3 next opponents for Nassourdine Imavov

These are three fights we think Nassourdine Imavov should book after defeating Jared Cannonier.
Nassourdine Imavov
Nassourdine Imavov / Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Nassourdine Imavov (14-4) stopped Jared Cannonier (17-7) via TKO in the fourth round of their UFC Louisville main event. This win likely shook the middleweight rankings as Imavov entered the fight with the division's No. 7 spot and Cannonier was ranked No. 4. Despite controversy over whether the stoppage was early, Imavov left with a big victory and poised himself to possibly enter middleweight's upper echelon.

Imavov and Cannonier had a competitive fight up until the finish. Cannonier controlled the early portions but momentum swung in Imavov's favor as the fight continued. This was an important performance for the 29-year-old Imavov because he showed he belongs in the Octagon with the best. He made the most of his third-ever main event spot and moved to 2-1 in these opportunities. Imavov is a budding star with the skill to match his hype.

The UFC's middleweight division is as crowded as ever. Multiple fighters including former champions like Sean Strickland (29-6) and Israel Adesanya (24-3) loom as potential title challengers to champion Dricus du Plessis (21-2). Imavov's victory over a former title challenger and divisional stalwart like Cannonier was huge because it put him in the conversation with these top competitors.

Imavov likely won't get a title shot off this victory. However, he can earn one with a couple more solid wins. Let's examine three potential opponents for Imavov as he continues his quest for gold.

1. Sean Strickland

Strickland's personality and cage presence have launched him into the spotlight as one of the UFC's biggest stars. Even though his last performance and victory over Paulo Costa (14-4) at UFC 302 left a bit to be desired, Strickland remains a viable contender. His No. 1 middleweight ranking lends him massive leverage for a future title opportunity. In the meantime, almost every fighter on the come-up has their eyes on Strickland and his former opponent Imavov is campaigning for a rematch.

Imavov and Strickland previously met at UFC Vegas 67. Strickland came in as a late-notice replacement for Kelvin Gastelum (17-9) and the bout was contested at light heavyweight. Strickland put on a strong performance and earned a unanimous decision victory. This helped him build momentum toward his eventual title opportunity and victory against then-champion, Adesanya.

Undeterred by this setback, Imavov rose the rankings beating Roman Dolidze (12-3) and Cannonier. It didn't take long for Imavov to set his sights back on Strickland. When asked what he wanted next, Imavov stated in his UFC Louisville Octagon interview with Paul Felder, "I'd like to fight Sean Strickland in Paris."

UFC Paris has become the promotion's annual showcase of its French talent. Imavov looks to not only avenge his previous loss, but take the No. 1 ranking, and show the UFC what massive appeal he has in his home country. Imavov has improved since his first meeting with Strickland and a potential rematch could be intriguing.

It remains to be seen whether Strickland waits for a title shot or is willing to fight someone else. This would be a risky match for Strickland considering Imavov is someone he already defeated. However, if Strickland desires activity while the title picture is sorted, rematching Imavov could be an option.

2. Brendan Allen

Brendan Allen (24-5) is currently the UFC's No. 6 ranked middleweight and rides a seven-fight win streak in the division. His submission expertise notched him victories over grappling experts like Andre Muniz (24-6) and Paul Craig (17-8-1). Allen is red-hot and his latest main event victory over Chris Curtis (31-11)(1) only further solidified his standing as one of the division's most dangerous competitors.

Allen deserves big fights and though Imavov hasn't mentioned him in any callouts or vice versa, matching these two up makes sense. They're both young (Allen is 28), notched solid experience with other top-10 middleweights, and each needs an opponent not biding time for a title shot.

Allen against Imavov is a compelling stylistic matchup. It could be scheduled one day given each fighter's age, divisional standing, and ability. Imavov is a slick striker who could give Allen problems on the feet while Allen's submission game could stifle Imavov should the fight hit the mat.

Numerous question marks and scheduling conflicts litter the middleweight top five. Meanwhile, fighters like Imavov and Allen need to stay active if their title hopes are to remain intact. Matching them up either in Paris or for a separate main event could provide needed clarity within the division.

3. Jared Cannonier

Cannonier fought well against Imavov in their UFC Louisville main event. He held a 2-1 advantage on two judge's scorecards headed into the fourth round where he was eventually stopped. Cannonier could argue referee Jason Herzog halted things prematurely as he wasn't completely unconscious and appeared cognizant enough to defend himself intelligently.

This is a tough loss for the 40-year-old as age becomes more of a factor concerning his long-term viability at the division's summit. Cannonier performed well before the finishing sequence. He was en route to proving he could still hang with the middleweight division's next generation of talent. A stoppage like the one he suffered, coupled with how things went prior in the fight may show there is a need to put Cannonier and Imavov back together for an eventual rematch.

Though Imavov fought well and executed his game plan, Cannonier provided plenty of problems. There's no telling how things could have gone if the fight continued. Given how competitive things were, it's a shame it seemingly ended prematurely. Matching Imavov and Cannonier back together could answer lingering questions about both men's middleweight standing.

Imavov could likely resist a rematch as he had no issue with the stoppage and would want to fight further up the rankings. Despite any narrative Imavov goes with, there are still concerns over his victory's legitimacy and it won't grant him an immediate title shot. Matching back up with Cannonier could help him earn an even more emphatic performance and solidify his claim to gold.


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