Ideas for “superfights” are thrown around quite a bit nowadays, featuring some surprising names from mixed martial arts and beyond. Despite the superfight-saturation, there are a few realistic matchups the UFC should seriously consider in 2018.
For the sake of this piece, “superfight” is going to mean UFC champion vs. champion bouts. Yeah, that’s not an exact definition, but wasting four paragraphs on a subjective phrase is a waste of time. These matchups, however, would be anything but a waste.
The promotion’s relatively down year, especially compared to 2016, is obvious for everyone to see. A lack of Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Conor McGregor featuring in the Octagon has meant the likes of an unreliable Jon Jones, a returning Georges St. Pierre, and a slew of interim belts have taken hold atop the biggest events of the year.
This doesn’t mean the UFC has shied away from major bouts, they’ve just been difficult to put together. For a wide variety of reasons, including USADA, injuries, boxing bouts, and more, things just haven’t clicked for the promotion in 2017. That can, and should, change next year.
The stars have aligned for several potential superfight bouts featuring champions throughout the promotion. Of course, the UFC likes to save title-fights for main events, and sinking multiple titles into multiple main events is a quick way to drain their already lacking resources in that department. But they also need big events with impressive PPV buyrates, and superfights are a near surefire way to get the job done.
So, we’ve come up with a few (CC: Sean Shelby, Mick Maynard) that the promotion should consider for 2018. Some are more likely than others, but even getting one of these fights would make fans happy, and the UFC a boatload of money. The talent atop the pound-for-pound rankings is undeniable, and with a little creativity, we could see some of the best matchups in UFC history.
5. TJ Dillashaw vs. Demetrious Johnson
The most obvious and likely superfight of the bunch is one that the promotion has been trying to put together since the summer of 2017. Now, with both guys holding belts, a bout between bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson needs to happen.
Dillashaw is doing his part. He defeated Cody Garbrandt at UFC 217 to reclaim the 135-pound belt, giving a potential bout with Johnson more of the flair the UFC loves to have in fights. Johnson has kept up his end of the bargain as well, setting the promotion’s record for consecutive title-defenses at UFC 216.
Earlier this year, the bout made less sense than it does heading into 2018. A bantamweight title-contender going down to 125-pounds for the first time in a historic flyweight title bout gave Johnson plenty to worry about. But now, with the record secured and Dillashaw carrying a belt, things start to fit together a bit better. Plus, the UFC has options.
Whether fought at 135-pounds, where Johnson has fought in the past and Dillashaw’s credentials are confirmed, or at 125-pounds, where Dillashaw is confident he can make weight and compete with the pound-for-pound best in the world, there are stories to be told.
The promotion is all for it, just ask Dana White. Dillashaw has continued to ask for the bout as well. That means, like it was over the summer, it’s really up to Johnson. He’s running out of contenders at flyweight, and whether he attempts to become a two-division champ, or defends his belt against his toughest opponent in a while, fighting Dillashaw makes sense for Mighty Mouse in 2018.
4. Georges St. Pierre vs. Tyron Woodley
If Georges St. Pierre is really back, and the bout with Michael Bisping at UFC 217 wasn’t just a one-off, we could see this matchup sooner rather than later.
For GSP, it’s another step in cementing his already astounding legacy. He’s returned to the UFC, but not to the division he helped put on the map. In the way of St. Pierre’s next notch is one of the promotion’s most dominant current champions. Tyron Woodley’s reign as welterweight champ has seen him impress in a multitude of ways, defeating diverse contenders in Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia.
Woodley is the longest reigning 170-pound title-holder since GSP left, and would undoubtedly test the legendary fighter’s current abilities. But, trying to figure out what St. Pierre is going to do next isn’t exactly easy. It took a while to get him back into the Octagon, and any build to another bout will likely be just as arduous.
Things are a bit simpler from Woodley’s view. He’s made no bones about wanting a money fight, and has routinely requested to fight GSP since his return was announced. Woodley was apparently willing to delay a necessary shoulder procedure in order to defend his belt against Nate Diaz at UFC 219, and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t do the same were St. Pierre on the table.
If Woodley is willing to be patient, get the surgery, and continue to angle for a superfight with GSP, the UFC will likely get behind it. They let St. Pierre pick his return fight this year, jumping a long line of deserving contenders at 185-pounds. Should the promotion encourage him to do the same at welterweight next year, and it results in GSP vacating the middleweight title, then so be it. He’s not long for the middleweight division, and GSP’s lack of a title wouldn’t diminish the bout with Woodley at all.
3. Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier
The UFC’s heavyweight division and champion Stipe Miocic are lacking true title-contenders, while we wait for the rise of the likes of Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. But lurking just one weight class below is one of the best fighters in MMA history, a former heavyweight grand prix champion, and holder of a 13-0 record as a heavyweight: Daniel Cormier.
Things are messy in the light heavyweight title picture as well, thanks to out-of-the-Octagon issues from the likes of Jon Jones and Volkan Oezdemir. Without a true number-one contender, and no real resolution in sight, a big-money fight with two of the best guys in the promotion sounds like a great solution.
Miocic is on the verge of becoming the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history, with a career any fighter would be proud of. Wins over Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and more have him among the all-time great UFC heavyweights. The best way to burn that thought into the minds of every fan alive? Defeat light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
We’ve been waiting for the return of Cormier teammate Cain Velasquez, and that wait now seems like it will never end. Cormier stepping-up in place of his friend, the guy he left the heavyweight division for, would also add an interesting angle to the story. Nobody would doubt Cormier’s heavyweight credentials, and given the state of the title-pictures in each division, this bout needs to happen.
2. Conor McGregor vs. Max Holloway/Jose Aldo 2
We can dream, right? As possible as the other matchups mentioned are, anything featuring Conor McGregor has more than a few question marks attached. Especially when it involves competing at featherweight, or defending a belt.
But, if fighting interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, or rival Nate Diaz, doesn’t suit Mr. McGregor, maybe a rematch with whoever the featherweight champion following UFC 218 will. Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch at this point in McGregor’s career, but either matchup would do great business in 2018. Most of what McGregor does is great business, but a rematch with either Jose Aldo or Max Holloway sells itself. The Irishman holds victories over both, putting him in a category all by himself. Those victories would do little to diminish a second-bout, but for different reasons.
Getting the potential for more (or less?) than 13 seconds of McGregor-Aldo action should excite every MMA fan alive. The initial meeting resulted in one of the most historic moments in UFC history, and it’s easy to see how a second bout could as well.
When it comes to McGregor-Holloway, the argument is clearer. Holloway’s last loss? To McGregor in August of 2013. That story, two belts, and the vast growth we’ve witnessed from both fighters since that bout, gives the promotion all they need to clear a million PPV buys – a feat they haven’t accomplished in 2017.
McGregor doesn’t necessarily need help selling fights in 2018, as his return to the Octagon will be the headline regardless of his opponent. The lightweight champ has plenty of options, and while featherweight fighters may not be on the top of his list, both Aldo and Holloway would maximize the potential for a historic return for the all-time great. They could take place at 145 or 155-pounds, adding flexibility for all involved.
1. Cris Cyborg/Holly Holm vs. Amanda Nunes
Another tricky matchup, but one that the UFC could lean into should the women’s featherweight division continue to fail to materialize, features the victor of UFC 219’s main event and women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
It’s been difficult to find Cyborg, the current women’s featherweight champion, opponents during her UFC career. That common theme, along with the lack of a real division for Cyborg to compete in, makes looking at bantamweight options all the more possible.
They’ve done it thus far, calling on bantamweights Germaine de Randamie, Tonya Evinger, and now Holly Holm for their women’s 145-pound title fights. Adding Amanda Nunes to the list sounds like an easy enough progression, especially when looking at the title picture at 135-pounds.
Nunes has done a good job of cleaning-house at bantamweight, and top-contender Racquel Pennington was recently injured in an accident. She’s earned wins over Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, and Miesha Tate over the last two years, and even holds a 2011 victory over current Bellator MMA women’s featherweight champion Julia Budd. Nunes holds a 6-1 overall record at 145-pounds, with the loss coming in the first fight of her career.
Comparing Nunes’ resumé to those who’ve challenged Cyborg in the UFC thus far gives the bantamweight champion a solid argument, should she be willing to accept a fight offer with the featherweight title-holder’s name on it.
If Holm defeats Cyborg at UFC 219, there are angles the UFC could highlight as well. Holm as a two-division champion, and vanquisher of Rousey and Cyborg, redeeming her recent struggles as she returns to bantamweight is an easy sell. The superfight with Nunes has more flexibility with Holm as well, with potential for a fight at either 145 or 135-pounds.
Cyborg-Nunes is the fight we’d want, and the promotion would feel the same way. They’re going to have to continue to be creative with Cyborg and the featherweight “division,” and calling upon their current bantamweight champion seems like one of the few remaining options on the table after Holm.
Superfights are tough to put together, but when done right, have the potential to result in everything we love about MMA. Coming up next year, the UFC has more than a couple of options if they want to put the effort into creating a superfight or two. Whether or not they are willing to do so is another question entirely, but based off of these potential matchups, we’re in. Let us know which superfight(s) you’d like to see in 2018, and what you think of our list!