Safe to say, UFC 241 lived up to expectations. And then some.
Saturday's event in Anaheim, California, featured two middleweight freaks of nature, Paulo Costa and Yoel Romero, battling out a contest of wills. It also saw the return of one of the biggest stars in the sport, Nate Diaz, who looked nothing short of phenomenal in his first fight in three years.
So, what's next for the big names of UFC 241? Here's ESPN's take:
Nate Diaz, welterweight
Result: Defeated Anthony Pettis via unanimous decision
Next: Jorge Masvidal
Nick Diaz Army vs. Street Jesus. The 209 vs. Three Piece and a Soda. Kill or be Killed vs. Super Necessary. If you follow MMA closely, you know what those phrases mean. If you don't, it's OK. Just trust me when I say you want to see this fight. These are not only two of the sport's most bona fide stars, they are also two of its OGs. This one is not for title or ranking. It's for money and street cred. My heart rate is literally increasing right now as I write about the possibility of this fight. Book it tomorrow.
Stipe Miocic, heavyweight champion
Result: Defeated Daniel Cormier via fourth-round TKO
Next: Francis Ngannou
There are three potential options: Cormier, Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou. Cormier, I'll address in a minute. Jones -- why? Miocic has a No. 1 contender in Ngannou. Superfights are supposed to happen when two champions have cleared out their respective weight classes. Has Jones cleared out 205? Sure, you can say that. There's some new talent coming up, but nothing that strongly demands his attention. That is not the case at heavyweight, though. Ngannou deserves a title shot.
Now, Miocic is the champ and deserves to have his say here. He already defeated Ngannou, in January 2018. If he's looking for a new challenge (i.e. Jones), one can certainly understand why. But my vote is Ngannou. He's deserving. There is a clear storyline here. There's business to be settled in this division before we look outside of it.
Daniel Cormier, heavyweight
Result: Lost to Stipe Miocic via fourth-round TKO
I have no doubt Cormier has years of competition left if he wants it. He looked great on Saturday until the tide turned in a big way in the fourth round. But for the life of me, I don't see any point in him continuing. He's had one of the most distinguished careers in this sport's history.
I feel OK admitting I will be extremely sad to see him go. The sport is undeniably better with DC. But he doesn't need a third fight against Miocic. Nor does he need a third fight against Jones.
I can only imagine how difficult it is to walk away from the money Cormier commands as a prizefighter and the satisfaction of competition he has loved his entire life. But he has a billion other projects waiting for him on the other side. It's his choice -- he could come back and reclaim the heavyweight title, and no one would be surprised -- but I think his best move is to move on.
Anthony Pettis, welterweight
Result: Lost to Nate Diaz via unanimous decision
Next: Jose Aldo
Let's go! Come on! I've been banging the drum on Pettis vs. Aldo for a while, and you know what? Nothing's happened to change my mind. And if you think I'm wrong, you're wrong, OK? Why in the world would the UFC not book this fight? Two former WEC champions who were once supposed to meet as UFC champions. Legends of the sport. This reminds me of something Diaz said leading up to Saturday's fight: Remember playing Street Fighter and wanting to see this guy vs. that guy? That's Pettis vs. Aldo.
Aldo recently said he's willing to drop to bantamweight. What? Who wants to see that? He's not even a small featherweight. Book this fight at lightweight, sit back and be entertained.
Paulo Costa, middleweight
Result: Defeated Yoel Romero via unanimous decision
Nowhere else to go. Costa just beat a guy who on any given night could be the best middleweight in the world. We all know this. Romero is a beast. Whittaker always brings up how difficult of an opponent Romero was. And now Costa has beat him -- albeit in a close decision that some people thought he lost. But even if you thought Romero should have won the decision (I, personally, did not think that), you still have to be impressed with Costa.
UFC president Dana White told me on Saturday he will buy Costa a ticket to fly to Melbourne for Whittaker vs. Adesanya. I take that to mean the Brazilian is on deck.
Yoel Romero, middleweight
Result: Lost to Paulo Costa via unanimous decision
Next: Thiago Santos at light heavyweight
Not much left for Romero at middleweight, right? Why stick around? Even if Whittaker, who has defeated Romero twice, were to lose his championship, it's no secret how hard it is for Romero to make 185 pounds. As he gets older, and theoretically fights less frequently (I don't think 42-year-old Romero is suddenly going to fight every three to four months), why force his body to make those drastic drops in weight? Move to 205 and meet the division's last title challenger. Santos needs some time to heal up, but so does Romero, and he can take the time to tailor his body for the weight class. Makes sense to me.