Five Fights the UFC Must Make Before 2017 Ends
With 2017 winding down to its last few months, there are still several UFC bouts that need to take place before the year expires.
Updated: Aug. 14, 2017 • 2:50 PM ET
The third time may be the charm for Alexander Gustafsson.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson
It doesn’t matter how many failed attempts there have been, or whether this fight is for an interim lightweight title, we need to see these two finally clash; not just for the fans, but for the fighters and the integrity of the lightweight division. Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the lightweight division, respectively, and are the worthiest in the division to challenge for the title.
Nurmagomedov is 8-0 in the UFC and has looked unstoppable. His last fight was a submission victory over Michael Johnson in November 2016. He was scheduled to fight Ferguson in March at UFC 209, but was pulled from the fight just a day before the event after being hospitalized due to complications making weight. Ferguson and the fans have waited for this matchup, and Nurmagomedov knows what a win would do for his title chances and legacy.
Ferguson is on a nine-fight winning streak, with his last fight resulting in a decision victory over former champ Rafael dos Anjos in November 2016. He’s 12-1 in the UFC and has proven to be one of the more durable fighters in MMA. Ferguson has made it clear he’ll fight Nurmagomedov under any circumstances.
“Learn how to count some calories and actually give a (expletive) for your weight,” Ferguson told MMAJunkie in July. “I understand he doesn’t need money to fight – then retire. (Expletive) go away, man. You want to fight at 170, you want make a superfight, well we can handle that.”
Conor McGregor vs. Anyone
Yes, Conor McGregor is preparing for a boxing super-fight at the end of August against arguably the greatest boxer of all time, Floyd Mayweather. But it’s believed McGregor will return to the UFC before 2018 arrives. UFC president Dana White said he believes McGregor will return to mixed martial arts after his fight against Mayweather later this month.
"I think we will [see him],” White said during an appearance on ESPN's SportsCenter when asked if he believes McGregor will return to the UFC — via Brett Okamoto. “He wants to fight twice this year.”
The obvious choice would be for the champion to face either the current No. 1 or No. 2 ranked contender in the lightweight division, but the lightweight title hasn’t been in play since McGregor won the belt at UFC 205 in November 2016. However, should fans get the Nurmagomedov versus Ferguson fight they’ve clamored for, it’s unlikely either fighter would be ready, or allowed, to fight again before the end of the year.
There’s a long list of fighters that would love a fight with McGregor due to the lucrative possibilities. A third fight with Nate Diaz, this time for a title, would be gigantic and likely exceed their previous pay-per-view numbers. The idea of a super-fight with Georges St-Pierre was intriguing, but it isn’t possible now that St-Pierre is fighting Michael Bisping at UFC 217 in November. A step-up in weight to fight welterweight champion Tyron Woodley with the possibility of winning a third title would be a fabulous idea, but the UFC is unlikely to give Woodley that chance after the controversy involving he and White following UFC 214. There’s always Nick Diaz at 170 pounds to keep the McGregor/Diaz rivalry going. Nonetheless, the UFC’s biggest star needs to close 2017 with a bang.
Alexander Gustafson vs. Vulkan Oezdemir
With Jon Jones winning the light heavyweight title at UFC 214 in July and now having his sights set on one of those adorable super-fights against former UFC heavyweight champion and WWE star Brock Lesnar, it’s time to determine Jones’ next challenger at 205 pounds.
Oezdemir is 3-0 in the UFC and has climbed the rankings unlike any other fighter in recent memory. He dismantled Jimi Manuwa 40 seconds into the first round at UFC 214 in July and appears to be as dangerous as advertised. He has power unlike most in the light heavyweight division, but he hasn’t fought anyone close to Gustafson’s skill level.
Gustafson is coming off a Fight of the Night knockout of Glover Teixeira in May, during which he looked sensational and at his best since challenging Jones for the title in 2013. He’s a two-time title challenger and has remained in the top 3 contenders of the division for more than four years. A win against the division’s up-and-coming bull would certainly scream Gustafson’s worthiness of a third title shot. His skills are undeniable, and a win over Oezdemir would remind everyone how close he really has been to winning UFC gold.
Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm
Newly crowned women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg has made it clear who she wants her next opponent to be. She’s calling for a title fight against former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm at UFC 219, which is expected to take place at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 30.
“I want my next fight to be the biggest fight I can make for the fans who have supported me my entire career,” Justino said in an Instagram post. “I want to face Holly Holm in Vegas (UFC 219). Let the UFC know this is a PPV you will buy!”
In the post, Cyborg also divulged that this fight has been a long time in the making with both sides failing to make a deal happen in the past.
Holm is best known for dismantling Ronda Rousey in shocking fashion at UFC 193, and she’s considered by many to be one of the biggest threats to taking down Cyborg. Holm last fought in June and scored a knockout victory over Bethe Correia.
Both fighters are definitely two of the most dangerous strikers in women’s MMA, and a matchup between the two would be a treat for even the most casual UFC fan.
Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar
Max Holloway is on an 11-fight winning streak and most recently pounded Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 212 in June. At just 25 years old, Holloway continues to get better with every fight and proved in the cage against Aldo that he can take punishment and recover quickly. His last loss was by decision to Conor McGregor in 2013. He’s a fighter that has fought anyone put across from him in the Octagon, and that’s unlikely to change just because he now has a title to defend.
Frankie Edgar is the No. 2 ranked featherweight contender and a former lightweight champion. He’s 7-2 in his last nine fights, and both losses were decisions to Aldo. For every skill he has displayed in the Octagon, Edgar has matched them with unbreakable will. He’s 16-5-1 in the UFC and has never been finished. For any punishment Holloway can dish out, Edgar will most certainly match it with a fury of his own.
If this fight were to get booked in Holloway’s home state of Hawaii, it would generate an undeniable buzz in a place where fighting comes as second nature.