We might have lapsed last year, but we’re finally pulling the crystal ball out again to make some predictions for the approaching new year!
The year 2017 has been nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions in the MMA world. UFC 217 gave us a night where not one, not two, but three titles changed hands. We were treated to the return of Georges St-Pierre. Jon Jones stumbled his way into more trouble. Titles were vacated. The USADA made numerous headlines with its drug-testing results and the subsequent fallout for star fighters. Interim champions were crowned aplenty. There were spectacles that don’t need any more attention.
However, with 2017 coming to a close and just a few events left, it’s time to take a moment and think about what the UFC might provide in the year 2018.
1. Brian Ortega will challenge for the UFC featherweight title.
Fresh off his huge upset submission win over Cub Swanson, Ortega might finally have opened the eyes of the casual fan and vaulted himself into title contention. The featherweight division is full of young up-and-comers that are providing a changing landscape to entertain fans. Ortega needs to win at least one more bout before his chance at gold. Plus, current champion Max Holloway still has a date with Frankie Edgar. If Ortega can dispatch of another top-five opponent, there is no reason why he should not be next for the champion.
2. Rose Namajunas will end 2018 as champion
There is just something surreal about “Thug” as the UFC women’s strawweight champion. Her skills have been sharpened to the point where she looked nearly unstoppable in unseating Joanna Jędrzejczyk as champion at UFC 217. Expect Namajunas to defend her title at least twice in 2018, including in a rematch against Jędrzejczyk. The rematch will not end as quickly, but Namajunas will come out on top. Namajunas should also see Jessica Andrade at some point in 2018.
3. Stipe Miocic will become the first-ever three-time defending UFC heavyweight champion.
This is a tough one. After what Francis Ngannou did to Alistair Overeem just a couple weeks ago, it seems like a terrible prediction. However, Miocic will fight smarter than Overeem did and will respect the power of the bigger man. The champ will use his speed and bag of tricks to wear down Ngannou and drag him into the championship rounds. Miocic’s determination and grit not only has earned him wins over Overeem, but also against Junior dos Santos, Mark Hunt, Gabriel Gonzaga, Andrei Arlovski and Fabricio Werdum, the man from whom he took the title. Miocic has looked better as each fight passes, but Ngannou will be the hardest-hitting opponent he has or will ever face. The key to victory for Miocic is simple: Don’t let Ngannou land the strike. Expect a rematch between Miocic and Werdum in late 2018, too.
4. Megan Anderson will make her UFC debut and capture UFC gold.
The UFC debut of women’s featherweight star Anderson is truly one to get excited about. First and foremost, Anderson is a true featherweight and not a bantamweight moving up. She boasts an 8-2 record and has a penchant for finishing fights. In fact, only three of her 10 bouts have gone to the judges, and those happened to be the first three fights of her professional career. Her arrival is the boost the division needs, seeing as how the only “true” fighter in the weight class is the current champion, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Expect Cyborg to defeat Holly Holm to close out 2017. Then, maybe the MMA gods will see it fit to deliver Anderson’s Octagon debut in the form of a title bout against Cyborg.
5. Conor McGregor will not step inside the Octagon.
Fact: McGregor hasn’t stepped inside the Octagon since winning the UFC lightweight title in November 2016. Add in his recent incident inside the Bellator cage, which is just strange on every level, and McGregor’s time in the Octagon seems to be done. He has accomplished things no other MMA fighter has done. While he was not the first man to simultaneously capture belts in two weight classes in the modern era — that accolade belongs to former World Series of Fighting middleweight and light heavyweight champion and current UFC middleweight David Branch — McGregor was the first to do it inside the Octagon. Unlike McGregor, Branch defended both titles before joining the UFC roster for his second stint with the promotion. Don’t be surprised to see McGregor step inside the squared circle once again during 2018, but expect another letdown for the MMA community. It’ll be a huge payday for McGregor, though.