A loss for McGregor and other predictions for the UFC in 2018

Alex Rea 8/01/2018
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Conor McGregor will pick UFC over boxing this year - and suffer a loss.

Conor McGregor constructed a reputation for being able to “predict dese tings” with his forecasted finishes developing the moniker ‘Mystic Mac’.

Unfortunately, we mere mortals struggle to predict our next meal nevermind the future and in MMA the job of formulating predictions is often a hollow business.

You only have to peak into the past to see why with McGregor himself at the epicentre of the most unpredictable event in combat sports history with last year’s boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather.

Few predicted that reality and so plotting the path of 2018 is a challenging prospect.

Still, there are sign posts which could assist in the direction of the year and with that in mind here is our best guess at the complexion of 2018 for the UFC.

GSP’S RETIREMENT

Despite all the proclamations of an intended stay at 185lbs, Georges St Pierre vacated the title and division quicker than an awkward conversation.

And the discussion about his future starts and ends with a 2018 retirement.

It poses one of the burning questions of the next 12 months but the Canadian simply has nothing left to prove in this sport.

The nature of his win over Johny Hendricks left questions about his validity as the best in the world but having joined BJ Penn, Randy Couture and Conor McGregor as the UFC’s only two-division champions after choking Michael Bisping, his legacy is cemented.

Aside from an unlikely clash with McGregor, there are no big money fights out there for the Canadian. He turns 37 in May and is on the sidelines after being diagnosed with colitis making the prospect of a return improbable.

Is this the year Georges St. Pierre retires?

HOLLOWAY WILL BE P4P KING

If 2017 was about laying the foundation for Max Holloway’s legacy, the next 12 months will be about building a permanent residence among the best in the world.

Demetrious Johnson is the current pound-for-pound king and granted there is no equal – not just right now but perhaps ever.

But the flyweight champ faces the trickiest test of his long reign with bantamweight title holder TJ Dillashaw his projected next opponent.

Dillashaw’s striking is another level while his wrestling is too good for DJ and his gas tank equal as well.

Defeat for ‘Mighty Mouse’ will knock him off top spot and in will step Holloway.

The Hawaiian is on a 12 fight win streak, beat the best featherweight of all time twice last year and can take down another all-time legend in Frankie Edgar in 2018.

At 26, he is closing in on the all-time consecutive victory (16) record and most UFC wins (20) having notched 14 and 15 over Jose Aldo.

Clean out the rest of 145lbs this year and he will be the UFC’s P4P king.

Max Holloway is set to establish himself as the UFC's pound-for-pound king.

McGREGOR RETURNS AND LOSES

The curious case of Conor McGregor. Will he a: box again; b: defend his title or c: both.

The best predictor is the hardest to predict and the Irishman’s next move is as unclear as it ever has been.

For a man in a permanent trajectory 2018 will be a rarity for the 155lbs champ because it will be a step down both in money and magnitude after his defeat to Mayweather.

What is clear, is that the money is in boxing for McGregor, the legacy in MMA and it’s likely the latter, for once, will appeal.

That should see the 29-year-old fight the winner of interim champ Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov and with the prediction of a win for the Dagestani follows defeat for McGregor. Nurmagomedov’s frightening physical manipulation of his opponents is unrivalled and should he get his hands on McGregor, it will be a second defeat of his UFC career.

McGregor tasted defeat in the boxing ring, and a loss in the Octagon this year could follow.

JEDRZEJCZYK BECOMES CONCURRENT TWO-WEIGHT CHAMP

A bold prediction considering Joanna Jedrzejczyk is no longer champ in one division, nevermind two.

However, the Pole is more McGregor than Rousey in terms of handling defeat with her gracious post-fight persona after a shock loss to Rose Namajunas indicating a mental fortitude prepared to take back the title.

Having left the nutrition team which botched her weight cut prior to Namajunas loss, Jedrzejczyk could return better than ever in 2018.

Reclaiming her strawweight belt naturally segways into a move up to the newly opened flyweight division and given the fledgling nature of 125lbs a win there is on the cards.

With an ability to flick between the two weight classes, we could well see Jedrzejczyk become not just the first two-division women’s champ, but also the UFC’s second concurrent two-weight belt holder.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk is poised to become a two-weight champion in 2018.

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UFC 219 hallmarked by MMA's two most dominant fighters in Cyborg and Nurmagomedov

Alex Rea 31/12/2017
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Cris Cyborg lands on Holly Holm at UFC 219

Two utterly dominant performances by two of MMA’s most dominant forces, Cris Cyborg and Khabib Nurmagomedov produced torturous victories at UFC 219 to add credence to their claims as the best in their respective divisions.

