B/R Staff Roundtable: Bold UFC Predictions for 2021
UFC fans witnessed a stellar year of action in 2020 despite the global pandemic, and most folks expect 2021 to be even better.
A year ago, it would have seemed strange to consider that UFC flyweight Deiveson Figueiredo would be on his way to securing Fighter of the Year honors, stranger that Khamzat Chimaev would burst onto the scene to become one of the biggest superstars in the sport, and maybe even strangest of all to suggest UFC superstar Jon Jones would vacate his UFC light heavyweight championship.
But all those things happened, so now our B/R MMA crew decided to turn its collective eye toward what more big things might be coming down the pipe in 2021.
Behold, our bold predictions.
Tom Taylor: Khamzat Chimaev Will Lose
This time last year, I brazenly predicted that Khabib Nurmagomedov would catch his first loss in 2020—and I swear I actually believed it.
After countless sleepless nights, I am finally getting over the humiliation of being very, very wrong about that. Unfortunately, I rarely learn from my mistakes.
This year, I'm predicting that another unbeaten fighter from The Caucasus will experience his first L: Chechnya's Khamzat Chimaev.
Chimaev was the UFC's breakout star of 2020, wedging three wins between July 15—his Octagon debut—and September 19. He earned those wins in a combined 4:38.
Yet as I've pointed out in dozens of articles—surely to the growing ire of the people that read them—he just hasn't beaten anybody that good yet.
In his UFC debut, a middleweight fight, he submitted the since-released John Phillips. In his sophomore bout, at welterweight, he strafed Rhys McKee, who is now a paltry 0-2 in the Octagon. In his third and most recent fight, another middleweight contest, he snuffed Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds. That win was the best of the bunch but still nothing to write home about.
Sure, winning three fights in the UFC in such a short time was impressive. But impressive enough to warrant a fight with the promotion's No. 3-ranked welterweight contender, Leon Edwards? Heck no. Impressive enough for him to be hailed as a future champion in two of the UFC's toughest weight classes? Get a grip, people!
I think Chimaev is a good fighter. I think he's capable of winning a title in the UFC somewhere down the line. But I also recognize that he's a 26-year-old prospect with a relatively sparse 9-0 record.
Sooner or later, he's going to run into somebody he can't finish inside a round and things are going to take a turn for the worse because, contrary to widespread optimism, he's not the second coming of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Sooner or later, he's going to lose.
I think it's going to happen this year. In fact, I think it will probably happen in his ranking-defiling matchup with Edwards, which, despite falling through twice already due to positive COVID-19 tests, is still seemingly going to happen.
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Israel Adesanya Defeats Jon Jones
Tom's right. Bold predictions are a thankless game.
And while I wasn't saddled with too many sleepless nights after suggesting last January that Claressa Shields would defeat Amanda Nunes in a boxing match—primarily because the match never wound up happening—it was still the first thing I thought of when the assignment came around again this year.
Because I don't like being wrong. Even when I'm technically not wrong.
But that may not be the case when we revisit this again in 2022.
Rather than simply reiterating my vibe that a gloved T-Rex will defeat the Lioness if they meet, I've decided to up the ante on this January's boldness.
Here goes. Jon Jones will lose this year to, wait for it…Israel Adesanya.
OK, it's true, the unbeaten former light heavyweight kingpin has already gained weight with designs on adding another title belt to his collection, which makes it seem like a duel with a middleweight champion isn't exactly on his imminent agenda. But I think that'll change soon enough.
Whether he gets a high-profile title match at heavyweight or not, it feels like the lure of settling a personal vendetta with Adesanya—not to mention the promise of a megafight payout—will be enough to convince Jones that a return to 205 pounds is his best financial and competitive option.
Adesanya has chased a match with Jones' replacement, Jan Blachowicz, and the idea that he could soon be calling himself a UFC champion in the division Jones dominated would be ample fuel for the fire.
It reminds me a bit of when boxing's Roy Jones Jr., holding a belt at heavyweight, returned to 175 pounds to face Antonio Tarver, the trash-talking slugger who'd been verbally chasing him since the amateurs. Jones won a narrow decision in their first fight before agreeing to a rematch six months later.
He lost the return bout by KO and was never the same fighter.
Lest we forget, the octagonal Jones seemed far closer to mortal in a narrow (read: incorrect) decision over Dominick Reyes in February, while Adesanya was devastating in obliterating Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa in two of his last three middleweight defenses.
Take that momentum and add a depleting weight cut, and it says here a similar fate awaits Bones.
Kelsey McCarson: Nick and Nate Diaz Return to Capture UFC Wins
Look, none of our bold predictions came true last year, but I think we can all agree that mine was closest to actually happening.
No, Conor McGregor did not end up facing Floyd Mayweather inside a boxing ring again like I said he would, but McGregor did announce he planned on boxing Mayweather's main rival Manny Pacquiao sometime during 2021.
Isn't that close enough?
So riding the high of my elite-level prognostication skills, I have triumphantly returned this year to declare that Nick and Nate Diaz will return to UFC action this year and that both will win their fights.
That's the boldest of the bold if you think about it. Because not only did neither of the Diaz brothers fight last year, but the most famous siblings in UFC history haven't won fights in the same year together since 2011.
Still, both Nick Diaz, 37, and Nate Diaz, 35, remain incredibly popular stars who fans love as much as any other fighters in the sport.
If you follow the Diaz brothers on social media, you know the welterweight stars have been training for their comebacks for months now.
You also know the Diaz brothers have big things in mind for what they want their 2021 to be.
My bold prediction is that both Diaz brothers get back to work inside the Octagon in 2021. To make matters bolder, I'm saying the Diaz brothers each pull off big wins in their fights.
And to add the boldest cherry on top of them all, I'll suggest right here and now that both Diaz brothers look good enough in winning their fights that when we look back at our bold predictions sometime next year, my pick won't seem nearly as bold as it does, just super smart and ultra-sophisticated.