3 possible next opponents for Tatsuro Taira

Tatsuro Taira defeated Alex Peres at UFC Vegas 93. Here's three fighters we thing he should be matched with next.
 Tatsuro Taira
Tatsuro Taira / Steve Marcus/GettyImages

Tatsuro Taira (16-0) impressed in his toughest test yet by defeating former flyweight title challenger Alex Perez (25-9) by second-round TKO in their UFC Vegas 93 main event. Taira delivered a clean performance, showing why he is one of Japan's most exciting prospects. He controlled the standup, punishing Perez with clinch knees en route to taking his back and delivering a takedown that eventually ended things.

Taira's unorthodox method of dragging Perez down saw him swing his weight to Perez's side while his leg was laced behind one of Perez's. This eventually allowed him to kick Perez's leg out from underneath and likely tear it up. The technique resembled a modified scissor sweep, banned in most grappling competitions due to its reputation for damaging knees.

This victory proved Taira is a flyweight contender on the rise. He arrived in the Octagon ranked No. 13 and defeated the No. 5 ranked Perez. Perez has impressed in his recent stretch of activity, forcing a close fight with Muhammad Mokaev (12-0) and beating Matheus Nicolau (19-4-1).

Taira convincingly defeated a top contender. He stifled Perez's game, exploited his weakness in defending his back, and most importantly made a statement in his first main event outing. The 24-year-old is on course for a championship run. He is now 6-0 in the UFC with four finishes.

Flyweight is a dynamic division. So many fighters are evenly matched and capable of championship-level performances. Taira belongs in the conversation amongst those elite names. Let's examine three possible opponents Taira may face next.

1. Alexandre Pantoja

Alexandre Pantoja (28-5) is the current flyweight champion and No. 10 ranked pound-for-pound fighter. He most recently defended his title at UFC 301 by defeating Steve Erceg (12-2). Pantoja has had a successful run at the top, but Taira seems keen to put it to an end.

Taira used his post-fight Octagon interview with Michael Bisping to call for a title shot. He shouted to the buzzing APEX, "Pantoja! Let's go, title shot!" Taira has been stellar in the UFC and has an impressive resume. This may sway Pantoja enough to grant him his wish. Pantoja has shown a willingness to give fresh faces opportunities.

Pantoja gave Erceg the previous championship fight though the latter had far less UFC experience than Taira. However, Erceg had an impressive performance, knocking out Matt Schell (16-8)(1) in the fight prior.

Taira may be a perfect foe for Pantoja if he still desires opponents outside usual challengers like Brandon Moreno (21-8-2) or Brandon Royval (16-7). Taira has shown tremendous grappling so far and matches up interestingly with Pantoja. Taira's striking is also solid. Taira and Pantoja could potentially have a great match.

Taira doubled down on his callout in the post-fight press conference stating, "I will be really happy if I can fight my title shot against Pantoja in Japan and then be a first Japanese champion." He made a strong case for an opportunity against Pantoja by beating Perez.

2. Steve Erceg

Erceg was close to winning the flyweight championship at UFC 301. He displayed tight boxing, and submission defense, never settling in to allow Pantoja to work. He could make a case for an immediate rematch but it's uncertain the UFC will go in this direction.

If Erceg needs an opponent to hoist him back to a title shot, Taira may be a good match. Both men are two of the most exciting prospects turned contenders the division has seen in a long time. Erceg against Taira has the makings for a competitive matchup given their comparable skill and equal desire to fight Pantoja.

Erceg is only 28 and is currently ranked No. 9 at flyweight despite matching so well with Pantoja. Erceg could be a convincing win or two away from another shot and a statement victory against Taira could be what he needs. He likely learned a lot and gained tremendous confidence after a close fight with Pantoja. Erceg could beat Taira by asserting his boxing and avoiding some of the technical grappling mistakes he made against Pantoja.

Taira may get a title shot, but it wouldn't hurt him to gain one more big win. This would solidify him as a worthy challenger in the eyes of the fans, UFC brass, and Pantoja. Putting Erceg and Taira together for a main event or co-main event spot could bolster both fighters and show flyweight's future is in safekeeping.

3. Amir Albazi

Amir Albazi (17-1) needs a big victory to stay relevant in the ever-evolving flyweight landscape. He is ranked No. 3, but injury has kept him out of the cage in 2024. When healthy, the submission specialist must fight a hot contender and make his case for the belt. Fighting and possibly beating Taira could poise Albazi for a No. 1 contender slot.

Albazi is one of the only top flyweights yet to fight Pantoja. Things could stay that way until he recovers and strings together wins. He has not had a new opponent announced since having a potential contender's match against Brandon Moreno fall through, It's a shame for Albazi because he seems so close to earning an opportunity against Pantoja.

Albazi matches up well against almost anybody on the ground. He is a tough out at flyweight and a well-rounded mixed martial artist. Albazi has nine career submissions and Taira has seven. Albazi and Taira are equally exceptional on the ground. Their scrambles, exchanges, and submission attempts in a potential fight could be an excellent display of high-level MMA grappling. They each have five knockout wins, but Taira has looked smooth in the standup and may hold a slight edge.

Albazi and Taira have done enough to gain more main event slots. Putting Albazi and Taira together could make for a stellar five-round fight. The match could clarify a potential No. 1 contender and give them both the chance to demonstrate their ability. Taira didn't mention Albazi in his post-fight interviews but beating him could solidify Taira as Pantoja's next adversary.