This weekend kicks off the biggest sporting event in the world – the World Cup. Next month, 32 countries will converge to determine what to brag about for the next four years, watched by billions of people (not “billions” of ONE championship, real billions of people). But in the run-up to this massive global event, we are once again faced with the question: what if, instead of kicking the ball, countries compete to see who can play the best?
Four years ago, MMA Fighting answered that question with the first MMA World Championship, and now we’re aiming to do it again. In 2018, Brazil, led by Amanda Nunez, Jose Aldo and a host of top 10 fighters, led the way to the trophy, but this time there is one major difference: the United States of America.
Under the previous rules, the MMA World Championship runs in parallel with the FIFA World Cup, meaning only teams that qualify for the latter participate in the former. In 2018, the United States missed the tournament, but this time the Yankees are here and they have a great team. However, Brazil is still one of the deepest lineups on the pitch, so the Selecao are very much alive to bounce back.
As a reminder, how it all works: football teams start with 11 players, so we select 11 fighters – one in each of the major weight classes in this sport – to represent each country in the MMA tournament. Then we play different matches and see which country takes home the gold. Not every country has fighters in every weight class, but we have done our best to complete the teams, taking some liberties, but also using only those who have fought recently. It’s not perfect, but come down, donkey.
Special thanks to tapologywithout whom this attempt would have been nearly impossible.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the World Cup hosts don’t have a team. Well, unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about it. Even in Tapology, there are only two Qatari fights, and none of them have fought remotely lately. Also, given the many problems with Qatar in general, it probably wouldn’t host a women’s tournament, but oh well. They are immediately kicked out of the group.
As for the remaining three teams, the group phase features the Netherlands with a strong core of Alistair Overeem, Gegard Mousasi and Reinier de Ridder backed by some solid regional talent. Meanwhile, Ecuador is able to bypass Senegal thanks to the power of Marlon Vera and just field a full team.
Results: The Netherlands win the group. Ecuador is coming.
Best fights: Michael Morales vs Brian Hui is a low key fight but the main fight here is Alistair Overeem vs Reuga Reuga.
My God, this time the Death Group is ferocious.
In 2018, Iran with the worst team won their group and advanced to the quarterfinals. This time, Iran failed to win a single match. They really need to start turning their rich wrestling talents into more MMA fighters.
As expected, the United States came out hot, showing why they are the tournament favorites this time around, with strong performances from Aljamain Sterling, Demetrius Johnson and all three women. Meanwhile, England must contend with fear of Wales, but their core of Leon Edwards, Arnold Allen, Tom Aspinall and Mukhammed Mokaev is an ordeal for any country.
However, kudos to Wales, who would have made the playoffs in almost any other group.
Results: USA wins the group. England is coming.
Best fights: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3, Curtis Blades vs. Tom Aspinall 2, Max Holloway vs. Arnold Allen, Beneil Dariush vs. Dustin Poirier, Jared Cannonier vs. Darren Till, Molly McCann vs. Kathleen Chookagian, Brett Jones vs. Davy Grant.
Poland was the favorite team of 2018, reaching the final before losing to the Brazilian national team, and white-red hope to be in it again by bringing back six of your fighters from the last half, including the return of Joanna Jedrzejczyk from her recent retirement for a final run with the red and whites. Meanwhile, Argentina can’t keep up with the Mexican women’s trio of top five fighters in Yair Rodriguez and Brandon Moreno.
Results: Poland wins the group. Mexico is coming.
Best fights: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Alexa Grasso, Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Lupita Godines, Jan Blachowicz vs. Laureano Staropoli.
After a disappointing performance in 2018 when they lost to a powerful Russian team, Australia is back and once again in the top 4. Led by the sport’s top weight class fighter Alexander Volkanovski, the Australians are a solid lineup that can outlive France and win the group stage. The French line-up is noticeably less experienced than in 2018, but they still have enough strength to survive strong performances from Denmark and a brash Tunisia.
Results: Australia wins the group. France is coming.
Best fights: Francis Ngannou vs Tai Tuivasa, Robert Whittaker vs Nassurdin Imavov, Jake Matthews vs Nicholas Dolby, Mads Burnell vs Salahdin Parnass
Japan, one of the most competitive groups in the tournament this time around, is still in the Group E class with the return of six players who started in 2018 including Kyoji Horiguchi, Kléber Koike Erbest and Mizuki Inoue. Costa Rica unfortunately doesn’t field enough of a team to be truly competitive, but Germany and Spain are struggling to finish second in the group, with Spain just getting ahead of the opposition thanks to great performances from Juan Espino and Joel Alvarez.
Results: Japan wins the group. Spain is coming.
Best fights: Daniel Weichel vs. Daniel Weichel Koike Erbst, Satoshi Ishii vs. Kleber Koike Erbst John Hawthorne, Rin Nakai vs. John Hawthorne Mandy Boom
Like the United States, Canada missed out on the 2018 World Cup, but Georges St-Pierre’s team (he’s the coach) is now considered one of the tournament favorites, having passed the group stage and secured their position in the 1/8 finals. The fight for second place in this group is hot as Belgium, Croatia and Morocco have obvious weaknesses to overcome. Ultimately, Roberto Soldic and company were able to pass the young Belgian team and the shallow group of Morocco.
Results: Canada wins the group. Croatia is moving forward.
Best fights: Roberto Soldic vs. Mike Malot, Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Ottman Azaitar, Sebastian Di Franco vs. Hakim Davodu
Once again, Brazil is an absolute powerhouse. Serbia and Switzerland fielded solid teams this year, but in this group they are the wheat before the scythe. Brazil not only wins the group but also puts up a perfect 33-0 record, sending the rest of the tournament a signal that they are going to repeat.
The battle for second place in this group is a true story in which Cameroon performed well despite the lack of hands. If Francis Ngannou had chosen to represent Cameroon rather than France they might have had a better chance here, but instead they don’t put up enough strength to compete with Serbia and Switzerland who go head-to-head for second place with Serbia edging out his. thanks to their powerful heavy grouping of Darko Stosic, Aleksandar Rakic and Dusko Todorovic.
Results: Brazil wins the group. Serbia is coming.
Best fights: Glover Teixeira vs. Alexander Rakic, Alexander Rakic vs. Volkan Ozdemir, Volkan Ozdemir vs. Glover Teixeira, Charles Oliveira vs. Uros Medic
In 2018, South Korea just missed the promotion from the group of death, but this time they have a much easier path and a deeper team to work with. Jang Sung Jung, Kyung Ho Kang, and Joon Young Park make up a well-coordinated team that moves forward without too much trouble.
Unfortunately, the fight for second place in this group is not as competitive as in others: Ghana lacks too many places to compete, Portugal has enough of the best fighters to send them in, and the Uruguay team is just getting started…