2021 for MMA was one of the best years in the sport’s history. The UFC continued to excel despite all of the difficulties surrounding Covid-19. Those challenges are still very prevalent, however, with the announcement of UFC’s return to Columbus, it appears Fight Night events will be away from the Apex or “Fight Island” for the first time since February of 2020 when Joseph Benevidez took on Deiveson Figueiredo at the Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. There’s a lot to be excited for in the new year, below we look at 10 possible matchups we’d love to see in 2022.
#1. Francis Ngannou/ Ciryl Gane Winner vs. Jon Jones
The war of words outside the octagon between Dana White and Francis Ngannou has taken away from the fact the matchup on January 22nd for the undisputed Heavyweight Championship with Ciryl Gane is one of the most sought after fights in heavyweight history. With the potential heavyweight debut of Jon Jones on the horizon, the heavyweight division could be one of the marquee divisions again in 2022.
#2. Mateusz Gamrot vs. Gregor Gillespie
This one is for the hardcores. Two of the best lightweights in the world on their rise through the top 10. Both have been viewed as potential title contenders and a win by either could propel them into the elite at 155lbs. Gregor Gillespie has some of the best cardio in all of MMA and possesses a skill set that all of his opponents have to be concerned with. Mateusz Gamrot, who lost a questionable split decision in his UFC debut, has bounced back with three straight finishes. Aside from the winner of Islam Makachev/Beneil Dariush the top ten of the division is starting to slowly open up. #2 ranked Dustin Poirier could eye some big name opponents like Nate Diaz or Colby Covington. #7 ranked Tony Ferguson is on a three-fight skid. #8 Dan Hooker is returning to featherweight. Expect the top 5 to look very different at the end of 2022.
#3. Henry Cejudo vs. Petr Yan/Aljamain Sterling Winner
The announcement of the rematch between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling was officially announced for March 5th at UFC 272. That fight is intriguing, however, Yan appeared to be the better of the two before the disqualification. Henry Cejudo has been technically “retired” since his last title defence over Dominick Cruz. The narrative for Cejudo to become a triple-champ with a title opportunity against Alexander Volkanovski is still buzzing, however, if Cejudo does make his return in 2022, it should be against the bantamweight champion.
#4. AJ McKee vs. Patricio Pitbull II
For a certain time period in 2021, many discussed whether or not undefeated Bellator Champion AJ McKee was the best featherweight in the world. After a dominant 1st round victory over Patricio Pitbull, the “Mercenary” was the victor of the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix. McKee is seemingly the face of Bellator, however, the spark of that big win seems to be dwindling down. A rematch with Pitbull should and very well may be on the horizon in the first quarter of 2022.
#5. Kayla Harrison vs. Cris Cyborg
Everything is pointing towards the UFC signing free-agent Kayla Harrison. However, with the upset loss of Julianna Pena defeating Amanda Nunes, that may change some things. There’s no indication of a future for women’s featherweight, so who exactly would Harrison be fighting in the UFC? A matchup with Bellator Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg is one of the best women’s fights to make across all of MMA. Harrison is of course a teammate of Nunes and with her history with Cyborg, it makes for great promotion. Cyborg will have a title defense sometime in the near future against UFC veteran Cat Zingano.
#6. Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal
Talk about promotion right? Both are out of the title picture for the foreseeable future. Both have fell victim to champion Kamaru Usman. Jorge Masvidal still very much has a large fanbase and these two have history. It’s only fitting that this is part of a huge pay-per-view in 2022. International fight week anyone? Just imagine the press conference and the build-up.
#7. Yair Rodriguez vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov
This matchup is still on the list for what could have been. It was originally scheduled for August of 2020, however, Yair Rodriguez had to pull out due to an injured ankle. Zabit Magomedsharipov has been inactive since his 2019 bout with fellow featherweight Calvin Kattar. The hype surrounding the Mark Henry product has dwindled, however, if he is finally healthy enough for a return, he should be thrown in against the division’s elite. Rodriguez was on the wrong side of a decision against Max Holloway two months ago, however, his stock was raised in defeat.
#8. Aaron Pico vs. Mads Burnell
This is undoubtedly one of the best fights Bellator can make within their entire organization. Aaron Pico has finally found his way under Brandon Gibson, the striking coach at Jackson-Wink MMA. He’s rattled off 5 wins in a row and is currently ranked #4 behind Mads Burnell who sits at #3. Burnell has more experience with his time between the UFC and Bellator and arguably is in a position for a title shot this year. Pico, on the other hand, is still on his rise to the top in which Bellator may slowly bring him along. Make no mistake, if this fight is made in the calendar year, it’s must-see tv.
#9. Dustin Piorier vs. Nate Diaz
This has been brewing since UFC 230 when Poirier had to pull out of their scheduled bout with an injury. The Diamond has expressed his interest in this matchup and even suggested it within the next six weeks. Diaz has been throwing jabs on Twitter as well. This matchup gives both fighters a big name matchup at a pivotal point in their careers. It can be a one-off for Poirier who then can return his title aspirations at 155lbs. For Diaz, he doesn’t have that many fights left and this would be another huge payday for Stockton’s own.
#10. Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
The fight to make in the UFC’s best division. Charles Oliveira is on a historic run, winning 10 in a row and coming off two huge victories in 2021. Justin Gaethje is the rightful #1 contender, winning 5 of his last 6 with his lone defeat being against Khabib Nurmagomedov. This would be an action-packed title fight with a potential fight of the year on the horizon.
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