Amidst a tumultuous global pandemic there were many grim realities humans had to endure in 2021. One thing was consistently good, however, and that’s combat sports.
Although just five fights of 21 fights from the 2021 MMA wishlist came to fruition, the sport was extremely hot and gave fans many memorable moments. The world leader of MMA – the UFC – had a particularly great year, and that momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing heading into 2022.
It’s not just UFC fights that are taking attention, either. There’s also plenty happening in Bellator, PFL, Eagle FC and many other promotions.
MMA is in a great spot, and with much excitement we present MMA Junkie’s wishlist of 22 fights we’d like to see in 2022.
Dillon Danis vs. ANYONE
Hate me all you want for kicking this thing off with one of MMA’s biggest trolls – [autotag]Dillon Danis[/autotag].
Look, I get it if you don’t like his persona or his Twitter account, but the truth is, Danis is (or maybe was) one of the most promising talents out there. I’m not saying he’s going to be the next world champion, but not many prospects can say they enter MMA as a Marcelo Garcia black belt.
Danis, now 28, hasn’t fought since June 2019. We’re creeping towards three years of inactivity and it’s a damn shame he’s been wasting his athletic prime fighting online rather than in the cage. At this point, I just want to see him compete. I don’t care if it’s against the champion Yaroslav Amosov, or Papito from your local bodega.
Let’s just see him back in action. Enough tweeting.
'Super' Mely vs. Yazmin Jauregui
If you know, you know.
Although this may not be a high-profile fight to many, the ones who have been following Combate Global know [autotag]Mely Martinez[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Yazmin Jauregui[/autotag] is one of the best fights Combate Global can put on – and it’s also a home grown matchup.
“Super” Mely currently holds the promotion’s strawweight title. Jauregui is easily the most deserving of a shot. Both fighters are high caliber, undefeated, and under 30. It would be a big fight for Combate Global.
Ryan Hall vs. Rani Yahya
I know they fight at different weight classes, but a clash between [autotag]Ryan Hall[/autotag] and [autotag]Rani Yahya[/autotag] would be the ultimate grappler’s delight.
Both of these guys have an archaic, one-dimensional style surrounded in the grappling arts. MMA fighters look to be more well rounded in the current climate, yet Hall and Yahya have ran the opposite way of that approach. The two are not necessarily top contenders in their weight class (although very respected and dangerous), so a catchweight bout between the two, or a move up to featherweight for Yahya, wouldn’t really disrupt either division.
UFC rarely breaks from its matchmaking style, so I’m not holding my breath for this one. But it would be cool to get Hall’s modern, leg lock game vs. Yahya’s traditional take-you-down-and-get-your-back game one day.
Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Benson Henderson
[autotag]Usman Nurmagomedov[/autotag] appears to be the real deal.
A cousin of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Usman has lived up to the family legacy putting up dominant showings and staying undefeated in his MMA career. Usman is three fights into his Bellator career and he’s 14-0 overall. I know he’s just 23 years old, but it does feel like he’s ready for a step up in competition.
I see a matchup with former UFC champion [autotag]Benson Henderson[/autotag] as the perfect test in 2022. It’s a no-lose situation. He either gets a win over a lightweight great, or he comes up short against a huge name. I don’t think a loss would really hurt his stock.
Sean O'Malley vs. Pedro Munhoz
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 11: Sean O’Malley reacts in his bantamweight fight against Raulian Paiva of Brazil during the UFC 269 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
It’s time for [autotag]Sean O’Malley[/autotag] to face a proven, ranked opponent in 2022.
We know he’s good and we know what he can do to opposition outside the top 15 of the UFC’s bantamweight rankings. What we don’t fully know, however, is how he would fare against the 15 best. He did fight Marlon Vera, who’s currently ranked, and was unable to pass that test. Vera deserves a more highly ranked opponent next, so I won’t call for the rematch.
However, veteran [autotag]Pedro Munhoz[/autotag], who’s coming off back-to-back defeats, seems like a perfect barometer for O’Malley. Munhoz checks many boxes: He’s in the top 10, well respected, and above all, is exciting.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Anderson Silva
The career of “The Last Emperor” [autotag]Fedor Emelianenko[/autotag] ends in 2022.
According to Bellator president Scott Coker, Emelianenko is set to retire in his next bout going down in home country of Russia. All respect to Tim Johnson, but Emelianenko needs to fight someone special – someone that matches his legend.
