The Fantasy Cross-Promotion MMA Matchups We'd Love to See
The coronavirus pandemic has wiped the mixed martial arts calendar clean. With the exception of a few small-scale regional shows, there is almost no notable MMA action happening for several weeks, and even the events that still haven't been canceled—we're looking at you, UFC 249—run the risk of being nixed at any moment.
With no fights on the horizon, the best fight fans can do to get their fistic fix is revisit old scraps on their preferred streaming services, or close their eyes and daydream ahead to the fights we might see when this crisis has come to an end.
Of course, if we're going to fantasize about the fights we want to see post-pandemic, we might as well do so without restrictions. Why dream halfway?
If there was no pandemic keeping us inside and our favorite fighters out of the cage, and nothing stopping fighters from drifting between promotions, which fights would you make?
Keep scrolling for the fights we'd make in that hypothetical but undeniably magical world.
Jon Jones (26-1-0) vs. Ryan Bader (27-5-0) 2
Earlier this week, the Bellator light heavyweight and heavyweight champion expressed interest in a rematch with the UFC light heavyweight champ, and there's no doubt it would be tremendously exciting to watch.
"That's one fight I'd love to get back," Bader told TMZ. "It was 2011 when that happened. I've grown and changed so much since then. Physically, mentally. We'd love to be able to do some cross-promotion deal."
Bader and Jones fought in the UFC's Octagon back in 2011. On that night, Jones picked up a fairly decisive submission win.
While the pair's first collision was not particularly competitive, Bader has looked unbeatable since migrating to Bellator, tearing through opposition like Phil Davis, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko en route to becoming a two-division champion. Jones, meanwhile, has looked uncharacteristically beatable in his recent decision wins over Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos.
Suffice it to say that a Jones vs. Bader rematch could unfold very differently than their first encounter.
Henry Cejudo (15-2) vs. Demetrious Johnson (30-3-1) 3
When Henry Cejudo ended Demetrious Johnson's borderline preposterous 11-fight reign as UFC flyweight champion with a highly controversial decision, the UFC should have booked a rematch instantaneously.
Johnson deserved a shot at redemption (especially considering he'd already beaten Cejudo once), and Cejudo deserved the chance to cement his status as the division's true king.
Regrettably, the UFC chased Johnson over to ONE Championship, welcoming Ben Askren to the UFC in exchange, erasing any hope of an immediate rematch between the long-time champ and his foil.
Since then, Johnson has gone 3-0 in ONE Championship, winning the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix to earn a title shot at Adriano Moraes, which will go down this May in Manila provided the coronavirus pandemic doesn't have other plans.
Cejudo, meanwhile, went on to capture the UFC bantamweight belt to become a two-division champion. He's since relinquished the flyweight title to focus on his bantamweight reign and is scheduled to defend that belt against Jose Aldo at UFC 250 in May.
In other words, both men are still enjoying massive success, and it would be great to see a rematch between them. Unfortunately, while ONE Championship has opened the door to co-promotion, the UFC's decision-makers have historically been averse to the idea.
Amanda Nunes (19-4) vs. Cris Cyborg (22-2) 2
Amanda Nunes was the picture of dominance in her first fight with Cris Cyborg, defeating her fellow Brazilian with a violent knockout in the first round.
Despite the decisive nature of this fight, Cyborg had not lost in more than a decade preceding it, and she deserved the chance to reclaim her title based on that success alone.
While it briefly looked like we would get a rematch between Nunes and Cyborg, the former grew increasingly at odds with UFC brass—particularly Dana White—which understandably slowed the negotiations for the fight. In the end, she decided to fight out her contract, and after picking up a win over Felicia Spencer, Cyborg left the UFC behind for Bellator.
Since then, Cyborg has become the Bellator featherweight champ—a title she earned with a TKO win over the streaking Julia Budd. Nunes, meanwhile, has carved out a rep as the pound-for-pound queen of MMA.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions between these two titans of fighting, and it would be great to see them clear the air in a rematch at some point. We know it's an opportunity Cyborg wants.
