2016 was the UFC’s biggest earning year, with stars Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey leading as their biggest draws. McGregor alone accounted for twice as many PPV buys in one year than the entire UFC in 2014. By July of 2016, the company sold to WME-IMG, an American talent agency, for $4 billion, proving that the fighting promotion was finally being taken seriously as an entertainment business.
The sale also confirms the new owners’ ambitions, as they look to make the most of their investment by ensuring the UFC pushes for the biggest fights possible. This is good news for fans, as it means the most interesting fights will make it our screens.
That said, here are 16 of the biggest fights UFC should book in 2017 if they want to keep that cash rolling in.
16. Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre
Imagine that, two of the greatest UFC fighters step in the octagon for a superfight. Although the two are past their prime, fans would still love to see a fight between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.
There was a time when such a fight would’ve been considered a stretch. After all, pre-sale UFC was more traditional when it came to booking fights; it was rare for fighters to step outside of their weight classes to engage in superfights. However, the money fight is trending now and both Silva and GSP are well aware of how much money they can make if they fight.
The two even teased the idea for UFC 206 through social media, with president Dana White debunking it due to contract issues with St-Pierre. Still, with WME leading the way and fighters like McGregor and Rousey taking indefinite breaks, the chances for such a fight to happen are evermore likely.
15. Georges St-Pierre vs. Tyron Woodley
Before Tyron Woodley, Stephen Thompson, and Robbie Lawler defined the Welterweight division, there was GSP. Leading the division in title defenses (9), GSP is considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists to step in the octagon and also one of the biggest draws.
After GSP retired, everyone wondered if/when he would return to reclaim his belt. With talks of a contract between the UFC and GSP currently trending, fans are embracing the possibility of the current champion, Tyron Woodley, defending the belt against the fighter from Qeuebc. Woodley himself looks forward to fighting GSP, calling him out after winning the title from Robbie Lawler.
A fight between Woodley and GSP would be in the interests of WME and such a PPV would garner at least a million PPV sales.
14. Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo
After Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds and didn’t defend the belt for a year, the featherweight division lost its direction. McGregor had moved on to the lightweight division and Aldo was crowned champion without actually winning the belt. This left the division feeling deprived of an actual champion. Current interim featherweight champion Max Holloway is looking to solve that.
2016 was filled with callouts from Holloway to Aldo, with the former claiming that Aldo was running away from him. Thus, Holloway started the #wheresAldo movement (a pun off of “Where’s Waldo”) in hopes of finally getting the fight he wants. When UFC 208 was mentioned, however, Holloway refused, claiming he needed more time to heal.
Aldo commented on the situation, telling MMA Fighting, “First, I heard he twisted his ankle and wouldn’t have time to heal. Then I heard he had a trip booked to Disney World with his kids and he wouldn’t be able to reschedule. Then I heard his gym is closed during the holidays and he wouldn’t have enough time to train. So he’s basically going around, talking a lot of trash, saying a lot of (expletive) and acting like a punk. He just talking (expletive).”
Since Holloway is the interim featherweight champion, the two must fight. The question is when.
13. Jon Jones vs. Anthony Johnson
Although the ultimate goal in any division is to win the belt, everyone wants to fight Jon Jones in the light heavyweight division. After all, he defended his belt eight times before being stripped from it, even stopping the current champ Daniel Cormier. Although Anthony Johnson is also chasing the belt, he wants to test his prowess against the division’s real top fighter, Jones. However, Johnson is a bit pragmatic about it.
In an interview with ESPN, Johnson said, “It’s just not gonna happen — at this point, I know it’s not gonna happen. It is what it is. I’m moving forward. Everybody is moving forward. I’m still shooting high and trying to do what I can in this sport. I’m not focused on Jon anymore. And I can tell you Daniel Cormier, Glover — they’re not focused on Jon, either. Nobody in this division is focused on Jon anymore. That’s a fact.”
The reason for this is that Jones can’t stop getting in trouble. In the last five years, Jones has butted heads with authorities many times, with the worst incident being his involvement with a hit-and-run. Not only that, but Jones was given a one-year ban by USADA for a tainted supplement which he claimed he was unaware of.
Jones is set to return to the octagon by summer 2017, so if all is right by then, we might see a fight between himself and Anthony Johnson.
12. Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw
This is one of the newer fights being discussed for 2017. At UFC 207, Cody Garbrandt solved the puzzle that was Dominick Cruz by winning the bantamweight belt and going from a fifth seed fighter to the top of the division. One fighter is skeptical about Garbrandt’s as champion.
TJ Dillashaw, the former bantamweight champion, had been throwing shots at Cruz since his defeat early 2016 in attempts to provoke a rematch. However, now with Garbrandt as champion, Dillashaw has refocused his attacks onto the former teammate, claiming he is ducking him.
“It’s funny because he called me out right after the fight because he knows that’s who he should be fighting,” Dillashaw said on the MMA Hour. “But then in the press conference, he’ll talk about ‘oh, let’s get Cruz a rematch,’ and he says he wants to call out Aldo or McGregor? He knows he wants to do everything he can to avoid that fight. I’ve practiced with him a long time, he’s a good fighter, but he knows how tough that fight’s going to be.”
If there’s one thing we know about Garbrandt so far, it’s that he doesn’t back down from a fight. Chances of seeing a Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw event in 2017: Likely.