Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
There’s not an awful lot to say about this matchup – particularly stylistically that’s not already been jotted or vocalized. Charles Oliveira represents one of the most ‘feel-good’ stories in professional mixed martial arts at the moment – given his lengthy, ascension to the summit, where he’s now strapped with gold.
The Sao Paulo native turned in his first successful lightweight championship defense earlier this month with a slick third round standing rear-naked choke win over Dustin Poirier. And while it seems Justin Gaethje is on the horizon, baying for his shot at the Brazilian, a force within the top-5 is hot on the heels, in the mould of a prior dominant champion who long resided atop the lightweight pile.
Islam Makhachev. Touted by countless in the know to eventually rise akin to Oliveira and achieve lightweight title success.
Makhachkala native, Makhachev attempts to earn his shot at lightweight spoils against the similarly surging, Beneil Dariush in a headlining bout on February 26. And a win, regardless of fashion against the Kings MMA staple improves him to 10-0 in his last 10, once more, akin to Oliveira. This one more or less really writes itself – particularly toward the third quarter of next year.
You’ve got Oliveira’s obvious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu distinctions, which include relentless searches for submissions and dominant positions, paired with an ever-evoling Muay Thai standup game improved to no end by Diego Lima.
On the otherhand, Makhachev has shown a real knack for finishes in his last three outings – submitting Drew Dober, Thiago Moises, and Dan Hooker in rather dominant fashion. One of the most likely showdowns next year.
Jose Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz
This one’s for you historians out there. Jose Aldo, a WEC and UFC featherweight champion. Dominick Cruz, a former WEC and UFC bantamweight champion, twice, in fact for the latter in this instance.
It’s a matchup that fans have longed and clamoured for since the merge of the now-defunct WEC at the turn of the last decade, and in the last couple of years, the pair have looked relatively impressive, given their respective ages, miles on the clock, and in Cruz’s case, his well-documented slew of derailing injuries.
Another factor that makes this matchup between two future Hall of Fame inductees all that more feasible is the fact both now compete at the bantamweight limit. Aldo made the quite surprising move to the 135lbs rank back in December 2019, and has managed to go 3-2 since, including a close, debated debut loss to compatriot, Marlon Moraes.
The Manaus native sits at #3 in the official pile off the back of a trio of impressive unanimous decision wins, while Cruz improved to #7 earlier this month at UFC 269. It seems it’s really either now or never for this legacy fight. Stick the two lower-weight pioneers in the co-headliner of a pay-per-view event next year.
Jose Aldo vs. T.J. Dillashaw
We once more land on a high-profile pairing including Brazilian phenom, Aldo – this time he’s hypothetically hitched to another former two-time bantamweight best, T.J. Dillashaw.
Strictly speaking, this potential pairing looks to have the most legs from any mentioned at the time of publication. UFC president, Dana White has spoken candidly about his willingness to pair the two in a title-eliminator.
Aldo, as mentioned above, sits at #3 – one slot beneath the recent returner, Dillashaw who landed at #2 with a close split judging win over Cory Sandhagen in July.
I personally love how these two match up. You’ve got Aldo’s reemerging, once-devastating kicking game, matched with a newfound fondness for tidy and tight boxing combinations. Matched with Dillashaw’s unique, movement fueled and filled offence, not to mention his puzzling drop shifts and wrestling ability.
I’ve got no real preference for where I’d place this pairing. Ideally, however, I’d choose close or immediate proximity to Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan 2 – if not beneath that rematch, on the same card.
Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes 2
It’s undeniably one of the biggest – if not the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, not just the UFC.
Julianna Pena’s December dethroning of dominant divisional queen, Amanda Nunes will likely go uncapped for the longest time among their counterparts.
Nunes, now just the promotion’s undisputed featherweight champion, was attempting the sixth successful knockback to her bantamweight throne – having laid waste to the who’s who of talent previously.
Much has been made of Nunes’ hugely underwhelming performance against Pena, with many citing a possible ‘off night’, as well as her previous battle with COVID-19 which forced the cancellation of a prior fight.
However, regardless of the many theories surrounding both the display and future of Nunes – the Brazilian remains wholeheartedly interested in securing an immediate title rematch with the Washington native. And given the promotion’s fondness for the Bahia native, expect this one to land at a pay-per-view event within the second quarter of next year most definitely.
Tony Ferguson vs. Nate Diaz
Two of the most recognizable and distinguished figures in the entire sport, who appear to be ebbing ever closer to a career collision course.
Former interim lightweight champion, Tony Ferguson has found himself on the receiving end of three real clear cut, damaging losses over the last 18 months – including blemishes against former champion, Justin Gaethje, current kingpin, Charles Oliveira.
Ferguson has hinted at a welterweight excursion for the first time since his Ultimate Fighter exploits back in 2011, in tandem with the posting of a couple of photos of Nate Diaz across social media.
Diaz on the other hand, is currently in negotiation woes with the organization it appears – with the promotion acting in a shrewd and thoughtful manner in regards to booking his next fight, which just happens to be the final on his current Octagon deal.