In Cyborg’s case, that assersition stretches beyond her featherweight realm because the Brazilian is the GOAT of women’s MMA.

Holly Holm dragged the Brazilian through five hellacious rounds to force her first decision in nine years.

That in itself merits applause, and such is the superiority of Cyborg, going the distance is viewed as a moral victory, even if it’s one which left Holm disfigured.

Indeed, the former Invicta and Strikeforce title holder has evolved from brutal berserker to a technical titan with her victory in the main event slot of UFC 219 one of cold composure.

You could say it was machine-like.

In a fight which displayed the very best skill women’s MMA has to offer, the defending champion landed a ferocious 118 of 223 of her significant strikers compared to Holm’s 44 of 227, according to FightMetric.

And Cyborg had more rounds in her such was the depth of her gas tank.

Her lowest output was in the first frame when she landed 16 strikes but in the fifth the 32-year-old landed 39 strikes, a nod to her tremendous cardio.

Holm was game, but she was never really in the bout, the former bantamweight champ displaying great heart to withstand Cyborg for five rounds.

Ultimately, she was too predictable and Cyborg’s combination of power, accuracy, variety and crucially timing was simply too much.

Some corners will argue size was the difference but in the clinch Holm imposed her will with the height and reach virtually identical.

True, Cyborg is thicker but she also possesses a broader MMA brain and after being taken to a decision for the first time since 2008, questions now turn to who can beat her. The list is cut shorter with every victory.

“Thank you for Holly Holm,” Cyborg said after her 19th career win. “She is an amazing fighter she had a very good fight.”

In her post-fight press conference, she added: “I’m saying (I want Megan Anderson), because she’s 145lbs. I would like my division to grow. If we’re growing fast, you need to put more girls at 145. And I think she’s in the line to fight for the belt.”

Anderson, the Invicta featherweight champ, was booked to fight Cyborg for the vacant 145lbs belt at UFC 214 in July but withdrew from the contest due to undisclosed personal issues.

However, that bout is clearly still on her radar as the Australian tweeted: “Great fight ladies! Congrats Cris on retaining your belt! @ufc I think there’s only 1 fight to make now against a legit featherweight. #UFC219”

Anderson represents a greater physical challenge but at this point Cyborg is virtually peerless.

In that sense, Nurmagomedov is in the same category.

Indeed, ‘The Eagle’ is the ultimate apex predator and his physical manipulation of Edson Barboza was straight torture.

The Brazilian was effectively run over by a car repeatedly for three rounds as Nurmagomedov marched forward barely giving his fellow top contender at 155lbs any inch of space.

And that was on the feet, on the ground, the Dagestian is legitimately frightening. What he can do to the most elite lightweights in the world is akin to a bull riding a cowboy.

Nurmagomedov simply mauled Barboza and having come into the bout in his best shape yet, hope grows 2018 will hold two-three fights having fought just three times since April 2014.

“When I’m injured, they talk too much,” Nurmagomedov said. “But when I’m healthy, I don’t see these guys.

“Tony (Ferguson) or Conor (McGregor), don’t matter,” he said of his next fight. “Maybe if the UFC approves, I can fight with these guys in the same night. I swear, no joke.

“Maybe I have to stay humble, but tonight, I have to smash these guys and get these guys back, because these guys talk too much when I’m injured.”

The only talk now is of who is out there capable of beating two of MMA’s best in Cyborg and Nurmagomedov.

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Max Holloway is our UFC Fighter of the Year while Francis Ngannou takes KO award

Alex Rea 30/12/2017
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Blessed Era: Max Holloway on his way to beating Jose Aldo

When looking back at what has defined the UFC scene in 2017, the overriding narrative is revealment.

Indeed, this was 12 months in which WME-IMG made their mark. The turn of the year was hallmarked by continuity as the new owners looked to deliver the same product which reached new and dizzying heights in 2016.

President Dana White remained at the forefront while the look and feel of the business made for a fan experience no different to the previous regime.

But as 2017 developed, change set in. Fighters have been allowed to emerge as de facto matchmakers while the appetite for “moneyfights” has undoubtedly headed
the menu.

Weight classes have been blurred, rankings ignored and the WME-IMG ownership has encouraged a culture of feast or famine.

Loaded pay-per-view cards have contrasted drained FOX events and the natural decline from 2016, whether by mitigating circumstances or ownership ethos, has created a climate of transition.

But for all the change outside the Octagon, the one constant has been inside it with plenty of action and drama served up.

