5 Fights the UFC Needs to Book to Close out 2014
After the summer months that featured a number of great performances, MMA fans are looking forward to what the UFC has to offer in the latter part of this year.
With a great lineup already set in place for most of the second half of 2014, the UFC will be looking ahead toward 2015.
But a number of fights should be on the top of the priority list to get done right away. Whether they're added to a card in 2014 or added to an event in 2015, the fights on this list need to get booked as soon as possible.
Many of these fights depend on a number of factors, so an upset here or there could throw a huge monkey wrench into the UFC's plans.
If everything goes down the way most envision it, then these fights have to get put to paper for late 2014 or early 2015.
Conor McGregor vs. a Top 10 Opponent
The most talked-about fighter in the featherweight division isn't the champ Jose Aldo or even the No. 1 contender Chad Mendes. Nope, that label falls squarely on the shoulders of the No. 13-ranked Conor McGregor.
The fiery Irishman has been tossing names under the bus ever since he signed his UFC contract. He’s pretty much attempted to discredit the entire top portion of the featherweight division and even picked a fight with Diego Sanchez, who competes at lightweight/welterweight.
An injury had forced McGregor to miss considerable time, but he’ll get the chance to show off the new and improved version of himself against Diego Brandao at UFC Fight Night 46 on Saturday. Since he's fighting in front of his countrymen, it’s widely expected that McGregor will pull off the victory over the faltering Brandao.
If that happens, the UFC should look to book McGregor in a fight with a Top 10 opponent.
The hype surrounding McGregor has been substantial, but many fans are still taking a “wait and see” approach to him. It’s one thing to win easily against prospects and guys who aren’t ranked, but it’s quite another to beat a Top 10 opponent.
By pitting McGregor against a high-level opponent, the UFC will give fans the chance to see just how good he is. Such a fight could also generate some buzz due to his brash style.
Alistair Overeem vs. Junior Dos Santos
This fight has been years in the making.
It was originally scheduled for UFC 146, but Alistair Overeem would go on to fail a pre-fight drug test, scrapping the fight with Junior dos Santos. The two men were paired up once more at UFC 160, but once again the fight fell through, this time due to an injury from Overeem.
Despite all the hassles of trying to match up these two guys, many MMA fans have been eagerly anticipating this fight ever since Overeem joined the UFC's ranks. It would pair up two of the best strikers in the division and could easily be a co-main event on a pay-per-view card.
Overeem recently said he still wants to fight Dos Santos, but that is dependent upon The Reem defeating Ben Rothwell at UFC Fight Night 50.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Benson Henderson
Khabib Nurmagomedov has quickly become the darling of MMA fans across the Internet. An exciting style that has grounded every opponent he’s faced in the Octagon along with a “move forward, think later” approach has won him many fans and wins during his UFC tenure.
Considering the fact he’s run his professional record to 22-0 and is ranked at No. 4 in the lightweight division, it would seem a title fight might be in his future.
But Nurmagomedov doesn’t envision fighting for the belt in his next fight. Instead, the winner of Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller appears to be in his sights, with Cerrone happily volunteering to face the surging lightweight contender.
Cerrone or Miller vs. Nurmagomedov would be an easy sell for the UFC, but there’s an even better opponent for Nurmagomedov: Benson Henderson.
The perennial No. 1 contender has a fight with Rafael dos Anjos in August, but if Henderson wins, pairing him up with Nurmagomedov in a title eliminator fight makes a lot of sense.
Henderson has been on a mission to prove he’s worthy of another title shot despite two losses to current champ Anthony Pettis. Wins over Josh Thomson and Rustam Khabilov and potential wins against RDA and Nurmagomedov would make it hard for the UFC to keep Smooth out of a title fight.
For Nurmagomedov, a fight with Henderson gives him the chance to finally face someone who has the skills to give him a challenge on the feet and the mat.
Ronda Rousey vs. Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino
It’s pretty clear that Ronda Rousey is light-years ahead of the competition in her division right now. She proved that point once again at UFC 175 when she dispatched Alexis Davis in just 16 seconds. The fight was reminiscent of the days when boxing great Mike Tyson would take out guys in the first round.
Given that Rousey doesn’t seem to be living up the celebrity life outside the cage, I don’t envision there will be a Buster Douglas-type moment for her in the Octagon.
The only choice for the UFC to pair up Rousey with the one woman who has been her constant nemesis: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
They have sent insults to each other across media platforms, but the central issue of what weight the fight should be contested will be settled once and for all when Justino makes her bantamweight debut in December.
The Brazilian had said it was previously impossible for her to make the bantamweight limit, but if she can make the weight and win the fight, the UFC will have little reason to keep her from meeting Rousey.
Holly Holm has the credentials (and unblemished record) to challenge Rousey, but Dana White has said Holm will need at least one fight in the UFC prior to facing Rousey. It makes sense as Holm isn’t a household name outside of the hardcore MMA fanbase.
Gina Carano seems to be the favorite to face Rousey if a deal can get done. That fight will be made for no other reason except for the money it would draw. Nevertheless, it has the potential to go down exactly like Rousey vs. Davis at UFC 175.
Despite the fact Rousey and White clearly aren’t fans of Cyborg, it’s a fight that needs to be booked if the Brazilian wins later this year. The fans want to see the bickering between them end the way it should in MMA—inside the cage.
Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort
Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort seems to make all the sense in the world, but it also could be one of the most difficult fights to put together in recent memory.
Weidman has said he wants to fight Belfort next, and the Brazilian has more than earned a title shot by virtue of his incredible run in 2013. But just because these two are on a collision course doesn’t mean the road to get there isn’t clear of roadblocks.
For one, there’s the fact Belfort wants the fight in Brazil. After all the controversy from fighters and fans alike that the UFC is “hiding” Belfort in Brazil, that’s not likely to happen—not to mention the fact the title challenger rarely has a choice in where the fight is held.
Then there’s also this little hiccup that will likely cause some licensing issues down the road for the Brazilian.
The bottom line is that this fight makes too much sense, along with promising too much money, to pass up. There’s a lot of obstacles to overcome including Weidman’s current string of injuries, but if the UFC can somehow get this booked for its year-end card, it will be a great way to cap off 2014.