2021 was another year of challenge and change in the MMA world, but with that chapter of the calendar about to expire, there’s a chance to start anew going into 2022.
There are a lot of unknowns going into the new year, but without further ado, here are eight bold MMA predictions for the next 12 months …
Kamaru Usman breaks Anderson Silva’s record
[autotag]Kamaru Usman[/autotag] has proven to be an unsolvable riddle thus far in his UFC career, going 15-0 to start his tenure with the organization and racking up five title defenses to prove himself as the king of the welterweight division.
As a result of his efforts, Usman has positioned himself to break what many consider to be one of the most untouchable records in UFC history: Anderson Silva’s remarkable 16-0 mark to open his prestigious UFC career.
After all his hard work, 2022 is the year Usman is poised to tie and surpass Silva’s record. Usman was extremely busy in 2021, defending his title three times between February and November. He’s earned some well deserved time off and may not return until the midway point of the year, but the timing still seems good enough for Usman to get two fights in.
Who will be the men standing across from Usman as he goes from history? It could be Leon Edwards. It could be Belal Muhammad. It could even be Khamzat Chimaev. The schedule won’t be easy, but Usman’s level of success has laid the foundation to stand alone atop the winning streak mountain.
Conor McGregor, Jon Jones won’t win a fight
Conor McGregor and Jon Jones
There are A LOT of different ways this one can go, but 2022 could be another rough year for two of the biggest names, faces and stars of the UFC over the majority of the past decade.
We’ll start with McGregor, who is still rehabbing from the broken leg he suffered in his trilogy-fight loss to Poirier at UFC 264. We don’t know exactly when “The Notorious” will be ready to fight again, but comments from the Irishman, his coach John Kavanagh, and UFC boss White, hint that summer is the ideal timeline. Will that be early summer, like May or June? Or will it be late summer, such as August? Either way, the rough outline of the schedule means McGregor could only fight once in 2022, and that’s assuming nothing happens outside the cage that could potentially prevent his availability.
There will be a ton riding on that contest for McGregor, because if it doesn’t go his way, that means the former two-division UFC champ could be looking at another winless calendar year. We don’t know whom McGregor will be fighting in his comeback from injury, but with the amount of money he commands from the UFC, you can be certain it’s not going to be a warmup fight.
Much of what was just explained above applies to [autotag]Jon Jones[/autotag], as well. His current scenario is very different from McGregor in that his hiatus from competition is more self-imposed than anything else. We’re rapidly approaching two years since Jones last stepped in the octagon for a fight, and with the unpredictable nature of the former longtime UFC light heavyweight champion, can anyone be certain another calendar year won’t pass by without seeing him fight?
And even if Jones does compete, he’s looking at potentially the hardest fights of his career. In a perfect world, he figures out his contract dispute with the UFC, puts to rest any personal issues that could further plague his career, and challenges the winner of the UFC 270 heavyweight title unification bout between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane on Jan. 22. If all that materialized, are there any guarantees Jones even beats Ngannou or Gane? Those are two extremely difficult matchups for him, and not ideal scenarios coming off such a long break.
It doesn’t seem at all impossible that either a combination or one of both of McGregor and Jones don’t fight in 2022, and if they do, the results don’t go their way.
A fourth UFC fight between rivals unfolds
Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski
There have been a number of trilogy fights to unfold under the UFC banner, but never before have we seen a pair of opponents fight four times in the promotion. However, in 2022, there are a number of potential avenues to this unprecedented scenario coming true.
That roadmap could even begin at the first pay-per-view of the year, when [autotag]Brandon Moreno[/autotag] and [autotag]Deiveson Figueiredo[/autotag] meet in a trilogy bout for flyweight gold at UFC 270. Thus far, the series has seen one fight end in a draw and another go the way of Moreno by submission. If Figueiredo is able to reclaim the 125-pound belt, the table could very well be set for a fourth and deciding rubber match.
On the horizon beyond that is the expected trilogy fight for the featherweight title between [autotag]Alexander Volkanovski[/autotag] and [autotag]Max Holloway[/autotag]. Volkanovski has won the first two meetings, but all signs point to Holloway getting the next title shot. If “Blessed” wins, it would seem only fair that Volkanovski gets his own shot at redemption with a fourth matchup.
Lastly, we could see [autotag]Dustin Poirier[/autotag] and [autotag]Conor McGregor[/autotag] run it back once more. The trilogy between the two lightweight contenders is already in the books, but we know McGregor feels his leg break that ended the third fight at UFC 264 was an unjust result, and he’s said many times there’s unfinished business with “The Diamond.”
