This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
October 27, 2018 was a historic day for mixed martial arts, marking the first ever trade in the history of the sport. The UFC traded arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, Demetrious Johnson, for one of the most dominant fighters outside of the UFC, ONE Championship's welterweight champion Ben Askren. The contracts were swapped and now Askren will finally get his shot to prove he is the best welterweight on the planet.
Askren is a dominant wrestler who rarely strikes. He was the welterweight champion in Bellator before being signed by ONE Championship and winning their belt as well. His grappling remains an unsolved mystery, as he holds an impressive 18-0 record in professional mixed martial arts. That record includes 11 finishes, with 7 finishes in his last 9 fights. This makes him become an instant impact player in DraftKings lineups.
Askren will be thrown to the wolves in his first Octagon appearance. He is scheduled to face former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 233 in January. Lawler is known for his striking and takedown defense, so this will be a huge test for the UFC newcomer. If Askren is able to dominate the top fighters in the UFC, he may be considered the best welterweight of all time.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Santiago Ponzinibbio, UFC, Welterweight
Ponzinibbio has taken the UFC welterweight division by storm since suffering a TKO loss to Lorenz Larkin in 2015. Since that time, he has seven-straight wins with four coming via KO/TKO, with his other victories being dominant unanimous decision victories. With is performances, the Argentinian has placed himself squarely in the UFC title picture .
Ponzinibbio's most recent fight was a stellar performance against Neil Magny in the main event in Buenos Aires last weekend. "Gente Boa" showed great kickboxing as he consistently found a home for his jab and leg kicks. He knocked Magny down multiple times with leg kicks and ultimately finished him in the fourth round. This showcased the strategy he has used throughout his UFC career, which few fighters have found an answer for.
For his next fight Ponzinibbio should get an opponent ranked in the top five. The most intriguing matchup is No. 2-ranked UFC welterweight Darren Till. Till is coming off of a loss to champion Tyron Woodley and is a phenomenal kickboxer in his own right. This would undoubtedly be a wild fight and would likely springboard the surging Ponzinibbio to a UFC welterweight title shot.
Next Fight: TBD
Tai Tuivasa, UFC, Heavyweight
Tuivasa is a rising star in the UFC. He currently sports a 3-0 record in the heavyweight division and is 8-0 as a professional mixed martial artist. Seven of his victories have come via KO/TKO in the first round, and his lone decision was of the unanimous variety in his last fight against perennially tough UFC legend Andrei Arlovski. Tuivasa has experience in professional boxing and kickboxing and has used that, combined with surprising athleticism (see his finish of Rashad Coulter here), to be a huge finishing threat.
"Bam Bam" will face a huge test this Saturday against former UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos. This will be a challenge on two different levels. First, this is clearly the best striker Tuivasa has faced in his professional mixed martial arts career. Dos Santos is very technical and carries huge knockout power in both hands. Second, this will be Tuivasa's first five-round contest. The Australian showed some conditioning issues in the third round of his last fight with Arlovski, and Dos Santos is a veteran of longer fights as he has competed in multiple main events and championship fights. "Bam Bam" will have to get to Dos Santos early, or he could find himself tiring out and being picked apart by the former champion in later rounds.
Next Fight: Junior Dos Santos, UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos vs. Tuivasa (December 1st, 2018)
Anthony Smith, UFC, Light Heavyweight
Smith undoubtedly made the right choice to stop cutting a huge amount of weight when he moved up to the light heavyweight division. Since his move from middleweight, he has won three fights in a row, two by KO/TKO and one by submission. The victories came over two legends of the sport, namely Rashad Evans and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and the third was over a former title challenger in Volkan Oezdemir. "Lionheart" now finds himself as the No. 3-ranked UFC light heavyweight and is in the mix with the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.
Although Smith is ranked just behind the above-mentioned fighters, it would probably be a case of too-much-too-soon if the matchmakers decided to insert him into a fight against any of the top three. Besides that, Jones and Gustafsson are fighting each other on December 29th, 2018, and Cormier just defended his heavyweight title. That leaves Smith to fight the surging Jan Blachowicz, a winner of four straight and the No. 4-ranked UFC light heavyweight. The winner of that fight would likely get a title shot against whoever comes out of the Cormier-Jones-Gustafsson ménage a trois.
Next Fight: TBD
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, UFC, Flyweight
Joanna had a tough two-fight stretch when she suffered two straight losses to women's strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. She lost her championship, and it left a question of whether the sport had figured out her style or if Namajunas was just the perfect matchup for her style. Joanna seemingly answered that question in July with a unanimous-decision victory over Tecia Torres, but Torres is a far cry from the likes of Namajunas and her next opponent, Valentina Shevchenko.
The Polish former champion will have the opportunity to regain her status as champion, along with her "Joanna Champion" moniker, when she faces Shevchenko on December 8 at UFC 231. The fight will be for the inaugural women's flyweight UFC title. This matchup is interesting because both fighters are high volume strikers and have extensive professional striking backgrounds. In fact, Shevchenko holds two victories in Muay Thai against Joanna. "Bullet" defeated Joanna at the world championships in 2007 and 2008. It will be interesting to see how their past affects Joanna mentally and to see whether the former champion can still compete with upper echelon fighters.
Next Fight: Valentina Shevchenko, UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega (December 8th, 2018)
Jimi Manuwa, UFC, Light Heavyweight
Manuwa, the No. 7-ranked UFC light heavyweight, has lost three of his last five fights, including two straight. Of those three losses, two have been by brutal knockout to Anthony Johnson and Volkan Oezdemir. However, the most troubling loss was in his last contest to Jan Blachowicz. Blachowicz is an excellent fighter, but Manuwa is known for his striking prowess. In his knockout losses he simply got caught with big punches, but Blachowicz soundly out-struck "Poster Boy" over three rounds on his way to a unanimous decision victory. At 38 years old, Manuwa could be diminishing physically, and if his speed begins to wane he will find it difficult to win striking battles with elite fighters in the division.
Manuwa's next challenge comes at UFC 231 against Thiago Santos, another fighter known for his striking. This is a dangerous fight for Manuwa who, as mentioned above, seems to be slowing down with age. Santos is an explosive striker with devastating kicks. Manuwa is more of a traditional boxer, so if Santos can keep him at range, it could be a long (or short) night for the British light heavyweight.
Next Fight: Thiago Santos, UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega (December 8th, 2018)
Chris Weidman, UFC, Middleweight
After starting his career off with a pristine 13-0 record including two victories over an in-his-prime Anderson Silva, Weidman has lost four of his last five fights. He has been finished via KO/TKO in all four losses. It should be noted that he has faced opponents ranked in the top five in virtually every fight since 2013, however, the amount of times he has been finished has been alarming. At 34 years old Weidman is not finished yet, and there are two avenues he should pursue to try to get back on the championship track.
First, he should consider moving up to light heavyweight. Weidman is a big middleweight so he could match up with his size with light heavyweights, and would likely hold a speed advantage. Avoiding the weight cut and getting a fresh start in a new division may be just what he needs.
Second, he should try to take a fight or two against fighters who are not ranked so highly. Getting back on the winning track would be huge for his confidence as well as preserving his body from grueling fights against the elite fighters in the division. No matter the decision "The All-American" makes hopefully he can turn around his recent streak of bad luck and return to championship form.
Next Fight: TBA