6 UFC Fights That Must Happen in 2021
Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, the UFC managed to pull off some unforgettable matchups in 2020. Heading into 2021, with established bubbles in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi and dozens of world-class fighters ready to return to the cage, the promotion looks poised for another fun year.
That fun will begin with a three-event stint on "Fight Island"—the UFC's Abu Dhabi headquarters—later this month. Those three events will be topped by a featherweight fight between Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar, a welterweight fight between Neil Magny and Michael Chiesa and, most notably, a lightweight showdown between former two-division champion Conor McGregor and longtime contender Dustin Poirier.
Beyond those cards, the UFC has booked a welterweight title fight between champ Kamaru Usman and challenger Gilbert Burns for UFC 258 on February 12, according to MMA Fighting's Steven Marrocco and Guilherme Cruz and a champion vs. champion fight between light heavyweight king Jan Blachowicz and middleweight ruler Israel Adesanya for UFC 259 on March 6.
While the promotion's first quarter is slowly coming together, the vast majority of its 2021 calendar is still shrouded in mystery—and you know what that means: It's time to start making some noise about the fights we hope to see in 2021 and hope that the decision-makers at the UFC are listening.
Without further ado, here are six matchups we're dying to see before the year is out.
Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal
You had to know this fight would be on our list.
Covington and Masvidal currently hold the No. 1 and No. 4 spots in the UFC welterweight rankings, respectively. While the matchup makes sense from a rankings standpoint, however, that's hardly the most appealing thing about it.
This one is all about the backstory.
For many years, Covington and Masvidal were regular training partners at the famed American Top Team in Florida. In fact, they actually called themselves best friends.
As you've probably gathered by now, that's no longer the case.
As the pair simultaneously reached the top of the UFC welterweight division and the possibility of their meeting in the cage grew increasingly likely, their relationship began to curdle. Today, after months upon months of back-and-forth trash talk, they're arguably the fiercest enemies in the entire sport.
We need to see these two welterweights settle their differences in the cage in 2021. The fact that the winner will likely earn a shot at UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman? That's merely a bonus.
Weili Zhang vs. Rose Namajunas
Weili Zhang, the UFC strawweight champion, has been awaiting her next challenge since she defended her title with a decision defeat of Joanna Jedrzejczyk in March—a scrap that earned B/R's Fight of the Year award.
The division's former champion Rose Namajunas, on the other hand, earned herself a title shot in July when she picked up a decision win over the fearsome Jessica Andrade.
Despite the fact that this has clearly been the fight to make at strawweight for the better part of a year, however, it's yet to come to fruition.
UFC President Dana White claims that's because Namajunas "doesn't want a title shot." That's clearly a bogus remark from the UFC, but Namajunas' manager has gone on record nonetheless, assuring that she's ready to challenge Zhang for the belt.
Whatever the reason for the delay, here's hoping the UFC gets it all sorted out soon. This is arguably the most interesting championship matchup in the history of the strawweight division, and it will be a major disappointment if it doesn't come together this year.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Henry Cejudo
Deiveson Figueiredo had one hell of a year in 2020.
In his first fight of the year, he submitted Joseph Benavidez in what was originally intended to be a fight for the vacant UFC flyweight title—although his failure to make weight made him ineligible to win the belt.
In his next fight, he corrected that mistake, choking Benavidez unconscious in a championship rematch, this time making weight and earning the title.
Figueiredo then defended the belt with a first-round submission of Alex Perez in November, before making a lightning quick turnaround to defend his title against Brandon Moreno in December. While that fight with Moreno ended in a draw after five thrilling rounds, the competitive result only cemented Figueiredo as one of the sport's most exciting fighters. It also dispelled widespread concerns that he didn't have the cardio for a grueling, five-round fight.
Suffice it to say that his stock couldn't be higher as 2021 gets underway.
While all signs currently point to a rematch between Figueiredo and Moreno next—a plan we can get on board with—we're also hoping to see him defend his title against Henry Cejudo this year.
Cejudo held the flyweight title before Figueiredo but was stripped of the belt after a prolonged stint at bantamweight. While he retired in early 2020, it's been one of the most unconvincing retirements in the history of the sport. The former champ has made it clear that he'd return to the cage for the right fight, and in our book, a fight with the all-action Figueiredo is just that.
Here's hoping it happens in 2021.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
In fact, she's become so dominant that it was getting increasingly difficult to imagine anybody challenging her. Some fans were even starting to lose interest in watching her fights, in the way that you might lose interesting in watching a lion massacre wildebeests one after the other.
Thankfully, Jessica Andrade came along saved the day.
Just when it looked like Shevchenko would have to leave her division altogether to find credible challenges, Andrade moved from strawweight to flyweight and made an impact immediately. In her first fight at 125 pounds, the former strawweight champion decimated lon-time flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian to usurp the division's No. 1 contender spot.
That win alone was impressive enough to convince many fans that Andrade has a fighting chance against Shevchenko. Throw in Andrade's accolades as the former champion of another division and the fact that Shevchenko endured some early adversity in her recent decision win over Jennifer Maia, and their collision seems like it could be competitive.
The fight hasn't been booked yet, but when it is, it'll stand out as the best championship fight in the young history of the UFC women's flyweight division.
Jon Jones vs. Miocic-Ngannou Winner
By now you've surely heard the news. Jon Jones, inarguably one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, has vacated the UFC light heavyweight title with plans to move up to heavyweight.
At this point in time, Jones' heavyweight debut has not been scheduled. However, ESPN's Ariel Helwani reported the UFC is hoping to pit him against the winner of a heavyweight title clash between champion Stipe Miocic and challenger Francis Ngannou.
No matter which of those two men Jones ends up fighting, it will go down as one of the year's biggest attractions.
In Miocic, Jones would challenge the most dominant heavyweight champion in UFC history. In Ngannou, he'd be taking on the most devastating puncher the sport has ever seen. Both matchups are endlessly compelling—albeit for different reasons—and Jones knows it.
"I'll be ready for either of them," Jones told Bleacher Report late last month. "Both fights are extremely challenging. Stipe, he's the greatest heavyweight of all time. He has all the stats and records to prove that. And then Francis is just a freak when it comes to his knockout power, and he's improving constantly.
"Both fights are gigantic challenges, but that's what I'm here for in this stage of my career: to go big and see what I've got."
Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya
Jon Jones, as we covered in the previous slide, is focused on moving up to heavyweight, where a number of massive matchups await.
That being said, the most high-profile opponent available to the bona fide MMA legend might not be a heavyweight at all.
It might be UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Jones and Adesanya, two of the biggest stars on the UFC roster today, have been jawing back-and-forth on social media for what seems like forever. Unfortunately, they seem to have just missed each other in the light heavyweight division.
Not long after Jones vacated the light heavyweight throne to move up to heavyweight, Adesanya was booked to challenge the new light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in a bid for a second belt.
While both men are occupied with massive challenges at present, however, it's still possible they'll meet in 2020.
Jones recently told Bleacher Report that he has "no intentions" of returning to light heavyweight, but if Adesanya starts making some noise in the division, he might reconsider. Furthermore, Adesanya has previously said that he'd be willing to move all the way up to heavyweight for a fight with Jones. We also know White likes this potential matchup, identifying it as the fight he most wants to see this year in an interview with Aaron Bronster of TSN (h/t BJPenn.com).
Is this fight likely? Probably not. But it's possible, and if the UFC matchmaking team has any sense, they'll move mountains to make it a reality.