As 2016 comes to an end, MMA fans have much to look forward to, in terms of mouth-watering UFC matchups. The potential return of old stars such as Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre, and Jon Jones have people buzzing about what could be in store for the new year. With new ownership, and a plethora of young up-coming stars, 2017 is poised to be an incredible year of fighting.
With that said, lets look at five potential match-ups to watch out for in 2017.
Donald Cerrone vs. Demian Maia
Donald Cerrone and Demian Maia both have had impressive campaigns in 2016. After coming up short in his quest for the UFC lightweight championship, “Cowboy” has found new life in the welterweight division. At 170 lbs., Cerrone has shown not only a level of comfort at the new weight class, but incredible dominance. Having dispatched contenders such as Patrick Côté, Rick Story, and most recently Matt “The Immortal” Brown. Cerrone has fought his way into the conversation to compete for the UFC welterweight championship. However, Cerrone is not the only welterweight who can make a strong case for a title shot.
For Demian Maia, the decision to move to 170 lbs. has rejuvenated his career. After middling success at middleweight, Demian Maia has been on an absolute rampage in the welterweight division. Riding a six fight winning streak with victories over Carlos Condit, the aformentioned Brown, and Neil Magny. Maia has looked like a match-up nightmare for just about anyone in the division. He has been in-line for a title shot that arguably should have came much earlier in the year, but perhaps with one more spectacular victory, Maia will have earned another crack at UFC gold.
Booking a fight between Maia and Cerrone is almost the perfect scenario. It gives the division time to figure out what exactly is next for Tyron Woodley, due to the growing uncertainty of whether Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson will get a rematch after the two fought to a draw at UFC 205 in November. With Conor McGregor and even St-Pierre lurking in the shadows, a fight between Cerrone and Maia would allow for the division to produce both a legitimate and deserving #1 contender.
Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm
With the exception of Ronda Rousey, no other female fighter has dominated their opponents in the manner that Cris Cyborg has. Since joining the company, the UFC has been unable to match Cyborg with a competitive opponent and it has resulted in Cyborg’s UFC run leaving much to be desired. Without a women’s featherweight division, it was unclear as to what’s next for Cyborg.
In 2015, Holly Holm’s stardom skyrocketed as she knocked out the seemingly unstoppable force in Rousey, for the UFC title. However, since that victory, her momentum has slowed significantly after back-to-back losses in 2016. Holm still possesses significant star power, stemming from her victory over Rousey. But that can not last forever. In a rather puzzling move, the UFC has booked Holm to fight Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural women’s featherweight championship at UFC 208.
It is hard to envision a scenario where the UFC introduces a women’s 145 lbs. division without Cyborg. However that is exactly what has happened. A lot of things need to happen before this match-up can come to fruition. First, Holm must get past de Randamie to capture the championship; and second, the UFC and Cyborg must do whatever they can to repair their seemingly rocky relationship. If the stars align, this match-up looks to provide an incredible amount of intrigue and excitement. Cyborg has looked unstoppable against almost everyone she has faced, but Holm is 1-0 against seemingly unstoppable opponents.
Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Any match-up with Conor McGregor is going to draw a significant amount of attention. Aside from his submission loss to Nate Diaz, McGregor has been a whirlwind of spectacular performances, and knockouts. After redeeming himself against Diaz at UFC 202. Then capturing the UFC lightweight championship–by knocking out champion Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, has placed a lot of fighters waiting to be next to cash in on the McGregor money train. The mystery remains as to what exactly McGregor’s goals are, now that he has achieved the goal of becoming a two-division champion.
Going undefeated in MMA is arguably one of the hardest things to accomplish in all of sports. Khabib Nurmagomedov has not only gone undefeated with a record of 24-0, he has looked virtually untouchable while doing so. Despite an initial flurry by Michael Johnson, Nurmagomedov made quick work of Johnson by submitting him in the third round. He has been on the verge of a title shot for a while, although injuries and questionable bout agreements have impeded the Russian’s ability to fight for a title.
With his dominant victory against Johnson at UFC 205, Nurmagomedov called out McGregor, and the UFC, in his post-fight interview. However, it is looking increasingly likely that Nurmagomedov will have to take on the surging Tony “El Cucoy” Ferguson in a number one contenders bout, or potential interim-lightweight championship fight. Should Nurmagomedov be victorious against Ferguson, a bout with McGregor could be one of the most interesting stylistic match-ups of the entire year.
Again, this all depends on what McGregor chooses to do next.
These are just some of the UFC match-ups that could make 2017 even better than 2016.