There aren’t many options given most of Emelianenko’s fellow fighters from his era are retired or too far-gone. Yet, there’s one name that has momentum and is a legend in his own right – [autotag]Anderson Silva[/autotag]. Let Emelianenko go out with a bang. Let’s get some big fight feels for his farewell.
Darren Till vs. Uriah Hall
[autotag]Darren Till[/autotag]’s 2021 wasn’t the best.
Injuries allowed the Brit to compete just once, and he lost to Derek Brunson. Being one of the most colorful fighters in and out of the cage, fans are certainly hoping to see him healthy and on the comeback trail. It’s clear he has a lot of talent, but being 1-4 in his past five means it’s time for a step back.
There’s no such thing as a “tune-up fight” in the UFC, but you can get somewhat favorable matchups here and there within the top 15 of a given division. [autotag]Uriah Hall[/autotag], who’s coming off a loss to Sean Strickland, wouldn’t offer a wrestling threat but has the clout of a notable win. It’s also one hell of a striking matchup from a stylistic perspective.
Anthony Johnson vs. Yoel Romero
It seems this matchup was too good to be true.
When Bellator announced [autotag]Anthony Johnson[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Yoel Romero[/autotag] for its light heavyweight grand prix opening round, the entire MMA community lost its minds. An injury from Romero’s part derailed the first booking and then health issues for Johnson have him sidelined indefinitely.
If “Rumble” can get healthy, though, maybe 2022 is the year these monsters collide. I’m not even sure what a fight between Johnson and Romero would look like, but I’m curious to find out.
Yair Rodriguez vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov
Similar to Johnson vs. Romero bout, this one has been teased several times, but with no luck.
[autotag]Zabit Magomedsharipov[/autotag] has been off the radar. The last we heard, he was recovering from some health issues, but there hasn’t many updates since. Here’s to hoping for a 2022 return to the cage for Magomedsharipov.
If he makes it back, there’s unfinished business with [autotag]Yair Rodriguez[/autotag], so why not settle that in his return? Rodriguez is coming off a loss, but most would agree his stock went up against Max Holloway. After all, he made the self proclaimed “best boxer in the UFC” wrestle to pull off a victory. A bout between Rodriguez and Magomedsharipov would be all kinds of fun.
Sergio Pettis vs. Raufeon Stots
[autotag]Sergio Pettis[/autotag] is having quite the run in his Bellator career.
The former UFC flyweight contender picked up the Bellator bantamweight title in 2021 and then defended it with one of the best knockouts and comebacks of the year. Now there’s no slowing down with a list of contenders lining up to take his belt.
The upcoming Bellator bantamweight grand prix is stacked with talent. One of the more intriguing names on the list is Pettis’ teammate [autotag]Raufeon Stots[/autotag]. The two haven’t been quick to push for a fight with each other, but they also don’t seem vehemently opposed. Stots seems to be the real deal and one of the best fighters at 135 pounds.
It would be great to see him find his way to a title fight against Pettis in the grand prix.
Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa
I’ll take all the credit for this grandiose idea.
[autotag]Derrick Lewis[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Tai Tuivasa[/autotag]? Sign me up. It may seem like a matchup out of left field, but it does actually make sense.
Lewis is a veteran of the sport. He’s certainly a good fighter, but almost every time he’s been matched up against the very best of the division, he’s come up short. I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable saying he’s reached his ceiling, but I do feel like he’ll remain a serious knockout artist and fan-friendly fighter.
Tuivasa is somewhat on the same boat. He is much younger than Lewis, but another fighter who’s brand and allure is not necessarily centered around being a threat to the title.
A fight between the two would be a fun and bizarre build up. The contest itself should be fireworks, and I don’t think a loss would damage the reputation of either all that much.
Zhang Weili vs. Jessica Andrade 2
Aug 31, 2019; Shenzhen, China; Zhang Weili (blue gloves) and Jessica Andrade (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre. Mandatory Credit: David G. McIntyre-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t think the first meeting between [autotag]Zhang Weili[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Jessica Andrade[/autotag] back in 2019 was fully appreciated by the MMA community, and it’s not really anyone’s fault.
Zhang was a fresh face, clearly getting a promotional push from the UFC as the face of MMA in China, and Andrade was a new champion who’s title reign was seen as fluky after a slam knockout of Rose Namajunas to claim gold.
