Literally a few days before the new year, MMA has already again declared itself to be the most unpredictable sport. After all, Jake Paul is now an MMA fighter in the PFL.
There are big questions ahead in 2023. What will be Nate Diaz’s next move after leaving the UFC last September? Can we still expect Jon Jones to make his heavyweight debut earlier this year? Can we see another major title?
UFC kicks off on Saturday, while Bellator and PFL kick off in February. With so many opportunities in the sport this year and big fights looming, we asked Megan Anderson, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim to check out some of the wildest predictions that could come true in 2023.
Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz could be the most interesting fighting crossover ever.
Predicting the match itself is not so bold. I mean, in the video that Jake Paul recorded last week to announce his arrival in the PFL, he challenged Diaz to a couple of fights – the first in boxing, the second in MMA.
To complicate matters considerably, I predict that this will end up with just one fight split between two sports. Of course, it would be an extraordinary spectacle, but such a format could add competition. In an MMA fight, Diaz is expected to be the favorite to bet on. Do you really want to see it? Don’t you already know how it’s going to happen?
However, such everyday predictability is not quite suitable for a boxing match, in which Paul is now winning by a ratio of 3-1. So give Paul one round of boxing to try and use his size and strength to knock him out, and if he can’t beat Diaz, he’ll have to deal with a significant backlog in the fight in the second round. The PFL is innovative enough to figure out the rules set for the third round. Hey, this match is weird from the start, so why not make it completely outlandish? — Wagenheim
Jon Jones will never fight again
Jones is a big personality in the sport. Having stayed out of the octagon since his last light heavyweight title defense over Dominick Reyes in 2020, he has been able to maintain his relevance. From potential fights that fell through to online feuds with top action fighters like Israel Adesanya and Francis Ngannou. The only reason why his name hasn’t been mentioned is possibly due to wrestling. If he sincerely wanted to fight again, I think he would have already done so. Of course, it took him a while to properly gain the desired weight, but it does not take long. three years get used to fighting in the new division. We’ve seen high-level fighters switch divisions as they find a way to stay active. Dustin Poirier did it. And Jared Cannonier, who recently fought for the middleweight title, moved from heavyweight in 2015 to middleweight by 2018 while remaining active.
If he makes me believe in his words and he really comes back, his style and skill can set him apart from the rest of the fighters in the heavyweight division. Jones has one of the best fighting IQs in the history of the sport and I don’t think many in the division can beat him. If he returns, he could very well become the UFC heavyweight champion. I just don’t think he will. — Anderson
Henry Cejudo Named Fighter of the Year
Do you want bold? I’m going bold here. Even though Cejudo is unlikely to be the Fighter of the Year in 2023, this man is perfect for it if he manages to pull off the win. He is currently expected to come out of retirement in the first quarter of the year in a bantamweight title fight against Aljamain Sterling. It’s an extremely difficult match right out of the gate as Sterling is working his hardest right now. But if Cejudo was to win, look at his next fight: probably a title defense against Sean O’Malley, a fight that will get a lot of attention.
And if Cejudo had won it, I believe the UFC would have supported his goal to move up to 145 pounds and try for a third UFC title, which never happened.
All this likely? No. This is a difficult year, which I have just described. But, of course, to become a fighter of the year, you need to win. In addition, the quality of winnings is evaluated. Cejudo seemingly has the opportunity to have a better year if he wins. — Okamoto
On January 1, 2024, we’ll be talking about Nate Diaz returning to the UFC.
Even on the night of Diaz’s departure from the UFC – a successful exit, with a victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 279 – Diaz hinted at a possible return to the UFC. I see him quenching his non-UFC thirst in 2023, accepting offers from all sorts of challengers, doing things his own way – and all the while letting this Conor McGregor trilogy fight as a UFC chef.
We’ve been saying for years that this fight has to happen at some point and that hasn’t really changed. This is a massive battle, and all sides know it. However, Diaz was never going to “wait” for McGregor. McGregor hasn’t been very active and his schedule is far from reliable, so Diaz is going to mind his own business and become a star outside of the UFC. McGregor will likely return and fight in the UFC at some point this year. And every time one of them competes, we will continue to talk about the likelihood of them meeting again. Diaz fought twice in 2023 outside of the UFC. McGregor fought once. And by the first day of next year, all roads will point to the third match between them in the octagon. — Okamoto
Fedor Emelianenko, 46, has retired from the Bellator Heavyweight Championship.
All he has to do is defeat Ryan Bader on February 4th at Bellator 290 in Inglewood, California. That would be a no-brainer for Emelianenko, who has beaten the world’s top heavyweights for nearly a decade on a winning streak, mostly in the Pride Fighting Championships. Of course, the decade I’m talking about is not the current one, and not even the previous one. This dynamo has been gone for a long time, and the faded Emelianenko remained among us. He fought Bader four years ago and was knocked out in 35 seconds. But Bader is now 39 and will join Emelianenko at the senior level. If the aging process evens the game at all, it might be enough to give Emelianenko one last golden moment in a career filled with them.
The Bellator heavyweight champion being defeated by the retiring 46-year-old will be one of the highlights in Bellator history. But it could also open the door for a new giant to take center stage. — Wagenheim
Leon Edwards will upset Kamaru Usman again
Edwards’ win over Usman did a lot to boost his confidence. Entering the trilogy, Edwards now knows he has the power to stop Usman. Of course, he might have believed it before, but now he knows It. It is important.
In the first fight, Edwards realized he needed to work on his takedown defense. Initially, he was able to slow down many of Usman’s takedown attempts early in the fight, but as the fight went on, Usman began to find success. Then, at UFC 278, after Edwards developed heart problems that could be related to fighting at high altitude in Salt Lake City, he managed to find a way to win. Now, just like the last fight was pretty much in Usman’s backyard (he trains in Denver), the next fight is expected to be in Edwards’ backyard in England and Usman could be the one to adjust. Don’t be surprised if Edwards hits two big upsets in a row. — Anderson
Multiple UFC fighters to follow Jake Paul to PFL
A new financial issue the UFC is now facing is the signing of Jake Paul’s PFL. During the announcement, Paul emphasized the PFL’s commitment to paying more than 50% of its pay-per-view revenue to its fighters. While the best fighters in the UFC still earn far more than anyone else in the sport, Paul is a master at generating attention and using new media to spread the word on his own terms. Can he entice another star or two to follow Diaz out the doors of the octagon? And can he pull White into a second-tier fight that the UFC owners would rather avoid? –Wagenheim