2018 could be yet another down year for the Ultimate Fighting Championship depending on the individuals who will be available and willing to fight in the promotion between April and the final week of the year. Numerous big names are on the outside looking in as of the early portions of spring and WrestleMania weekend, the busiest time of the year in North American professional wrestling and the biggest few days in any World Wrestling Entertainment calendar year. The irony here is that at least a few people currently or previously linked with the WWE could, potentially, be rumored to return to the UFC at some point in 2018 if the money and opportunities are right for their business endeavors. One of those fighters, however, likely won’t ever again compete in the UFC for multiple reasons.
It’s an interesting time to follow the UFC, in that the promotion was sold in 2016 for a reported sum over $4 billion. While the company was always a business endeavor meant to make money, generating profits and booking entertaining and newsworthy bouts over creating supposed fair opportunities for fighters who are under contract is more important today than at any other time in history. Because of that, Dana White and others within the UFC may feverishly work to bring several big names from the past back to the UFC to create buzz, receive attention from media outlets such as ESPN and, hopefully, drive pay-per-view buys to where they were when Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor were routinely headlining shows and defending championships.
15 Chuck Liddell: Won’t
There have been multiple times over the past year or so when UFC and MMA icon Chuck Liddell has teased that he could make a return to the Octagon before calling time on his fighting career for good. Liddell may look like his old self during sparring sessions or when featured in social media posts, but he turned 48 years old last December.
It is not disrespectful to say that he is not the fighter he was when in his prime and at his absolute best. Those who recall him notching victories should also remember that there are pockets of UFC fans who never actually saw him win a contest. Liddell likely wouldn’t be all that big of a draw these days, and that, along with his age, would indicate that his return to the UFC wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms anymore.
14 Georges St-Pierre: Return
In December 2017, Georges St-Pierre’s jiu-jitsu coach John Danaher hinted that the living legend of the sport who made a dramatic return to the UFC after a long hiatus could enter retirement, this time for good, after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
While St-Pierre’s health is more important than any legacy he may want to leave in the UFC or the sport, in general, there are ways to get him or any fighter to reconsider walking away. Dana White and others in the UFC may not love his fighting or negotiating tactics, but GSP unquestionably remains a big name who can move the needle and could attract attention if he was placed in the right fight against another famous personality. We expect to see GSP return.
13 Anderson Silva: Return
Grass being green, water being wet, a broken clock being right twice in one day and Anderson Silva once again returning to the UFC. You can set your watch to all of these things. “The Spider” will turn 43 years old in the middle of April, but that doesn’t mean he won’t return to the UFC for one more money bout and, perhaps, even a championship contest.
After all, Silva has done favors for the UFC in the past, such as when he faced Daniel Cormier on short notice. History tells us that Silva allegedly failing a drug test and earning a suspension won’t mean the end of his fighting career. The UFC has brought others back sooner than expected, and that could be the case with Silva if the promotion believes he could sell tickets and buys one last time before he ultimately rides off into the sunset.
12 Floyd Mayweather: Won’t
While this technically would not be a return to the UFC cage, it has long been rumored that boxing all-time great Floyd Mayweather, currently retired, could return to fighting for another big-money bout versus none other than Conor McGregor (more on him later).
While we have been taught to never say “never” as it pertains to these two doing business together and working an agreement out for a fight, Mayweather being cleared to battle in a licensed UFC contest against a champion and one of the top-rated fighters in the world today seems highly unlikely. Neither Mayweather nor McGregor need the payday, and the UFC should demand that the outspoken Irishman defend the title that he carries as of the spring of 2018. We’re not holding our breaths waiting for this one.
11 Michael Bisping: Return
Depending on the day and his mood at the time when a camera or microphone is placed in front of his face, Michael Bisping has, in the past, changed his tune about whether or not he wants to make one more return to the UFC before embracing a full-time career as an analyst and television personality.
That, in itself, suggests that Bisping realizes there is still money to be made in another fight. Bisping turned 39 years old in February and is probably closer to retirement than he is to reclaiming UFC gold, but he remains one of the better promos in the business and a man who could talk customers into the building and into buying a pay-per-view card. Look for Bisping to fight at least one more time.
10 Nick Diaz: Return
It was back in February 2018 when Dana White suggested that he believed Nick Diaz is ready to make a return to the UFC. Diaz has not fought since losing to Anderson Silva at UFC 183, but he is only 34 years old and should be fresh enough to compete in at least another contest in the biggest promotion on the planet.
The older brother of Nate Diaz was a favorite among fans in his time, and there is no reason to believe he still wouldn’t be an attraction even though he has been away from the sport for some time. We would love to see the UFC book both Nick and Nate to compete on the same show, but that would involve both men accepting returns to the UFC.
9 Vitor Belfort: Won’t
Vitor Belfort has been planning for a retirement bout for some time. That contest didn’t work out as he intended, however, as his scheduled fight against Uriah Hall for this past January was scratched after Hall suffered health issues due to weight-cutting. Belfort is now set to meet Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 for what is, once again, scheduled to be “The Phenom’s” final match inside of the Octagon.