But since, both fighters stock in women’s MMA have grown tremendously. Zhang went on to defend her title in a fight for the ages against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before dropping a two-fight series with Namajunas. Andrade, meanwhile, moved up a division and fought to a title shot at women’s flyweight. Now she’s targeting a return to 115 pounds.
Both Zhang and Andrade are power houses in women’s MMA, and I don’t have the sense a rematch would end as quick as the first bout.
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Neil Magny
[autotag]Khamzat Chimaev[/autotag] is a man with options.
Contrary to what Dana White has told the media, it seems everyone has been calling Chimaev out to fight. Most of those names are either very high in the rankings, like Belal Muhammad, or way too low.
Neither serves Chimaev’s growth. He’s past the phase of fighting unranked opposition, but he still could use some grooming and be kept away from the top five in the welterweight division.
Because of that, [autotag]Neil Magny[/autotag] seems to be the perfect next step for Chimaev. He’s respected, he’s a seasoned veteran, and tough but not impossible task for Chimaev. The undefeated fighter has all the makings of a star, and shouldn’t be rushed to the top.
Kayla Harrison vs. Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg or Julia Budd
It’s time to see [autotag]Kayla Harrison[/autotag] tested. I don’t care who’s it against, really, just as long as she’s proven and elite.
There’s no doubt Harrison was one of the biggest stories in 2021. The two-time Olympic judo gold medalist picked up her second PFL title and improved her unbeaten record to 12-0. It’s uncertain where she’ll go next, as she’s now a free agent, but wherever that is I hope she faces more stern opposition.
In the UFC, the woman to beat at women’s featherweight is [autotag]Amanda Nunes[/autotag]. She might be the only fighter in that division, but she’s still the GOAT of women’s MMA. I know her recent loss to Julianna Peña took some momentum away from the potential meet with Harrison, but it’ll still be a huge bout.
Over at Bellator, the most accomplished woman in 145-pound history holds the crown. [autotag]Cris Cyborg[/autotag] is a legend and one of the best female fighters of all time. A title fight between Cyborg and Harrison would be huge for the company, and for the sport. It could also be a big validator for Harrison if things go her way.
Now, if Harrison stays with PFL, a matchup against former Bellator champ [autotag]Julia Budd[/autotag] would undoubtably be her toughest career test on paper. Budd may not have the prestige of Nunes or Cyborg, but she’s legit. Budd is 14-1 in since 2012, with her lone loss coming against Cyborg.
Jose Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz
Aug 7, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Jose Aldo (red gloves) reacts to fight against Pedro Munhoz (blue gloves) during UFC 265 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
This may be the most important fight for historical purposes of any on this wishlist.
Years ago, the idea of a fight between [autotag]Jose Aldo[/autotag] and [autotag]Dominick Cruz[/autotag] was a dream matchup, a superfight. That potential bout might not hold as much pop in 2022 since they’re no longer UFC champions, but they’re still all time greats.
Back when Aldo ruled the featherweight division and Cruz at bantamweight, the fight culture was much different. Fighters, especially champions, rarely changed weight classes and the UFC was far less keen on champion vs. champion fights. It used to be you won the belt and you defended it – no more, no less.
Fast forward pretty much a decade, and now these two legendary strikers now find themselves as top contenders in the same weight class. For the sake of history, I think this matchup needs to get booked sooner rather than later. It would be a shame if they never cross paths.
Aldo and Cruz looked great in their most recent bouts, but they are in their mid-30s and have a good amount of milage. It’s best we see this fight in 2022, or risk never seeing these two legends collide.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
I love the current lineup of killers occupying the top five of the UFC lightweight division. Any variation of the group serves as an exciting matchup.
[autotag]Dustin Poirier[/autotag] and [autotag]Michael Chandler[/autotag] are just battering rams. They love that technical brawl, so why not match them up against each other? They’re not heated rivals, but they’re certainly not best friends.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. A matchup between Poirier and Chandler is guaranteed action.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
OK, I might be getting ahead of myself here. This fight may be better suited for the 2023 wishlist, but it’s certainly not far fetched.
[autotag]Israel Adesanya[/autotag] is the king at middleweight. He’s been the champion since 2019 and has basically cleared out the competition. If he’s able to get past Robert Whittaker in their rematch at UFC 271 in February, there’s really no fresh contender waiting in line. Derek Brunson is deserving of a rematch, but beyond that, there’s no one else.
