(Meanwhile, Alex’s friends were parked outside with a giant magnet. / Photo via Getty)
By Nasir Jabbar
With Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Cain Velasquez all currently out of action due to injuries or bitter hiatuses, UFC executives will be scratching their heads trying to come up with marquee fights in 2014. But amidst this gloom, there are a few massive fights that could still happen. Some are more realistic than others, but if the stars align, these matchups would no doubt fill the void. Let’s run them down in order of probability…
Major fights within reach
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2 or Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier: Very few gave Gustafsson the chance to last twenty-five minutes with the champ, let alone nearly dethrone him. The two engaged in a thrilling yet technical battle at UFC 165, which was as entertaining as it was controversial — making a rematch very interesting and potentially lucrative for the UFC. Prior to his first meeting with the Mauler, Jones had dominated every one of his opponents, which led to the New Yorker searching for his “Frazier”, the worthy rival who would define his legacy. Gustafsson could very much play that role as they look to meet again.
On the other hand, Daniel Cormier could play that role just as well. Unlike Gustafsson, Cormier has a genuine dislike towards Jones which would only add hype towards the fight. But, of course, the two potential challengers would have to get by Jimi Manuwa and Rashad Evans, respectively, to get their title shots. And of course there’s a hard-hitting Brazilian named Glover Teixeira who might derail these plans altogether.
Jose Aldo vs. BJ Penn: Incredibly, Penn is looking to become a three-weight world champion as he embarks on his unexpected new life as a featherweight. Before his year-long break from the sport, Penn had been fighting at welterweight without much success. (He hasn’t won a match since his quick knockout of Matt Hughes back in November 2010.) Penn will make his 145-pound debut against old rival Frankie Edgar as he looks to avenge, not one, but two defeats. Even though there is a connection between Penn and Aldo’s head coach Andre Pederneiras, the Prodigy would surely jump at the chance to compete for a belt.
Lately, the UFC has had a hard time finding opponents for Aldo who are stars in their own right. Booking BJ Penn to challenge Aldo would certainly solve that problem, so don’t be surprised if Penn skips the entire featherweight contender line to get a shot at Aldo, if he manages to beat Edgar. Making this matchup more credible is that Aldo has once again been flirting with the idea of moving up to 155lbs. A fight against Penn would be a perfect way for Aldo to build interest before jumping up to lightweight himself for a super-fight against the reigning champion.
Stranger things have happened
Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber III: Its been over two years since Cruz has set foot inside the Octagon. Since then, the UFC has created two new divisions (flyweight and women’s bantamweight) with another on its way, and Cruz’s last opponent became the champion at 125 pounds. But through all the changes, one thing has remained the same: Urijah Faber is still the most marketable fighter south of 155 pounds. The UFC had been eager to book a rubber match between Faber and Cruz — it was supposed to happen at UFC 148 then got scratched — but Cruz’s injuries have turned it into a longshot.
The best word to describe everyone’s emotions connected to Cruz is “gutted.” Cruz has had a rough time of late with two back-to-back knee surgeries and now a groin tear which effectively forfeited his title to Renan Barao. If Faber can pull off the upset against Barao, a rubber match against Cruz (who is set to be only out for 6-8 weeks before resuming full training) could be the biggest “smaller” weight class fight in the promotion’s history.
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler 2: Diaz was last seen in the Octagon losing to GSP in March of last year, and since then he’s been semi-retired. The Stockton bad-boy may have turned down the opportunity to rematch Carlos Condit but 2014 could see him back in the cage if Ronda Rousey’s comments are anything to go by. And lets be honest — the game needs him. Hendricks vs. Lawler is a great fight on paper but you know it’s not going to be the kind of pay-per-view bonanza that GSP’s fights generally were. Diaz would bring eyeballs back to the welterweight division with his one-of-a-kind trash-talk and exciting, taunting fighting style.
It seems Diaz isn’t budging for anything other than a UFC title shot which would seem bizarre considering he’s on a two fight losing skid. But then again he got a title shot after losing a fight, and ended up generating nearly a million pay-per-view buys in his fight against GSP. In the business-first era of the UFC, the promotion may become desperate and just offer Diaz a title shot — especially if it’s against a guy that Diaz already has history with. Fans may complain that Diaz didn’t “earn” it, but it would be an intriguing fight. If there truly was an MMA God, we would see the sequel between Diaz and Lawler for the welterweight title in 2014.
Super-fights; very slim chances
Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg: Rousey is arguably the biggest star the UFC has right now. The polarizing figure attracts a ton of media attention, even in mainstream outlets that don’t normally cover the sport. There are virtually no fighters outside of the UFC who could compete with Rowdy inside the Octagon, but Cris Cyborg is definitely one of them. The bout would pose a classic stylistic match-up between the stand-up wrecking machine against the highly technical judo wizard.
The fight becomes even more marketable and hype-worthy when you add that Cyborg defeated the original face of WMMA, Cyborg’s past failed drug test, and the heel-manager known as Tito Ortiz. (Honestly, the matchup is like an awesome/terrible pro-wrestling storyline.) When you look for fights that could break the one-million buys barrier, Rousey vs. Cyborg could very well become the 8th UFC pay-per-view to do so. Now we just have to convince Cyborg’s doctor to sign off on it.
Anderson Silva vs. George St-Pierre: If and when either man does return to the sport, it would be huge news. If they did against one another, it would be monumental. Their superfight may be a year or two late, but you can’t deny the amount of interest and buzz this fight would generate. GSP is on an indefinite leave from MMA but is still training and could be lured back in with a super-fight with Silva. Anderson’s managers Ed Soares and Jorge Guimares have always been keen on the match-up against the former welterweight champion, and Silva’s recovery from the broken leg he suffered at UFC 168 has been remarkable so far, with Dana White recently tweeting that he will be off crutches by next month. The UFC normally ends the year with a bang, and Silva vs. GSP just might be that fight to end 2014.