For MMA fans everywhere, 2016 has been one of the most ridiculous years in the sport’s young history.
The Fertitta Brothers walked away from the sport, selling the UFC to WME-IMG for somewhere in the region of $4bn. The United States Anti-Doping Agency ran riot through the UFC roster, turning up at gyms, fighter’s homes, and even their local convenience stores to run on-the-spot tests. Japanese MMA became a thing again, with RIZIN promoting major shows and hosting a fan-favourite openweight grand prix.
We saw one of the greatest feuds ever emerge from nowhere, as Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz locked horns in two classic encounters, and threw a load of bottles at each other along the way.
Then there were the incredible fights. From Carlos Condit vs. Robbie Lawler at the start of the year, to Doo Ho Choi vs. Cub Swanson at the end of it, the UFC have been promoting crazy good in-cage action throughout the year. So have a bunch of other places. Angela Lee vs. Mei Yamaguchi under the ONE Championship promotional banner; Erson Yamamoto vs. Kizaemon Saiga for RIZIN; and at least five Absolute Championship Berkut fights should all be in contention for fight of the year when awards are dished out following UFC 207 and RIZIN’s end of year shows.
And while each of these told its own tragic story, we lost more fighters this year than ever seemed fair or right. Kimbo Slice, Josh Samman, Kevin Randleman, Ryan Jimmo and Jordan Parsons were all taken from us in 2016. Rest in peace, each and every one.
So on we move to 2017, with memories that will stay with us forever, both good and bad. Topping the intrigue that 2016 bought will be a tough ask, but the MMA Latest team have come up with some bold predictions for the year ahead. The sort of picks that rarely come off, but make you look like a genius when they do.
Here is our list of the more ridiculous and unexpected things you might see in 2017.
Tom Fretwell (@tomfretwellmma)
Holly Holm will snatch a title from Ronda Rousey for the second time
Holm’s destruction of the seemingly untouchable champion in 2015 was one of the most incredible moments in MMA history. Could history repeat itself in 2017? With Rousey set to challenge for the bantamweight title at UFC 207, and Holm now fighting for the newly created featherweight title at UFC 208 in February, the right results could create a high profile rematch. One more perfectly timed headkick and we’re there.
Graeme Harper (@graemeharp)
Lando Vannata will become a top-three lightweight
When 2016 began, Jackson-Wink fighter Lando Vannata had fought once in 12 months, and was looking forward to an April bout at Rocky Mountain Rubicon 2. Things changed in a hurry, taking a UFC debut on short notice against Tony Ferguson in July. Vannata ultimately came up short, but got heads turning with his fearless performance. A picture perfect head kick knockout of John Makdessi in his sophomore UFC outing impressed even more. Now Graeme believes that Vannata can put himself in the mix with the likes of Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson (again) at the top of the division.
Stephen Rivers (@stephenjrivers)
The UFC will have promoted less than ten women’s featherweight fights all year
The addition of a women’s featherweight title came out of nowhere. With no division, and only one real 145 pound fighter on their roster, the UFC booked Germaine de Randamie vs. Holly Holm for the inaugural title at UFC 208. Fans began to speculate about which other featherweights would be signed to grow the new division. It is possible however that what we actually get is merely a title being fought for by a handful of fighters already under contract, and not a whole lot else going on.
Francis Ngannou will become UFC heavyweight champion
The talent pool at heavyweight is shallow, with few prospects emerging who have a shot at making it to the top end of the division. Francis Ngannou is looking to change that, and he has been nothing but impressive so far in his UFC career. That said, moving from wins over Curtis Blaydes and Bojan Mihajlovic, to facing elite heavyweights such as Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum, is a big ask. If Ngannou can get that done over the next 12 months, Kevin will be breaking out the ‘I told you so’s.
Rodney James Edgar (@RodneyJames138)
Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather WILL happen
Speculation has existed for what seems like forever. From “Money” Mayweather, to “Money” McGregor, there has been posturing on both sides. While 2016 was the year that McGregor became far and away the UFC’s biggest star, and a two-weight world champion, it was also the year that the Irish warrior was issued a boxing licence in the state of California. Undoubtedly the biggest stretch of all our predictions, could any form of sanctioned fight between McGregor and Mayweather really take place in 2017?
UFC 219’s Jimmie Rivera to TJ Dillashaw “Defend Your Belt or Vacate.”
MMA Latest had the chance to talk to #4 ranked UFC bantamweight Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera ahead of his fight at UFC 219 against John Lineker.
Rivera (21-1) extended his unbeaten run to twenty when he defeated Thomas Almeida at UFC Long Island in July. Originally scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, we began by asking Rivera how the opponent change had affected his preparation for UFC 219.
