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 12 months means it is time to take into account the place issues stand within the sport with most 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 12 months, the CBS Sports activities specialists sat down to provide our solutions to a few of the burning questions earlier than the 2022 UFC calendar will get underway. Learn on to see our ideas on how the 12 months will play out for a few of 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 employees 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 profitable 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 damaging theatrics of champion Charles Oliveira. Whereas Makhachev can actually deal with himself on the bottom in a way worthy of comparability to Nurmagomedov, he is a way more superior striker and seems to have the psychological power 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 doubtless loves the concept, as ridiculous as it’s that’s contemplating McGregor has a 1-3 report since 2018 and has misplaced his three most up-to-date light-weight bouts. McGregor might win the battle on the toes, however he is extremely prone to submissions and has critical fuel tank points, which solely worsen as he provides an increasing number of muscle to his body. Assuming Oliveira vs. McGregor is the route 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 virtually each UFC light-weight champion, together with interim titleholders, 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 challengers at current: Islam Makhachev, Beneil Dariush and McGregor. Makhachev’s high management and McGregor’s pinpoint-accurate energy are affordable threats, however Oliveira excels in additional aspects 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 adorned historical past of MMA in the UK, which owes quite a lot of its previous success to the likes of former middleweight king Michael Bisping. However the pool right now 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 high expertise into the UFC? On this case, a wait-and-see strategy is the extra sober choice. Each Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann might show to be extra bark than chew regardless of how nicely they’ve captivated crowds on each side of the pond. And whereas U.Ok. MMA has been enjoyable to look at develop lately, this is not a takeover wherever near the impression 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 finest hopes for an additional world champion. Aspinall has handed each take a look at with flying colours within the UFC. He set the report 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 submission savvy will bother most heavyweights. Allen is primed for a giant contenders’ battle at featherweight however should show that he can grasp with the division’s elite. The charismatic duo of Pimblett and McCann are improbable supporting acts however are very a lot creating skills. For the time being, this feels much less like an invasion and extra like a covert operation. Aspinall crashes by the entrance gates whereas Allen sneaks by the again.
What occurs within the the other 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 report that he will not re-sign with the promotion except he is allowed room to field Tyson Fury. The potential insertion of longtime mild heavyweight champion Jon Jones solely provides to the thrill and uncertainty of the long run. Ought to Ngannou stroll, a Jones-Stipe Miocic bout for the interim title could be among the many most traditionally related that could possibly be made within the sport right now. Add in Cyril Gane and Aspinall as these ready in line for the subsequent crack and there is cause to consider Ngannou’s UFC return is something however sure. UFC has the potential alternative to swap out Ngannou’s star for that of Jones, who continues to be thought of by many to be MMA’s G.O.A.T. regardless of an extended layoff and fixed bother outdoors the cage.
Brookhouse: The UFC’s heavyweight division has all the time been dominated by one or two personalities at most. That is nonetheless the case nevertheless it’s in a really odd place. Ngannou is harm and has points with administration. Jones has but to really 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 might 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 continues to be considerably blurry. Hopefully, the top 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 not often budge on the negotiation desk. Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic feels nearer to actuality than Ngannou’s return. Sadly, recurring troubles in Jones’ private life all the time forged a shadow of doubt over his combating 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 believe Jones and Miocic will attain an settlement to battle this 12 months 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 might 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 repute 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 towards one other former champion in TJ Dillashaw, it could be laborious to take away Aljo from consideration for having authored essentially the most spectacular 12 months 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 couple of dream match towards Khabib Nurmagomedov emerged prior to anticipated. Oliveira hopes to e book another battle by 12 months’s finish. Two enormous wins in 2022 and momentum carried over from final 12 months 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 somewhat 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 doubtless fights a 3rd time earlier than the top of the 12 months. That is nearly as good of a resume as anybody else within the sport goes to have. Beating Holloway is, in fact, no straightforward job, which is all of the extra cause a victory for Volkanovski would make him a strong selection for Fighter of the 12 months.