Ranking the 5 Best Options for the UFC 256 Main Event

Tom TaylorContributor IOctober 13, 2020

Ranking the 5 Best Options for the UFC 256 Main Event

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Until recently, UFC 256 was expected to be headlined by a welterweight title fight between the division's dominating champion, Kamaru Usman, and its streaking, No. 2-ranked contender, Gilbert Burns. The scrap wouldn't have gone down as the biggest fight of the year, but it would've made for a fascinating matchup between two world-class fighters. With support from the scheduled Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson co-main event, it would have rounded out what looked like a solid pay-per-view offering.

    Unfortunately, ESPN's Ariel Helwani reported the fight fell apart when Usman decided he needed more time to recover from some lingering injuries. With that development, the rapidly approaching December 12 card needs a new main event.   

    UFC officials are likely scrambling behind the scenes to create a new headliner for the card, but we have very little information as to the promotion's plan, so the best we can do is speculate. 

    Without further ado, here are our five preferred options for the new UFC 256 main event, ranked from least appealing to most.

Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Petr Yan has not defended the UFC bantamweight title since he won it with a fifth-round TKO defeat of the legendary Jose Aldo in July, nor is he currently scheduled to do so. That's a little disappointing considering the division he rules is jam-packed with worthy contenders—most notably Aljamain Sterling.

    Sterling, a grappling specialist with increasingly effective striking, is on a five-fight win streak. That impressive run includes a first-round submission defeat of one Cory Sandhagen, who is the man of the hour after picking up a lopsided TKO win over Marlon Moraes in the main event of UFC Fight Night 179 on Saturday.

    Sterling has long believed himself worthy of a UFC bantamweight title shot, and after his win over Sandhagen, he finally seems to have the confidence of the person from whom he needs it most: UFC President Dana White.

    Un August, the UFC boss confirmed that Sterling is next in line for a crack at the champ. We know that negotiations for the fight are moving along rather slowly, but the promotion could make it happen at UFC 256. 

    Would this bantamweight title fight turn UFC 256 into a blockbuster? Certainly not, but it's a great matchup, and when sold alongside an appearance from the sport's greatest female fighter in Amanda Nunes, it would likely be a sufficient headliner.

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 2

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    There is no denying that Francis Ngannou deserves a second crack at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. After losing a decision to Miocic in early 2018, then another decision at the hands of Derrick Lewis thereafter, the Cameroonian-French star rebounded with a string of violent knockout wins at the expense of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik—all in less than three minutes combined.

    With these destructive victories in the rearview mirror, Ngannou has said he feels he's earned a rematch with Miocic and even named December as his preferred timeframe for the matchup. UFC President Dana White has also shared his support for the rematch.

    While Miocic has expressed interest in facing a completely new challenger after three consecutive fights with Daniel Cormier, which is understandable, the promotion could surely convince him to accept the Ngannou do-over. 

    Provided the UFC is willing to open its wallet, a UFC 256 rematch between Miocic and Ngannou is certainly attainable. Not only that, but it'd also make for a buzz-worthy headliner for the event. Heavyweight title fights are always a big deal.

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    If the UFC really wants UFC 256 to be a blockbuster, calling Conor McGregor is probably a good idea.

    While McGregor announced his retirement in June, that retirement is looking less and less permanent with each passing day. Over the last few weeks, the Irish superstar has been flirting with the idea of a clash with fellow lightweight contender Dustin Poirier.

    The pair first discussed a charity "sparring match" in Dublin—read: an actual fight framed in such a way that it doesn't violate their exclusive contracts with the UFC—but have since been offered a legitimate fight by Dana White. Poirier was quick to accept that offer, and McGregor affirmed his interest shortly thereafter, with the caveat that the bout occurs in 2020 and no later.

    "I accepted the UFC offer to fight you, but told them it must happen in 2020," McGregor wrote on Twitter in response to Poirier. "I'm ready for Nov 21st, given that cards recent injury issues, as well as any of the December dates, the 12th and the 19th."

    Yes, at the very moment that the UFC is seeking a new main event for UFC 256, the sport's biggest celebrity has offered up his services for that date.

    Consider the stars aligned.

    Naysayers of this bout will remind that McGregor holds a decisive, first-round knockout win over Poirier, but that fight occurred six years back in the featherweight division—so long ago and under such different circumstances that it might as well have well occurred in another dimension.

    Today, a fight between McGregor and Poirier is one of best the UFC could put together, whether it's at UFC 256 or on another date.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    A rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier would be big. A rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz would be much bigger.

    McGregor and Diaz are tied 1-1. Both of those fights occurred in the welterweight division in 2016. 

    Diaz won the first fight by second-round submission, which was a pretty extraordinary feat considering that he took the fight on 11 days' notice and that McGregor looked unbeatable at the time. In the rematch several months later, McGregor won what is widely considered one of the best fights in UFC history by majority decision.

    Despite their series being split 1-1, and that their rivalry still stands out as one of the fiercest in MMA history, they still have not engaged in a tie-breaking trilogy fight. 

    That fight might not be quite as big of a deal as it would have been immediately following their second fight in 2016, but it's still one of the biggest the UFC can make. Given that both men seem ready to fight soon, December could be the time to make it.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Helwani's initial report that Kamaru Usman would not be fighting at UFC 256 included another very interesting tidbit: that the promotion was considering a Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington fight as the card's replacement main event.

    That would be a big fight. A huge fight. In fact, even without a title on the line, it'd probably generate far more buzz than the card's initially planned Usman vs. Burns main event.

    As is so often the case, it all comes down to the storyline.

    Masvidal and Covington used to be training partners at American Top Team in South Florida. Even more notably, they were best friends. As the two men simultaneously cracked the welterweight top 10, however, their friendship deteriorated and ultimately transformed into outright bad blood.

    Today, when both men are legitimately two of the biggest stars on the UFC roster, there is no better time to pit them against each other in the Octagon. Their festering animosity alone would drive massive pay-per-view sales, not to mention that they're two of the best fighters on the planet, which is ostensibly something that still matters to fans.

    While Helwani's report noted that there's still a long way to go before making this fight a reality, it's likely doable if the UFC is willing to write a couple of very big checks.

    If the promotion can make this fight happen at UFC 256, it would represent a truly gargantuan conclusion to a year that, despite being universally considered one of the worst in recorded history, has actually been pretty solid in terms of mixed martial arts action.