Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

The outlook of mixed-martial-arts in a professional setting is bleak it must be said. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has gutted events the world over – with just the UFC and Cage Warriors attempting to run as normal a schedule as possible, given the current lie of the land.

It’s almost impossible to give an educated gauge as to when we’ll see the Octagon land, with promotional leader, Dana White, targetting a May 9th. date. The hurdles to overcome are still gargantuan – but if we get regular mixed-martial-arts back on our screens and at our venues, here are the ten most-anticipated rematches I’d like to see before the year’s end.

Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk II:

You’d be forced to search far and wide to find a fan of mixed-martial-arts who’s content with seeing both the former and current strawweight champions clash just once in their careers. We’re just over a month removed from their UFC 248 co-headliner, but we’re already chomping at the bit for a re-run of this 115-pound matchup of styles.

It was a perfect match of styles. We got Weili’s brutal power versus Joanna’s poised, technical output – and as a result, the most competitive strawweight battle in recent memory, and arguably the greatest fight in women’s mixed-martial-arts antiquity. Going the distance, Zhang narrowly edged out the former champion with a 48-47 (x2), and 47-48 split scorecard. An immediate rematch makes total sense in this climate. This one speaks for itself.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III:

Ok, I’ve cheated a tad on this one. We’ve already seen the rematch between former two-weight world champion, Conor McGregor and TUF victor, Nate Diaz, but who in their right mind would turn down a rubber-match between the pair right now?

The lie of the land at lightweight is muddy at the very least as of writing; If the UFC’s plan to host an event on May 9th. come to fruition – we’ll see yet another interim championship introduced at 155-pounds. So that leaves Tony Ferguson, and Justin Gaethje preoccupied – and that’s where former champion, McGregor, comes into play.

Tentatively, the promotion had earmarked a summer event to host McGregor vs. Gaethje – the kibosh has almost certainly been put on those plans now. However, a summer return for ‘The Notorious’ one is still possible. Nate Diaz has built up some amount of steam since his August return last year, taking a decision over Anthony Pettis, before losing a doctor’s stoppage to BMF champion, Jorge Masvidal.

The rubber-match between the two seems forever a possibility. Booking it for this summer in a headliner is a cunning idea to welcome the pair of foes back to the lightweight fray after welterweight outings.

Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko III:

Yes, I may have cheated on this one also. As things stand, both Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko are two of the biggest outliers women’s mixed-martial-arts has ever seen. Featherweight and bantamweight gold are dominated by Nunes – while Shevchenko is seated on the flyweight throne.

Make no mistake, Nunes is 2-0 against the Kyrgyzstan-born striker, but the close nature of their bantamweight title rematch makes viewing of an eventual rubber-match essential. Nunes is set to attempt the first defence of her 145-pound title when she tackles Felicia Spencer on May 9th. Emerge unscathed, and let’s match her with Shevchenko if the 5-0 flyweight can overcome expected challenger, Joanne Calderwood, later this year. Golds spoils also add another interesting dimension to this meeting of the sport’s best.

Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes II:

From the three aforementioned re-runs, this one may be the most challenging to book. Current bantamweight best, Cejudo, has business to attend to against former division best, Dominick Cruz on May 9th. – while Moraes has been shunned from a second title tilt, in more than bizarre fashion.

Before Cruz installed himself into the title-picture, Cejudo was scheduled to headline UFC 250 in Brazil against former featherweight best, José Aldo, who’s lost his two most recent outings. Aldo made his bantamweight birth against the previously noted, Moraes at UFC 245 last December – dropping a close but not entirely dubious decision. The promotion then elected to almost gift Aldo a title shot upon request from Cejudo, denying Moraes a rematch against the Olympic gold medalist.

At UFC 238 in June last, Moraes displayed an almost picture-perfect gameplan to outpoint Cejudo for two rounds, before falling victim to a third-round battering. A rematch between Cejudo and Moraes should be considered if Moraes manages to get past fellow perennial contender, Petr Yan, however, their UFC Kazakhstan meeting could be in jeopardy.

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou II:

The UFC’s heavyweight division is fast evolving, but like it’s lightweight counterpart, it’s log-jammed. Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier are currently embroiled in a rivalry involving the title, but nothing is certain regarding that clash. Should Miocic retain against Cormier in a third matchup, and if Ngannou stops the siege of Jairzinho Rozenstruik, a re-run of their UFC 220 headliner is a must.