The only thing that’s changed is the game plan, everything else stays the same. Cruz is more of an irritating fight because he just doesn’t stop moving, but with Lineker, he’s going to stay in the pocket and bang, and I love that.
Recently, Rivera posted a video to his Twitter account of him sparring with the recently crowned bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He told us about the context of this video, and how the sparring went down between them.
It was 3 or 4 years back. I think TJ had just lost to (John) Dodson on TUF. My teammate Louis Gaudinot was actually fighting Tim Elliott at the time, and we were in Milwaukee so I got to train with (Urijah) Faber and Dillashaw.
Oh by the way did you forget this?…. I’m not cody, i don’t show videos then get knock out. pic.twitter.com/EsyvJmGnkz
— Jimmie Rivera (@JimmieRivera135) November 26, 2017
I just sent it to TJ to say, don’t forget what happened. I was getting the best of him, and I don’t really brag about it. But he wants to leave the weight class and fight DJ for the money fight, and I want to fight for the belt, so it’s defend your belt or vacate.
After briefly referencing the potential superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw, I asked Rivera about his thoughts on the somewhat flawed UFC rankings system, and title fights being put together purely for entertainment value.
It sucks. When I become champ I won’t be like a TJ or McGregor, I’m going to be like Demetrious Johnson and defend my belt against people coming up, it’s the right thing to do. If you want to win the belt and leave the division straight away, it’s kind of bullshit.
Rivera concluded by telling me that although he isn’t looking past Lineker at 219, “the only fight that makes sense after this one, is fighting TJ for the belt.”
Mark Hunt Returns to Fight Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221
UFC 221 in Perth has officially added a another Australian to the main card. Joining Robert Whittaker is the knockout legend Mark Hunt.
The Daily Telegraph first reported that Hunt will be stepping into the octagon to face #9 Curtis Blaydes. Some weren’t sure if we would ever see Hunt fight again after he was pulled from the main event in UFC Fight Night 21 against Marcin Tybura. The UFC removed him due to “medical concerns” while Hunt was stating he was perfectly fine.
After getting evaluated and cleared to fight by Australian and American doctors, it looks like his time has come to return. Hunt’s last fight was back in June when he derailed the Derrick Lewis hype train with a 4th round TKO win.
Hunt had been adamant about calling out #3 ranked heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and trying to get that rematch booked, labelling Werdum a “chicken shit” and a “coward.”
Curtis “Razor” Blaydes who has an 8-1 record, is coming off a TKO victory due to doctor stoppage at UFC 217 in November. Since losing to now title challenger Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, Blaydes has rattled off three straight wins over Alexey Oleynik, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Cody East.
With all this momentum from the win streak, Blaydes looks to capitalize and win the biggest fight of his career against Hunt.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira Officially Booked for Belem, Brazil card
The wait is over. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) will make her highly anticipated flyweight debut when the UFC returns to Brazil. She will face Priscila Cachoeira (8-0) on the February 3rd card scheduled for Belem, Brazil. Luciana Andrade was the first to report the match-up last week. On Tuesday, the UFC posted an article which stated the bout had been set.
Now that the flyweight tournament is over and the inaugural champion has her crown, many women shall migrate from the strawweight and bantamweight ranks in search of a more suitable weight class. The division is so infantile means a lot moving parts in the rankings. Yet, only women who fought at one hundred and twenty-five lbs. are ranked. Such practices muddy the title picture for the time being. Essentially ruling out the idea of Montano vs. Shevchenko for the first defense of the belt, illogical. An idea that floated around the internet until today’s confirmation of the newest female flyweight match-up. The TUF 26 winner, Nicco Montano called it, “kinda silly”, earlier this week while on The MMA Hour. Montano believes her first title defense, as it stands, should pit her against the original finalist of the flyweight tournament, Sijara Eubanks. Although Eubanks withdrew from the title fight, she is still ranked as the #1 contender in the division.
Shevchenko explained her desire for the flyweight belt on The MMA Hour, a week earlier than Montano, “For me it’s number one, to fight for the title… It doesn’t matter for me, if I have to have one fight before it, okay I will do it… my main goal is to be the champion… It doesn’t matter I move from one thirty-five to one twenty-five. My goal is still the same, to be the champion”. The Russian fighter is coming off an unsuccessful title shot in the bantamweight division against the current reigning champ, Amanda Nunes. The bout went to a decision after close five rounds, Nunes ultimately defeated Shevchenko via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).
Her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, is not only new to the UFCs female flyweight division but the promotion’s roster as well. Cachoeira originally was scheduled to make her promotional debut against veteran Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 26. The Brazilian fighter withdrew from the bout due to visa issues. As a professional, she is undefeated with four knockouts in her eight fights.
UFC Belem is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018. The card will feature Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm in the heavyweight division. It will also have Thiago Santos taking on Anthony Smith in the middleweight division.
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