What’s next for Dos Anjos, Lee and other UFC Rochester fighters?

MMA

Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Rochester, New York, saw Rafael dos Anjos pick up his first win since 2017 — at the expense of Kevin Lee in his welterweight debut.

There were a number of standout performances this weekend in the Octagon, including several rising title contenders still in their 20s.

What’s next for dos Anjos, Lee, and the other top names of UFC Fight Night? Here is ESPN’s take.

Rafael dos Anjos, welterweight

Result: Defeated Kevin Lee via fourth-round submission

Next: Leon Edwards

Dos Anjos is back in the win column, after dropping his previous two. Look, the good news is those two losses were against the current champ, Kamaru Usman, and current No. 1 contender, Colby Covington. He can say he lost to the very best. The bad news is … those two losses came to the current champ and the No. 1 contender.

In other words, dos Anjos recently had his chance against the two top dogs, and he came up short. Neither loss was controversial. He’s going to need (at least) one more win to get a title shot. Right now, Edwards is a guy who deserves a big fight, but can’t seem to rope in one of the top names. Dos Anjos might have to give him that opportunity.

Kevin Lee, welterweight

Result: Lost to Rafael dos Anjos via fourth-round submission

Next: Alex Oliveira

The initial reaction here … it can feel like the end of the world for Lee. He has now lost three of his last four. He has trouble making 155 pounds, but he just lost to an opponent that, stylistically, probably isn’t his worst matchup at 170. He’s a man without a home right now, and his five-fight win streak between 2016 and 2017 feels like a distant memory.

But there is a silver lining. Even though he gassed out on Saturday and lost, he did not look out of his league against the highly ranked dos Anjos. It’s reasonable to think, with a few adjustments, Lee could still find success in this 170-pound weight class.

There’s always a good chance he drops back to 155. The way he fights, you can understand why he’d want to avoid bigger opponents at 170. He’s at his best when he can take an opponent down and impose his will, physically. But I would encourage him to stay at 170. And if he does, I’d like to see him against another veteran, like Oliveira.

Result: Defeated Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision

Next: Yana Kunitskaya

I am excited about Ladd’s future, but also completely convinced the UFC should not rush her. Saturday was a convincing win as far as the scorecards go: 30-26, 29-27 and 29-28. But as much potential as she showed, Ladd also showed some areas in which she needs to improve.

She’s already highly ranked. If the UFC books Ladd against someone like Ketlen Vieira, who is also undefeated, it would definitely make sense, but it would also mean if she wins, her next fight would almost certainly be a title shot. And I just do not think she is ready for Amanda Nunes (or Holly Holm, for that matter).

I’m not saying Ladd can’t win those fights now, but I think it’s more likely those matchups would prove too much for the 24-year-old. It’s tempting to rush someone with Ladd’s obvious talent, but I vote play it slow. Kunitskaya would be a legitimate challenge, and still keep Ladd off that rocket ship to the title I’m not sure she needs to be on yet.

Result: Defeated Nik Lentz via second-round TKO

Next: Gregor Gillespie

I cannot believe Oliveira is 29 years old. This really snuck up on me. I remember watching him compete on events like “UFC on Versus 2,” which almost sounds like something I made up in 2019. This dude has been around forever, and he’s still in the Under 30 Club!

And I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of writing Oliveira off. He’s been in some big spots in his career, fought guys like Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis — and mostly came up short. He’s had trouble making weight. He lost three of five during one stretch. At some point, during all of this, I stopped thinking about Oliveira as a title challenger.

It’s time to rethink that. It’s very possible Oliveira is only now coming into his own. Entering his best years. Let’s test that. Book him against Gillespie, who nobody wants to fight. Is Oliveira a gatekeeper, or is he a legitimate threat to the title? This would be the perfect matchup to find out.

Result: Defeated Derrick Krantz via first-round TKO

Next: Demian Maia

Luque wants Santiago Ponzinibbio, which I am down for, 100 percent. But I think the UFC should book Ponzinibbio to the spot that opened up against Robbie Lawler on June 29 in Minneapolis. And if that happens, Maia is the next best option for Luque.

I am very high on Luque. He is now 9-2 in the UFC, with nine finishes. In fact, I would even consider him for that spot against Lawler if I were the UFC. This guy is ready for a big fight. Even at age 41, Maia still offers that. A “big fight” feel. A signature fight. If Maia wins his next bout, against Anthony Rocco Martin on June 29, this is the one to book.

Result: Defeated Megan Anderson via first-round submission

Next: Cris Cyborg Justino

Ah, yes. The “female featherweight” issue of the UFC. Does this division exist, does it not exist? The UFC itself still, more than two years after creating the division, does not have a ranking system in place for it. Spencer alluded to this problem herself on Saturday, saying, “What else is there? You guys tell me.”

Well. When there aren’t many options, sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one. And the obvious one in this situation is clearly Cyborg. To Spencer’s point, what else would even make sense? It’s not as if the UFC is in position to slow-cook this thing. You can’t build up to something if you don’t have the pieces to get there.

A matchup between Spencer and Cyborg might feel a little rushed on the surface, but it’s really not. Spencer was a champion in Invicta FC and she just beat the former Invicta champion in Anderson. Bring on Cyborg.

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