With that in mind it’s time to look back at 2017 and dish out our UFC awards, and remember, discussion is always welcome.

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

Max Holloway

This year the UFC has suffered a shortage of stars with a Conor McGregor-shaped hole making a large dent. However, without active figures at the highest level, the door was opened for the next generation and one man to walk on through was Max Holloway.

At 26, the featherweight champion is leading a youthful charge which sees middleweight title holder Robert Whittaker (27) and women’s strawweight queen Rose Namajunas (25) dovetail a new era for MMA.

But the Hawaiian is the standout. From contender to champion to pound-forpound consideration, Holloway has owned this year.

Two mirrored victories over the 145lbs great Jose Aldo, once in Brazil and then in Detroit, provided the year’s most emphatic statement.

He extended his deeply impressive win streak to 12 victories and the bulldozing of Aldo has paved way for the “Blessed Era”. Our 2016 Young Fighter has matured into an unstoppable force and one who will take some shifting in 2018.

Worthy Mentions:

Demetrious Johnson, Rose Namajunas, Robert Whittaker

YOUNG FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

Darren Till

The criteria for young fighter will differ from author to author but for this review the award is handed out to the man or woman on the cusp of a major breakthrough.

And with that context there is a clear winner – Darren Till.

The UFC is a star-driven business which is why the promotion has gone out of its way to invest in new stars. Talent is simmering under the surface in practically every division but Till has already exploded onto the scene and injected new life into the welterweight division.

Three fights and three wins in 2017 but of course his most impressive arrived in October when he demolished the ever-present title contender Donald Cerrone.

A heavy underdog, the Liverpudlian produced a virtuoso striking performance to earn a first-round finish and his witty skills on the mic have drawn comparisons to a certain Irishman.

A fascinating 2018 awaits with the prospect of a title shot on the horizon.

Darren Till

Darren Till

Worthy Mentions:

Brian Ortega, Kelvin Gastelum, Jessica Andrade

FIVE-ROUND FIGHT OF THE YEAR

Justin Gaethje TKO3 Michael Johnson, TUF Finale, July 7

A five-round fight in name only, Justin Gaethje’s much-anticipated UFC debut was never likely going to require the full quota. But three reckless frames of leather traded action made this a fight of the year.

The various elements of MMA, from wrestling to boxing, to Muay Thai and BJJ means appreciation comes in many forms but collectively we can all agree few things beat a good slugfest.

There is room for technique, strategy and gameplanning but a back-and-forth war entertains like no other.

Gaethje arrived from WSOF with a reputation for drowning his opponents into the deep water but the question was always whether he could replicate that violence against the best in the world.

Johnson as a top-10 lightweight provided the perfect debut bout, but he looked to spoil the party when Gaethje was dropped only for the newcomer to rally and record victory in remarkable fashion.

Both fighters were prepared to go out on their shield with the marriage of brutality and blood making for a thrilling spectacle.

Worthy Mentions:

Robert Whittaker – UD5 Yoel Romero, UFC 213, Jul 8

Dustin Poirier – TKO3 Anthony Pettis, UFC FN 120, Nov 11

Max Holloway – TKO3 Jose Aldo, UFC 212, Jun 3

THREE-ROUND FIGHT OF THE YEAR

Darren Elkins KO3 Mirsad Bektic, UFC 209, March 4

Mirsad Bektic was the next generation’s golden boy. A champion in waiting and blue-chip prospect, the 26-year-old had racked up an 11-0 record and entered UFC 209 with the expectation of rolling over Darren Elkins.

And in round one he justified the hype, tagging Elkins clean and bloodying up the Team Alpha Male fighter with right hands. A nasty cut above Elkins’ eye required doctor’s attention in between rounds and the Bosnian smelt blood, although it was hard not too given the sheer amount spilt.

The beginning of round two saw the trend continue but at the midway point Elkins found success on the ground as he maneuvered into advantageous positions.

But round three is where this fight sealed cult status. Again Elkins ate clean shots with his sole success via the ground exchanges and his work there saw Bektic fade fast.

A stunning comeback was completed with two rights hands and a kick to the face and while the collision inflicted car-crash damage, it’s one which retains legendary acclaim.

Worthy Mentions:

Dustin Poirier – MD3 Jim Miller, UFC 208, Feb 11

Eddie Alvarez – TKO3 Justin Gaethje, UFC 218, Dec 2

Yancy Medeiros – TKO3 Alex Oliveira, UFC 218, Dec 2

EVENT OF THE YEAR

UFC 217, Nov 4

There’s just something special about New York and three title fights.

