The next 12 months could be some of the most interesting in MMA history.
Conor McGregor is set to come back with a broken leg. Jon Jones, who hasn’t fought since February 2020, could finally get a heavyweight title. Kamaru Usman is closing in on Anderson Silva’s record of 16 UFC wins in a row.
Meanwhile, Nate Diaz is social media back and forth with Dustin Poirier, and Diaz’s next fight could be his last fight in the UFC. Francis Ngannou defends his UFC heavyweight title against former training partner Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 on January 22 – and it could be his final fight in the UFC. McGregor has two more fights on his UFC contract. Jake Paul and UFC President Dana White share videos of diss on social media.
Yes, 2022 could be the most high profile year of all time in mixed martial arts. If the end of 2021 and the first days of January are any indication, things could quickly derail. With that in mind, we’ve looked at some bold predictions that could come true before 2023.
UFC star to leave for boxing
Dana White discusses the process of getting Nate Diaz for his next UFC fight, the last of his current contract.
Some would say it’s not too daring. But it will still seem pretty incredible until it does, just because this sort of thing hasn’t been a threat to the UFC for over a decade. Never before has a year started when there were several big UFC stars coming into free agency. McGregor has two more fights on his contract. Diaz has one. Ngannou could be a free agent if he loses to Gane at UFC 270. It’s possible that one of them – or even more than one – could leave the UFC in 2022. Ngannou almost said that ‘he would box someday, and that day might be sooner rather than later.
That being said, it remains extremely unclear whether any of the fighters who could be free agents this year will actually make the jump. There are risks involved. The UFC is always a massive promotion with a huge following. Going out alone without this safety net is not an easy thing to do. If that were to happen, however, it would likely be the year, with the aforementioned names likely to get expensive. To be blunt, though, it would still be a complete shock to see Diaz or Ngannou in a boxing ring before the end of 2022. Even if the wind is blowing a bit in that direction.
Conor McGregor to get title shot
Dana White is evaluating Conor McGregor in 2021 at the UFC and discussing when he thinks “The Notorious” could return in 2022.
Yes, McGregor has exactly one win since 2016. And of course that win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone hasn’t aged that well. We can’t forget how much McGregor means to the UFC from a financial standpoint, however. He’s the biggest star in the promotion’s history, even when he lost back-to-back fights finishing against Dustin Poirier. Even when he recovered from a broken leg suffered against Poirier last July. And there doesn’t appear to be a heir apparent to take McGregor’s place. So McGregor’s chances, despite his recent low-quality record, of clinching the title are more than slim.
McGregor has already made it known he wants to fight for the UFC lightweight belt when he returns from injury. Charles Oliveira is the current champion and Justin Gaethje is on hold as the next contender. Could McGregor actually fight the winner? May be. Oliveira has previously said he will let McGregor skip the line due to the lucrative nature of this fight. Another possibility: McGregor returns, wins a fight and then slips into the title photo.
UFC to launch women’s atomic weight division
MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn reported that there is more fight time in the UFC than ever before in 2021. The promotion has been a content machine, even during a global pandemic, and there is more fighting than ever before. never before. With the number of fights per card and the potential for an increase in the number of cards in 2022, the UFC has an opportunity to add another division. And the best in the world that the UFC doesn’t currently have? Atomic weight of women.
There are a number of excellent atomic weight fighters in the world, such as Alesha Zappitella and Jessica Delboni of Invicta FC, as well as South Koreans Seo Hee Ham (ONE Championship) and Kanna Asakura (Rizin). Seika Izawa, the 24-year-old uber-prospect, just shocked longtime great atomic weight Ayaka Hamasaki, former Invicta champion, in Rizin on New Years Eve. 105 Women’s Pounds is a fun division with marketable athletes and exciting fights. Plus, having another champion on the UFC roster creates more premium content, just by adding around three more title fights per year to the record.
Big MMA promotion to close shop
Khabib Nurmagomedov has said his new promotion Eagle FC is considering signing Kevin Lee and will even create a 165-pound weight class.
The MMA landscape is crowded these days. With the UFC just having its best year in terms of earnings, the world’s largest combat sports promotion is healthier than ever. The gap has widened between the UFC and everyone else during the pandemic. That leaves a host of other promotions trying to find their niche, and enough marketable fighters outside of the UFC world.
And more and more companies are emerging. Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC are making great strides towards 2022. Gamebred FC, led by Jorge Masvidal, have a unique concept of barehanded MMA. Combate Global continues to achieve good ratings among the Spanish speaking audiences in the United States. Anthony Pettis also has his own MMA promotion on the way.
With all this content, something must give. Is there a market for all of these adjacent MMA and MMA companies? Probably not. It’s a crazy race, and there will always be winners and losers. There are already promotions that scratch and scratch to survive. Granted, there’s a chance that a big enough one might not continue beyond 2022.
Valentina Shevchenko will become double champion
The door is already ajar for this to happen. Julianna Peña surprised Amanda Nunes to become the UFC bantamweight champion at UFC 269 last month. Peña not only beat Nunes – the greatest female fighter of all time – she finished her with submission (bare back choke). Nunes will likely get a rematch in an attempt to reclaim his throne. She will surely be favored. But at some point this year, the UFC must pull the trigger on “Bullet” to return to bantamweight.
Shevchenko is a phenomenal and dominant UFC flyweight champion. But there it is head and shoulders above the competition. Why not take her to 135 and challenge the title there against Nunes or Peña while the 125-pound contenders are sorted? If that happens, Shevchenko could very well win the bantamweight belt. She lost to Nunes twice, but the second fight was an extremely slim decision for Nunes. And right now, with Nunes losing, Shevchenko is the pound-for-pound queen of MMA.
Three fighters from the Caucasus region to hold UFC gold
Khabib Nurmagomedov is retired. But his compatriots are set for a huge 2022, with Nurmagomedov in some of their corners. Three natives of the Russian Caucasus region (if not four) have a chance of becoming UFC champions in 2022. This list begins with Islam Makhachev of Dagestan, Nurmagomedov’s longtime training partner whom Nurmagomedov coaches. Nurmagomedov’s late father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov had planned for his son to retire and then Makhachev to win the UFC lightweight title. It could happen in 2022. Makhachev is probably one shot away from the title. He fights Beneil Dariush on February 26.
Khamzat Chimaev, originally from Chechnya, is one of the most dynamic and dominant prospects in all of MMA. This year, the prospect’s label is gone and he will become a legitimate contender for the UFC welterweight title. Then there’s Askar Askarov, an undefeated flyweight from Dagestan who once fought to a draw with current UFC champion Brandon Moreno. He could very well get a title in 2022.
Not satisfied with three? And Magomed Ankalaev? The UFC’s light heavyweight division is changing dramatically with the departure of Jon Jones for heavyweight. Ankalaev has won seven in a row and could be the top contender at 205 pounds by fall, or maybe winter.