2021 in the UFC Octagon proved a wild ride. While there were plenty of huge fights throughout the year, expectations were also routinely subverted, something easily summed up by the UFC’s final pay-per-view of the year, which saw Julianna Pena upset Amanda Nunes and Charles Oliveira retain the lightweight title against Dustin Poirier.
2022 isn’t likely to stop the train of thrilling and impactful fights in the UFC. We know much of what to expect next for the UFC’s top stars, with fights booked or planned for the top champions, but there are always plenty of questions over what we could see in the coming 12 months.
There are many obvious options for fights we’d like to see made in 2022, but we’ve narrowed the list down to the five pairings we most want to see stand across from each other in Octagon during the upcoming year.
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1. Khamzat Chimaev vs. Colby Covington
Skipping all the championship fights that have yet to be officially set but that we know will happen, Chimaev vs. Covington is arguably the most interesting fight that can be made in the UFC. Since debuting in the UFC, Chimaev has been a force of nature, destroying everyone he comes across. In four UFC fights, Chimaev has absorbed one significant strike. Total. It is, without a doubt, the most impressive run of dominance in the history of the sport.
This has created a situation where top fighters are clearly ducking a fight with the Swede while claiming they are refusing the fight because he hasn’t fought top-tier opposition to prove his worth. As of now, it seems clear that Chimaev is the future of the welterweight division and he needs the fight to prove he’s ready for a shot at the belt. What’s better than a fight with champ Kamaru Usman’s top rival? Covington talks a big game and has been more than capable of backing it up against everyone but Usman. He has fired plenty of verbal shots at Chimaev but always reverts to the same line as everyone else: Chimaev hasn’t earned the opportunity.
Beyond the already simmering bad blood, Covington’s wrestling and striking represents a new level of challenge for Chimaev, making the fight as compelling stylistically as it is in pre-fight hype. Chimaev vs. Covington is a division-changing type of fight and one that can really move the needle.
2. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III
We all know that Dana White and the UFC brass wants to see McGregor in big fights — specifically title fights — but after two dominant losses to Dustin Poirier in 2021, McGregor needs to get his career back on track. Similarly, Diaz has lost his two most recent fights, being dominated for nearly every second with the exception of rocking Leon Edwards in the fifth round of their June 2021 clash.
Still, both McGregor and Diaz are top-tier stars for the UFC. They have plenty of history with two tremendous and competitive fights in the past and have split the first two fights in their rivalry. If you want to make big money fights that potentially set up title fights for your top stars, you could do a lot worse than McGregor vs. Diaz III.
3. Jorge Masvidal vs. Leon Edwards
Yes, it’s past time for Edwards to be lined up for a title shot, but the UFC isn’t there yet. We saw an attempt to make Masvidal vs. Edwards happen once and the UFC should attempt to get it on the calendar once again. There’s plenty of history between the men, with the infamous “three-piece and a soda” backstage brawl. That’s the kind of story you can build an entire fight promotion around.
Masvidal isn’t likely to get any more chances against Usman, which leaves him in need of opponents that are worthy of his status as a star. Similarly, Edwards needs opponents who can raise his profile and make him an in-demand title contender. He had that in Nate Diaz and was making the most of it before Diaz nearly knocked him down in the fifth round. One punch can set you back and now Edwards needs to make up for that one bad moment to get fully in the mix.
4. Dominick Cruz vs. Jose Aldo
A decade after Cruz and Aldo stood out as two of the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and as dominant champions, both men are still competing at an elite level. They may not quite be operating at the levels they were during the peak of their careers, but both remain highly skilled and now share a division with Aldo’s move to bantamweight.
Aldo is on a three-fight winning streak since losing a title fight against Petr Yan and Cruz has won two fights since losing to then-champion Henry Cejudo. When you have two Hall of Fame talents operating in the same division and on impressive runs, why wouldn’t you put them in the Octagon together? Cruz vs. Aldo would have been a huge fight in 2012 and it still will be in 2022.
5. Winner of Ciryl Gane-Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones
Jon Jones’ tour of self-destruction continued in 2021 and it’s hard to want to see him continue to get opportunities when he can’t get out of his own way and let his otherworldly skills shine. It’s doubly true that Jones’ opportunities to make money as a professional fighter should end when his issues drift into domestic violence. That said, the UFC isn’t going to stop putting him in fights as long as they can work out the financials and we’ve been waiting and waiting to see Jones finally step in the Octagon as a heavyweight. It’s time to finally put that chapter to rest.
Gane and Ngannou are set for their big showdown on Jan. 22. It’s a great fight and a true No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle. Who is next for the winner? Stipe Miocic is one easy answer, but Jones is the biggest option. And Jones getting that fight is something that needs to happen at some point before he completely implodes.