2015 gifted us some of the best UFC showdowns of all time.Whether you preferred the back and forth wars like Lawler – MacDonald and Arlovski – Browne, or the ‘HOLY SHIT‘ moments delivered by Holm – Rousey or McGregor – Aldo, it was undoubtedly a bloody brilliant year to be an MMA fan.
(My personal favourite moment – SOURCE: CLOACACARNAGE.TUMBLR.COM)
That being said, the UFC is done with 2015. By all means remember it fondly, but I’m afraid it’s time to move on.
The upside of this is that the future looks bright. The changing of the established UFC championship guard that defined the last 2 months of the year is a testament to the influx of elite killers into the UFC in recent years. This being the case, it’s time to examine the best match-ups we can expect (or hope) to see next year.
Whilst this article focuses primarily on title fights, there are of course many upon many upon many hugely anticipated fights across all divisions outside of these. Here are a few:
Honourable mentions (in no particular order…):
McGregor – Rafael Dos Anjos: Very unlucky to miss out on the list, if this fight happens it will be a historical event of legendary status.
Hendricks – Lawler III: Slightly unsure of why this hasn’t happened already. At 1-1, the third fight of this series would likely produce a similary competitive fight as the last two.
Overeem – Arlovski: Two huge heavy-handed heavyweight fighters, this European match-up would be considered a no#1 contender eliminator. If this fight happens, expect a knockout.
Faber – Dillashaw: This will be a culmination of a drawn out controversy concerning Dillashaw’s abrupt departure of Alpha Male. A well publicised backstory of student vs master will provide an intriguing build up and hopefully an intense contest.
Holloway – Aldo: Whilst some contend that Aldo’s total dominance of the Featherweight division merit an instant rematch, I would really rather see Aldo take the Holloway fight. Much less likely to see a potentially career-changing second consecutive KO, the Holloway fight would be a hugely entertaining match up that would benefit both fighters.
Meisha Tate – Holly Holm: The shocking KO of Ronda Rousey and the crowning of Holm that followed have opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for the women’s bantamweight division. Top of these is the oft overlooked Meisha Tate, who has lived in the massive shadow of Rousey for much of her UFC career. Now however, she may finally have a realistic chance at a title.
Bisping – Silva: Do I even need to elaborate on this one? Two middleweight veterans who have somehow yet to cross paths. Bisping’s technical striking will either pose a real challenge for Silva or demonstrate he still has the ability to produce highlight reel counter striking that made him the greatest of all time in the eyes of many fans.
GSP – Anyone: George “Rush” St-Pierre may very well make his return to the octagon after a 2+ year hiatus. One of the greatest of all time, I don’t need to sell this one, you already know.
Apologies if you disagree / feel I’ve missed a glaringly obvious match-up. Feel free to comment and discuss which ones you’re looking forward to most!
So we arrive at the list. One fight has been selected from each division that I believe ill bring out the best in both fights and generate the best spectacles.
Demetrius Johnson – Henry Cejudo
Demetrius Johnson is the most underrated fighter in the UFC. After Aldo’s defeat and Jon Jones’ … capitulation?, Johnson is the longest spanning title defence of active title holder in the UFC and no#1 ranked p4p fighter on the roster. Despite this, his fights rarely garner the mainstream attention that they deserve. In addition to this, John Dodson’s second loss to DJ then subsequent movement to bantamweight for many signaled the end of any credible threats to the title.
Not so says Henry Cejudo. The 10-0 (4-0 UFC), Olympic gold medal winning wrestler presents a legitimate disturbance to the status quo. Alongside his best in the world wrestling credentials, at the age of 21 I might add, his first four pro MMA fights ended in technical knockouts. Although his fights in the UFC have been less dominant, it will be fascinating to see DJ against an opponent who has superior wrestling pedigree.
I have to go with the champ on this one. Despite reeling you in by singing the praises of Cejudo in the previous paragraph, I truly believe Demetrius will go down as one of the greatest of all time. I think DJ’s trainer Matt Hume is a huge factor in his success, an elite level trainer working with someone as naturally talented and diligently focused as Johnson is a force to be reckoned with. Having said that, you can’t argue with a 10-0 record, so write Cejudo off at your peril.
