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?
Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg
The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.
The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.
THIS. CARD. pic.twitter.com/bc4AyNncqy
— UFC (@ufc) October 13, 2017
Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.
Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.
Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.
Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.
With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:
- Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
- Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
- Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
- Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
- Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
- Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
- Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
- John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
- Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions
- The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.
More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.
Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.
There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.
While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.
With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.
Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.
However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.
At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.
The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.
So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.
The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.
Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.
Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.
Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.
The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.
From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.
Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.
If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.
As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.
However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.
James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury
Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.
The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016. James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.
After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.
Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.
Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”
His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.
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