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We’re right in the middle of that weird time between New Years Eve and the first UFC event on the new calendar when the whole MMA industry shuts down. Everything is slow and simple and nothing hurts.
Enjoy as it lasts.
The UFC will return to our screens on Saturday, January 15, and likely won’t slow down until then next year. The promotion will produce dozens of events and hundreds of fights before that date. The divisions will change completely. Established champions will fall. Hopeful suitors will have their dreams shattered. New stars will burst. The legends will fade. There will be scandals. There will be fears. And by the end of this year, we will have witnessed a long list of reshuffles, reshuffles and upheavals that would be labeled as impossible if they were planned now.
But that’s exactly what the B / R combat sports team is here to do today. We’ve come together, as we do at the start of every new year, to play with our credibility and make the most daring UFC predictions possible for the year ahead.
If we’re wrong, don’t hesitate to poke fun at the city. Our bags are already packed. If we’re right? Well, we told you.
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Tom Taylor: Valentina Shevchenko has been phenomenal since winning the vacant UFC flyweight title with a decisive victory over strawweight legend Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2018, crashing through title defenses against Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche, Kaitlyn Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy. These impressive victories have given the 33-year-old Kyrgyz champion an aura of invincibility.
But no one is invincible.
We received an emphatic reminder of this fact at UFC 269 last month, when UFC featherweight and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes was submitted by Julianna Pena. Before this mind-boggling upheaval, Nunes looked even more untouchable than Shevchenko, in part because she holds two decisive wins against the Kyrgyz star. By the end of the fight, she looked as deadly as the rest of us.
I have a hunch that Shevchenko will come back to earth soon too. I can’t say who will beat her, but rising flyweights like Taila Santos, Alexa Grasso, Manon Fiorot, Casey O’Neill and Erin Blanchfield, all except the latter who are already ranked in the top 15 in the division, seem all have a decent bang. And sure enough, Pena has proven that even unannounced veterans are able to dethrone champions with the right game plan. So don’t ignore the older fighters in the flyweight division as you scour the field for potential Shevchenko foils.
Between the influx of new flyweight talent and Pena’s loud reminder that no champion is safe, it feels like the stars are lining up for a Shevchenko L.
My crystal ball says it’s happening before the end of this year.
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Scott Harris: If you don’t believe in Charles Oliveira now, you might be beyond hope. Firmly installed as the king of the UFC’s most powerful division following his third round submission from Dustin Poirier in December, Oliveira is now up and ready to take on all comers.
The lightweight division has an overabundance of contenders – a good problem to have if you’re a fighting fan. The top contender on paper is super brawler Justin Gaethje, who just played and won the best UFC fight of 2021. None other than UFC Prez Dana White called Gaethje the top contender in the division.
But the laws of MMA physics don’t apply to Conor McGregor.
Under his breath, White praises Gaethje for the shot. In another, he leaves the door open for McGregor to take the lead when he returns this spring or summer. Oliveira himself has expressed a desire to face McGregor.
McGregor isn’t a bona fide contender in the eyes of any impartial observer, not after his left leg disintegrated on him in his rematch with Poirier in July. It was his third loss in his last four games, which have spanned three years. But it doesn’t matter. McGregor doesn’t have to be a competitor. He just needs to continue to be the goose that lays the golden eggs that he always will be.
McGregor will get the hit, but he will pay a hefty penalty for the privilege. Namely, he will lose. Oliveira has too many ways to win, including on the pitch. He’s patient, with a heavy chin, and too smart a fighter to get drawn into a hard-hitting battle early on, when McGregor is most dangerous.
Gaethje might be worth it, but to quote Clint Eastwood, the merit has nothing to do with it. As long as the McGregor Slot keeps paying, people will keep pulling the lever.
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Lyle Fitzsimmons: I am told that fortune favors the brave.
I don’t remember if I learned this from being stuffed with great literature as a high school student in the 80s or if it’s just a residue of Matt Damon’s shilling for cryptocurrency in recent NFL games. .
But anyway, the feeling holds.
So, following in the prognostic footsteps of my prominent colleagues dropping names like McGregor and Shevchenko, we’ll be using this space to call out a few UFC personalities as well.
Namely, Kamaru Usman and Khamzat Chimaev.
Usman, for those who don’t know, is not only the reigning welterweight champion of the promotion, but also his pound-for-pound mountain-top flag bearer. As for Chimaev, he’s a talkative Russian-born and Swedish-based who has worked his way through two divisions since his debut 18 months ago.
His latest victory, a 196-second end by Li Jinglaing – who had been stopped exactly once, six years ago, in a career that began in 2007 – propelled Chimaev to No.11 at 170 pounds, and his trajectory will only improve if he lands and wins a fight against Colby Covington, who is currently ranked No.1.
But to overthrow “Chaos” alone is not part of Damon’s exhortations.
So we’ll see this win and increase it, suggesting that Chimaev not only gets his dream title against Usman by the end of the year, but he does.
Yes, win it.
While no reasonable argument can be made to challenge Usman’s credibility, what I’m suggesting here is that Chimaev, at 6’2 “and 170 pounds, is simply a different and incredibly versatile threat.
He uses freestyle wrestling to take down his enemies and is adept at immobilizing their legs before engaging in the ground and pounding or opting for the type of submission (rear choke, for example) that he notched. against Jinglaing. Or, if the mood hits it, typing works too. Enduring veteran Gerald Meerschaert took this route and was sent in 17 seconds by punches, as were four of six pre-UFC opponents, including former world fight sambo champion Ikram Aliskerov.
Usman claims to be the man. And he’s proven it through six UFC title fights.
Chimaev, however, is just a bit more of a man than he is.