Prediction: Demetrius Johnson unanimous decision.
T.J. Dillashaw – Dominick Cruz
This one was super easy. Without trying to downplay his achievements, Cruz story so far for many fans is the man that never was. His extensive time off through injury means some fans may be that familiar with Cruz’s highly effective stand-up style of movement but this is a man who was never dethroned as king of the division. Opposite him will be Champion TJ Dillashaw, who put on a career defining performance to end the 33 fight win streak of former champion Renan Barao, utilising top level boxing of with precision and timing which, amazingly, made Barao look distinctly average. In short, this is going to be a f*cking fight.
An added dynamic of this fight is the T.J. – Faber – Cruz triangle of animosity. Long time rivals Faber and Cruz have a history to rival inter-Korean relations, whereas Dillashaw’s much publicised divorce from Faber’s Alpha Male team has been the subject of much media controversy.
Considered one of the best analytical minds in the sport,Cruz was totally dominant in the WEC and a 20-1 pro record (with a loss against Urijah Faber that was later avenged). Cruz holds wins over top ranked opposition such as Demetrius Johnson, Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall, as well as the aforementioned Faber. However, with over a year out of the cage in a win which came after a three year absence, it’s impossible to tell if we are going to see the same calibre fighter of the last eight years.
Prediction: Cruz Unanimous decision.
Conor McGregor – Frankie Edgar
Boom! I’m calling it. As expressed previously, I think Edgar – McGregor makes the most sense for all parties at this point and will be the next fight billed for the ‘Notorious’.
Purely on stylistic grounds, I think those overlooking Edgar as a legit challenge to McGregor’s reign will be surprised. His elusive and high volue striking will present a challenge that Jose Aldo should have, whilst his high level wrestling could expose the weaknesses in McGregor’s ground game. I don’t think Edgar will get caught flush in an exchange like Aldo and he certainly won’t gas like Mendes. I would expect a war between these two much-loved fighters.
I’m unashamed to admit that after the Aldo fight I’m never picking against McGregor again. To put it simply, he performs on the big stage. Pressure seems to bring out the best in him and although I would expect a competitive fight, I can’t see McGregor losing. The combination of his unorthodox movement, incomparable mental warfare and Irish support (which I struggle to find a superlative to encapsulate) are unlike anything else in the UFC and impossible to prepare for.
Prediction: McGregor 4th round KO.
Conor McGregor – Nate Diaz
So maybe it will piss a few of you off that I chose McGregor twice.. but then again maybe I am a bit of a fanboy so I’m making no apologies.
Why?! Did you see that picture?? This will be a fight that catches the attention of all sports fans. Say what you like about the ‘respect’ of martial arts, seeing McGregor’s mental warfare game up against Diaz’s ‘Stockton, motherf*cker!’ trash talk will be a spectacle unlike ever witnesses in sporting history.
The press conferences, the back and forth online, the weigh ins… It would be incessantly beautiful. If McGregor can prove his contention that fighting can never be ’emotional’, then he will have irrefutable proof that his mindset is indeed ‘bulletproof’.
And that’s before they even enter the cage! The fight itself would also be excellent. McGregor is unproven at Lightweight but his precision striking will remain regardless of weight. Nate is a hugely underrated boxer, although his outclassing of Michael Johnson will go some way to rectifying this. Both notorious for their antics and entertainment in as well as outside the cage, I would stutter in disbelief at the sports fan who refused to be drawn into this contest.
Possibly spoiled this one in my admission during the featherweight segment, I would once again back McGregor for more or less the same reasons. His striking and movement are near impeccable, whilst his flashy kicks would give Nate a lot to consider when considering angles at range. However, McGregor could struggle with the high volume punches of Diaz, who is probably more accomplished at this strategy than anyone on McGregor’s record.
Prediction: McGregor Unanimous decision.
Robbie Lawler – Carlos Condit
Described by Welterweight legend George St-Pierre as ‘a nightmare’ and ‘the most dangerous in the division‘, Carlos Condit’s elite striking against Robbie Lawler’s punching power and apparent inhuman durability is sure to produce fireworks.
