2024: The Year of the New Guard?

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There is a mostly unavoidable cycle in sports where the young rookie takes aim at the veterans, garners experience, and hits a peak all before becoming the very same veteran they sought to take out in the early phases of their career.

In fighting, that cycle consumes just about all fighters, with only a few great exceptions getting out on top. For the rest of the pack, the story ends in a not-so-favourable fashion, completing the cycle by becoming the thing they fought to replace.

The battle between the old guard and the new is not fresh to this landscape, however, it is an especially prevalent theme for the UFC in the first quarter of 2024.

Every year matters for the organization, but 2024 is shaping to be particularly important for the promotion’s future. There are many upcoming fights in Q1 between the old and new guard that could result in many “passings of the torch”, shaping the short and long-term for the company.

Old vs. New – A New Guard…

Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski vs Ilia “El Matador” Topuria

The arguable featherweight GOAT in Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski is set to defend his title for the sixth time against rising star Ilia “El Matador” Topuria, a well-rounded 27-year-old prodigy. This fight, above all others, feels the most like a passing of the torch. The 35-year-old Volkanovski has accumulated tons of mileage over the years and the recent knockout loss to Islam Makhachev put “The Great” in a place we have never seen him in.

Given the fact that all four undisputed featherweight champions have hall-of-fame resumes, the next champ has massive shoes to fill. When assessing age, skills, and star power, Topuria comes off as the perfect fighter to carry the torch.

Charles “do Bronx” Oliviera vs Arman Tsarukyan

Fan favourite and former lightweight champion, Charles “do Bronx” Oliviera is looking to reclaim what he once lost after a submission loss to reigning champion, Makhachev. His re-ascension was kicked off with an impressive TKO win over Beneil Dariush and he looks to stake a claim for the Makhachev rematch with a win over 27-year-old budding star Arman Tsarukyan, who had revenge-fueled motives of his own toward the lightweight champion.

With Tsarukyan aiming for Oliveira, this could be one of the last instances we see the 34-year-old former champion in the thick of the title race should he lose to his UFC 300 opponent. For Tsarukyan, this is a step toward being in the title picture, potentially for years to come.

Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier vs Benoit “God of War” St. Denis

Oliveira is not the only one depending his post at lightweight, for “The Diamond” has answered the call to try and fend off the new guard. In this instance, he will be looking to quell a very violent opponent in 28-year-old blossoming contender Benoit “God of War” St. Denis.

With Poirier being multiple wins away from a title shot, a loss to the #11 ranked Frenchman would likely do away with any championship hopes. For the Frenchman, a win over a top-three opponent would usher in a new face in the lightweight title picture.

Gilbert “Durinho” Burns vs Jack Della Madellena

There is a near-identical instance of narrative to Poirier/St. Denis here with Burns vs Della Madellena. The 37-year-old Brazilian has been looking for a way back to title contention since losing to then-champion Kamaru Usman in 2021.

For Burns, like Poirier, the goal is here to secure a win in order to maintain a little security at the top against a hungry up and comer in 27-year-old JDM. Just like St Denis, the #11 ranked fighter is looking to skip the line and hop into the top five of his respective division with an impressive win.

Katlyn Chookagian vs Maycee “The Future” Barber

The top three to four of the women’s flyweight division is becoming rather competitive, with the best of the division all gunning for champion Alexa Grasso. One fighter looking to bring themselves to the mix is 26-year-old Maycee Barber, a well-rounded athlete at #6 walking a similar path as the aforementioned, Arman Tsarukyan.

Barber is riding a five-fight win streak, with her last loss coming against the current champion. A win against #4 ranked veteran Katlyn Chookagian would put her in the picture and possibly set up a title fight with championship and revenge implications on the line. For Chookagian, a loss here would likely mean the end of title hopes for the 35-year-old.

Additional old guard vs new guard matchups to start the year

  • Henry “Triple C” Cejudo vs Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili
  • Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal vs Ian “The Future” Machado-Garry
  • Petr “No Mercy” Yan vs Song Yadong
  • Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz vs Kyler “The Matrix” Phillips

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