Last year UFC 205 delivered history with Conor McGregor rising to become the promotion’s first concurrent two-weight world champion, while Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson’s insane back-and-forth war sandwiched Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s vintage victory over Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

This year three belts headed the return to Madison Square Garden and all three changed hands in dramatic fashion.

But there was highlight reel action prior to the main card. Ricardo Ramos’ cracked Aiemann Zahabi with a rare elbow knockout while bizarre endings in Curtis Blaydes vs Aleksei Oleinik and Mark Godbeer vs Walt Harris added to the drama.

Ovince Saint Preux’s comeback headkick KO then segwayed into the main offering which saw Paulo Costa simply assault Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson thrash Jorge Masvidal.

Rose Namajunas scored her major upset of Joanna Jedrzejczyk – more of that to come – before TJ Dillashaw settled his beef with Cody Garbrandt to retake the bantamweight belt with a glorious second-round KO.

To top it all off, Georges St-Pierre became a two-weight champion with an emphatic submission of middleweight champ Michael Bisping and his triumphant return was the icing on this three-tiered cake.

UFC 217

Worthy Mentions:

UFC 218 – December 2

UFC on FOX 26 – December 16

UFC 210 – April 8

UPSET OF THE YEAR

Rose Namajunas v Joanna Jedrzejczyk, UFC 217, Nov 4

Maybe the victory itself shouldn’t have been a surprise but the manner of it certainly shook up the world. For Rose Namajunas to beat the best female fighter in the world, it was widely agreed her skills on the ground would provide the avenue to an upset win.

No one predicted she would beat Jedrzejczyk with her own strengths. She knocked the Pole out with a ferocious first-round pummelling to claim the women’s strawweight strap and the finish arrived after knocking the champ down twice.

It was clean and clinical. Regardless of gender, Jedrzejczyk had a worthy claim to the title of MMA’s most skilled striker and her histrionics in the build-up in contrast to Namajunas’ stoicism had many considering a record-equalling sixth successful title defence.

But Namajunas tuned out the noise to turn up the UFC 217 crowd with her upset of the year.

Worthy Mentions:

Darren Till – KO1 Donald Cerrone, UFC FN 118, Oct 21

Josh Emmett – KO1 Ricardo Lamas, UFC on Fox 26, Dec 16

Georges St Pierre – SUB3 Michael Bisping, UFC 217, Nov 4

SUBMISSION OF THE YEAR

Demetrious Johnson v Ray Borg, UFC 216, Oct 7

Not just the submission of 2017, but arguably the best ever by the best to do it.

A once-in-a-generation fighter, ‘Mighty Mouse’ surpassed Anderson Silva’s consecutive title defence record with an astonishing finish.

Granted, Borg was overmatched but he is a beast on the ground and Johnson’s modified belly-to-back suplex into a flying armbar submission is as unfathomable as it is innovative.

The finishing sequence began with the flyweight champion’s arms wrapped around Borg from behind and near the cage.

When the challenger’s weight shifted, Johnson threw him up, then seamlessly landed the armbar. Never has the finish been seen before in the Octagon and the combination of history and the nature of the submission makes it an obvious winner.

Worthy Mentions:

Brett John – Calf slicer versus Joe Soto, Dec 1

Aleksei Oleinik – Ezekiel choke of Viktor Pesta, Jan 15

Brian Ortega – A tight guillotine on Cub Swanson, Dec 10

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR

Francis Ngannou v Alistair Overeem, UFC 218, Dec 2

Francis Ngannou didn’t knock Alistair Overeem out – he damn near decapitated him.

The year has witnessed a fair share of KOs ranging from practically ever range of the richter scale. Not one, though, produced the magnitude of Ngannou’s strike. Indeed, there’s an argument it’s the most spectacular knockout ever delivered via a punch and it genuinely had viewers fearing Overeem’s wellbeing.

It’s been a long time since a knockout produced that sort of concern but the force behind the left-hook was frightening.

The wind-up was summoned from the depths of the earth and the connection on Overeem’s chin practically sent the Dutchman into orbit.

His head snapped back and his body collapsed to the canvas with Ngannou earning a shot at the division’s champ Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 next month as a result of the first-round win.

Francis Ngannou knocks out Alistair Overeem

Francis Ngannou knocks out Alistair Overeem

Worthy Mentions:

Holly Holm – Headkicks Bethe Correia, Jun 17

Edson Barboza – Sleeps Beneil Dariush via flying knee, Mar 11

Marlon Moraes – Crumples Aljamain Sterling with a knee, Dec 10

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