Despite the fact that the UFC and MMA as a whole have been plagued by a laundry list of controversial outside-the-cage hot topics this year, 2015 has largely delivered in a big way when it comes to actual in-cage competition.
We’ve already witnessed hyped and highly watched pay-per-view (PPV) main events like Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz, Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes, and most recently, Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correia (not that it was all that anticipated, but it was quite the spectacle nonetheless).
Yet the rest of 2015 and beyond is full of absolutely blockbuster potential match-ups that would seem like the UFC has no choice but to make, at least on paper. Unfortunately for fans, these truly massive events are unsigned and still in the works for late 2015 and into 2016.
Will they ever materialize and deliver on their monstrous potential? As Dana White often says about everything, “We’ll see what happens.” For now, let’s break down the top five most anticipated UFC bouts as of today.
5.) Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold:
This oft-discussed title bout has been in the works since Rockhold destroyed Lyoto Machida at UFC on FOX 15 in April and Weidman ran over Vitor Belfort in the main event of May 23’s UFC 187. It’s a wonder as to why it hasn’t been booked yet, but a big roadblock stood in its way.
The UFC was planning (or at least hoping) to finally get MMA legalized in the state of New York this year, and a PPV main event matching New York native Weidman vs. West Coast product Rockhold was a no-brainer to headline the first card in the state at Madison Square Garden.
That fell through, unfortunately, so the UFC reportedly targeted Weidman vs. Rockhold for UFC 194 in December, although nothing has been made close to official.
After rolling through legendary but aging Anderson Silva, Machida, and Belfort, it’s time for Weidman to prove he can ascend to true pound-for-pound great status by taking on arguably the best candidate of a new and dangerous crop of middleweight contenders, making this the perfect fight to kick off this list of anticipated UFC fights.
4.) Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier II:
This potential rematch of UFC 182’s massively hyped grudge match is dependent on Cormier successfully defending his title against Alexander Gustafsson at October’s UFC 192, something that most are predicting him to do.
If he does, then a rematch between “DC” and “Bones,” who is currently suspended while he awaits the resolution of his highly publicized hit-and-run accident in April, is a no-brainer that comes with a long and sordid backstory already installed.
The suddenly brash and trash-talk spewing Cormier called out Jones in a not-so-nice way after he beat Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in the main event of UFC 187. “DC” chose to focus on Jones’ personal problems with substance abuse, telling the decorated former champion to “get his s*** together.”
But Jones already beat Cormier in the octagon, and there isn’t much outside of a sharp decline in “Bones’” perceived skills that would suggest he couldn’t do it again. Still, the lead-up to this rematch would be epic, and it’s clear that these two archrivals are head and shoulders above the rest in the not-so-stacked UFC light heavyweight division, making it far and away the best 205-pound match-up to book for the near future.
3.) Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko II:
Here’s where we get into the territory that any of the top three most anticipated fights could assume the No. 1 spot with relative ease.
For the sake of ranking, this potentially massive heavyweight championship rematch only sits at No. 3 because Fedor has been out of the game for so long, but then again, that could also just as easily make it the most anticipated bout.
Either way, “The Last Emperor” recently confirmed this active return to MMA, and also confirmed that negotiations with the once-hated UFC are currently underway. Emelianenko wants a rematch with Werdum, the UFC champ who infamously put an end to his vaunted 10-year unbeaten streak with an empathic triangle choke in Strikeforce.
It’s tough to say where “The Last Emperor” is in terms of world-class MMA competition, but he has appeared in photos looking in excellent shape recently. As for Werdum, well, it’s plain to see that he’s on a whole new level after finishing formerly revered champion Cain Velasquez in his last fight at June’s UFC 188.
This is a fight that would be an absolutely massive draw for hardcore and casual fans alike, and would even bring in some mainstream fans as well. There’s no better fight to book in the UFC’s largest division.
2.) Ronda Rousey vs. Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino:
This oft-discussed women’s bout to end all women’s bouts is quickly becoming MMA’s version of the elusive Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao boxing match that finally came to fruition this year.
But here the two sides aren’t arguing about money; no, they’re arguing about the weight class at which the bout will potentially take place. As the Invicta FC featherweight champ who cuts a ton of weight to make 145 pounds, “Cyborg” wants the superfight to take place at a catchweight of 140 pounds, or even “Rowdy” to move up to 145 after she’s supposedly cleaned out her division.
Rousey not surprisingly wants Justino to meet her at bantamweight for the belt, citing “Cyborg’s” prior steroid failure as the reason she can’t make weight. That may be somewhat of a valid point; but it’s one that loses a lot of its momentum when you consider that “Cyborg” has passed all of her drug tests in the four years since, and also that Rousey has stated in the past that she would move up to featherweight to take on former Strikeforce champ Gina Carano.
All of that is making it seem like this fight may never happen, but if it did, it would undoubtedly be the biggest WMMA fight ever, and possibly one of the biggest of all-time overall. Here’s to hoping the UFC can somehow put it together.
1.) Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor:
This anticipated featherweight title grudge match that was supposed to take place at July 11’s UFC 189 is arguably the most anticipated UFC fight right now.
The UFC put together an absolutely unprecedented amount of hype and promotion for the bout with their never before seen 10-city UFC 189 World Championship Tour, only to see it unfortunately fall apart when Aldo injured a rib in training. That only added to the intrigue by fueling McGregor’s words that Aldo was looking for a way out of the fight the whole time.
It’s been re-targeted for Dallas Cowboys Stadium at UFC 194 this December, but there’s been endless talk of a UFC PPV there for the past few years with nothing to show for it. There’s also talk of pairing it with Rousey’s next title defense against No. 1 contender Miesha Tate, something that would potentially make that card the biggest-grossing UFC event of all-time.
But even on its own, the tangible buzz of Aldo vs. McGregor and all of the trash talk that it brings makes it the most anticipated fight of 2015 and beyond. Few have taken the UFC by storm like McGregor has, and he’s undoubtedly carried this rivalry with his creative barbs at Aldo, who to this day has not learned to speak English. It’s amazing that “Notorious” has even been able to build up a fight to these proportions essentially on his own.
Yet Aldo’s skills inside the octagon obviously cannot be denied, as the talented but oft-injured champion has run through a gauntlet of top-level competition ever since the UFC absorbed the men’s 145-pound division from WEC in 2010.
This fight simply has to happen. The grudge appears real, McGregor’s hype is at an all-time high, and there’s no other move to make in the division but to unify the titles, and to do it soon. Many believe that the fight will never happen for one reason or another, and that would simply be a travesty to the sport.
It’s possible that we’ve never seen a genuine rivalry on this level, and even if we have, Aldo and McGregor’s definitely ranks up there with the best, making it the most anticipated UFC bout of 2015 and beyond.