We’re unlikely to see Diaz tackle Ferguson in his last fight with the UFC, however, if he manages to come to terms and re-ups with the promotion, I’d love to see the two share the Octagon next year at some stage.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
It seems the incoming annum appears the most optimum timeframe to stage the third fight between former duel weight champion, Conor McGregor, and Nate Diaz.
Sitting at one win apiece from their pair of 2016 bouts, the two are also in the midst of two-fight losing skids. And with McGregor competing at the welterweight limit as recent as January of last year – as well as his recent mass gain, you’d like to think the organization would be entertaining the possibility of pitting the outspoken rivals together for a rubber match next year – maybe event in McGregor’s Octagon return next summer.
Raufeon Stots vs. Patchy Mix
For this dream matchup, we transition to the Scott Coker-led Bellator MMA banner, and once more land in the bantamweight division, which is continually landing on many’s lists as the best and most competitive division across the sport at the moment.
We’ve also got the distinct possibility of this matchup featuring standouts, Raufeon Stots and Patchy Mix occurring next year, following the recent inception of the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix.
While the brackets for the tournament have yet to be matched, both Stots and Mix would find themselves well favoured to be there or thereabouts come the conclusion of the competition.
For those unfamiliar with Texas native, Stots, the 33-year-old is ranked at #2 in the official bantamweight pile – and firmly rides a nine-fight winning run. The dominant wrestler last defeated the highly-touted, Magomed Magomedov back in August.
Mix, a trainee of Xtreme Couture in ‘Sin City’ – upset the hometown crown at Bellator Dublin back in November, submitting James Gallagher for his fifteenth professional win. A one-time title challenger, Mix is one of the favorites to scoop gold in the future, with his sole defeat coming opposite former titleholder, Juan Archuleta.
Jiri Prochazka vs. Paulo Costa
This one may come from leftfield in some regard, given the fact one-time middleweight title challenger, Paulo Costa doesn’t actually compete at the light heavyweight limit, albeit, at the time of publication.
The Belo Horizonte native notably struggled with weight issues for his October loss to Marvin Vettori, and has been tipped to make the division move as the door to a title challenge at 185lbs is firmly slammed shut on him.
Likely set to challenge for light heavyweight spoils against Glover Teixeira in his next outing, former Rizin FF champion, Jiri Prochazka has been nothing short of a revelation since his move to the UFC in the summer of last year.
The Czech Republic native exploded with a July 2020 knockout of Volkan Oezdemir, before landing a Knockout of the Year contender opposite Dominick Reyes in May of this year.
Two really contrasting styles – Prochazka is a marauder, and hugely technical, yet herky-jerky with his striking, capable of finishing with one, well-placed shot.
And the same can be said for Costa – particularly the last sentiment. From 13 career wins, the Brazilian holds 11 knockout stoppages.
Colby Covington vs. Khamzat Chimaev
I for one, am hugely interested in witnessing how Khamzat Chimaev deals with not just the top-10 of the welterweight division going forward, but also how he manages to mitigate a contender who wrestlers and grapples as well as he does.
Although failing to display that acumen in his November rematch loss to Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington presents one of the most relentless, forward-pushing and pressing wrestlers on the promotion’s books today. He’s managed 53 separate successful takedowns from 14 UFC walks.
Chimaev, who currently finds himself as the #10 ranked welterweight off the back of a hugely dominant submission win over Li Jingliang back in October, has yet to return to a hugely active schedule in his sophomore year with the organization, with UFC leader, White, bogusly claiming contenders are actively dodging potential fights with him.
Although I don’t think Chimaev should be rushed right to a potential title-eliminator in his next fight, and I’d rather see him tackle the likes of Neil Magny, Belal Muhammad, or Gilbert Burns first – I’m still chomping at the bit to see him share the Octagon with Covington at some stage in 2022.
Cris Cyborg vs. Kayla Harrison
Finally, I’m really intrigued to see this potential fight – and it may come as the more surprising next step for Kayla Harrison.
The two-time PFL lightweight tournament victor has been continually linked with a move to the UFC, appearing on the promotion’s broadcast for UFC 269 earlier this month.
Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist Judoka, is currently undefeated in 12 outings professional. And prior to the above mentioned, Nunes’ loss to Pena – it seemed all roads pointed to a clash of American Top Team trainees. However, with Nunes’ loss, some of that fuel has fallen from the proverbial fire.
I’m now really intrigued to see how Harrison fares against current Bellator MMA featherweight champion, Cris Cyborg.
Enjoying a splendid start to her tenure back with Coker, Cyborg has competed four times since her move to Bellator at the beginning of last year – finishing each of her foes, first securing the title before taking home three title turnbacks.
For a matchup to materialise, Harrison would need to reject a projected proposal from the UFC, and, in turn, move to Bellator, particularly given Cyborg’s well-documented, frosty relationship with the former promotion. Probably improbable – but not inherently impossible.
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