Admittedly, we might be a little late on this one already.
We've barely introduced ourselves to the year 2016 and fight of the year already seems somewhat of a foregone conclusion. Last weekend's UFC welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit was truly extraordinary, captivating the skill and spirit many believe defines this sport.
It will be hard for any fight to surpass that -- but not impossible. Last year was a phenomenal year in MMA. New stars emerged, records were broken and the vehicle that drives it all -- quality fights -- seemingly occurred every weekend. The same will likely hold true in 2016. We're too late to include Lawler-Condit on this list, but here are another 10 fights we hope to see over the next 12 months.
Holm didn't want to sit inactive until a rematch against Rousey and will seek her first bantamweight title defense against another UFC contender. A fight between Holm and, say, Miesha Tate is great -- but a Rousey rematch is the fight of 2016. Even if Holm were to lose the title to someone like Tate, Holm-Rousey II would still be the biggest fight in that division (if not the entire sport). The story behind Rousey and Holm is (at best) only half over. We need a conclusion.
Lucky us. We get to see this one on Jan. 17 in Boston. As much as both dislike the comparison, Dillashaw is widely viewed as Cruz 2.0. He borrowed from the former champion's skill set and now the original is back, finally healthy, and ready to reclaim what's rightfully his. Pass the popcorn.
3. Robbie Lawler vs. Georges St-Pierre, UFC welterweight
Until GSP officially retires, it's fair game to believe he's coming back. What should he come back to? A superfight? This is a superfight. Lawler has proved himself the top welterweight in St-Pierre's absence (albeit, by the skin of his teeth). Not only that, he sort of represents the antithesis of St-Pierre -- caring nothing for winning rounds, seeking only finishes for better or worse. If St-Pierre returns happy and motivated? Just imagine it.
McGregor has expressed an interest in holding the featherweight and lightweight titles simultaneously. In addition to simply winning, he'll have to be extremely active to reach that goal, so you'd expect the Irishman to climb into the Octagon relatively soon. Regardless of how many fights McGregor has this year, one of them has to be against Edgar, who has earned a chance to prove he's the best featherweight in the game. Right now, that can only be proved in a fight against McGregor.
In an alternate, kinder universe, we would have already seen this fight. It was booked at 145 pounds to headline UFC 163 in August 2013. Pettis suffered a knee injury and that was that. Stylistically, this matchup is still the hot fire it would have been back then. The only difference is now, with Aldo fresh off a loss to McGregor for the featherweight title, it should be contested at 155 pounds.
The return of Jones will be a mega-event in itself and Daniel Cormier certainly represents a world-class opponent -- but the fact remains we saw this fight at the beginning of last year and there's not that much reason to believe it will look vastly different. Not to dismiss Cormier's chances, but had Jones stayed on the straight and narrow, there would not have been any need to see this rematch immediately. Oddly enough, Johnson probably has less of a chance to beat Jones than Cormier does, but since we haven't seen it yet, it'd be worth a look in 2016.
No one can say with any degree of certainty that Nurmagomedov wouldn't be the UFC's lightweight champion right now if not for the rash of injuries he has suffered. Some forget that the last time we saw "The 'Bib" inside the Octagon, in 2014, he was smothering the competitiveness out of the now-reigning champion dos Anjos. Nurmagomedov might be the best lightweight in the world and he sat out all of last year. How different would the division look had he not? That's a question to be answered in the next 12 months.
Either one. Heck, both. Nate can easily fight at 170 pounds, and the UFC discussed a fight between him and Brown in 2015. Let's do it now. And there's still hope the Nevada State Athletic Commission will act sensibly and reduce the outrageous five-year suspension it handed Nick in 2015 for his third marijuana-related offense. If that happens, have Nick fight Brown in the second half of the year. Two Diaz brothers in 2016? It's doubtful Brown would protest this.
Is Werdum the best heavyweight in the world or was a combination of Mexico City's altitude and a 600-day layoff the true culprit in Velasquez's title loss last summer? One could argue this rematch -- which headlines UFC 196 on Feb. 6 in Las Vegas -- is the most intriguing heavyweight championship bout since the demise of Brock Lesnar.
At the beginning of 2015, the simple fact that Silva was stepping into an Octagon again enhanced his legacy: the courage he showed, wanting to compete again after that horrific leg injury in late 2013. My how that moment in time has changed. Silva's positive steroid tests last January represent a blemish to his once impenetrable legacy. Now, at age 40, it's almost as if he has something to prove again. His focus is on reclaiming the title. If he beats Michael Bisping in February, Silva challenging Rockhold for that middleweight crown he wore for so long would have the MMA world on hold.