Is a glimmer of light finally starting to show on the UFC's horizons?
After a down 2017 and an uninspired start to 2018, there has been some doom and gloom concerning the future of the world's largest MMA promoter. Suddenly, though, it's possible things are looking up.
With recent rumors that former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar might return, an abrupt end in sight for Nick Diaz's regulatory troubles and Dana White still not ruling out Conor McGregor making a comeback by year's end, perhaps there is room for optimism.
All of this is to say nothing about big guns such as former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and all-time great Georges St-Pierre. If either of those guys ends up returning to the Octagon during 2018, it'll call for considerable fanfare and perhaps some monster PPV buyrates as well.
The possibility that some or all of the above might happen is raising hopes that perhaps this won't be another lackluster year inside the Octagon:
Here, Bleacher Report lead MMA writers Chad Dundas, Jeremy Botter and Scott Harris banter about whether the UFC is on the comeback trail or if it's all just smoke and mirrors.
Chad: Have to admit, I'll gladly take some good news right now.
With the exception of a few bright spots, 2017 was a wasteland for UFC fans. With Ronda Rousey all but officially gone for good, Jones unable to keep himself out of trouble and McGregor spending the entire year on a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., there just wasn't much to cheer about.
Such a disappointing year raised interesting (and perhaps fearful) questions about the UFC's new ownership at Endeavor and what (if any) vision they had for the company moving forward.
While many of those queries remain unanswered, it's nice to see some big names at least starting to emerge from their slumber.
In addition to the possibility of Lesnar, (Nick) Diaz and McGregor all returning, the fight company has a high-profile champion vs. champion bout between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier coming up at UFC 226. There's also the return of CM Punk at UFC 225—which will do a good PPV number, if nothing else—and Cris Cyborg emerging as a marketable women's featherweight champion.
With Jones and St-Pierre, it feels like more of a crapshoot, obviously. Jones still faces a date with USADA over his most recent anti-doping violation, while St-Pierre is dealing with some health concerns that could keep him sidelined indefinitely.
If one or both of those guys finds his way back to active duty, however, it'll put a nice cherry on top of what might already be a pretty tasty year for the organization.
So is the UFC on the rise again? Or do we need to pump the brakes here?
Jeremy: I mean, I don't want to be that guy—you know the guy; the guy who has to rain on everyone's parade. The guy who finds the smallest frayed thread and unspools it until there's nothing left of that sweet new peacoat you just bought. The guy who finds the negative stuff, even if it means digging through a field of gold.
But even though I don't really want to be the Negative Nancy of our triumvirate here today, I feel it is my responsibility to tell you that all of the things on the list will not happen.
I know that's upsetting, but here's the good news: Barring an unforeseen (and necessary) sacrifice to the Injury God, we are going to see Cormier vs. Miocic for the heavyweight title. That's happening, folks. And CM Punk is returning at UFC 225, provided he, too, is not served up to the Injury God before it happens.
And Lesnar, according to my sources, is planning on a UFC return and an actual return to the cage itself in December for the promotion's year-end show. So that's good news, too.
But that's where the good news ends.
I've been writing for a long time now that McGregor is never going to return to the UFC; I feel comfortable sticking with that. The next time you see him fight, it'll be in a boxing ring or in a cage of his own promotion that's standing on the center of the Croke Park pitch.
And as for Nick Diaz? C'mon, guys. Haven't you had your hearts broken enough times? Nick does not want to fight. He doesn't enjoy fighting. Let him retire in peace.
Scott: I see some glimmers. A few pinpricks of light. The important thing to remember in MMA—or any individual sport—is that the star power is cyclical. Therein, to these old and jaded eyes anyway, lie the glimmers.
We're in no man's land right now. I agree with Jeremy on Nick Diaz, and maybe his brother Nate, too, for that matter. Barring something unforeseen, Lesnar, Punk (ugh) and Cormier are short-term Band-Aids, at best. The careers of McGregor and Jones are more uncertain than Kawhi Leonard's quad. Perhaps they come back and do great things, perhaps not. But until further notice, they've lost the benefit of the doubt.
And yet, I do agree with Chad, just for somewhat different reasons. If these Band-Aid stars can carry us through the year, the cavalry's coming.
There are always good fighters coming up, just as there are good fighters who simply don't have the charisma to transcend the day-to-day sport. But now we have newcomers to the sport who have the talent and star power to assume the mantle of these foundering greats.
New lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is one. So is fellow lightweight Justin Gaethje. Middleweight super striker Israel Adesanya, who draws comparisons to both Jones and McGregor, is another.
Electric striker Yair Rodriguez will soon look to rebound from his first UFC loss to no less than Frankie Edgar. Also hoping to bounce back from a defeat is Francis Ngannou—you know, that brick-fisted Cameroonian-Frenchman who still has the tools to contend for years at heavyweight.
And I haven't said anything yet about featherweight champ Max Holloway, the eminently likable, quotable and gifted Hawaiian who holds the featherweight title at age 26.
Many of these fighters are just a spectacular win or two away from breaking through. They may not be household names just yet, but there's a bumper crop of talent that could bear big fruit for the UFC and its fans.