7 Rematches the UFC Has to Book in 2018

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2017

7 Rematches the UFC Has to Book in 2018

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Sometimes seeing a fight happen one time just isn't enough.

    It's as though the second a hand is raised and Bruce Buffer theatrically crows that one party is the winner, the very fiber of your being knows that you have to see it again.

    2017 hasn't given UFC fans so many of these moments. There have been plenty of OK fights, but it's been a year when many people have been bummed out by the subpar cards and disappearing stars—or a general malaise those things have produced.

    In fact, if not for the utterly sublime UFC 217 shaking up the sport on the first weekend of November, there would be an argument for 2017 to have been one of the worst in the organization's history. Maybe the worst, despite Dana White's unfounded claims to the contrary.

    That's why 2018 has to be big. And, actually, the past suggests it will be.

    Generally after a down year, you can rely on the UFC to come back with a much bigger campaign in response. The promotion is a lot of things, but it is definitely not run by stupid people, and those people running it hear the concerns of fans, sponsors and media and they look to adjust.

    One way they can do that is by providing some anticipated rematches. When there are ready-made fights that have happened once (or twice) already and left people with that itch to see it again, it's one of the easiest ways to get things on track and keep them there for the year.

    Here are five rematches the UFC should look at booking in 2018.

Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit II

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    UFC 195 is a day that will live in infamy for MMA fans.

    Held on the second day of 2016, the event was headlined by a guaranteed barnburner between then-welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and former interim champ (back when that meant something) Carlos Condit. 

    It was the type of matchup that everyone knew would produce fireworks—possibly the variety of fireworks that would unparalleled for a long time—and it lived up to the billing in every imaginable way.

    January 2, 2016, is one that will be among the best in the history of the UFC, and 2016 had its fight of the year.

    Lawler and Condit hacked and slashed at one another for 25 grueling minutes, beating each other from pillar to post in a wild, sprawling brawl. It was peak MMA: two great warriors known for tireless offense and love of the fight, going toe-to-toe for the duration and waiting for the other man to bow.

    Neither did.

    In the end it was Lawler who narrowly earned a split decision, likely as a result of dropping Condit late in the fight. Arguably, neither man was the same after as Lawler unceremoniously dropped his title by knockout in his next fight and Condit lost his by submission in an unusually flaccid showing.

    Both men took a year off after those losses, with Lawler having just returned in July and Condit slated to go at UFC 219 on December 30.

    Bringing these two back together in 2018 would provide fun for fans and give each a crack at regaining championship glory by the end of the year. The UFC would be wise to get on this one as quickly as they can.

Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz II

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    While we're on the topic of the beloved Robert Glenn Lawler and his contributions to upping MMA's violence quotient as much as possible, we might as well check in on the status of the sport's white whale of matchmaking: Lawler vs. Nick Diaz.

    Way back in 2004 when both men were prospects on the rise, they met UFC 47. Lawler was a feared slugger then, the man many felt was destined to rule the welterweight class for years once his mentor Matt Hughes left the scene. Diaz was more of an unknown then, seen mostly as a jiu-jitsu player and hothead with a penchant for saying and doing outrageous things.

    The fight itself was incredibly memorable, with plenty of posturing and trash talk throughout and numerous wild exchanges. In what would become a hallmark of his later career, Diaz elected to fight fire with fire by engaging almost entirely in a boxing match with the heavy-handed Lawler, shocking most who had tuned in.

    In what would also prove to be a hallmark of his later career, it turned out that Diaz's confidence in this approach was far more warranted than doubters wanted to admit. In the second round, he planted a hook squarely on the chin of a pursuing Lawler, leaving him stiff-legged and wobbly.

    Diaz pounced, dropping Lawler and finishing him with strikes on the mat to bring one of the most memorable bouts of the 2000s to a close.

    While this one seems less likely to be booked considering it's been three years since Diaz fought and almost five since he's had a welterweight bout, it's a fight that fans have been anxious to see again since the first meeting. If the UFC could somehow pull it off, it would be among the most anticipated rematches in the history of the promotion.

Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson II

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    Juan DeLeon/Associated Press

    The light heavyweight division has been in a weird state over the past few years. There are four men at the top and they're collectively a way out in front of the pack, but their claims to being the top dog are all problematic in their own way.

    The outlier is Anthony Johnson, a former welterweight who trucked through the 205-pound class but lost two title fights and has since retired. If he were to return, he'd instantly be top-four in the class, but as of now he's on ice.

    Jon Jones, arguably the best to ever compete in MMA, has undergone two USADA busts in as many years and may never fight again. This came after he created every headline imaginable, from fistfighting robbers on fight day to crashing his car(s) with drugs and/or women along for the ride.

    His nemesis, Daniel Cormier, holds the title in his absence despite the fact that Jones beat him twice—including in Cormier's last fight. Yet thanks to one of those suspensions, Jones was stripped and the title was Cormier's once again. He still wants to fight Jones, but there's no telling if he’ll ever have the chance.

    Cormier's most interesting title defense came against Swedish sensation Alexander Gustafsson, who was coming off a loss to Johnson but put in one of the best performances of his career at UFC 192. He came up short against Cormier in a wild brawl that ended in a split decision, and Gustafsson has won two in a row since.

    In a shallow division where only four men truly matter, and two of those men aren't presently active, what else is the UFC going to do? Cormier is rumored to be fighting Volkan Oezdemir in January, but that feels more like a bout that's biding time for the inevitable rematch with Gustafsson.

