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.
11 Stephen Thompson vs Tyron Woodley II
At UFC 205, Stephen “The Wonderboy” Thompson and Tyron Woodley’s clash was good enough for candidacy for the Fight of the Year. The bout ended in a controversial draw and the two made it public that they were ready to fight again at a moment's notice.
Before going into the fight, there was some bad blood between the two, particularly from Woodley’s side, as he claimed he didn’t respect “Wonderboy” as a man. It seems their beef has only escalated since that point, with Woodley complaining that, “He got under my skin that bad where I don’t even care about the ration and the money and what fight makes the most sense.”
Woodley went on to make the fight official: “You need to be careful what you ask for. ‘Wonderboy,’ if you want it, come get it. You want to fight? You want to get done worse than you did the first time? Some people have got to be real careful.”
If all goes well, the two will get it on at UFC 209.
10 Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor II
When you get knocked out in 13 seconds, no matter how esteemed you are, it’s going to hurt your ego. Before “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo was considered one of the greatest featherweights to step in the octagon; he even received comparisons to Anderson Silva.
Yet, Aldo’s story went downhill since the McGregor fight and although he was crowned champion recently (due to McGregor being stripped of the belt), fans still don’t see him in his former glory.
The only way Aldo can make this up is by fighting and beating McGregor. Although Aldo has pushed for McGregor for a while now, it’s been difficult considering the different divisions McGregor fights in. Still, he is willing to jump to the lightweight division, even challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim lightweight title considering McGregor’s absence.
“I now expect and believe I will be fighting in early March. Either March 3 or March 4, I can’t remember. I believe they will soon announce an interim lightweight title fight with me,” said Aldo to MMA Fighting. “They’ve been trying to find me an opponent, and — surprise, surprise — at least one has already turned down the fight against me. I’m waiting to see who they will find.”
Could we see a rematch between Aldo and “The Notorious” in 2017?
9 Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm
Although Holly Holm has lost her last two fights against Miesha Tate and Valentina Shevchenko, she is still considered a championship-quality fighter. She is also one of the top strikers in the bantamweight division alongside Amanda Nunes, who knocked out Ronda Rousey quicker than Holm. Both fights against Rousey were among the worst upsets in UFC history, as we listed.
The two’s striking ability not only makes them the perfect match, but the most interesting one too.
CageRank.com made an interesting observation about the possible fight. They predicted that Holm had a 54% chance of winning the fight via third round knockout, giving Nunes a similar possibility of winning via KO. Many counted Nunes before both her first-round knockouts of Tate and Rousey, so you can’t count her out.
If the two do have a bout in 2017, expect it to be one heck of a show.
8 Stipe Miocic vs. Cain Velasquez
After Stipe Miocic defended his belt against Alistair Overeem at UFC 203, talks quickly began to surface about him and former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez getting a fight. After all, Velasquez was considered the most dominant heavyweight fighter in recent history and, if it weren’t for his bothersome health, it might’ve been he who fought Werdum at UFC 198, not Miocic.
Recently, Velasquez was forced to yield from his rematch with Fabricio Werdum due to the Nevada State Athletic Commission deeming him “unfit” to fight. According to the NSAC, Velasquez “competing would place him in significant physical risk." The fight’s winner would have been the next to face Miocic.
If Velasquez can get his health right early in 2017, the chances of seeing him fight Miocic are still optimistic.
7 Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping III
The beef between Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping may be one of the most comedic ones in the UFC, with the main jester and provoker being Bisping.
Their beef goes back to 2014 when Rockhold submitted Bisping in Sydney, Australia. At UFC 199, Bisping redeemed himself by knocking out the cocky Rockhold in the first round after being considered a +425 underdog against him. After the fight, the two continued bashing at each other verbally, with Bisping posting memes onto his social media accounts ridiculing Rockhold.
Rockhold has promised to return Bisping the favor in a trilogy, his exact words being: “You got lucky. You got lucky. Bisping, I will come back and *explicit* kill you. You enjoy your short-lived destiny, my friend. Mark my words.”
Title or not, the chances of a Rockhold-Bisping trilogy in 2017: Very likely.
6 Nick Diaz vs. Tyron Woodley
This fight gained attraction after Woodley won the welterweight belt from Robbie Lawler and started calling out money fights. Among the names he shouted on live television was Nick Diaz, who recently came off of a marijuana-related suspension.
