2017 was a turbulent year for Mixed Martial Arts. From failed drug tests to boxing super-fights, there was a lot of rights and wrongs to build on heading in to the new year.
If the MMA Gods were ever to put together some New Year’s Resolutions for 2018, it may look something like this:
Resolution 1 – For another transcendent star to be born in the UFC
Whether you like it or not, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts Competition, and unlike its competitors, produces popular athletes that eventually become as big as the sport itself.
Only three names come to mind when aligning fighters in this category – Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.
The latter is the most likely to fight in 2018, by a long stretch, but the law of PPV numbers suggests that business is better with more than one fighter carrying the load. Who is most likely to step up to the plate? From past examples, dominance is an important trait.
While Brock Lesnar may not have been dominant in terms of his MMA record, everything about his general presence said otherwise. Rousey’s unbeaten armbar-streak was a force to be reckoned with, and Conor McGregor’s dual weight class overhaul was the icing on the cake.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 25-0 unbeaten streak could be the answer, and with a potential showdown with ‘The Notorious’ this could elevate him to great heights.
Rose Namajunas’ unassuming character could become fiercely popular, with Joe Rogan even making the bold claim that she could be a bigger star than Ronda Rousey ever was (though unlikely).
Francis Ngannou has a tough test at UFC 220. If he pulls off a performance like he did against Alistair Overeem, his Mike Tyson scare factor could plummet his stock.
The highest probability of them all – is that no one emerges. However, one can speculate.
Resolution 2 – For Rizin to do what it does best
The emergence of Rizin FF over the last two years has given Japanese MMA a new lease of life. Traditionally, Pride was a mix of high level oversees competition and juiced up goliaths. It has managed to live up to its predecessor to a certain extent, but 2018 has room to turn it up a notch.
Their current roster has room for expansion. If we’re talking about fun fights, and fun fights only, it would be nostalgic to see the return of the likes of Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Mark Hunt, Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida to Japanese shores – just to name a few.
Resolution 3 – Keep Cris Cyborg busy
The ever increasing shallowness of the women’s bantamweight division has shone a light on potential featherweight matchups. Add in the inclusion of a flyweight division, and contenders from both strawweight and bantamweight will be throw in to that fold.
Cris Cyborg brought an added aura of excitement to WMMA in 2017, providing us with a New Years Eve Eve headliner to cap off the year. Not only does WMMA need Cris Cyborg, but the UFC are desperate for stars to bulk up cards in Main and Co-Main spots.
Give Cris Cyborg two to three challenging matchups in 2018.
Resolution 4 – Hope that Bellator make some free-agent hauls
The rise of Bellator as a clear number 2 in terms of MMA promotions is only a healthy existence for the sport in general.
2017 was a promising year for Bellator, with many big names making debuts – most notably Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi and Ryan Bader. While the peak of Bellator’s calendar year was their stacked NYC show in Madison Square Garden, there was an apparent drop-off as the year progressed.
This lull could easily be combated with a few more major signings to boost their divisions. In terms of free-agents, there does not appear to be any vocal outliers, but as the year develops it would be in their interest to be hot on the heels of any potential big-name fighters.
Resolution 5 – For Dana White to stay active as a promoter
Ever heard of Zuffa Boxing? Well, you may be well aware come the end of 2018.
Dana White has expressed interest in the world of boxing promotion and could well venture in to that market on top of his current UFC gig. With doubts as to his future in the UFC in his current role, it is in the companies best interests for him to be around, for now.
An outspoken character at the best of times, he is synonymous with the UFC brand. His post-event recaps are a must-watch to garner any insight in to the company and its future. The UFC’s WME-IMG (Now Endeavour) owners have failed to create any presence in or around the media, and are evidently using Dana as their major spokesperson. In his absence, there does not appear to be many replacements with as big of a presence.
Resolution 6 – For the Light-Heavyweight division to move to 220
This is a bit of a bold one.
But if you consider these top 10 names in the current UFC Light-Heavyweight division, you might be quick to change your mind:
Can Light-Heavyweight be any more boring?
The catalyst for creating any sort of excitement around the division could be to increase the weight limit to 220. That way, we could see certain heavyweight fighters make the cut down and provide for some interesting matchups.
Resolution 7 – To lessen the ideas of ‘Super-fights’
Let’s look at the aftermath of some of 2017’s ‘Super-fights’.
Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather – Great for PPV numbers, not so great for the UFC’s lightweight division. Belt was last defended in November of 2016.
Michael Bisping vs Georges-St-Pierre – Great for PPV numbers, not so great for the UFC’s middleweight division. Rightful #1 contender Robert Whittaker was left to fight five rounders with Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero, and still didn’t win the outright middlewight belt in any of those fights.
Plain and simple. Super-fights are fun in the short-term. But unless you can avoid long-term division hold-ups, they can be an absolute nightmare.
Resolution 8 – To pay the fighters more in sponsorship
The UFC’S Reebok deal is kind of set in stone for the next few years, unfortunately. But why not let athletes have one or two sponsors on top of receiving their Reebok sponsorship?
I don’t think this would do any harm to anyone. Fighters deserve to be paid more – plain and simple. With the support unlikely to come via contracts and wage agreements, as the UFC’s owners aim to make back the 4 billion they spent on the company, this can only be the most viable option for fighters to earn a bonus in a generally underpaid sport.
Resolution 9 – For Conor McGregor to return to the UFC
There can be little negatives associated with a return of ‘The Notorious’ this year. No one can generate as much eyes to the sport as a Conor McGregor fight in 2018.
After taking a bit of a hiatus after his boxing Super-fight with Floyd Mayweather, there is a wealth of challengers in the lightweight division ready to answer the challenge – Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson most notably.
Whether you like him or not, he’s the UFC’s biggest draw by a long stretch. They’ll strike gold if they can convince him to come back at least once this year.
Resolution 10 – For the Diaz Brothers to return, or at least one of them
After years as the less popular Diaz Brother, Nate overtook Nick as the more widely known sibling in the aftermath of his two fight rivalry with Conor McGregor. But their relationship is symbiotic insofar as if one becomes more popular, the others stock probably rises too.
That’s why MMA needs Nick as well as Nate. More specifically the UFC needs them.
The UFC jumped the gun not having one of the Diaz Brothers on the UFC 209 card (209 being the area code of Stockton, California – their famed hometown). They can right a wrong here by bringing one, if not two Diaz Brothers back for 2018. It may cost them, but they need stars, and besides, they aren’t getting any younger.
Thank you for reading. This is my first article on Atlantic Sports Press. Stay tuned to the website for more articles over the course of 2018.
Featured photo credit – UFC/Facebook