    There simply aren't that many great fights available at 205 right now, and a Cormier vs. Gustafsson rematch is one of them. Maybe the only one.

    The UFC has to book it sometime in 2018.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas II

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Rose Namajunas stunned the MMA world at UFC 217, wasting longtime strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a clean lead hook and putting the vaunted queen of the division flat on her back. A few follow-up shots later, and Namajunas had reached the summit.

    People had been waiting a long time for it to happen, given her natural talent, her growth since joining the UFC and admirable outlook on life.

    Now it's time to see if it's for real.

    Jedrzejczyk is the greatest 115-pounder to ever compete in MMA and probably the greatest female MMA combatant ever, period. The efficiency of her viciousness was legendary in the sport, regardless of gender, and most were anticipating she was on her way to dispatching Namajunas and winning a flyweight world title in 2018 before her New York City upset.

    A return engagement between the two, perhaps early in 2018 and perhaps even as an immediate rematch—which Jedrzejczyk has surely earned after defending her belt five times—would be the biggest fight in the history of the division, and it would give Namajunas the chance to prove the division is now hers without question.

    For the woman once known as Joanna Champion, a win would get her back on track and give her a chance to become a two-weight world champion in 2018, as was her goal originally.

    Between the exciting story that has emerged between the two, the shocking way Namajunas became a champion, the persona Jedrzejczyk has culminated and her need to rebound, and the appreciated fans have for both athletes, this one is as close to a no-brainer as you can get for the UFC.

    Expect to see it happen in 2018.

Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman II

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    There was a time, and it wasn't too long ago, that Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman were unanimously seen as the two best middleweights in the world.

    What a difference a couple of years can make.

    After they first met in December 2015 at UFC 194, where Rockhold stopped Weidman in a memorable war, Weidman went on to lose two more fights consecutively for the first time in his career. For his part, Rockhold never once defended the title and was laid flat by Michael Bisping at UFC 199, a loss he's been ruminating on ever since that day in June 2016.

    Still, both men are highly skilled and might still be the two best in the business at their weight. The lead-up to their first bout was also enjoyable, with a hint of bro-love tempered with some alpha male hostility and undertones of the timeless East Coast vs. West Coast feuds that have been ongoing forever.

    With new champion Georges St-Pierre trying to figure out his next move and interim champion Robert Whittaker looking for an opponent, both Weidman and Rockhold could conceivably be only a win away from a title shot. Both are coming off solid wins, and having them cross paths within another fight or two would leave no doubt as to who the rightful heir to that title shot is.

    It's perhaps not as hotly anticipated as some of the fights on this list, but it's surely among the most necessary. It's also one of the more likely ones to produce a technical, exciting fight that would please both casual fans and hardcores alike.

    Another one that the UFC has to get in on for 2018.

TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz II

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Bantamweight has become a fun division over the past year or so, and that will likely continue into 2018. Since the days of Renan Barao running roughshod over his competition, it's been a lively weight class when it comes to the talent at the very top.

    With new champion TJ Dillashaw, recently dethroned Cody Garbrandt and longtime stud Dominick Cruz jostling for position these days, that remains true.

    Cruz beat Dillashaw at a UFC Fight Night in January 2016 to retain his title at the time. Garbrandt beat Cruz at UFC 207 that December to become champion. Dillashaw beat Garbrandt at UFC 217 to become champion. 

    Talk about a quality merry-go-round of MMA math and great fights.

    There's a reasonable prospect that all three of these guys will rematch one another at some point or at multiple points, and given what the past has told us, any one of them will beat another on any night.

    For now, though, with Garbrandt fresh off a loss to Dillashaw on Nov. 4 and having never defended his title before that happened, the smart rematch to make first in 2018 is Dillashaw vs. Cruz. They have similar styles, a rivalry dating back to Dillashaw's time at Team Alpha Male (which, interestingly, also buoyed his rivalry with Garbrandt) and the same unyielding desire to be the best 135-pounder alive.

    Get them together, and in the meantime, find a dance partner for Garbrandt early in the year. Then have the winners pair off in another rematch that people will be clamoring for.

    Bantamweight will be a great division for great rematches in 2018.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    This is the most obvious one of the bunch, and the UFC simply has to book the most anticipated rematch in its history some time in 2018. McGregor and Diaz have provided two memorable wars in March and August 2016, and people are dying to see a third.

    For a period of time, it appeared as though McGregor-Diaz III was going to happen before 2017 expired, but McGregor first stated a desire to unify his title with that of interim champion Tony Ferguson, then launched himself into the Bellator cage during an unfinished fight of a teammate on Nov. 10.

    Both, in their own ways, act as roadblocks to a Diaz fight.

    For his part, Diaz very nearly found himself thrust into an entirely pointless welterweight title shot against Tyron Woodley at UFC 219 before the promotion pivoted in another direction after fans and media met the matchup with confusion and disdain.

    It appears now that he'll remain a wealthy roving marijuana advocate until the McGregor bout finally presents itself, at which point he'll flip the switch and get serious about competing again.

    In any event, the bout is simply too big for the UFC to let it get away. In the past they've had big matchups on the table or in the minds of fans—Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture come to mind—and failed to deliver.

    McGregor-Diaz III is bigger in both star power and potential to generate revenue than either of those—and than any other fight ever.

    Count on it happening in 2018.


    Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!


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