More eyes will be on the UFC than ever before with the partnership with ESPN taking flight in 2019, and UFC President Dana White, along with matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard, will be turning over every rock to give fans the dream fights they want to see.
Trilogies, grudge matches, champion vs. champion bouts—everything is on the table when the MMA mecca begins business with the mainstream sports media conglomerate.
The UFC should have no problem catching lighting in a bottle on more than one occasion with all of the potential fantasy fights lying around in White’s back pocket. So-called pipe dream bouts might suddenly start to look a bit more realistic as we inch closer to the finish of 2018.
That confidence stems from the fact that the UFC understands matchmaking is a science that isn’t always as simple as scheduling by rankings.
Whetting the appetites of hardcore and casual fans simultaneously is a balancing act every great promoter has mastered. There also needs to be a deep appreciation for the importance of a spectacle, along with putting together the right contrast of fighting styles.
Both go hand-in-hand when scheduling potential blockbuster fights like the ones compiled in this list.
Some will undoubtedly complain about the redundancy of a couple match-ups, but you can rest assured those same individuals would be the first ones running to the box office and clicking the pay-per-view buy button if any of these bouts were actually announced.
Here are five realistic UFC dream fights for the near future.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III
There is still unfinished business between the smooth-talking, left-hand wielding Irishman and the middle-finger-toting, Stockton-slapping California native.
Diaz became the first and only man to ever defeat McGregor in the Octagon a little over two years ago at UFC 196. Then McGregor returned the favor with a majority decision victory a few months later at UFC 202, which still stands as the highest-grossing pay-per-view in UFC history.
The rivalry has since been on ice with McGregor contending for the lightweight title and trying his hand at boxing Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Diaz has wisely waited in the shadows for an opportunity to get another crack at the former two-division champion.
Fists were never exchanged at a McGregor and Diaz press conference. Bottles and cans, on the other hand…
If McGregor beats Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year, a lightweight title fight with Diaz could potentially break another UFC pay-per-view record.
Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes
Ronda Rousey might have put women’s MMA on the map, but there has never been a more dominant fighter than Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino.
The reigning UFC women’s featherweight champion, who hasn’t lost a fight in over 13 years, has presumably cleaned out the division in only three fights. That has forced her to look elsewhere for that next great challenge to further cement her legacy as the baddest woman on the planet.
Next on the itinerary could be a champion vs. champion super fight with women’s bantamweight queen, Amanda Nunes. The only potential roadblocks are top bantamweight contenders, Holly Holm and Ketlen Vieira.
Nunes hasn’t downplayed her interest in a future fight with Justino, but according to her girlfriend, UFC strawweight Nina Ansaroff, she would need adequate time to put on the desired muscle weight to compete comfortably at 145 pounds. That would also mean putting the entire 135-pound division on hold.
“The talk in December was maybe Cyborg in July. That would give her time to be 145 [pounds],” said Ansaroff, via MMAWeekly. “She’s not doing a catchweight. She wants to go to 145 but then to be like fight 135 and then her want to do it in July, she’s coming from her smallest to meet you at your weight. She needs a little more time than that.”
The extra time might actually be worth it when it comes to a fight of this magnitude.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson
The long-awaited bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson has played out as haplessly as a scene out of Final Destination.
After failing to book the fight three different times, the bout fell through a fourth time at UFC 223 after Ferguson injured his knee by tripping over a cord during a promotional visit on the FOX set. Could a fifth time be the charm?
“Hell no,” White told ESPN. “I’m never making that fight ever again. Ever.”
Never is a word that doesn’t exist in UFC business.
If Nurmagomedov defeats McGregor later this year, Ferguson will probably be next in line to compete for the title.
Although, the UFC might have to consider wrapping the two fighters in bubble wrap and sticking them in a padded room throughout the entirety of their training camps.
Demetrious Johnson vs. TJ Dillashaw
Demetrious Johnson, the most complete fighter in MMA history, has already cleaned out the flyweight division and surpassed Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive UFC title defenses.
What’s left for him to do?
Well, he could continue fighting at 125 pounds and putting the record completely out of reach, or he could move up in weight and expand upon his all-time great legacy by challenging for the UFC bantamweight title.
While a case can already be made that Johnson is the greatest fighter in MMA history, winning a title in another weight class would help him slam dunk that argument.
UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw has already expressed interest in welcoming Johnson to 135 pounds, but the future Hall of Famer seems content on running laps around the flyweight division.
The time is coming for Johnson to decide whether he wants to continue his career going relatively unnoticed by casual fans or stepping into the spotlight and challenging one of the bantamweight elite.
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier III
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones could fight 1,000 more times and still remain bitter adversaries. The pure vitriol shared between the two MMA legends makes the Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz rivalry seem like a summer bromance.
One would have thought there’d be some sense of closure after Jones won the first two fights, but the revelation of the former UFC champ’s failed drug test reopened a wound that was bound to never close.
Twitter exploded on Monday as the two stars traded personal barbs that took it a step further than any typical rivalry.
I don’t have a platform DC? That just sounds dumb. Even after years of suspension I have just as much if not more of a platform than you. Every win you get goes on my resume, You know who you dream about at night. I’m sure your wife knows too
— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) June 25, 2018
Cormier is scheduled to contend for Stipe Miocic’s heavyweight throne on July 7th at UFC 226. If he is victorious, Jones might be persistent enough to follow him all the way up to the heavyweight division.
Given the level of excitement after the latest Twitter roast, there still appears to be plenty of unmined gold left in this rivalry.
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 6/27/2018.