Despite COVID-19 ransacking the sports world, the UFC managed to put together a remarkable streak of shows throughout the year. Bellator and other MMA organizations followed suit, which resulted in a semi-regular year in mixed martial arts. But that doesn’t mean we got all the fights we wanted. Jon Jones, Conor McGregor, Francis Ngannou and others only fought one time, with some of the fights that fans have desired needing to be set aside.
2021 will hopefully be the year that some of these fights can be made, and Sporting News has come up with a wish list of showdowns we want to see in the wonderful world of mixed martial arts. Some appear to be close to happening while others might be nothing more than a pipe dream.
Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou
This one almost came to fruition last year but fell apart over money. No disrespect to UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, but this is the most intriguing fight to make for Jon Jones in the heavyweight division. Ngannou possesses life-altering power that Jones would have to figure out how to navigate around. And if anybody can, it’s Jon Jones. But considering how Ngannou has improved since losing to Miocic, it’s probable that he has a few tricks up his sleeve as well.
Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya
While Jones-Ngannou almost happened, the fight we really want is Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya at 205 pounds. It’s unlikely at the moment considering Jones’ aspirations to compete at heavyweight. But Adesanya has been trolling the hell out of Jones for the past year and it will all culminate in March when the UFC middleweight champion challenges for the title that Jones once held. If there was any reason for Jones to move back down in weight, this would be it. Adesanya’s striking vs. Jon Jones’ wrestling and a heavy dose of bad blood would make this a massive fight.
Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje
Whether or not McGregor defeats Dustin Poirier, a McGregor-Gaethje showdown is an incredible fight at lightweight. Neither fighter would have to worry about wrestling and the result would be a largely standup showdown with two of the biggest strikers in the weight class. Gaethje has demonstrated incredible resilience over the years but has added patience and poise to prevent taking unnecessary punches. But would McGregor’s pinpoint accuracy and dynamite left hand change all that? Only one way to find out.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Amanda Nunes 3
The gap between Valentina Shevchenko and the rest of the women’s flyweight division might be the widest of any weight class. Only one person has gotten past her over the past decade and it just so happens to be the woman who most have declared the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time. To be honest, a case can be made that the “woman” modifier can be removed from Nunes’ name considering her wealth of accomplishments. And that’s why this fight is so damn intriguing. Both of Shevchenko’s losses to Nunes were razor thin, and it would be her final chance to get revenge. Obviously, the weight difference was and will still be the issue. But considering that Shevchenko has few options left at flyweight, might as well take the leap.
Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2
After delivering the fight of the year, this one is an absolute no-brainer. Zhang and Jedrzejczyk gave us 25 minutes of epic violence that went far beyond what anyone could have anticipated. There is unfinished business here between the current champion and one who was at one time considered the No. 1 women’s pound-for-pound fighter. Let’s do it again.
Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal
Some stories just write themselves, and the narrative for this fight is obvious: former training partners with bad blood who tried (and failed) to unseat Kamaru Usman for the welterweight championship. Now they can turn to each other and settle their differences. This isn’t manufactured beef. It’s authentic and it needs to be settled inside the Octagon.
AJ McKee vs. Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire
The ascent of AJ McKee in Bellator has been nothing short of astounding. The undefeated 25-year-old has torn through Bellator’s featherweight division with relative ease, capped off with 2020’s submission of the year — a wicked neck crank against Darrion Caldwell. Pitbull is the champion and widely recognized as the greatest fighter in Bellator’s history. Will he pass the torch to McKee or remain on top? This one is going to happen and we cannot wait.
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Kevin Holland
Who was the top prospect of 2020? Some say Holland and others say Chimaev. Conventional wisdom suggests that these two will eventually meet, and considering how both have expressed their willingness to fight multiple times this year, it makes sense for them to collide. It’s somewhat reminiscent of when Jon Jones and Ryan Bader faced off nearly a decade ago and Jones emerged as the better man. Then he went on to become arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Not saying that the winner of Chimaev and Holland will follow that path to greatness, but also not saying they won’t.
Yoel Romero vs. Anthony Johnson
Former UFC fighters clashing in Bellator is nothing new. But Romero and Johnson aren’t ancient fighters who left the UFC on the wrong end of their respective careers. Instead, both have a lot to give. Even at the age of 43, Yoel Romero is one of the most freakishly athletic fighters in all of MMA. As for “Rumble” Johnson, the power has never been in question. A fight at light heavyweight between these two could be the main or co-main event of any UFC card. But now that they are with Bellator, why not pull the trigger? One way or another, these two will need to meet in the Bellator cage.
Jose Aldo vs. TJ Dillashaw
It’s funny to think that a Jose Aldo-TJ Dillashaw fight was unfathomable six years ago. Aldo was the UFC featherweight champion and rumored to move up to lightweight while Dillashaw had just captured the UFC bantamweight title in a stunning upset of Renan Barao. A collision course was the furthest thing from our minds. Now, it seems much closer to reality. Aldo has since lost the title and made a successful move down to bantamweight, where he ended a three-fight losing streak by defeating Marlon Vera. Dillashaw is set to return from a two-year ban for a USADA drug test failure. With both out of the title picture, this is the fight to make.
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