The reason this fight must happen is because it involves a Diaz brother and if the fights between Diaz and Anderson Silva and Nate Diaz and McGregor have taught anyone anything, it’s that the brothers go to war in their fights—and the fans love it. A fight between Woodley and Diaz would be as entertaining as Woodley vs. Thompson, and might even go all five rounds as well.
This is why Diaz’ return would sell so well against Woodley, who is known for his knockout hook. Can he knockout Nick Diaz, who alongside Nate, has one of the sturdiest chins in the UFC?
5 Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler II
Many fans did not know about Diaz and Lawler’s first match in 2004 when they were both wet behind the ears. After the two rose to stardom, with Nick fighting against guys like Anderson Silva and Robbie winning the welterweight title, the 2004 fight started getting more looks.
The UFC offered Diaz a rematch with Lawler, but according to UFC commentator Joe Rogan, he turned it down. “I think Nick wants a (expletive) title fight. I think Nick is like, look I want a big, big name or a title fight.”
Considering that Robbie hasn’t fought since August and Diaz hasn’t won a UFC fight since 2011, a fight between the two is the most reasonable outcome—unless Nick talks his way into a title fight like he did in 2013 when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight championship.
4 Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier II
This fight was supposed to headline UFC 200 before Jon Jones was removed from the card for a doping violation. Jones noted he had no idea one of the supplements he was using was tainted. Considering the amount of trouble Jones gets into, Cormier has all but given up on a rematch between the two.
"So, now that I'm not dealing with that right now and I've kind of separated myself from it, it's great, it's really good,” Cormier told MMA Fighting. “We'll fight at some point, because I don't think I'm going to lose, so when he does come back, I'll still just be right here with the belt waiting and we'll eventually fight. But I don't even know what's going on with that fight and I don't think about it anymore."
Jones is set to return to the UFC in the summer of 2017 and many fans consider him the real champion. That said, the UFC will have to please the fans with this one and make this fight happen.
3 Conor McGregor vs. Tyron Woodley/UFC Welterweight Champion
If this fight happens, it will be for the welterweight title. Anyone up to date with the UFC knows that McGregor’s ultimate goal is to become a three-weight world champion and the man standing in the way of this is Woodley, who is set to defend the title against Stephen Thompson at UFC 209.
If Woodley wins, however, a matchup with McGregor will prove to be the hardest fight of the latter’s career. Woodley is not only a wrestler that can put McGregor on the ground where he’s weak, but he is also a solid striker with knockout power.
Still, if McGregor does manage a victory in such a fantasied fight, then he will surely go down as one of the greatest MMA fighters to step in the octagon.
2 Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
After McGregor defeated the former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez with ease, many deemed him the top fighter in the UFC for winning a belt in multiple divisions. One guy isn’t convinced; Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is undefeated in his career. He believes McGregor is avoiding him, making him the real lightweight division champion.
However, it must be noted that McGregor is taking a few months off due to his pregnant wife, so there is no way he will fight before the second half of the year. With Nurmagomedov set to face Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight champion at UFC 209, if he can win the bout, he is guaranteed to face “The Notorious” when he comes back.
Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor has the potential for being the biggest fight of the year thanks to the fan bases the two have and Nurmagomedov is surely the final question in McGregor’s illustrious career.
1 Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III
The trilogy fight between McGregor and Diaz is definitely the biggest fight UFC has to book in 2017. Media-wise, the UFC has one heck of a story to promote: McGregor’s rise as a superstar and his stopping by Nate Diaz via submission, his storied rematch where he defeated Diaz despite the odds, and finally, the trilogy fight where they settle the score. The fight would be the most promoted fight in UFC history.
Diaz has yet to fight since facing McGregor at UFC 202 and the Stockton fighter said he would not face any other fighter but McGregor next. McGregor, on the other hand, has his eyes on a third belt—the welterweight division’s title—and also has Nurmagomedov to deal with. So until these are resolved, it will be a while before we see the fated trilogy.
Still, as time passes, the stock for the fight between McGregor and Diaz only rises. Whether it’s for the title or not, Dana White has to give the fans what they want. There’s too much money to gain in this fight and too much money to lose if it doesn’t happen.
Expect the third instalment of the McGregor and Diaz trilogy in 2017.