<
>

What's next for Henry Cejudo, TJ Dillashaw and other UFC fighters?

Henry Cejudo retained the UFC's flyweight belt after defeating TJ Dillashaw by first-round TKO on Saturday at Barclays Center. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Let the record show, the first UFC main event on ESPN did not last long -- it was the fifth shortest knockout in UFC championship history, as a matter of fact.

Henry Cejudo is still the flyweight champ, which means the UFC's flyweight division is still open (at least for now). TJ Dillashaw is still the bantamweight champ, although he's now coming off a 32-second loss, in a failed attempt to become a two-weight champion.

What's next for Cejudo, Dillashaw and the other key winners and losers of UFC Fight Night? Here is ESPN's take.


Henry Cejudo, flyweight champion

Result: Defeated TJ Dillashaw via first-round TKO

Next: Joseph Benavidez

All last week, Cejudo said this fight was about the future of the flyweights. And I don't believe he was being disingenuous about that.

But here's the truth: the job is only half done. Beating Dillashaw was phase one. Phase two is defending his belt against the next flyweight challenger. Because if Cejudo bolts for a title fight against Dillashaw at bantamweight (something he's also said he wants), I don't see how the flyweight division keeps its lights on.

Now, if I were to guess what actually happens, it's Cejudo moving up. He and the UFC need to agree on the financial terms of that move, but as long as that happens, I believe that's where we're headed. Personally, however, I would rather see Cejudo stay and face the obvious contender in Benavidez.


TJ Dillashaw, bantamweight champion

Result: Lost to Henry Cejudo via first-round TKO

Next: Winner of Raphael Assuncao vs. Marlon Moraes on Feb. 2

As far as Dillashaw's protests of an early stoppage on Saturday, I'll say that I agree. Was it some egregious error, the referee stopping that fight when he did? No. I'm not calling for the official's job. But in my opinion, Dillashaw was still moving, intelligently, when this was stopped. I would have liked to see it go longer.

What's done is done, though. So where do we go from here? Dillashaw wants a rematch, back at 125 pounds. I feel confident saying that's not going to happen. If there is an immediate rematch, it will be at 135 pounds for Dillashaw's belt.

And as I just mentioned with Cejudo, I think that's very possible. Probable, even. But again, I'd like to see the flyweight division stick around. I'd rather not see Cejudo move straight up. So I'm sticking with Cejudo vs. Benavidez, and Dillashaw vs. the next contender at his weight class -- which is Assuncao or Moraes.


play
1:23

Cerrone 'honored' if McGregor wants to fight

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone tells Brett Okamoto that a fight vs. Conor McGregor would be fun, but a lot of things need to fall into place for it to happen.

Donald Cerrone, lightweight

Result: Defeated Alexander Hernandez via second-round TKO

Next: Conor McGregor

McGregor's return date is always in the air, but if he's available in the first half of 2019, a fight against "Cowboy" really does make sense.

The process of matchmaking McGregor is different from anyone else in the sport, because of how big a superstar he is. You don't just take a look at the lightweight rankings and pair him with someone comparable. There needs to be a storyline attached to his fights and it needs to be something that motivates him.

Cerrone checks those boxes. He holds the most wins in UFC history. More than Georges St-Pierre, Michael Bisping, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, all of them. That right there is a hook. It's a simple explanation to the matchup that everyone will get. McGregor vs. the winningest fighter of all time? Yeah, show me that.

It makes more sense to me than McGregor facing Dustin Poirier (who he's previously beat) and even Nate Diaz (who hasn't fought in more than two years).


play
2:32

Hardy's UFC debut ends in DQ

Greg Hardy and Allen Crowder battle it out until Hardy levels Crowder with an illegal knee, with the bout ending in a disqualification.

Greg Hardy, heavyweight

Result: Lost to Allen Crowder via DQ

Next: Some regional heavyweight no one has ever heard of

Here's the deal with Hardy. He doesn't belong in the UFC yet, right? He doesn't have the skill set or the experience. The UFC's original plan -- keep Hardy under contract, but have him fight on smaller shows around the country -- was the correct one.

But you can't put that toothpaste back into the tube now. You can't have him co-headline a major UFC event and then essentially send him back to the minors. He needs to develop and gain experience -- but because of who he is, that process is apparently going to play out in front of the masses.

Maybe this could have all been handled differently, but we're here now. Hardy is in the UFC, and he needs to fight the right level of competition. So the UFC is going to have to bring up heavyweights who also aren't UFC-caliber just to fight him. And we'll see how (and if) he grows into a real UFC heavyweight.