The UFC lies somewhere in a grey area between “legitimate competition” and “violent entertainment.” We don’t mean that the fights aren’t legit — of course they are. We mean that the UFC doesn’t always put on the fight that makes the most sense, often leaving legitimate title contenders on the sideline while they pursue fights that will attract a larger pay-per-view audience. Look no further than 2016’s Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor fights (while the featherweight title sat idle on McGregor’s bookshelf) or the fact that a returning Georges St-Pierre cut in line ahead of Yoel Romero to get the next crack at Michael Bisping’s middleweight championship.
The UFC is well within their right to make whichever fight they want. It’s their business, after all, and the new owners who paid over $4 billion for the company are keen on earning back some of that investment. With that in mind, we thought of ten potential fights that could do big money. Some are more realistic than others, and a couple involve fighters moving up or down a weight class, but in theory, they are all 100 percent possible.
10. Cody Garbrandt vs. Demetrious Johnson
We would have put Garbrandt up against T.J. Dillashaw, but that fight is already on the horizon (possibly at UFC 213 in July, although it hasn’t officially been announced yet). Instead, we’re requesting that Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson abandom the flyweight division that he absolutely ruled over for years and take a crack at bantamweight. After all, what’s left for D.J. to prove at 125-pounds? He’s literally beaten everyone in the division, defending the title a UFC record ten straight times.
Meanwhile, Garbrandt is a perfect 11-0 and recently handed Dominick Cruz his first loss in almost ten years, winning the bantamweight title in the process. If he retains the belt against Dillashaw this summer, a champion vs. champion fight would draw a huge audience.
Jose Aldo vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
Other than Conor McGregor, there doesn’t seem to be anyone that is able to beat Jose Aldo. The Brazilian is scheduled to face interim featherweight champion Max Halloway in summer 2016 in order to unite the titles, but let’s be honest — that fight lacks sizzle. So unless McGregor is willing to make the cut down to 145-pounds again to give Aldo a rematch, the UFC needs to think of another option.
We suggest Aldo take on Russian fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, currently undefeated as a professional dating back to 2008. While we think the fight would be entertaining, and probably attract a ton of eyeballs for the UFC, there is the problem of weight classes. Nurmagomedov recently struggled to make 155-pounds for a fight against Tony Ferguson at UFC 209 (the bout was eventually cancelled when Nurmagomedov was hospitalized). So Aldo would have to move up to 155-pounds (at least) for this superfight to go down, something he might not be willing to do unless the price was right.
Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm
Holly Holm’s stock dropped incredibly fast after she upset Ronda Rousey in 2015. She quickly dropped that newly won bantamweight championship to Meisha Tate, and then lost her next two fights as well, going from champion to a three-fight losing streak in the blink of an eye. So does she deserve a shot at current champ Amanda Nunes? Of course not, but that’s never stopped the UFC before.
Nunes made short work of Tate to win the belt in 2016 and then absolutely destroyed Rousey in her comeback fight, possibly retiring the former champ for good. The real problem is that the women’s division isn’t incredibly deep yet, and finding a real challenge for Nunes’ next title defense might be hard. At least Holm is more of a household name than anyone else the UFC could pick, which is why this fight made our list.
Yoel Romero vs. Michael Bisping (or Georges St-Pierre)
We mentioned Yoel Romero in our introduction, and here he is again — waiting ever so patiently for a title shot that he absolutely deserves. He probably should have gotten it back at UFC 204, but the company decided that Dan Henderson, well into his 40s, would sell more PPVs in a fight against Michael Bisping in the U.K. (and maybe they were right, but it’s still a raw deal for Romero).
With Romero next in line, he was again bumped when Georges St-Pierre announced he was returning to the octagon, as the UFC quickly announced that GSP vs. Bisping for the middleweight title would happen sometime in 2017. Whoever wins that fight absolutely MUST give Romero the next title shot, something his eight straight UFC victories definitely qualify him for.
Jon Jones vs. Jimi Manuwa
Jon Jones will finish his suspension in the summer of 2017, and hopefully the former pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet can stay out of trouble long enough to get his career back on track. In his absence, Jones’ arch rival Daniel Cormier has picked up the baton in the light heavyweight division and ruled over it. It’s widely assumed that Cormier and Jones will finally have their rematch sometime in 2017. Let’s assume that happens, and let’s assume that Jones wins (because he probably will).