If [autotag]Alex Pereira[/autotag], who’s beaten Adesanya twice in kickboxing, manages to notch another signature win or two in the UFC, we could see him fighting for the belt by the end of 2022. Again, it’s a bit unlikely, but there’s no denying a fight between Adesanya and Pereira would be awesome to watch.
Brandon Moreno vs. Henry Cejudo
[autotag]Henry Cejudo[/autotag] is apparently looking to get back in the octagon, ideally to chase a third title against Alexander Volkanovski in the featherweight division.
However, this is my list, not Cejudo’s, and my wish would be for Cejudo to return two weight classes below at flyweight. I don’t know if it’s even possible anymore for Cejudo to get down to 125 pounds, but if he can, a fight with reigning champ [autotag]Brandon Moreno[/autotag] would be fun.
Moreno obviously has to get past Figueiredo in their trilogy bout at UFC 270 on Jan. 22 first. If successful against the Brazilian, there aren’t that many big fights for Moreno. A contest against the man who saved the flyweight division, however, would be big-time stuff.
Additionally, there’s some history between Moreno and Cejudo. They used to train together, and now Cejudo is helping his rival Figueiredo prepare for UFC 270.
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
The pieces have to fall into place for this to materialize, but it’s not unrealistic.
First, [autotag]Charles Oliveira[/autotag] must retain his UFC lightweight title against his next challenger, who is said to be Justin Gaethje. Second, [autotag]Islam Makhachev[/autotag] has to get through Beneil Dariush in their UFC Fight Night main event on Feb. 26.
If those two things happen, a title fight between Oliveira and Makhachev would be amazing. Some say it’s a version of the fight we never got between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. I agree there’s certainly a lot of similarities.
Oliveira is an excellent grappler and holds the record for most submissions in UFC history. Makhachev, on the other hands, is Nurmagomedov’s protege and has looked flawless on the ground in recent fights. Who knows what would happen if these two hit the mat.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington
This grudge match is so obvious that I’m afraid it might not happen.
[autotag]Jorge Masvidal[/autotag] and [autotag]Colby Covington[/autotag] are coming off title-fight losses to Kamaru Usman, they’re two of the biggest names at 170 pounds, and they hate each other. What else do you want?
I think this rivalry needs more than just a co-main event spot on a stacked pay-per-view. The UFC needs Masvidal and Covington to coach the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series before it happens.
This bad blood is 100 percent real, and both guys can sure cut a promo in their own manner. Forcing them to coach against each other for several weeks before having this fight would maximize its spotlight. Also, it needs to be five rounds.
Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou or Ciryl Gane
Jon Jones at UFC 239.
[autotag]Jones Jones[/autotag]’s 2021 wasn’t great.
Several unfortunate things happened in his personal life, which we won’t get into here. But from the sporting side, it wasn’t good to see arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world not even come close to stepping in the octagon.
Jones turns 35 this summer, and the clock for his athletic prime is ticking. He relinquished the UFC light heavyweight title and has been bulking up for a move to heavyweight. Having done it all at 205 pounds, a move up in weight class is certainly the right choice for Jones’ career.
I’m hoping his issues with the UFC get settled so we could see him back in the octagon in this historic move.
Whoever wins between [autotag]Francis Ngannou[/autotag] and [autotag]Cyril Gane[/autotag] in their heavyweight title unification fight at UFC 270 on Jan. 22, I’m dying to see Jones challenge him for gold.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
I seriously can’t believe it’s 2022 and this trilogy fight hasn’t happened already.
The rubber match between [autotag]Conor McGregor[/autotag] and [autotag]Nate Diaz[/autotag] has made this annual wishlist two years in a row. Yet, here we are.
McGregor vs. Diaz 3 made sense in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and it still makes sense in 2022. In fact, it may actually be a little overdue.
These two mega stars have unfinished business. For many years, it seemed like a get-out-of-jail-free card the UFC could redeem whenever it wanted to cash in a big payday. But with Diaz potentially becoming a free agent in 2022 and not seeing a scenario where the UFC lets the Irishman – their biggest star – become a free agent, this fight could be lost forever.
The time is now. This is the biggest fight you can make for either fighter. Money and pay-per-views aside, it’s a damn good scrap and clash of styles both in and out of the octagon. I very much enjoyed this rivalry. It was intense but it didn’t go to the dark places McGregor went with Dustin Poirier or Nurmagomedov.
That’s why it’s my most desired fight of 2021.