2015 was a great year for MMA fans. Plenty of awesome, heavily anticipated fights were booked and went down—from big-name blockbusters like Anderson Silva versus Nick Diaz and Conor McGregor versus Jose Aldo, to fights that largely flew under many fans’ radars, like King Mo against Cheick Kongo and Frankie Edgar versus Urijah Faber.
But as is the case with each year in the sport, every possible match-up that would be exciting and interesting wasn’t put together. Moreover, the final fight cards of the year produced some shocking results, which have set the stage for some intriguing fights that will do well to give the next year an immediate boost over 2015.
Let’s take a look at five MMA fights that need to happen in 2016!
To be clear, I would prefer to see Frankie Edgar battle McGregor for the featherweight title next. But as the UFC has awarded (or shown interest in awarding) Rousey an immediate rematch after her loss to Holm (in a division that is just approaching its third birthday in the UFC, and admittedly isn’t as developed as other weight classes), it’s incredibly difficult to justify overlooking Aldo for an immediate rematch. The man has beaten some of the best in the world on a consistent basis over the past four years (and before that, in the WEC), and was commonly ranked as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world prior to his the loss to McGregor.
Certainly, as many fans will point out, the UFC and the sport of MMA is a business; if a fight doesn’t make financial sense, it shouldn’t happen. While this is generally true, it’s important to remember that Aldo versus McGregor was one of the best-selling pay-per-views of all time. Moreover, a business is defined by its practices; it’s once again hard to justify the decision of passing Aldo over for a shot at some belt, objectively speaking.
Which leads to the next possibility: McGregor moves up to lightweight to battle Rafael dos Anjos for the belt, vacating the featherweight title in the process, and Aldo versus Edgar 2 determines the next featherweight champion.
In theory, this makes some business sense for the UFC; should McGregor be able to get past dos Anjos (a stiff challenge for any fighter in the world), he will have a comparatively massive number of title-defense opportunities, as those available at featherweight are fairly limited. But this move, in addition to being unfair to Frankie Edgar (it’s undeniable that Jose Aldo has lost a good deal of his mystique and dominant status after his most recent loss), is also very risky for the UFC; lightweight fighters are much larger than featherweight athletes, and especially at this point, the idea of McGregor losing is a worst-case scenario for the promotion.
This match-up speculation is now turning into a different discussion altogether, but the point is that Aldo should rematch McGregor in 2015. The fight makes business sense, does well to provide some relative fairness and accountability to one of the most dominant champions and greatest all-time fighters, and will allow Frankie Edgar—after a bit of time on the shelf—to fight for a belt with more meaning than it would otherwise have.
Switching gears to Bellator, King Mo versus Phil Davis is an awesome fight that needs to happen. Davis’ debut in the promotion’s one-night tournament couldn’t have gone better, as he dominated former champion Emanuel Newton (a very skilled athlete who has bested Mo twice), and knocked out Francis Carmont viciously on the feet—resulting in a guaranteed shot at the champion, Liam McGeary.
McGeary versus Davis is a very solid title fight, but regardless of how it goes down, Mo against Davis makes a lot of sense.
King Mo was scheduled to clash with Davis in the Dynamite tournament final, but suffered an injury and was unable to proceed. For this reason and a ton of others, a five-round battle between the two is a great fight that fans should look forward to seeing in 2016—even if they have a couple of additional fights before then.
Josh Thomson vs. Michael Chandler
Sticking in Bellator, Josh Thomson versus Michael Chandler is a commonly rumored fight that the promotion should definitely hold in 2016.
Although Thomson has proven his talent over two game opponents in Bellator, these victories didn’t really tell fans anything they didn’t already know; Thomson was and is considered to be one of the best lightweights in the world. Nevertheless, they allowed him to prepare for a bigger match: a fight with Michael Chandler.
Most MMA fans and every Bellator fan know(s) who Michael Chandler is. The former lightweight champion has a ton of notable victories under his belt and boasts elite wrestling and vicious hands alike. Now back to his winning ways on a two-fight streak, a contest between him and Thomson makes perfect sense.
Fedor’s return to the MMA ring wasn’t one that every fan was excited about. Although a chance to see “The Last Emperor” compete again was certainly a treat, welcoming a step up in competition is the best thing that he can do—for his fans and his promotion.
The perfect match-up for Fedor in Rizin is Shawn Jordan. Unlike some of Bellator’s finest heavyweights, such as Vitaly Minakov, Cheick Kongo, and Bobby Lashley, Jordan isn’t tied up in any way (the other fighters play an important role in the workings of Bellator’s honestly limited heavyweight division). He’s completed his UFC contract, voiced his interest in fighting Fedor, and is a high-level competitor who cannot be overlooked by any fighter in the world.
The fight isn’t the most fan-pleasing option around, but it is one that will attract more positive attention and eyes than a contest between Fedor and essentially any other heavyweight free agent (not including Alistair Overeem, although his signing is unlikely). Equally as important, the fight won’t tie up any of Bellator’s fighters; should Emelianenko emerge victorious, the stage would then be set for a larger-scale match.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Dominick Cruz 2
Regardless of what happens in the upcoming Dillashaw versus Cruz title fight (but obviously, a super fight between Johnson and Cruz would make more sense if the latter claims the belt), a rematch between two of the sport’s finest lower-weight fighters would be outstanding.
More than being stylistically appealing, the fight would work to provide an apparent path for each divisional champion, until another clear-cut contender arises (the fight could take place at any point in the year, of course). Especially for Johnson, another year’s worth of viable competition is difficult to envision.
Simply put, the fight makes a lot of sense all around—to allow the surging Johnson to have a chance at settling the score, to please the fans, and to draw more eyes to the divisions (especially flyweight, where contenders are very difficult to find), while assuring that a “makeshift” title shot doesn’t become a reality.
These matches are sure to please both fans and the promotions that hold them, so hopefully we can see them booked in 2016. However, most every fan knows just how unpredictable the sport can be; it’s highly unlikely that we will see all of these fights in 2016.
But, if at least one of these fights is contested, and fans are treated to a year of action similar to the last, there’s an excellent chance that 2016 will be the most memorable in the sport’s history!