Blimey this is a tough one to call. I’m not trying to cop out here but it’s one of those where your heart says Lawler but your head says Condit. While Lawler is a definitively a bad motherf*cker, I tend to think he struggles against long opponents that can utilise their range. Enter Condit, who fits that description to a tee – so stylistically I would have to go with Carlos. Of course another aspect to this fight is that we have no idea the impact of that last 5 round war with Rory MacDonald. In an era of USADA drug testing, a fighter can only take so much damage before his chin goes and at 33 Lawler is no up-and-comer. Having said that, Condit is a somewhat surprising 2-3 in his last 5, although admittedly against top draw opposition.
Prediction: Lawler 5th round KO.
Luke Rockhold – Weidman II
So I was fairly confident with my selection of Weidman to better Rockhold in their contest at UFC 194. He’d implored me to ‘join the team’after his finish of Vitor Belfort.. and I’m not in the business of disagreeing with UFC champions.
However, to my great surprise, it proved to be a fairly uncompetitive affair going out of the second round. Just as Rockhold had predicted.
Despite this, I still maintain that Weidman is capable of much better than he produced that night. While I disagree with commentators who suggest that that inexplicable spinning wheel kick was decisive in the outcome of the fight, I certainly think that Weidman underestimated Rockhold’s ground game and for much of the fight was getting the better of exchanges on the feet. This being said, I think a second fight with a Chris Weidman looking to avenge his first career loss would be a much better contest.
Difficult. The loss will have undoubtedly shaken Weidman’s confidence, whereas Rockhold will be even more sure than ever that training with Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier is a formula to beat anyone. His game took a lot of people by surprise I think and I certainly won’t be underestimating him again. I would give the edge to Rockhold considering the last contest, but as I’ve said I think it will be a much better fight.
Prediction: Rockhold split decision.
Daniel Cormier – Jon Jones II
DC and Jones has a explosive ‘fight of the night’ war this time last year in which Jones edged a contest that was quite a bit closer than most people recognise. Even compared to the Gustaffson fight (which many contend that Jones lost) I think we saw a different kind of contest. DC refused to let Jon impose his will on him in the same way we’ve seen in almost every other fight in his career.
A lot has changed since then. Jones’ out of contest drugscepades (a word I use entirely seriously) have cost him his athletic authority as the LHW champion and p4p best in the world. DC has won two difficult contests since then and is the rightful and legitimate champion.
Watching DC boast a belt that he believes still belongs to him seems to have had an effect on Jones. Don’t take my word for it though, check out his instagram post in which he compares himself to an out of competition Jon Jones of the past:
Scary. Unfortunately for DC, his claims that JBJ is ‘messing with the recipe‘ come across a little more like a man trying to convince himself of something than someone who is genuinely confident the outcome of the fight will be different.
To see a rejuvenated Jon Jones, potentially in the UFC’s first event in New York, would be mind blowing. In terms of both performance and stage.
I’m really not trying to discount Cormier here, just pointing out that most of the hype surrounding the hype will be generated by Jones’ return. DC is an exceptional fighter and much like Rockhold his training with Velasquez will mean he shouldn’t be too fearful of Jones power.
Having said this, he’s fighting probably the greatest UFC fighter of all time, and if you’ll excuse some wild and unsubstantiated speculation, possibly the greatest fighter that has ever lived in human history. Youngest champion ever, freak athlete and now jacked full of muscle, Jon was able to be the most dominant champion in LW history while apparently living a party and cocaine fueled lifestyle.
I’m afraid I haven’t seen enough to convince me that the second match-up will finish differently to the first.
Prediction: Jon Jones unanimous decision.
Fabricio Werdum – Cain Velasquez
Fabricio Verdum’s defeat of Cain Velasquez was an upset shrouded amongst a year of prominent upsets. Many (including me) viewed Cain as the most dominant heavyweight champion of all time.
The justification of altitude were retrospectively applied as a significant factor in this fight. In all fairness, Cain didn’t appear to be able to apply his legendary cardio in this fight to push the pressure.
