As the UFC approaches the end of the calendar year, so many questions remain unanswered, especially in the two weight classes that some of the promotion’s top fighters call home.

A fifth-round knockout of Leon Edwards against Kamaru Usman at UFC 278 in August was a major shake-up for the welterweight division. Where do Edwards and UFC matchmakers want to go? What’s the plan for other stars at 170?

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There is also a lot of intrigue in the heavyweight division. Following Francis Ngannou’s title defense in January, the division was put on hold as the champion recovers from knee surgery. But how will this affect the rest of the division? What options does the UFC have?

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MMA experts Brett Okamoto, Mark Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim look forward to the storylines that intrigue them most, including the ongoing welterweight saga.

Ongoing welterweight drama

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The UFC featherweight division is still my favorite weight class in terms of action. inside from the octagon. As far as storylines for the near future, my favorite division has to be welterweight.

The UFC wants to have the Edwards vs. Usman III fight in the UK. Negotiations are already underway to make this happen. It’s surprising when you think about how much Edwards has been overlooked and shunned in this weight class in recent years. Now it’s all running through him: the belt, Usman’s legacy (it will certainly look different if he loses twice to the same opponent) and all the welterweight money. Not so long ago, guys like Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal wanted nothing to do with Edwards. Now this has changed.

Speaking of Covington and Masvidal, what will happen to these two by early 2023? Covington has remained silent ever since he defeated Masvidal in a five-round dislike match and Masvidal allegedly attacked him outside a restaurant in Miami. The criminal case on the fact of this incident is still pending in court. Will we see some sort of settlement or progress towards litigation before the end of the year? Everyone knows these two are a big part of the UFC’s plans at 170 pounds. The UFC was interested in reserving Masvidal against Gilbert Burns, but will Masvidal accept the fight or sit back and hope Edwards retain the title and possibly get a title shot? Where does Covington fit into all this?

In addition, you have Khamzat Chimaev. The UFC hasn’t said if Chimaev wants to fight at welterweight again after he missed weight against Nate Diaz in the main event. Does the UFC still see Chimaev as a welterweight contender, or will this push him towards a full-time transition to middleweight? Chimaev is probably the most talented and fastest growing welterweight the division has ever seen, but will his division move forward?

Now it is the main division of the UFC. The storylines and names don’t get much bigger and this is reflected in the company’s efforts to promote Edwards-Usman III in the UK, possibly even in the stadium. — Okamoto

What happens to the UFC heavyweight title?

As we move into the final months of the UFC calendar year, the elephant in the room is the image of the heavyweight title. What exactly is going on here? Francis Ngannou successfully defended his belt in January against former teammate Cyril Gein in an emotional battle. Ngannou, known for his great punching power, had to outplay and intercept the tricky Gane due to Ngannou’s right knee being torn. Ngannou somehow won by decision — a testament to his will and his evolving game — and then underwent surgery in March to repair his bad knee.

That was six months ago and the heavyweight title hierarchy hasn’t changed since then. Many expected an interim belt to be on the line, and a fight for the award between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic has been mooted with a potential target date in July. This has not come true yet. Jones is the best light heavyweight of all time; Miocic is the best UFC heavyweight of all time. The fight is selling on its own, plus it will be Jones’ heavyweight debut and his first fight since February 2020.

Why didn’t Miocic vs. Jones take place? Some reasons. Earlier that year, sources said Miocic was not ready. Now, a few months later, the UFC seems to have realized that this year is already so late that perhaps Ngannou could be ready sooner rather than later. But this is also unlikely. Ngannou told Sportzshala ahead of a UFC event in Paris earlier this month that he probably won’t be able to return until early 2023. Then there is the question of Ngannou’s contract. His team believes he will become a free agent in January, but according to sources, the UFC is debating whether that will be the case.

Now what? It looks like the UFC will face Miocic again against Jones for the interim title, possibly as early as UFC 282 in December. But this is far from a settled matter. In addition, many questions about Ngannou’s future as a UFC champion and the status of his contract still need to be answered. Ngannou has made it very clear that he wants to box, but he would like to do so while continuing to fight for the UFC, which would be an unprecedented deal. With the careers of some of the most legendary and compelling fighters on the line, the next few months will be exciting as we see exactly how the UFC heavyweight title picture plays out. – Raimondi

Can Islam Makhachev bet on the lightweight title?

The last time Charles Oliveira lost a fight was almost five years ago, in 2017. Makhachev won 10 fights in a row during a streak of success that began in 2015. Their meeting at UFC 280 for the vacant title in a lightweight clash appeal at a crossroads like title fights.

How often do we see two athletes enter the cage with almost two dozen victories in a row? In addition to who takes home the shiny belt that’s on the line on October 22nd, we’ll also get the answer to this tantalizing question: which of these men will have their clocks turned back and reminded of how they feel. like finishing a fight second best?

And yet, I see Oliveira vs. Makhachev — the fight I most look forward to on the MMA schedule for the rest of 2022 — as something even more intriguing than just a matchup between the two best on the planet. . I also view this meeting as a clash of perceptions and expectations.

Why is this? The first thing that caught my eye when the title fight was called was that Makhachev opened as a 2-to-1 favorite. I’m still trying to figure out the reason for this.

Maybe it’s because we’ve seen Oliveira’s vulnerability in his last three fights. Michael Chandler, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje were injured and knocked Oliveira down before the Brazilian pulled himself together and finished each of them off. Meanwhile, Makhachev had just come out and torn to pieces everyone he fought. The Dagestanian was the favorite to bet in all 12 of his appearances in the octagon – this is the longest active streak for a fighter who started his career in the UFC. So maybe we just got used to the fact that the odds are in favor of Makhachev.

But here’s the thing: Makhachev wasn’t in a cage with anyone at the level of Oliveira’s last three victories. Only one of Makhachev’s opponents in the UFC, Arman Tsarukyan, is in the promotion’s top 10 lightweight division. retained supreme control for almost half of the fight.

So perhaps Oliveira vs. Makhachev is best viewed through this lens: a clash of relentless dominance and schedule rigidity.

Perhaps public opinion was influenced by the statement of the world-respected Khabib Nurmagomedov. During his run as champion, Nurmagomedov insisted that Makhachev, his longtime friend and training partner, was the heir to the throne. Are we all caught up in the Khabib 2.0 narrative? — Wagenheim