At that point, Jones definitely needs a fresh opponent. He’s already beaten all the other top contenders at light heavyweight, including Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Mauricio Rua, and Ovince Saint Preux. The next logical choice is Jimi Manuwa, who has quietly climbed up to No. 5 in the UFC light heavyweight rankings. The experienced Englishman would at least offer some new challenges for Jones, who makes easy work of most of his opponents (except, ya know, local laws and the police).
Stipe Miocic vs. Cain Velasquez
Stipe Miocic has beaten almost every notable heavyweight on his rise to becoming UFC champion, and will have the chance to avenge one of his only losses when he takes on Junior dos Santos at UFC 211. Regardless of the outcome of that fight, we think the next logical bout for Miocic is against the one elite heavyweight who he hasn’t crossed paths with yet — Cain Velasquez.
Velasquez, the former champ, has only competed once in the last two years, battling injuries. In December 2016, the Nevada State Athletic Commission wouldn’t allow him to fight Fabricio Werdum after determining that he was unfit to compete. Assuming he can overcome those physical hurdles, he would be a big marquee matchup for Miocic. If Miocic retains the belt against dos Santos, then Velasquez gets a title shot. And if he doesn’t, then Miocic vs. Velasquez would save UFC fans from having to watch Velasquez vs. dos Santos for a fourth time (at least for now).
Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm 2
We know we already mentioned Holly Holm in a potential fight already, but when we were trying to think of who Ronda Rousey could possibly make another comeback fight against, this is the only name that made sense. Think about it — both fighters are on losing streaks, and look like shells of their former, dominant selves. A rematch might actually be exactly what the doctor ordered.
If Rousey does return to the UFC (and that’s still a big IF), it’s truly her last chance to regain relevance. For Holm, a fourth straight loss would probably drive her out of company and back into boxing (or retirement). The UFC could literally hype this as a “Loser Leaves Town” match and probably make a fortune.
Stephen Thompson vs. Luke Rockhold
Stephen Thompson is a great fighter, but he’s now had two cracks at UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and come up short both times (a majority draw at UFC 205 and a decision loss at UFC 209). He needs to move on. Outside of a fight with former division champ Robbie Lawler, there isn’t much left for him at 170-pounds. After all, even if he rattles off a couple more wins against the likes of Lawler or Damian Maia, do fans really want to pay for Thompson vs. Woodley 3? Probably not.
Thompson should jump up to middleweight, and challenge Luke Rockhold. The former 185-pound champion hasn’t fought since Michael Bisping upset him for the middleweight title in Summer 2016. If he wants to get back in the title picture (after the Bisping/Romero/GSP mess gets sorted out), a win over someone like Thompson would go a long way towards earning another shot at the belt.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
It needs to happen. We don’t care when, or at what weight class. We don’t care if there’s a title on the line or not (although McGregor is still the lightweight champion, so a 155-pound does make sense). The simple fact is that the first two fights between McGregor and Diaz were some of the most lucrative in the history of the UFC, for the fighters themselves as well as the company’s bottom line.
A quick recap: Diaz choked out McGregor at UFC 196 when he was a last-minute replacement for the injured Jose Aldo. In a rematch at UFC 205, McGregor avenged the loss with a decision victory. A rubber match absolutely has to happen, and if McGregor can either abandon this fantasy of fighting Floyd Mayweather (or actually make it happen), then the trilogy must be completed.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva
Call us old school if you want, but this is the superfight that fans have wanted for years. Now that Georges St-Pierre has returned to the UFC, and fighting at middleweight even, the UFC would be stupid not to make this bout. Silva isn’t the same unbeatable Jedi ninja as he was five years ago, losing four of his last six fights and having his win at UFC 183 turned into a no contest when he tested positive for PEDs. But he is sticking around, looking for big money fights to close out his career, which is why he volunteered to take on Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 after Jon Jones was flagged for a doping violation 72-hours before the event.
Whether GSP can get back into the title picture (at middleweight or welterweight) is irrelevant. For the sake of history, the UFC needs to make Silva vs. St-Pierre. If they do, they can simply watch as the dollars pour in.