After a year full of UFC legends retiring, not retiring, threatening to retire and changing weight categories, what can MMA fans expect in 2021?
Three titles changed hands in 2020, but each of them struggled for empty championships. In other words, the reigning champions have shown exactly why they carry the gold.
Will the champions be just as successful this year? Not everyone thinks that’s the case.
What about retired stars? Do they have the jitters to come back this year?
ESPN experts Bret Okamoto, Mark Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim investigate the MMA landscape and make bold predictions about how things might develop.
John Jones will be the hunter of the year 2021 and will dominate the conversation about CANDLES.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Although Jon Jones’ recent performance hasn’t been spectacular, he’ll have a chance to impress again as he climbs up to heavyweight status this year. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC through Getty Images
Okamoto: I’m going to plant my flag on Jon Jones in 2021. I think this guy might be underappreciated in the New Year. And part of me understands. It hasn’t been very impressive in recent years. Jones has been 3-0 since the beginning of 2019, but has yet to achieve a victory in that time – with two victories at stake. Some thought Thiago Santos had done enough to defeat Jones in 2019. And more thought Dominic Reyes had done enough to beat him in 2020. That’s all well and good, but I haven’t forgotten how good John Jones is. And this year he can really show that he is the measure of all things in this sport.
Potentially this year Jones has the fight against fighters like Stipe Miocic, Francis Ngannou, Jan Blachowicz and Israel Adesanya in mind. If he is active and does what he has always done in his career – winning – he is unanimously elected Fighter of the Year and it is almost impossible to challenge him for the MMA GOAT title.
Islam Makhachev will become a concept in December 2021.
Okamoto: This prediction is based on several elements. First of all, I believe in Makhachev’s abilities. He’s 7-1 in the UFC and the only fight he lost was his UFC debut, where he was caught by a big punch less than two minutes into the fight. He took nothing away from Adriano Martin, the man who beat him that night, and just pointed out that Makhachev had dominated the UFC for the most part, with the exception of two minutes in the opening game of the class. He has not yet fought at the highest level of the competition, but that day will come.
In November, Makhachev faced the former champions Rafael dos Anjos in what would have been his first major appearance in the history of the UFC. He had to give up this fight for health reasons, but before he went bankrupt, the gamblers had him as a 5-1 favorite – which shows how much they appreciate his skills. He is now scheduled to fight Drew Dober in March, where he is also considered a big favourite. If Makhachev realizes his clear potential in 2021, he will win great battles, and he will do so as a friend and protégé of Khabib Nurmagomedov. They trained together since childhood, and Makhachev fell under the system of Nurmagomedov’s deceased father. There are two things you need to know about this sport: Victory and history. Makhachev will have both in 2021.
Khabib Nurmagomedov and Henry Cejudo will reserve battles.
Khabib Nurmagomedov left a legacy that will last forever pic.twitter.com/704OB4SDyc
– ESPN MMA (@espnmma) 25 October 2020
Raimondi: Three of the top ten fighters in the world, with a speed of one kilo for one kilo, have announced that they will retire in 2020: Nurmagomedov, UFC Lightweight Champion, and Daniel Cormier and Cejudo, former double featherweight champion. While Mr. Cormier is likely to stay away from the Octagon and continue his duties as CFU analyst, I predict that the other two, Nurmagomedov and Cejudo, will announce a return in 2021. Nurmagomedov insists on retiring, but at least the door seems open and UFC chairman Dana White is convinced he can convince Nurmagomedov to come back. Maybe a quiet fight against George St. Peter is in order. Nurmagomedov 29-0. If he gets his mother’s blessing to fight again, why not 30-0? A fight for the SAP doesn’t even have to be for the Lightweight title if St. Pierre can’t drop to 155 pounds.
