After back-to-back record-setting years, UFC is able to get issues kicked off in 2022 this week. The primary battle card of the yr means it is time to think about the place issues stand within the sport with lots of the champions already booked for title defenses. However there’s loads of unanswered subjects nonetheless on the desk as Dana White and firm look to interrupt extra data for a 3rd straight years.
Whereas we do not know precisely how issues will play out over the approaching yr, the CBS Sports activities specialists sat down to provide our solutions to among the burning questions earlier than the 2022 UFC calendar will get underway. Learn on to see our ideas on how the yr will play out for among the greatest stars within the sport.
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Let’s dive proper in now to the questions and predictions from “Morning Kombat” host Brian Campbell in addition to workers writers Brent Brookhouse and Shakiel Mahjouri.
Who ends 2022 as light-weight champion?
Brian Campbell: Islam Makhachev
If UFC brass lastly rewards him for his dominant 10-fight successful streak, the reply is Islam Makhachev. The coed and longtime coaching associate of retired legend Khabib Nurmagomedov is the closest factor UFC has to a successor for “The Eagle.” Makhachev additionally presents a uniquely troubling type matchup for the harmful theatrics of champion Charles Oliveira. Whereas Makhachev can actually deal with himself on the bottom in a worthy method of comparability to Nurmagomedov, he is a way more superior striker and seems to have the psychological energy and intangibles to climb the mountain at 155 kilos.
Brookhouse, Mahjouri: Charles Oliveira
Oliveira has a ridiculous skillset proper now. He can face absolute killers and survive harm earlier than exploiting an opponent’s weak spot. Harmful on the toes and on the bottom, he is develop into an extremely tough puzzle to unravel. Oliveira is angling for a battle with Conor McGregor and the UFC possible loves the concept, as ridiculous as it’s that’s contemplating McGregor has a 1-3 document since 2018 and has misplaced his three most up-to-date light-weight bouquets. McGregor may win the battle on the toes, however he is extremely prone to submissions and has critical gasoline tank points, which solely worsen as he provides increasingly muscle to his body. Assuming Oliveira vs. McGregor is the path issues do go, I’ve to favor Oliveira. — Brookhouse
There isn’t any denying Oliveira’s greatness. His two-pronged offense of dynamic strikes and dangerous submissions have overwhelmed nearly each UFC light-weight champion, together with interim title holders, of the final 5 years. The one omissions are two males he has by no means confronted: Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. There are three viable challenges at current: Islam Makhachev, Beneil Dariush and McGregor. Makhachev’s prime management and McGregor’s pinpoint-accurate energy are cheap threats, however Oliveira excels in additional sides of the sport. Dariush is a submission menace with knockout energy and Struggle of the Evening tendencies however hasn’t mastered that type fairly as Oliveira has. — Mahjouri
Will the English invasion proceed?
Campbell: These are clearly the glory days within the embellished historical past of MMA in the UK, which owes numerous its previous success to the likes of former middleweight king Michael Bisping. However the pool at this time of rising fighters from that space solely continues to develop, together with welterweight title contender Leon Edwards and rising heavyweight Tom Aspinall, who seems to be closing in on his personal shot at UFC gold. However can the present invasion result in a constant pipeline of prime expertise into the UFC? On this case, a wait-and-see strategy is the extra sober choice. Each Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann may show to be extra bark than chunk regardless of how nicely they’ve captivated crowds on either side of the pond. And whereas UK MMA has been enjoyable to observe develop in recent times, this is not a takeover wherever near the affect that Russia – particularly, the area of Dagestan – is having on the game over the identical time interval.
Mahjouri: Aspinall and Arnold Allen are England’s greatest hopes for one more world champion. Aspinall has handed each check with flying colours within the UFC. He set the document for the shortest path to 5 UFC wins by defeating 5 opponents in 14-minutes and 24-seconds — lower than one full three-round battle. His mixture of crisp boxing, offensive wrestling and savvy submission will hassle most heavyweights. Allen is primed for an enormous contenders’ battle at featherweight however should show that he can cling with the division’s elite. The charismatic duo of Pimblett and McCann are unbelievable supporting acts however are very a lot growing skills. In the intervening time, this feels much less like an invasion and extra like a covert operation. Aspinall crashes by means of the entrance gates whereas Allen sneaks by means of the again.
