With 2022 now in the rear-view mirror, the attention in the world of mixed martial arts has turned to what fight fans can expect out the year to come in 2023.
The hopes and dreams of fans can be lofty at times, but that does not prevent big fights from being made on a yearly basis. After all, Conor McGregor fought Dustin Poirier twice in a calendar year in 2021, and a superfight between UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev and UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski already on the docket for early 2023 came together with relative ease.
UFC sportsbooks should be salivating at the prospect of all the big fights to be made this year. The bigger the fight, the more action sportsbooks are likely to receive, even in light of recent betting scandals that have rocked the MMA world.
Here are four dream fights in the eyes of the matchmakers that have a possibility of happening in 2023.
Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou
One of the most likely dream fights to come to fruition in 2023 might be Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou for the UFC heavyweight championship. Ngannou is still on the mend from knee surgery that sidelined him for all of 2022, and phrases like “Jon Jones” and “most likely” are not exactly synonymous these days. That being said, the UFC has 12 months to make what has the chance to be the biggest heavyweight fight in the history of the promotion.
Despite his inactivity, Jones continues to cast a large shadow over the UFC. For all his legal problems, he still holds one of the most impressive championship resumes of all time and remains essentially undefeated, having never been stopped or beaten on the judges’ scorecards. Ngannou certainly possesses the fight-changing power to crush Jones’ heavyweight dreams, making for a fun fight stylistically as well as one of significant magnitude. With Tyson Fury having seemingly moved on from the idea of a hybrid rules superfight with Ngannou, there is incentive for both Jones and Ngannou to agree to terms and return against one another this spring or summer.
Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal
It would be tough to have a list of “matchmaker dream fights” that does not feature the return of Conor McGregor. While many have speculated the viability of a McGregor return this year, there is likely too much money to be made from all angles for it not to happen. Jorge Masvidal, meanwhile, has plenty of incentive to have McGregor as his next opponent. Given his recent legal troubles stemming from his “alleged” assault on Colby Covington following their main event fight in 2022, it makes sense for Masvidal to angle for a fight with McGregor, which possesses immense potential from a buyrate standpoint.
McGregor has spoken openly of his desire to continue his career at 170 pounds. Judging by his recent photos, it is easy to see why, as he has bulked up considerably since breaking his leg against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. Stylistically, the fight should deliver in spades, with both men likely to stand and trade with one another until someone hits the canvas or time expires on the fifth round. It also serves as a winnable fight for both men, who are a combined 1-5 since the start of 2020.
Israel Adesanya vs. Khamzat Chimaev
There could be several hurdles preventing this fight from being made, but either way, there should be no shortage of fun fights for both Israel Adesanya and Khamzat Chimaev in 2023. Adesanya recently lost his UFC middleweight championship to longtime rival Alex Pereira at UFC 281, and it is currently uncertain what weight class Chimaev will make his return at after missing weight for his doomed UFC 279 main event clash with Nate Diaz. However, both men have shown an ability to connect with their fans and could do huge pay-per-view numbers if the stars happened to align.
For the fight to materialize, Adesanya would likely need to regain the middleweight championship in a rematch with Pereira early in 2023 and perhaps defeat Pereira one more time in a trilogy fight to be rid of him for good. However, a Pereira injury could open the door for Chimaev to step in, though Chimaev will likely need to win a fight over a top middleweight contender before challenging for the belt. It is not unprecedented for Adesanya to fight three times in a year, however, so a fight between Chimaev and Adesanya, while unlikely, could be on the table if the dominoes fall properly.
Kamaru Usman vs. Charles Oliveira
Charles Oliveira may have officially lost the UFC lightweight championship on the scales ahead of his title defense against Justin Gaethje in 2022, but he remained the champion in the minds of many until falling to Islam Makhachev at UFC 280. Although Oliveira has had little trouble making weight at 155 pounds otherwise and has looked good at the weight class, a move up to 170 pounds could be in his future at some point, given the nature of his frame and what could prove to be a quicker path to the title. The most intriguing fight Oliveira can take at welterweight would be a five-round title fight against Kamaru Usman, but in order for that to happen, Usman will need to regain his title from Leon Edwards, though a date for the Edwards-Usman rematch is yet to be officially announced.
Stylistically, an Usman-Oliveira fight might not be as cut and dry as one might think. Usman fell victim to the knockout for the first time in his career against Edwards at UFC 278, and Oliveira does carry power in his hands. Additionally, while Usman has the potential to impose a similar gameplan to Oliveira’s rival Makhachev, the 35-year-old typically prefers to strike. No matter where the fight might end up, excitement would be sure to ensue. Additionally, as a former pay-per-view headliner himself, Oliveira has quietly made a name for himself amongst casual fans, and could serve as a compelling foil to “The Nigerian Nightmare.”