lackluster performance, while giving Nelson the challenge that will perpetuate his case for title contention.
4. (13) Kelvin Gastelum vs Loser of (5) Jake Ellenberger vs (9) Tarec Saffiedine
Kelvin Gastelum has come a long way from his victory in TUF to his most recent split decision win over Rick Story. He is undefeated, young, and only getting better. Giving the loser of Ellenberger and Saffiedine will truly gauge his distance to title contention, as Ricky Story is one of two fighters ever to beat the current champ in Johny Hendricks. In any case, the loser of Ellenberger vs Saffiedine will need to climb the ladder again, and they might as well start with Gastelum.
3. (10) Dong Hyun Kim vs (8) Damien Maia
This rematch makes sense on many levels. Their first outing ended with a sort of fluke injury, resulting in a TKO win for Maia. Stylistically, they match up great too, Kim showing more aggression in his striking and grappling, while Maia’s BJJ is a threat to any fighter in the division. It also makes sense in terms of rankings, as Kim deserves a top ten opponent after his brutal finishes of Erick Silva and John Hathaway, while Maia is coming from a solid loss from Rory MacDonald.
2. (6) Hector Lombard vs (2) Rory MacDonald
Both fighters have been trying to argue a case for the next shot at the title, but a win over Shield and Maia respectively does not warrant a title shot. Especially when neither wins were finishes. MacDonald also lost to Robbie Lawler back in November of 2013, and while it may have been a split decision loss, his performance in that fight was hardly impressive. Likewise, Lombard seemed hesitant to finish an outmatched Shields and showed signs of fatigue. The winner of this fight should be next in line for the title shot.
1. (4) Tyron Woodley vs (C) Johny Hendricks or (1) Robbie Lawler
It is unfortunate that Carlos Condit tore his ACL in his bout with Tyron Woodley, but like it or not, the damage was done by Woodley’s aggressive takedown, and a win over Carlos Condit is a far more significant victory than one over Maia or Shields, even if it may have come about from an injury. There is no questioning, in any case, that Woodley was dominating the fight, and though Condit could certainly have made a comeback, the fact of the matter is, he got injured and lost and was losing the fight up to that point. Woodley deserves the next shot, and with his power and grappling skills, he matches stylistically well with Hendricks. However, should Hendricks be unavailable to take this fight in 2014 for whatever reason, Robbie Lawler should step in and fast track himself to an eventual rematch with Hendricks.
Honorable mentions: Nick Diaz vs. anyone in the top 10-20.