Ngannou dropped a second, albeit forgettable loss to Derrick Lewis after his premier title opportunity with the promotion, but has since reinvigorated his approach. The Cameroonian-born knockout artist has lodged three straight stoppages of Curtis Blaydes, as well as division icons, Cain Velasquez, and Junior dos Santos. Also, a rematch gives us a chance to examine the changes Ngannou has made to develop his approach when pitted against a decent wrestler.

James Gallagher vs. Ricky Bandejas II:

For this one, we switch to Scott Coker’s Bellator MMA. The bantamweight division of the promotion is filled with some of the most exciting prospects in the entire sport. We’ve got both Gallagher and Bandejas, as well as Cal Ellenor, Frans Mlambo, Brian Moore, Leandro Higo, Patchy Mix, and not to mention, Kyoji Horiguchi.

In terms of European talent on the roster – the promotion is doubling-down on Emerald Isle talents, Gallagher, and featherweight prospect Leah McCourt. Raising Gallagher’s star-power could potentially come in the form of a re-run with American Top Team striker, Ricky Bandejas.

Over the previous eighteen months, Bandejas has been branded, the “SBG killer” – given his knockouts of both Gallagher and the aforementioned Mlambo. Bandejas represented Strabane native, Gallagher’s first real, legitimate challenge after his win over Chinzo Machida back in 2017.

Bandejas scored an early knockdown, before launching a front-leg side kick, dropping Gallagher before closing the show with strikes. The leaps and bounds both have made since is simply staggering. If a rematch is finalised this year, the victor emerges with absolute claims for a bantamweight title eliminator at the very least.

Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington II:

Last December at UFC 245, we witnessed one of the best title fights – not just in welterweight title history, but the entire sport. The rivalry between undisputed welterweight king, Kamaru Usman and former interim champion, Colby Covington is heated to say the very least. What else is crystal-clear, is the fact that the hatchet is yet to be buried yet either.

As things stand, Usman holds bragging-rights via his fifth-round knockout. The Henri Hooft trainee is also eyeing up a title defence against perennial contender, Jorge Masvidal for this summer, but Covington remains a definite pack leader at 170-pounds.

Similarly to the previously mentioned matchup between Cejudo and Moraes, Usman vs. Covington was incredibly close – with both men level on the scorecards heading into the deciding round. Regardless of when this one occurs, I’d be more than happy to see it again.

Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes II:

We’ve never seen someone push light heavyweight champion, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones toward his first legitimate loss as division contender, Dominick Reyes. Vitor Belfort had Jones on the ropes with a taut armbar back in 2012, but Reyes was extremely unfortunate to leave Houston without the undisputed light heavyweight crown in February.

The judging may have been unanimous in favour of Jones, but it was such an incredibly close contest. Reyes, along with one-time title challenger Thiago Santos have both pushed Jones to his absolute limit, and while both of those are in amongst title contention, Jones still has stones to turn at 205-pounds.

I completely overlooked Reyes ahead of the matchup, to my own detriment, but a rematch between the two, immediately, is the right fight to book at light heavyweight in the grand scheme of things.

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor II:

Since their original pairing back in 2014 – the evolution of Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor has been incredible. Both have tasted Octagon gold in some shape or form, with Poirier embarking on one of the most impressive win streaks in recent memory when examined. Between them, Poirier and McGregor have dislodged six former world champions, impressive.

Both men have also suffered their most recent defeats to undisputed lightweight best, Khabib Nurmagomedov, but remain front runners for a quest for lightweight gold. A pairing between the two strikers would most certainly determine the next in line after the scheduled meeting of the aforementioned Ferguson and Gaethje.

An interesting aspect of this fight, is the fact that it would almost certainly take place at lightweight – although the prospect of a welterweight date has been juggled recently. 155-pounds is where both men flourish, however.

Donald Cerrone vs. Charles Oliveira II:

Another striker set to feature on the UFC’s planned May 9th. card, is former title challenger, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. The Denver native will look to avenge a 2013 loss, as he tackles one-time UFC and WEC best, Anthony Pettis, this time at welterweight.

If the BMF Ranch owner can get by Pettis, let’s set up another rematch, this time featuring submission-specialist, and surging contender, Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira. The Brazilian suffered a 2011 loss to Cerrone via an opening-round knockout but has looked an almost entirely different operator in his more recent outings.

A victory for Oliveira gives us a real gauge of his championship mettle – especially following his guillotine submission of former interim title challenger, Kevin Lee in Brasília recently. If Cerrone emerges with a win – he reminds us of his ability to remain at the highest level.

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