This was, to say the least, an unprecedented year for MMA — especially for the UFC. There were seven new UFC champions. Among the champions dethroned included three of the top five pound-for-pound best. Champions many thought would never lose at some point: Ronda Rousey, Jose Aldo and Chris Weidman all lost in epic fashion.
Bellator brought back two fighters of ancient MMA lore: Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock. The promotion also continued to stage eye-catching events including a one-night tournament that World Series of Fighting also employed. A fun, fantastic year with a lot highs and lows and 2016 looks to have even more.
Here are five bold predictions for what awaits the MMA world for 2016:
5. Alistair Overeem will sign with Bellator and win the heavyweight title
Following his unexpected knockout win over former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem became an official free agent. “The Reem” hasn’t made any decisions at this point but he will be asking for a UFC title shot quite surely. Whether or not he gets that could be the main selling point.
But the UFC won’t be his only option. Scott Coker and Viacom enter the picture and give him a monumental (though undisclosed) offer that the UFC chooses not to match. Overeem will be reunited with Coker and he’ll bring Bellator’s heavyweight champ out of limbo to fight for the belt, which he’ll win in decisive fashion.
4. The NAC will amend Nick Diaz’s suspension and reinstate him by 2017
No sin is unforgivable.
Inside MMA legal correspondent Amy Dardashtian recently tweeted out the former Strikeforce champion is in settlement talks with the NAC and there is a possibility he could return to action as soon as 2016. That is likely, but it’s also possible they still choose to keep him suspended but trim his suspension to allow him to fight by 2017. Anything is better than the laughable five-year suspension initially handed out. But 2016 will be another banner year for the sport and Nick Diaz – the biggest cult hero in the sport – will once again be allowed to grace the Octagon.
3. CM Punk debuts and wins his first UFC fight
At long last the mythical CM Punk makes his MMA debut to a very intrigued but divided MMA community. Many will embrace him and give him the benefit of the doubt, but just as many (if not more) will curl back in disdain as the former pro wrestler with no prior MMA experience will fight for the world’s most lucrative promotion. But everyone will tune in. Not only will Punk debut but he will do it as an opening act to a PPV.
Punk will face a UFC newcomer with very little experience himself. The fighter will be well-rounded and tough but won’t have the dangerous finishing ability thus giving Punk plenty chance to get into a sloppy dogfight that goes to the judges. And in what many will surely say was “fixed,” the decision will go to Punk. Fans will clamor and threaten to boycott the UFC but they’ll also be the first to tune back in for Punk’s next potential fight.
2. Ronda Rousey will lose her rematch to Holly Holm in UFC 200 and promptly retire
The UFC has all but confirmed UFC 200 will be headlined by Holm and Rousey’s immediate rematch. And this is likely spelling the end to Rousey’s brief but unforgettable career. This will be a shocking, but not entirely unexpected, turn as Rousey did hint in the past she doesn’t see herself in the sport for too long and her life outside the Octagon promises a budding film career.
The former UFC women’s bantamweight champion set numerous records and created a spectacle that is not replicable by any means. But she’s met her match against Holm who simply outclassed her in most facets of the game striking, wrestling, clinch work and game planning.
Rousey can’t simply be counted out because Holm was in the same shoes as she was. There’s only so much Rousey can improve in six months and that is without distractions. She’s reported to be in two more films among others but if she truly worked on finding a way to get Holm to the mat she has a good chance. But that is a huge if. And come July, Rousey will find herself badly beaten once more as she emotionally announces her retirement in front of a record-setting PPV audience.
1. Conor McGregor, Frankie Edgar and Jon Jones all become two-division champions
In the UFC’s 21-year history, only two men have ever had the right to be known as a two-division champions. Randy Couture won the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles and B.J. Penn won the welterweight and lightweight titles. With the sport’s rapid evolution and competition getting steeper each year, it’s a feat that seems highly unlikely for many a new fighter. With that said, the UFC will not only see a new two-division champion but three.
McGregor will follow through with his plans to move to lightweight and will challenge and defeat Rafael dos Anjos in Croke Park in front of a record-setting 100,000 Irishmen and women. Dos Anjos will put McGregor in trouble with his mixture of wrestling and Muay Thai and give him a run for his money, winning two of the first three rounds cleanly and bloodying McGregor. But Ireland’s fighting inspiration will rally in the forth with his trademark left hand shot. Conor will again reach a new level of superstardom.
Edgar will fight Aldo for the belt in which Edgar exacts his revenge three-years-in-the-making by beating in Aldo in a close five-round decision. Aldo will bounce back from his loss to McGregor looking like the same sharp Aldo of before, but Edgar is far improved from his earlier version and will utilize his blistering pace and heart to wear the former featherweight champ down and win the final rounds in dominant fashion marking his most impressive performance since dismantling B.J. Penn in their rematch. Edgar always does better in rematches.
And finally the prodigal son returns. Jon Jones will return with a vengeance, destroy Daniel Cormier and take back his belt. Then in a bit of a plot twist, announces he’ll vacate the belt to move up to fight Fabricio Werdum fresh off his own impressive win over Cain Velasquez. Jones will make the MMA world remember his gift as he puts on a brilliant offensive striking display against Werdum and confound the champion to win his new championship.
Crazier things have happened in this crazy sport of MMA. If it was foretold in last year’s prediction that Rousey would get knocked out cold by a newcomer and Aldo will get finished in 13 seconds, nobody would’ve believed it.
Here’s to hoping for another epically unpredictable 2016.