A woman joins the UFC commentary booth
[autotag]Laura Sanko[/autotag] has been beating the drum to get a spot in the UFC commentary booth, and this is the year it’s going to happen for her.
This move has already taken a massive positive step forward by Sanko getting commentary gigs on this past season of Dana White’s Contender Series. That seems like the optimal gateway to getting a crack at some lesser-tiered UFC Fight Night events in 2022.
The UFC has a strong roster of commentators that includes the likes of Michael Bisping, Paul Felder, Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz, but some female flavor is much-needed, and Sanko has proven worthy of the opportunity. There’s 42 more UFC events expected to be coming out way next year, and there’s no reason Sanko shouldn’t get assigned to at least a couple of those.
Bellator’s bantamweight grand prix is its best yet
Bellator bantamweight grand prix
Bellator has put on a number of grand prix events during the era of company president Scott Coker, but the next one is going to be the best one.
It’ll be difficult to surpass the featherweight grand prix, which minus COVID-related delays, largely went off without a hitch. The promotion got the final it and the fans wanted between Patricio Freire and A.J. McKee, topped off by a crowning moment for McKee with a first-round submission win.
That’s a tough act to follow, but Bellator’s 135-pound division is arguably its best and the eight-man field has some truly compelling potential matchup, depending on how the brackets are ultimately put together. If everything holds, this grand prix could be something special.
Kayla Harrison returns to PFL
It shouldn’t take long into the year to determine whether this one goes very right or very wrong. But as of now, [autotag]Kayla Harrison[/autotag] is still the most coveted free agent in MMA and there’s no clear sign of her future.
Harrison’s feee agency has been a prominent storyline through the majority of 2021. It was known before the PFL season even began that she was on the last leg of her deal and would have the chance to explore her options. Harrison has done just that, showing up cageside at Bellator for Cris Cyborg’s most recent women’s featherweight title defense, as well as at multiple UFC events, including teammate Amanda Nunes’ upset loss to Julianna Peña at UFC 269.
Although many people are chalking it up as a lock that Harrison will head to the UFC or Bellator, we shouldn’t be so fast to count out the possibility of a return to PFL. In fact, it feels likely.
There’s plenty of upside to Harrison staying put. She’ll be heavily favored to leave the next season with another $1 million payday, she’ll gain more experience against some fresh competition like new signee Julia Budd, and, if she can sign the right deal, will once again became a free agent late in 2022. By that point the likes of Cyborg, Nunes and Peña will only be a year older, and in turn ripe for the plucking against a more in-her-prime version of Harrison.
If the UFC or Bellator is willing to hand out the bag to sign Harrison to their roster, then by all means we would love to see it. But right now it feels like PFL is the clubhouse leader to keep her services.
Nate Diaz leaves the UFC
This might be the least bold of all bold predictions, because right now a [autotag]Nate Diaz[/autotag] split from the UFC in 2022 is not only possible, but quite likely with the writing already on the wall.
We all know what’s happening right now: Diaz is on the final fight of his current UFC contract. He wants out to explore his options and test his worth on the open market. However, the UFC isn’t going to let him out of its grip without trying to damage his value as best as possible.
That’s why the promotion was so keen on pairing Diaz with Khamzat Chimaev, and why it will be adamant on giving Diaz an unfavorable matchup out the door. The big question, however, is how long this standoff will last and which side ultimately will fold first.
For every fight offer Diaz declines, the timeline for his contract extends. In theory, the promotion can drag this out for quite some time, perhaps even beyond 2022. If Diaz truly wants to go, there’s a good chance he’s going to have to accept a fight he doesn’t necessarily want, or is going to be a problematic stylistic matchup for him.
The cost of escaping by any means necessary is going to be worth it for Diaz, though, because that Jake Paul boxing payday is right there in front of him just waited to be grabbed.
It’s going to be curious to see how this whole scenario plays out, but one way or another, Diaz’s more than 14-year tenure with the UFC is going to come to a close.
Non-American UFC champ fights on home soil
With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 becoming more prominent, it’s tough to know exactly what the UFC schedule is going to look like in 2022. It’s a safe bet that a whole lot more UFC Apex events in Las Vegas are on the docket, but beyond that, all other plans are quite tentative.
There’s potential trips overseas in store, from the rumored London event in March to a potential pay-per-view in Brazil in May. It remains to be seen if those will actually take place, and what could come beyond that. However, we’re going to make an optimistic guess that UFC will re-enter some foreign soil in the coming year.
If that does indeed happen, the promotion will certainly push to get a titleholder a bout in their home country. Charles Oliveira, Glover Teixeira or Amanda Nunes could fight in Brazil. Perhaps Volkanovski fights in Australia, orb Moreno lands a fight in Mexico. One of these things will happen.