There are a number of UFC stars we want to see return who haven’t been seen in far too long. Yes, we all respect the fighters who compete often, the names Khamzat Chimmaev and Kevin Holland come to mind this year. Despite this, there are a number of fan favourites, veterans and exciting prospects who haven’t competed in far too long. On that note, we look at Cub Swanson, Aspen Ladd and Gunnar Nelson, why we need to see them soon and who they could face on their return.
The perennial contender, Cub Swanson has been out of action since he snapped a four-fight losing streak against Kron Gracie in October 2019. At 37, the always exciting ‘Killer Cub’ isn’t going to challenge for the belt anytime soon but that isn’t why we watch him. His exciting, come-forward style always has fans on the edge of their seats. His 2016 fight of the year with Doo Ho Choi tells you everything you need to know about Swanson. He’s currently experiencing his longest run in the UFC without a fight and hasn’t even been booked.
Potential next opponents for Swanson include Bryce Mitchell, Hakeem Dawodu and possibly Grant Dawson. Each of these fighters are looking to break into the top 10 of the division and a win over the highly respected Swanson would certainly help them on their way.
Aspen Ladd is one of the most exciting prospects the women’s bantamweight division has seen in years. Starting her career with an impressive 8-0 with six finishes, Ladd excited many. In her first main event, however, it wasn’t to be. She was knocked out in just 16 seconds at the hands of Germaine de Randamie. Despite the controversial nature of this loss, Ladd rebounded with a TKO victory over Yana Kunitskaya. Off the back of this, the bantamweight (who has regularly struggled to make the 136lbs maximum) was scheduled to face Juliana Pena and then Sara McMann. On both occasions, neither fight went ahead, the latter at the detriment of Ladd herself. Ladd suffered a torn MCL and ACL and is currently on the road back to full fitness.
On her return, it has been reported that she wants to rebook the Pena fight. If the UFC choose not to go this way, there are other options. As she’s currently ranked #3 in the division she will be given a strong opponent. She was previously scheduled against Holly Holm, which would certainly be a step up in competition. Holm is currently un-booked so this fight is a possibility. A more sensible option for her growth would be to face someone further down the rankings, namely, rebook the McMann fight or welcome Irene Aldana back in 2021 following her recent loss to Holm.
Gunnar Nelson is one of the biggest fan favourites in the sport of MMA today, especially in Europe. At 17-5-1, the Icelandic standout has lost his form as of late. After an extremely promising start to his UFC career, he’s traded wins and losses. Currently experiencing a two-fight skid, ‘Gunni’ needs to get back into the swing of things. His best performance came just prior to this current skid. He scored a brutal TKO victory over Alex Oliveira at UFC 231. He then ran into two top contenders. Firstly Leon Edwards and afterwards, Gilbert Burns. Obviously, there is no shame in losing to two of the best 170 pounders on the planet. With his alternative striking style and world-class grappling, Nelson can still put a few wins together.
Who should be next for Gunnar Nelson? There are a lot of options out there in and around Nelson’s ability. Fights against Lyman Good or James Krause could be possibilities, with each fight being a good card filler. If the UFC want to build a fighter off Nelson’s name (a man who has headlined two cards) they could match him with the undefeated, Shavkat Rakhmonov. Rakhmonov won his debut by defeated Alex Oliveira by submission. Wherever the UFC decide to go, the return of Nelson will be exciting.
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