Well, 2020 wasn’t a great year, but surprisingly we did get some good MMA, all things considered.
This year has been a rough one for everyone, including the sports world. Many events were canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and for a brief time, there were serious questions if we were going to see any type of event in 2020. However, many MMA promotions and sports organizations were able to get back on their feet with restrictions and COVID protocols in order to host events during these strange times.
It’s uncertain what’s in store for the MMA world in 2021, but hopefully it’s less positive coronavirus tests and more fights. Below is a wishlist of 21 fights we’d like to see in 2021.
Giga Chikadze vs. Jeremy Stephens
Mar 7, 2020; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA;
Giga Chikadze (red gloves) before the match against Jamall Emmers (blue gloves) during UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
The majority of callouts in MMA are over shots, but not this one. [autotag]Giga Chikadze[/autotag] called out veteran [autotag]Jeremy Stephens[/autotag] after his most recent UFC win in November, and it makes perfect sense. On top of that is one hell of a fight, as Chikadze is quickly becoming a must-watch in the UFC, and Stephens always brings fireworks.
Kron Gracie vs. Bryce Mitchell
This one was included in my last year's wishlist and it didn't happen, but maybe if I list it again it'll come to fruition. Both of these guys are young, have amazing jiu-jitsu, and are not afraid to throw down. Outside of the cage, they're very distinct figures and would make for an interesting build-up. [autotag]Kron Gracie[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Bryce Mitchell[/autotag] is a grappler's dream and a fight that makes plenty of sense at 145 pounds.
Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza
All right, now we shift from a grappler's dream to a striker's dream. [autotag]Shane Burgos[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Edson Barboza[/autotag] has banger written all over it. Burgos promises to be the future of the UFC's featherweight division. He's been climbing up the rankings and looking good (even in defeat), while Barboza is that tough veteran that just refuses to leave the top of the division and is attempting another title run. These two need to meet in 2021.
Juan Archuleta vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Ok, here's the first title fight on the 2021 wishlist. Unfortunately, in MMA we don't have many cross-promotion fights, but the few we've seen have always been great. Not so long ago – but it feels like ages now – then-Rizin champ [autotag]Kyoji Horiguchi[/autotag] picked up the Bellator bantamweight title by defeating Darrion Caldwell. It was fun to see and a great moment for MMA. Horiguchi was then out for almost a year due to injury but now returns this New Year's Eve at Rizin FF 26. If he's able to get back to his winning ways and pick up the Rizin FF title, I'd love to see Horiguchi challenge the newly crowned champ [autotag]Juan Archuleta[/autotag]. Horiguchi is one of the most underrated figures at 135 pounds.
Jose Aldo vs. T.J. Dillashaw
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 19: (R-L) Jose Aldo of Brazil punches Marlon Vera of Ecuador in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
A few years ago, everyone would've laughed at this idea, but now it's a very possible fight. Rewind six years ago, and both these fighters seemed unbeatable UFC champions in their respective categories. [autotag]Jose Aldo[/autotag] was far from being a small featherweight, and [autotag]T.J. Dillashaw[/autotag] always claimed to be one of the smaller fighters of his division. A fight between the two just never crossed my mind until now. Dillashaw will be eligible to compete in January of 2021 having served his two-year U.S. Anti-Doping Agency suspension for erythropoietin (EPO), and Aldo recently proved to have plenty of life left in the game having picked up a solid win over a dangerous Marlon Vera. Aldo wants the fight, and Dillashaw need to prove he belongs. Book these two now.
Darren Till vs. Paulo Costa
How has this fight not been booked by now? As soon as [autotag]Darren Till[/autotag] moved up from the welterweight division, [autotag]Paulo Costa[/autotag] immediately jumped out as one of the best matchups you can make at 185 pounds. Both gentlemen are exciting, have knockout power, but use their striking skills differently. This is an interesting clash of styles and a big fight for the middleweight division.
Paul Daley vs. Michael Page 2
My self-defense mechanism erased the first fight from my mind, and I need to see this one again. I think nine times out of 10, [autotag]Paul Daley[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Michael Page[/autotag] is an awesome fight. Bellator, fans, and everyone involved got unlucky on how their original bout unfolded, but it really seems to me that outside of a tournament, no $1 million dollars on the line, this matchup will look different. There is plenty of bad blood between the two, historically they're exciting fighters, and they need to make up for that first outing. I'm all in on a rematch between "MVP" and "Semtex."
Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez
How many times does the UFC have to book [autotag]Zabit Magomedsharipov[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Yair Rodriguez[/autotag] for it to actually happen? These are two of the young top contenders at 145 pounds and have been on an inevitable collision course. The UFC has tried multiple times to make this fight, but it's never able to materialize – and always for different reason. Stylistically, this fight is awesome, but more importantly it brings resolution to the featherweight division. This bout can easily serve as a No. 1 contender fight. And with champion Alexander Volkanovski in need of fresh challenges, Magomedsharipov vs. Rodriguez is a must make in 2021.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Amanda Ribas
Former UFC women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, of Poland, poses on the scale during a ceremonial weigh-in for UFC 248, Friday, March 6, 2020, in Las Vegas. Jedrzejczyk faces women's strawweight champion Zhang Weili, of China, on Saturday. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP) ORG XMIT: NVLVS322
Look, this is MMA Junkie's 2021 MMA wishlist, not [autotag]Joanna Jedrzejczyk[/autotag]'s. I can definitely see the former UFC strawweight queen feeling she deserves another crack at champion Zhang Weili and not a rising contender – and that's fair. After all, many thought Jedrzejczyk did enough to dethrone Weili at UFC 248, and she did so in one of the best fights in MMA history. Although I'm not opposed to chapter two of that amazing strawweight title fight, I'd love to see Jedrzejczyk take on rising contender and fellow dangerous striker [autotag]Amanda Ribas[/autotag]. It makes sense in my book, and it promises to be a barn burner.
Anthony Johnson vs. Yoel Romero
Do I really need to try to sell you this one? Both these guys are huge names who find themselves in Bellator's light heavyweight division. Through their tenure in the UFC, both [autotag]Anthony Johnson[/autotag] and [autotag]Yoel Romero[/autotag] created a reputation of being dangerous and feared. They achieved that through brutal knockouts. And today, although they might be close to the end of their careers, they seem to have plenty of gas left in the tank. This one is easily one of the biggest bookings Bellator can put together at 205 pounds. I really hope it happens.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 21: in their women's flyweight championship bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
The UFC women's flyweight division has lacked competition, and that's not because there aren't skilled contenders, but because the champion, [autotag]Valentina Shevchenko[/autotag], is just simply a historic talent. Got to admit, things in the last years haven't been too exciting in the women's 125-pound rankings, but I feel like that's starting to change. For one, Shevchenko looked to have some issues in the wrestling department against Jennifer Maia; granted she was coming back from a major knee injury. And secondly, the multi-weight-class beast [autotag]Jessica Andrade[/autotag] is now vouching for a title shot in the division. Andrade's power is a threat to any fighter, and so is her strong wrestling and ground-and-pound. On paper, I find Andrade to be the most interesting challenge of Shevchenko's title reign.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Lyoto Machida
[autotag]Fedor Emelianenko[/autotag]'s retirement tour is here. I love the fact that Bellator is putting an emphasis in closing out Emelianenko's legendary career with a bang. The PRIDE FC icon needs names but also manageable competition to shine on his way out. Emelianenko shouldn't be fighting young killers or no-name fighters. There needs to be a middle ground. I think a bout with former UFC light heavyweight champion [autotag]Lyoto Machida[/autotag] makes perfect sense. It's a big fight, and on paper a competitive one. I don't think either fighter is outmatched here, and that makes for a great legends' division fight.
Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas
[autotag]Zhang Weili[/autotag] proved to be a worthy champion earlier in 2020 after going to war with former title holder Joanna Jedrzejczyk. A rematch with Jedrzejczyk will certainly be fun, but a bout against Rose Namajunas could be even more exciting. Namajunas seems have found peace in her fighting career and looked great in her comeback fight against Jessica Andrade. Namajunas is a fresh matchup for Zhang and one that promises plenty of action.
Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou 2
This one was also in my 2020 wishlist and unfortunately it didn't go down. Much like how I feel about the Michael Page vs. Paul Daley rematch, I just can't see [autotag]Derrick Lewis[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Francis Ngannou[/autotag] 2 being a boring fight again like we saw a few years ago. Ngannou was dealing with mental blocks from the loss to Miocic, and Lewis had a few old nagging injuries that don't seem to be present today. These two are the biggest power punchers in the heavyweight division. I think fans are owed some fireworks from the first outing.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira
One of my favorite storylines of 2020 has been [autotag]Glover Teixeira[/autotag]'s resurgence as a title contender. Many thought Teixeira's glory days were a thing of the past and he was just another big name lingering in the UFC cashing paychecks. But lo and behold, Teixeira added impressive wins over recent title challengers Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos in 2020, extending his winning streak to five in a row. I know Teixeira had his shot, but the man put in the work and deserves a crack at champion [autotag]Jan Blachowicz[/autotag]. It's a fantastic matchup, and one I see as being competitive. If granted a title shot, it wouldn't surprise me if Teixeira becomes champion in 2021.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko 3
Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Amanda Nunes (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
This one has to happen if nothing changes for both champions. Both [autotag]Amanda Nunes[/autotag] and [autotag]Valentina Shevchenko[/autotag] have been extremely dominant in their reign as champions. Nunes has been killing it at featherweight and bantamweight, and Shevchenko at flyweight. The supply of contenders for each champion is running low. The last time both ladies struggled in a bout was when they faced each other at UFC 215 in 2017. That night, Nunes walked away with a split-decision win, but many thought Shevchenko should've gotten the nod from the judges. Both ladies have improved a ton since, and their stock and fame is much greater than when they last fought. A fight between the two would certainly be one of the biggest fights in women's MMA history.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno 2
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 12: (L-R) Brandon Moreno of Mexico punches Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil in their flyweight championship bout during the UFC 256 event at UFC APEX on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
The best fight in the history of the men's flyweight division ended in a majority draw. It needs to get run back, plain and simple. [autotag]Deiveson Figueiredo[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Brandon Moreno[/autotag] was an epic and historic fight. It had all you can ask for: high-level of skills, shifts in momentum, drama, controversy, high output and damage. I know there are bigger names than Moreno out there like Cody Garbrandt, but this fight needs to happen next. It would be a shame if it gets skipped.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington
There are plenty of money fights for [autotag]Jorge Masvidal[/autotag], but not all make sense. And Colby Covington is the opponent that makes the most sense for "Gamebred" next while also maintaining a big-fight status. Whether you like it or not, Covington has a big following; many people want to watch him compete. Covington might not have the same appeal as Masvidal and may not have the same star power, but he's far from being a no-name. On top of that, both fighters are trying to get back to the title and are in need of picking up wins to file their case. Also, sprinkle on top their long storied beef, and you've got a huge fight.
Stipe Miocic vs. Jon Jones
Look, I just want to see [autotag]Jon Jones[/autotag] at heavyweight. At this point in time, [autotag]Stipe Miocic[/autotag] is the champion, so that's the fight to make. However, if Miocic were to fight Francis Ngannou first, which is totally understandable, and happen to lose the belt, then Jones vs. Ngannou is the fight to make. Jones' move to heavyweight has been years in the making, and we're finally getting close to it. I'm extremely intrigued on how the best light heavyweight in the history of MMA fares against the big boys at heavyweight. Many of the advantages that Jones carries at 205 pounds, such as reach and length, will be eliminated, and that's where his world-class skill comes in. So let's make it happen. Let's get Jones to heavyweight.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
I want to see [autotag]Conor McGregor[/autotag] be active in 2021. He promised to be fighting plenty this year, but the pandemic halted his plans. For now, we know that McGregor will be getting busy early with his Jan. 23 rematch against Dustin Poirier. But beyond that, who know how many fights the Irishman will clock in 2021? I hope it is at least three fights, and I hope one of those fights is against [autotag]Nate Diaz[/autotag]. The two have unfinished business, as they're 1-1 on the trilogy. Diaz and McGregor are a perfect match promotionally and stylistically. They have given us great fights and great build-ups. If McGregor is successful in 2021 and becomes UFC lightweight champion, it's going to be hard to get Nate Diaz in the title picture at 155 pounds. I would hate to see any rightful contender get skipped over, so I think there can be a superfight at welterweight against Diaz, no title needed. And if McGregor were to lose against Dustin Poirier in January, then the Diaz fight becomes the perfect match to make. Either way, it should happen.
Jon Jones vs. Israel Adesanya
I'm not sure how Jon Jones is going to handle a move up to heavyweight while also angling for a fight with UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. But hey, everything is possible. Jones and Adesanya have been attacking each other on social media for over a year now, and they genuinely seem to dislike each other with the type of trash talk they've engaged in. The two were just a weight class apart, and the fight seemed like a very plausible idea just a few months ago. However, with Jones' planned move to heavyweight I don't know how likely this fight is now given their different trajectories. A lot would have to happen, and different scenarios would have to align in order to set the stage for a Jones vs. Adesanya superfight. It could be as easy as Jones bailing on his heavyweight plans or as complex as a move up to light heavyweight or heavyweight for Adesanya. Everything is uncertain here going into 2021, but a fight between Jones and Adesanya would be huge, and a fun one to follow.