2021 is in the books, and it was another crazy year for the UFC. We saw several upsets, culminating with Juliana Peña stopping the seemingly unbeatable Amanda Nunes. It makes me think about what the coming year will bring and so here’s a break down what I think 2022 holds for the fans of the sport. Let’s start with some basic predictions of specific fighters.
What to expect in the coming months
Jon Jones will make his long-awaited heavyweight debut and lose
Jon Jones, like him or hate him is legitimately among the best to ever step into the Octagon. His skills are that of legend, but outside of the cage his life has been let’s just say, less remarkable. He has continually run afoul of the law, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and many feel he squandered his abilities and forever tarnished his legend. He has made the jump from light heavyweight to heavyweight and fans eagerly await his debut. Most feel it will come against someone like Stipe Miocic, the loser of Gane/NGannou or Derrick Lewis. Whichever of those fighters he faces, he likely gets beat. So it’s not unlikely to think the long-awaited debut will begin Jon’s slow fade out of the sport.
Conor McGregor will return to the cage and stop whoever he faces
Conor McGregor was last seen in the UFC cage slumped against the fence, with a broken leg and throwing a colossal hissy fit after losing to Dustin Poirer. He has worked hard to recover from the injury and seems to be in great shape as 2022 rolls around. He will more than likely be back in the cage around summertime and he’ll face either Justin Gaethje, Nate Diaz, or Charles Oliveira. I think he’d have a good shot at winning any of those fights. With his back against the wall, Conor is going to be a very dangerous man and if he wants continued relevance in the sport, he has to win. Go ahead and tell Conor he can’t do something and then watch him do it. He will once again return to form and could well round out the year with gold around his waist.
Sean O’Malley will go unbeaten in 2022 and climb into the top five
Sean O’Malley is a wildly popular fighter and has made his way up in the UFC by taking his time and not rushing into big fights too soon. That however might be coming to an end as he will need to start fighting better competition to increase his ranking and work towards an eventual title shot. I could see him being paired with Cody Garbrandt next, followed by Dominick Cruz, and ending the year with someone like Rob Font or Jose Aldo. If he could run the table against those fighters he’d find himself in the top five and a fight away from a title shot. This will be a big year for the Suga Show.
Amanda Nunes will storm back and claim the Bantamweight Championship
We ended the year with perhaps the biggest upset in UFC history as Juliana Peña went toe to toe with Amanda Nunes and beat her at her own game. She gassed Nunes out in the first round of their championship clash and submitted her in the second round. For Nunes, it was a complete meltdown as she abandoned her game plan and got beat and finished. I can only assume that her return will find her in incredible shape and I’m pretty sure she dominates the rematch.
A new Goat enters the conversation
Fans love to talk pound for pound and argue over mystical titles like GOAT. Most people have similar names atop the GOAT list. Jon Jones, GSP, Anderson Silva, Fedor…etc. I’d say after Alexander Volkanovski goes 2-0 in 2022 he adds his name to the conversation. Let’s be honest, Volk is as good as it gets, but being that he’s 145 pounds, he doesn’t get the credit he richly deserves. I think that ends this year after he again defeats Max Holloway and perhaps Brian Ortega again to solidify his place as one of the icons, the best of the best.
UFC Champions at the end of 2022
Strawweight: Rose Namajunas holds onto her title and defends it one time.
Flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko is the champion here for the foreseeable future.
Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes comes back and stops Juliana Peña and then defeats her again to complete the trilogy.
Featherweight: Amanda Nunes keeps the title here, but I feel the UFC might do away with the division soon.
Flyweight: Brandon Moreno holds onto the title despite a few bumps in the road. He has a ton of talent and will do what he needs to do to remain the champion.
Bantamweight: TJ Dillashaw will defeat Petr Yan when Aljomain Sterling is unable to come back from his injuries. I think Yan is a great fighter, but he will have his hands full with TJ’s size and athleticism.
Featherweight: Alexander Volkanovski is the best in the world at 145 pounds and that won’t change. He holds onto his title this year and steps up to another level of fame and celebrity.
Lightweight: This one is tough, but when the dust settles the title will belong to Justin Gaethje. I think he is durable enough to stop Oliveira and I’m not ready to go all-in on Islam Makhachev.
Welterweight: Kamaru Usman, next.
Middleweight: Israel Adesanya is the best. It’s a four-horse race at 185 and Adesanya is better than Whittaker, Vetori, and Jared Cannonier. Outside of those three, there isn’t much out there for him.
Light Heavyweight: I love the Glover Teixeira story as much as anyone, but it can’t last. I think Jiri Prochazka is just waiting for the chance to become the champion and once he does, the belt will be his for a long time.
Heavyweight: I see the top four candidates being Francis NGannou, Cyril Gane, Stipe Miocic, and Curtis Blaydes. When it all shakes out by year’s end, I see the title with either Miocic or Blaydes. I think Gane loses to Francis, but I think Francis has had his fill with the UFC and moves on. Have Stipe face-off with Blaydes and Gane face Lewis with the winners meeting for the title. Under that scenario, I see the belt around the waist of Curtis Blaydes.