"I'm an idiot" is a nice pithy line, but for at least the first two minutes of the Herrig/VanZant fight everything looked like it would go exactly as I imagined. Herrig was crisper and quickly worked into a dominant position until VanZant escaped with about three minutes left in the round. From there VanZant started to mount some offense, but Herrig stuck with her. I gave Herrig the round, though it was very close.
After an early burst in round two, however, Herrig seemed to have no idea what to do. Joe Rogan observed that VanZant was hustling in scrambles in a way Herrig was not, which is a completely accurate statement. The single reason I thought Herrig would win was because she would have more tricks up her sleeve and know what to do in those types of tough situations, but by the halfway point of the fight she just seemed lost.
Was it cardio? Maybe by round three, given the severity of VanZant's beatdown, but even if VanZant has superior cardio (very possible for anyone who trains with Team Alpha Male), Herrig should not have been that gassed after a round and a half. VanZant commented afterwards that she thought she broke Herrig mentally, and it certainly looked like that might have been the case.
So what does that mean for VanZant going forward? Beating someone into mental submission is a feather in any fighter's cap, but at the same time it says as much about the loser as the winner. She was never going to get a fight with Jedrzejczyk immediately after this, but will she deserve it after one more fight? Or will it take two?
The biggest question is probably who will be available for her to fight. Jedrzejczyk, Esparza, and Gadelha are probably all too high unless there's no one else available. Maryna Moroz just beat Joanne Calderwood, but she's near the bottom of the top ten and would do less to set VanZant up for a title fight than some other women. That leaves Jessica Penne (#3), Rose Namajunas (#4), Tecia Torres (#5), and Randa Markos (#6).
Upcoming fights, by date:
Markos vs. Aisling Daly, April 25th
Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff, May 23rd
Penne vs. Juliana Lima, May 30th
Torres vs. Angela Hill, June 13th
If VanZant beats Penne, Namajunas, or Torres next, a very reasonable argument can be made for her to get a title shot. A win over Markos might mean a bit less, but Markos has the toughest next opponent of these four; if she beats Daly, especially if it's not close, then she'll appear to be a stiffer test for VanZant. And right now the Markos/Daly winner may be VanZant's most sensible next opponent since they fight a month before any of the other three mid-top ten strawweights.
Assuming Penne, Namajunas, and Torres all win their next fights, the logical way for the division to shake down is this:
VanZant fights the Markos/Daly winner.
Penne (probably) or Namajunas (unlikely) gets the next title shot.
Torres faces whichever of Penne and Namajunas doesn't fight Jedrzejczyk.
If VanZant wins, she faces Gadelha or Esparza, then earns a title fight with a win there.
However, VanZant's popularity may short-circuit this. It really depends on whether or not the UFC brass feels she needs a slightly bigger-name opponent to help build up to an eventual title shot, even if that means leaving her on the bench for a little longer. If they think she's not going to beat Jedrzejczyk even with two or three more fights beforehand, and especially if they don't think she'll beat Gadelha or Esparza, they may just choose to test her against Penne or Namajunas so she only has to win once to be a credible title contender.
And while that might seem unfortunate to those of us who want to see her be an unquestionable title contender before getting that shot, the truth is, a loss to anyone besides Jedrzejczyk is likely going to take a lot of air out of her balloon. From a promotional standpoint, they have no reason to risk VanZant's popularity in a tough fight against Gadelha or Esparza unless they feel there's no other way to maximize VanZant's value as a contender. Likewise, there's no reason to risk a rematch with Torres unless that is clearly the best available fight.
Thus, the prediction here for VanZant's next fight is Namajunas. VanZant has a reasonable shot against Penne, but Penne is better on the ground and the highest ranked fighter Jedrzejczyk hasn't beaten yet. On the other hand, Namajunas is probably ranked a little high at #4, but she should still whip Ansaroff, and the marketability of a VanZant/Namajunas fight would be a promotional wet dream.