Valentina Shevchenko (19-3) vs. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-0)
This might not be a hugely popular matchup suggestion, but hear us out.
While Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane would deservedly be a significant underdog in a cross-promotional showdown with UFC flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, she's undeniably proved herself as one of the world's top female flyweights and could conceivably shock her doubters in the cage. She is, after all, a perfect 11-0 as a pro. Records like that don't come easy, whether they're built in the UFC, Bellator, or elsewhere.
Besides, Shevchenko has become such a force in the UFC that almost anyone she's matched up with will be widely counted out. That was true of her recent victims Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche and Katlyn Chookagian, and it's true of her next foe Joanne Calderwood.
Macfarlane might not look like the woman to beat Shevchenko, but she's as credible a threat to the Kyrgyzstani UFC champion's flyweight reign as you'll find anywhere on earth. Let them fight.
Bibiano Fernandes (24-4) vs. Henry Cejudo (15-2)
Reigning UFC bantamweight champ Henry Cejudo has no shortage of challengers, from his next opponent Jose Aldo to contenders like Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen. If we knocked down promotional barriers, his list of rivals would grow even longer.
Of all the potential rivals for Cejudo out there, few offer as compelling a challenge as ONE bantamweight king Bibiano Fernandes.
Fernandes, who is a savant in the grappling realm and increasingly deadly on the feet, has lost just once since 2010: a razor-close 2018 loss to Kevin Belingon, which he has since avenged in spades. He is far and away the best bantamweight fighter outside the UFC and would be a dynamite matchup for Cejudo.
Furthermore, the matchup would have a little extra juice as Fernandes is a long-time friend and training partner of Demetrious Johnson, the man Cejudo beat to get his first taste of UFC gold in 2018.
John Lineker (32-9) vs Kyoji Horiguchi (28-3)
There would be no title on the line in this fantasy fight, but man, it would be a fun one.
John Lineker and Kyoji Horiguchi both spent several years in the UFC, competing in the bantamweight and flyweight divisions. Eventually, however, both men left the American promotion for greener pastures overseas.
Horiguchi left first, signing with RIZIN Fighting Federation in his native Japan, where he thumped a number of UFC veterans and became the bantamweight champion. After winning the RIZIN bantamweight belt, he also won the Bellator bantamweight belt, becoming one of just a few concurrent two-promotion champions in MMA history—a feat he can attribute to RIZIN and Bellator's willingness to co-promote.
While Horiguchi ultimately suffered a shocking, upset loss to Kai Asakura and then relinquished his two titles because of injury, he remains one of the best fighters outside the UFC.
The same can be said of Lineker. Lineker left the UFC in 2019 and promptly signed with ONE Championship. The Brazilian knockout artist has fought just once under the Asian promotion's banner, picking up a thrilling win over Muin Gafurov. That said, he'll probably be booked for another big fight—perhaps even a title shot against Bibiano Fernandes—once the threat of the coronavirus clears.
Hopefully, he and Horiguchi find themselves in a ring or cage together sometime thereafter. With 14 knockout wins apiece, it really just seems like a match made in heaven.
Douglas Lima (32-7) vs. Kamaru Usman (16-1)
You had to know this one would be on the list. Who could resist the allure of a fight between the best welterweight in the UFC and the best welterweight outside it?
UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman has been the picture of dominance during his time with the promotion, winning all 11 of his Octagon appearances. His last two outings have been particularly impressive, as he dominated Tyron Woodley to capture the UFC welterweight belt and then defeated Colby Covington by TKO in a frenetic slugfest to defend it.
Then there's Douglas Lima.
While the Brazilian striker has suffered a few noteworthy losses in the Bellator cage, he has recently come into his own. After losing a razor-close decision to Rory MacDonald in early 2018, he rebounded with a submission of Andrey Koreshkov, a devastating knockout of the formerly undefeated Michael Page, and a successful rematch with MacDonald. Now the Bellator welterweight champ, his next fight will take him up a division, as he's set to challenge Gegard Mousasi for the vacant middleweight belt.
The dude is good. Really good. Maybe even good enough to knock out Usman.