What occurs within the the wrong way up heavyweight division?
Campbell: Making an attempt to handicap the UFC’s future at heavyweight is extremely tough, principally due to the unknowns surrounding present champion Francis Ngannou’s return. Not solely is Ngannou recovering from knee surgical procedure at age 35, he is a free agent who has stated on document that he will not re-sign with the promotion until he is allowed room to field Tyson Fury. The potential insertion of longtime mild heavyweight champion Jon Jones solely provides to the joy and uncertainty of the longer term. Ought to Ngannou stroll, a Jones-Stipe Miocic bout for the interim title can be among the many most traditionally related that could possibly be made within the sport at this time. Add in Cyril Gane and Aspinall as these ready in line for the following crack and there is cause to imagine Ngannou’s UFC return is something however sure. UFC has the potential alternative to swap out Ngannou’s star for that of Jones, who remains to be thought of by many to be MMA’s GOAT regardless of a protracted layoff and fixed hassle exterior the cage.
Brookhouse: The UFC’s heavyweight division has at all times been dominated by one or two personalities at most. That is nonetheless the case nevertheless it’s in a really odd place. Ngannou is damage and has points with administration. Jones has but to truly battle at heavyweight and Miocic solely has one battle since August 2020. Miocic vs. Jones is the smart, money-making interim title battle whereas all of Ngannou’s points are sorted out — or not. Aspinall may come alongside and shake issues up additionally however till Jones fights within the division and we all know what’s going on with Ngannou, the division’s identification remains to be considerably blurry. Hopefully, the tip of 2022 offers readability and establishes a extra outlined roadmap ahead.
Mahjouri: Ngannou is in a novel place with UFC brass. The heavyweight champion and his administration have remained steadfast of their want for a extra equitable contract. UFC president Dana White and firm hardly ever funds on the negotiation desk. John Jones vs. Stipe Miocic feels nearer to actuality than Ngannou’s return. Sadly, recurring troubles in Jones’ private life at all times solid a shadow of doubt over his preventing future. Aspinall and Tai Tuivasa can launch themselves forward of the pack with victories over Curtis Blaydes and Ciryl Gane, respectively, however each discover themselves in robust matchups. I feel Jones and Miocic will attain an settlement to battle this yr whereas the division finds itself a brand new No. 1 contender in both Aspinall or Gane.
Race for Fighter of the 12 months heats up
Campbell: Whereas the second half of 2022 may result in everybody from featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski to newly topped 205-pound king Jiri Prochazka taking residence the award, do not sleep on the potential for bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling to do the identical. Working atop the game’s deepest division, Sterling erased the pariah popularity that his controversial disqualification title win had introduced him by convincingly edging Petr Yan of their April rematch. Ought to Sterling do the identical this fall in opposition to one other former champion in TJ Dillashaw, it might be laborious to take away Aljo from consideration for having authored probably the most spectacular yr throughout the game.
Mahjouri: Charles Oliveira fell wanting Kamaru Usman in CBS Sports activities’ 2021 Fighter of the 12 months listing (sorry Brent Brookhouse) however he can’t be denied a second time. Oliveira’s weight miss at UFC 274 was overshadowed by one other mind-blowing efficiency. This time, it was a come-from-behind, first-round end of Justin Gaethje in what stands out as the main candidate for Spherical of the 12 months. “Do Bronx” is king of the light-weight mountain and chatter a few dream match in opposition to Khabib Nurmagomedov emerged ahead of anticipated. Oliveira hopes to e-book another battle by yr’s finish. Two big wins in 2022 and momentum carried over from final yr ought to do sufficient for Oliveira’s legacy to earn him Fighter of the 12 months.
Brookhouse: Alexander Volkanovski, assuming he beats Max Holloway. It is getting a bit boring to have the Fighter of the 12 months dialogue involving the identical small set of names. If Volkanovski manages to beat Holloway for a 3rd time, after a dominant win over The Korean Zombie, he possible fights a 3rd time earlier than the tip of the yr. That is pretty much as good of a resume as anybody else within the sport goes to have. Beating Holloway is, in fact, no straightforward process, which is all of the extra cause a victory for Volkanovski would make him a stable selection for Fighter of the 12 months.