MMA Fights to Look Forward to in 2021
With the holiday season in full swing and just weeks away from putting this monstrosity of a year behind us, we are all compiling lists of things we want for the holidays. As COVID-19 ravaged the world and changed how everything went down from the first quarter onward, what we saw is many things being put on pause or rescheduled for the upcoming year. With holiday cheer being grimmer than years past, there are a ton of great things to look forward to as we put 2020 in the rearview. A silver lining for 2021 is that we expect to make up for a year that we saw a lot taken from us, and that assumption remains the true in the fight game. With just one lone UFC card left in 2020, many promotions are living up to the “new year, new me” saying we all typically hate hearing. Here are some great fights to expect in 2021.
CONFIRMED: Professional Fighters League’s 2021 Season
The PFL, formerly known as the World Series of Fighting, was one promotion that didn’t have a single event within the calendar year due to the pandemic and scheduling concerns. What makes the PFL so unique is their season like format we see in the mainstream major sports, with each fighter getting two regular season fights between April-June in search of points to qualify for the playoff round. Each fighter gets three points per victory, with bonus points getting added if you are able to finish you opponent via knockout or submission. The playoffs round then start around October and consists of an eight person, single-elimination tournament where a fighter must win two fights in one night to advance to the finals that take place on New Year’s Eve, where the promotion crowns a champion for each of their six weight classes and each PFL Champion gets a million dollars richer.
For a promotion that has had nothing to show for fight-wise in the calendar year, the PFL has bolstered their roster in preparation for their 2021 return. The signings of UFC heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum, and former UFC welterweight title challenger Rory MacDonald are big names added to the fold as both are on the search for their respective million-dollar paydays. However, arguably the biggest star they added this year was undisputed female middleweight champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, allowing her to transition to MMA under the PFL banner. The addition of Shields made waves due to the fact that she is the first notable boxer to compete in both MMA and boxing simultaneously. Shields will not be competing in the million-dollar season format in 2021, but there will be a ton of eyes on her as she looks to debut in MMA. Along with her already world class boxing ability, Claressa Shields has been seen recently taking her talents to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to train at Jackson Wink MMA under the training of legendary coach Greg Jackson, and MMA greats such as Jon Jones, Michelle Waterson, and Holly Holm. There are a ton of great names to look out for on this roster, and with the PFL regularly scheduled on ESPN2, it is a free way to see some of the best American MMA talent not in the UFC.
CONFIRMED: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier II (January 19th)
The UFC kicks off their new year the same way they started off 2020 with the return of Conor McGregor, as he and Dustin Poirier are set to do battle this time at lightweight. The two first faced each other back in 2014 at featherweight with McGregor getting Poirier out of there in less than two minutes, but what makes this scheduled second rendition so special is the amount of success both fighters have had since their first meeting. McGregor went on a meteoric rise to become the modern face of MMA and became the champ of two divisions simultaneously, while Poirier has been 10-2-1 since his first fight with McGregor. Both McGregor and Poirier only made the walk once in 2020. McGregor made his return by stopping Donald Cerrone within a minute while Poirier gave us an all-time classic against Aussie Dan Hooker. Another similarity is that both fighters have since lost to the current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but with the current champ’s fighting future still in limbo these two greats of the sport are heading to Abu Dhabi with the goal of getting another crack at UFC gold. The promotion's second home on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island has hosted some great bouts in 2020 in front of no crowd, but it will be interesting to see how the showman McGregor deals with no fan presence as his only 2020 fight happened pre-pandemic.
YET TO BE CONFIRMED: Michael Chandler vs. Any UFC Top 10 Lightweight Contender (Prediction: Dan Hooker)
In MMA there will always be a debate regarding which promotion has the world’s best fighters on their respective rosters. However, due to the competitive nature and marketing of the sport, it seems like we will see pigs fly before we see cross promotions amongst the sport's elite promotions. The only way we can see the best fighters fight one another is if they are under the same promotional banner, and this is why the signing of former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made the waves that it did. Now with the 34-year-old Chandler making the move to the UFC we will be able to get a hypothetical glimpse of the talent disparity between the UFC and Bellator. Chandler went 18-5 throughout his Bellator run with 11 of those bouts being for a title, and with tread already on his tires he turned down less money from Bellator in favor of new competition. With his eyes set on the top five of the UFC, along with McGregor-Poirier being set for January, and with other contenders such as Gaethje, Oliveria, Ferguson, and Dos Anjos all fighting between October-December, it appears that City Kickboxing Captain Dan Hooker might be the one to welcome him to the UFC. Hooker is coming off a July loss to Dustin Poirier, which was is on a shortlist for one of the best bouts of the calendar year. Hooker revealed in a recent interview with Submission Radio that he has already accepted his next fight. As for Chandler, he too revealed that he is already in fight camp, so via process of elimination it seems like this matchup is on the horizon for 2021. If this is indeed the matchup it will be a great test for both men as Hooker would look to use his long frame to keep the fight standing while Chandler, the former wrestling D1 All-American, would look to use his wrestling to mitigate the four-inch height disadvantage he would have. If this is somehow not the match up fans are still dying to see if Chandler can replicate the same success he had in Bellator in the UFC.
YET TO BE CONFIRMED: Israel Adesanya vs. Jan Blachowicz
Henry Cejudo, Daniel Cormier, Conor McGregor, and Amanda Nunes. That’s the list of royalty current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya can add himself to if he beats Jan Blachowicz as he moves up to 205 to try and become a two-division UFC champion. They both last fought on September 26th as both men secured second round TKO’s in their first fight on Fight Island. Jan Blachowicz won Jon Jones’ vacant light heavyweight belt against Dominick Reyes on the card's co-main event, while Adesanya made quick work of then undefeated Brazilian contender Paolo Costa. Adesanya is one of the company’s brightest stars, and if he can get a second UFC belt, he could really start cementing his name as one of the all-time greats. As for Blachowicz, if the 37-year-old could stop the 20-0 Adesanya, he could have one of the greatest career turnarounds of all time if he is able to take out the UFC’s golden goose in his inaugural title defense. If Adesanya can dismantle yet another power puncher in Blachowicz, this time at 205 pounds, we can then see the odds of the super fight with Jon Jones more of a reality than a fantasy. Although Jones is planning to fight at heavyweight, it is possible he can return to his original stomping grounds if the money is right. This is a fight that can do historic numbers, and it already has a ton of heat behind it, but Adesanya must stay focused on the task at hand in Blachowicz if he ever wants that to happen.
(Cover Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)