However, his 2 year absence from the ring could also have been just as significant a factor in this fight.
Each of these could have been significant in Werdum’s ability to put on a beautiful striking display against Velasquez – who most felt would have a signifcant advantage on the feet.
Whether or not you adhere to such theories, undoubtedly a Cain Veslasquez with his usual gusto will provide a fantastic contest. Werdum’s striking in the last bout will encourage him not to shy away from the exchanges, while his elite BJJ will make him a threat whatever happens on the ground.
Velasquez. While I rate Werdum very highly, I don’t think the last fight was representative of Cain’s capabilities. The excuses of altitude are a little fanciful in my view as a professional athlete should always mitigate for such things so this shouldn’t undermine Verdum’s fantastic performance.
Prediction: Velasquez 4th round TKO .
Joanna Jedrzejczyk – Claudia Gadhela
Jedrzejczyk is taking women’s MMA to a whole new level. As a five-time amateur Muay Thai world champion, she brings an electric form of striking that makes for some of the most entertaining performances in the UFC.
Cladia Gadhela presents a significant challenge to Jedrzejczyk’s dominance. Their last fight was a closely fought contest, with Jerdrzejczyk’s superior striking winning her a contentious split decision victory.
This fight is made more intriguing by the controversy of the fight. Gadelha clearly hit Joanna after the bell, with the look of frustration on her face as she threw the strike contradicting her claims she didn’t hear the bell.
Furthermore, Carla’s coach Andrea Pederneiras maintains she was ‘robbed‘ with the decision loss. It was definitely a close fight and could have gone either way, meaning that the rematch it likely to have some added tension.
If Gadelha can implement her ground game like the last round of the previous fight, Joanna is in deep trouble. However, since that fight Joanna has beat the breaks off of three opponents in a row. Forced to answer under the pressure of trying to gain your approval, I would give her the edge.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk 4th round KO.
Holly Holm – Ronda Rousey II
This fight is set for UFC 200 which is expected to be a landmark event. Possibly the biggest draw of this will be whether Ronda can revenge the only loss of her career. One of the only fighters to truly transcend the sport, Rousey is an icon to even many non-MMA fans. Brash and uncompromising, Ronda was a destroyer of the division before her brutal KO loss. Every great champion reaches new heights by overcoming adversity. Fortunately for Ronda, she now has that in spades.
Holm in many ways is the antithesis to Rousey. “the Preachers Daughter” comes across as a genuinely humble and down to earth individual. She didn’t allow Ronda’s star power to influence her game plan and dispatched her with professional striking developed over a long and successful boxing career; Millions of fans will tune in to see if she can replicate this feat.
Holm’s path to victory is evident. Stick to the same game plan, circle Rousey, pepper her with fist strikes and hopefully land a choice headkick or two.
Rousey’s path is much less clear. Whether she can overcome Holm’s vastly superior striking will depend on a variety of factors, chief of which is if she can develop a more nuanced game plan. Although that statement was blindingly obvious, it’s something we haven’t really seen her have to deal with before due to the weakness of the division.
Another factor is Ronda’s out of competition preparation. Like the downfall of all greats that push the frontier of sport, it’s tempting to point to their environment as what eventually brought them down. Ronda has been involved with various high profile projects such as her starring in the Road House remake and incomprehensible levels of media obligation. Although clearly these would be distracting, it seems a little disrespectful to Holm’s incredible performance in their last fight to suggest that she won because Rousey’s mind was on other things. What is important however is if Ronda can ensure her team around her are telling her the right things, and keeping her down to earth and realistic about her strengths and weaknesses, which wasn’t just a dig at coach Edmund Tarverdyan who bizarrely told Ronda that the fight was going ‘beautifully‘ as I’m sure there are a whole host of members in her inner circle who have got caught up in the fame and success.
Prediction: Holm unanimous decision.
DISCLAIMER* I apologise profusely if any of these fights don’t materialise. I make no claim to have the mystic of one Mr McGregor.
Are you excited for any fights next year that I’ve missed out? Think my predictions or analyses’ are bullshit ? Well then pull up your trousers and do something about it! the comment box is below.