As for Sejudo, he admitted that he will return for the right opportunity – or the right pay. So maybe this half of the prophecy isn’t so daring. However, there are no rumors of Seudo’s return yet. But there are also some interesting potential battles with the former UFC Bantam Weight and Bantam Weight Champion in 2021, such as a bantam weight fight against Alexander Volkanovski, a bantam weight title fight against Peter Yang, or even a return match against TJ Dillashaw.
Israel Adesanya wins the second belt and becomes one of the biggest stars in UFC history.
Raimondi: Every year it seems that UFC middleweight champion Adesanya makes a leap forward in terms of impressive performance and fame. Few people have predicted what Adesanya did to Paulo Costa during UFC 253 in September. Costa would become the Kryptonite of Adesania, a well-muscled tanker that would break the champion with pressure and strength. Instead, Adesanya completely dominated and erased Eraser with a second round of TKO. The next step in The Last Style Bender is a title battle against the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz. If Adesanya wins this battle, and we can predict that he will, he will only be the fifth double parallel champion in UFC history.
With so much praise people start to take an interest in it, and Adesanya already becomes an understanding for the casual observer. This year he signed with the Cougars for support. The fact that Adesanya is a double champion will only give him more strength. If the Blachowicz battle takes place as planned at the beginning of the year, it would give Adesanya time to look for big battles in two divisions and maybe even move up to heavyweight status. There is no doubt that 2021 will be a monumental year for the New Zealanders. It’ll be more than that. It will be one of the biggest superstars in the history of martial arts.
Half of the UFC male titles will change hands – four of the eight belts – but the four female titles will remain.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Game
Francis Ngannou says he’s 100 percent sure he’ll fight Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title.
Wagenheim: Let’s start with the big boys and work our way up. In the heavyweights I expect Francis Nganna, MMA’s most feared figure, to do a short job of Stipe Miocic. Israel Adesania becomes the new champion by maintaining the middleweight belt and dethroning Jan Blachowicz in the light heavyweight category. Khabib Nurmagomedov insists he retires – how many times does he have to say that before UFC President Dana White listens to him? — So the lightweight will need a new king. I would fill the spot by reserving the winner of Conor McGregor versus Dustin Poirier 2 versus the young Charles Oliveira. When Brian Ortega gets another chance to win the feather-light title, which he should have done, I see him steal the throne of Alexander Volkanovsky. I feel the same for the chances of Aljaman Sterling against Peter Jan, the welterweight belt holder.
In fact, it would be five out of eight UFC belts that would change hands, but I think one of the current champions will find a way to join Adasanya, welterweight Kamar Usman and welterweight Diveson Figueiredo as the surviving titleholders, so I’m going to fail one of my predictions (but only one!). On the women’s side, if you find a fighter who has what it takes to knock Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko or Zhang Valey off the mountaintop, you’re a bigger visionary than I am.
Algiers Stadium in Las Vegas. Three master battles. The largest audience in the history of the UFC. Spare for late summer or autumn 21.
Wagenheim: The pandemic has forced the UFC to slim down, keeping itself afloat with events at the small Apex facility in Las Vegas and a hastily built hut on Fight Island that fans can’t reach. But once the coronavirus pandemic is under control, Dana White and Co. won’t waste any more time before it takes off. I predict that the new football stadium in the hometown of the promotion will host the mega card and the star of the event – will it be Conor McGregor? John Jones? Israel Adesanya? Anyone else? – Combined with the collective thirst to see the battles live, this event is so energetic that it completely erases the OFC attendance record.
From Monday to Friday, host Pablo Torre presents the most interesting stories about ESPN, told by the world’s best reporters and insiders. Listening
The largest crowd in the history of the promotion was 57,127 at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia in 2019, with Adesanya on the middleweight throne. White has long talked about booking the first 105,000 seats AT&T U.S. stadium in Dallas, but the appeal of the new Raiders’ facility, which can seat 65,000 spectators for NFL matches and could expand to more than 70,000 for fight fans, will keep the historic spectacle closer to home.