Belfort recently turned 41 years old, and he has nothing left to prove in the sport. The old adage teaches that fighters who are even contemplating retirement have already mentally checked-out and should probably walk away while they are still physically capable of doing so. While people change their minds, in time, Belfort seems unlikely to return to the UFC after the spring.
8 Holly Holm: Return
Holly Holm will turn 37 years old in the fall, her upset victory over Ronda Rousey is now well in the past and she is a woman who is somewhat in limbo due to the fact that it appears her days as a dominant presence in any weight class ended before they truly began.
While there were rumors that Holm could look to return to her roots and to boxing, it was reported in early 2018 that she is not yet finished in the UFC. That is probably the smart business decision for both her and the UFC. Holm is still a recognizable name who can attract viewers for a show that is airing on FOX and who could, with a couple of wins, earn one last championship shot.
7 Nate Diaz: Return
Nate Diaz was already a fighter recognized by fans around the world before he accepted a fight against Conor McGregor on short notice in March 2016. Diaz had less than two weeks to prepare for that huge contest, but he surprised many observers when he notched a submission victory over the man who was, at the time, the biggest star in the sport.
The two met once more at UFC 202, where Diaz lost a match-of-the-year contender via decision. Fans are still holding onto hope that Diaz and McGregor could complete the trilogy in the UFC at some point in 2018, but Diaz may not need to face his former foe to be convinced to make a return to the Octagon. Put both Diaz brothers on a card, UFC, and print money.
6 Miesha Tate: Won’t
By all accounts, Miesha Tate is enjoying her retirement as she is preparing to welcome a daughter into the world. Tate is only 31 years old, meaning that she could have plenty of time to reclaim her fighting form and make a return to the UFC in the future. She seemed checked-out from fighting, outside of grappling contests, ahead of her final contest in the Octagon, and she explained after her last defeat that she believed it was the right time for her to step away.
Tate is no longer the name she was when she was publicly feuding with Ronda Rousey, as she has been replaced in stature and in the rankings by others. There is not much reason for Tate to want to return to fighting at this point of her life.
5 CM Punk: Return
Fans and critics, alike, can say whatever they want about the fighting skills possessed by CM Punk as of the spring of 2018. Punk is still a name and somebody who could attract attention for a contest featured on free television, and that, alone, is reason enough for the UFC to want him to return to the cage for another fight before he reassesses his future in the business.
It is believed, as of the typing of this sentence, that Punk will compete at UFC 225 in Chicago later this year. That makes sense, as Punk would be an over babyface among the hometown audience regardless of the outcome of that bout. More than a few people would be intrigued to see Punk fight again before possibly considering a return to the WWE if that promotion came calling.
4 Jon Jones: Return
In a fair and reasonable world, the UFC and Dana White would show Jon Jones the door and allow him to do whatever he wants wherever he wants. It was only a short time ago when Jones, physically speaking, had the goods to be possibly the greatest star in MMA history, but he has been his own worst enemy on so many occasions that nobody can trust him to be the face of an organization.
The UFC needs stars and names, and the promotion hasn’t yet shied away from bringing Jones back. Why, then, would anybody believe that will change in the foreseeable future? Jones will return to the UFC, and fans around the world will watch him fight because of the promise that he may prove to be worth the hype.
3 Ronda Rousey: Won’t
Retirements in MMA are similar to retirements in pro wrestling in that they are only worth what they are worth on the day they are announced. After all, you’d need more than ten fingers to count all of the comebacks that have occurred in recent memory, alone. With that out of the way, Ronda Rousey was reportedly eyeing retirement from competitive fighting even ahead of her initial loss to Holly Holm, and the Rowdy one is now part of the active WWE roster and expected to become one of the most important figures of the Raw women’s division moving forward.
Money talks, and a future fight against Cris Cyborg could compel her to return. As of the spring of 2018, however, Rousey won’t be in the UFC anytime soon.
2 Brock Lesnar: Return
So much can change in the blink of an eye, which makes it nearly impossible, not to mention foolish, to say with any certainty that somebody absolutely will or won’t return to the UFC at any given time. It is now a part of WWE storyline that Brock Lesnar is going to drop the Universal Championship to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania ahead of having at least one more MMA bout, and there are no secrets about Lesnar being a mercenary and a brilliant businessman who competes and performs with dollar signs in his eyes.
Lesnar and the UFC must realize there’s money to be made in him making a return to the Octagon. He may even fight UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic if it is determined that is what is best for business.
1 Conor McGregor: Return
Conor McGregor is great at many things. Along with being an accomplished fighter, he is also the best self-marketer and self-promoter in the industry today and probably the best the UFC has ever seen as it pertains to that aspect of the business. McGregor probably has more money in the bank than he ever dreamed at the start of the decade, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t planning for future paydays.
The 29-year-old could easily earn an additional $100 million, when one adds everything to the equation, by going all-in on a return to the UFC and preparing for even a few fights. Remember that there remain several dream fights left for McGregor to consider. There is also the idea of him fighting at a massive football or rugby stadium somewhere in the world before he retires.