The UFC’s first trip to the T-Mobile Arena in 2018 will be for their third pay-per-view event of the year: UFC 222. Following PPVs in Boston and Australia, what’s left for Las Vegas’ main event?
UFC 222 will be the bookend of a stretch featuring eight events in eight weeks, beginning on January 14th. That means resources for MMA’s premier promotion could be thin for their third PPV of the year.
As is usually the case, the promotion prefers to have a title fight in the main event slot of their biggest events. The event in Vegas follows UFC 220 in Boston in January, and UFC 221 in Perth in February. Between those two cards, a few belts are already spoken for.
The heavyweight title will be on-the-line in the main event of UFC 220, as we all find out whether or not Stipe Miocic can stop the train known as Francis Ngannou. Fans in Boston are being treated to a second title-fight as well. Daniel Cormier will be defending his 205-pound belt against Volkan Oezdemir in the co-main event. That means two of the highest-profile belts are off-the-table for UFC 222.
Following Georges St. Pierre vacating his role as middleweight champion, former interim 185-pound champ Robert Whittaker will get his first shot at defending the belt at UFC 221. That defense will come against former middleweight titleholder Luke Rockhold in Whittaker’s home region of Australia.
So, what about UFC 222? Currently, only one fight has been made official for the card, a middleweight bout between C.B. Dollaway and Hector Lombard. That won’t be the main event (we hope), so here are the options the promotion could be considering.
A couple of champions that are unlikely to be ready come March are women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montaño, and the winner of UFC 219’s main event for the 145-pound title between Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm.
Fresh off of competing on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter, Montaño deserves a rest. Winning her belt in December, a return sometime later in the spring or early in the summer makes more sense. The same can be said for either Cyborg or Holm, both of which will want more than eight weeks before their next bout.
Things aren’t looking great when it comes to the lightweight champions, either. Conor McGregor has made it clear he intends on returning to MMA. When that will take place is anybody’s guess. But March seems a bit too soon. The Irishman has been in some hot water lately, and is lacking his most obvious opponent: Tony Ferguson.
The interim 155-pound champ, Tony Ferguson, is currently on the shelf. Ferguson underwent elbow surgery in early-December, and no there’s no public timetable for his return. He’ll want to be 100% for what would be the biggest fight of his career, so rushing back for a bout in early-March wouldn’t be the best strategy. Crazier things have happened, but we don’t want to get our hopes up.
Another promotional champion has opted for surgery as well. Welterweight king Tyron Woodley (finally) chose to go under the knife for his nagging shoulder issues. He had been holding out for potential main event opportunities at UFC 219 and 220. With nothing coming to fruition, and the return of Georges St. Pierre to 170-pounds becoming more likely, Woodley’s decision makes sense. Even if it means he doesn’t fight until mid-2018.
We also mentioned the group of champions who already have plans throughout the first months of 2018. Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, and Robert Whittaker will all be defending their belts at PPV events in the weeks ahead of UFC 222.
After her surprise first-round TKO of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Rose Namajunas’ first title defense would make sense for Vegas. Whether the promotion believes the matchup could carry the card as the main event, or is dead-set on Jedrzejczyk getting an immediate rematch, is another discussion. But, with their last bout coming in November, early-March is plenty of time for both fighters to regroup.
There’s that bantamweight title bout between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington, too. Initially slated for UFC 219 in December, an ATV accident sidelined Pennington for the foreseeable future. Whether or not March is too soon for Pennington to return remains to be seen. As is the UFC’s confidence in a Nunes-led PPV.
Another bout that was already scheduled, then shelved, is Max Holloway’s featherweight title-defense against Frankie Edgar. The initial main event of UFC 218, Holloway-Edgar is one of the best matchups the promotion can make. Edgar was recently on an episode of The MMA Hour, and said he’s hoping to return in March or April for his date with Holloway.
Oh yeah, there’s also that superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw. That’s definitely possible for UFC 222 in Las Vegas.
The promotion was pushing for the bout in late-2017, and got brushed back by the flyweight title-holder. Now, things have changed a bit. Johnson secured his UFC-record 11th title defense at UFC 216. Meanwhile, TJ Dillashaw reclaimed his bantamweight belt at UFC 217. Along with the title: his ticket to jump the line of contenders at 125-pounds.
Whether it takes place at 125-pounds, 135-pounds, or somewhere in between, Johnson-Dillashaw will main event a UFC PPV next year. Neither division currently has a clear contender for either champion, giving the superfight all of the necessary ingredients to be made. Considering all of the available options, a champion vs. champion clash at UFC 222 sounds like a great way to headline a Las Vegas PPV.
Always giving their home-base of Las Vegas some special treatment, we’re betting on the superfight between TJ Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson to main event UFC 222. After that, rescheduled bouts between Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar, or Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington make sense. But, if the promotion gets desperate, a strawweight title-fight rematch might be the answer.
The UFC has a surprising amount of options for this time of year, but one bout fits better than the rest. C’mon Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard. Do the right thing. Give us Johnson-Dillashaw at UFC 222.