Predicting the Biggest UFC Fights of 2015
UFC fans are sitting pretty.
Even through the first eight months of the year, fans have already been fortunate enough to watch Renan Barao cement his dominance with a one-sided TKO victory against Urijah Faber in February, only to have T.J. Dillashaw put a jackhammer to Barao's credibility as the champion with an even more one-sided five-round beating in May.
They've been fortunate enough to continue to watch Ronda Rousey ascend into heights that only Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre have ever reached in the UFC with first-round TKOs against Sara McMann and Alexis Davis.
And the fortune won't end there—they still get to watch Chris Weidman defend his title against Vitor Belfort, Anthony Pettis step into the cage with Gilbert Melendez, and pretty much all of UFC 178 among other bouts.
While 2014 has been and will remain to be great, it's only here to set up one thing: 2015.
Scroll on to see my predictions for the biggest UFC fights for 2015. The fights are listed from least exciting to most exciting (spoiler, they're all still really exciting). Only bouts that stand a realistic chance of occurring within the next year will be considered—so don't expect Chuck Liddell to make a comeback or have any spot on this list.
7. Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Edgar
The second Frankie Edgar opened up to the idea of strapping on the leather gloves as a featherweight, most of us started going through our sub-155 Rolodex to start making some of the best fights that any of the lighter-weight fighters could possibly put on.
For obvious reasons, the superfight was up first.
After that came the dream matchups—and none more exciting than one shared between Edgar and Urijah Faber.
While both men remain busy atop their respective divisions, with just a few fights separating them from another shot at the title, this dream fight isn't totally out of the question, Edgar told Bloody Elbow.
"I probably could make 135, but I don't know how well I would perform or how my body would feel," he said. "One-forty is much more ideal for me, and if the right situation arises, I could see that fight (against Faber) happening."
With Faber likely to steer away from a title fight against his teammate and Edgar waiting for his turn for another shot at the belt with a crowd of deserving contenders, this fight could make sense for the two come 2015.
6. T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz
T.J Dillashaw surprised most of the MMA community when he proved he belonged anywhere near a title fight with the reigning bantamweight champion Renan Barao in just the first round of their bout.
He shocked most of the MMA community when he proved he dominated the champion for five full rounds before putting an emphatic stamp on his performance with a fifth-round TKO.
Scheduled to defend his title for the first time against the same man he took it from, Dillashaw steps in this time to prove his first performance was no fluke.
Unfortunately for Barao, it probably wasn't.
But simply beating the best active bantamweight in the world doesn't secure you as the best bantamweight in the world—Dillashaw still needs to get past former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Cruz, who hasn't stepped inside of the Octagon since 2011, is returning from several injuries next month to face Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178. Stripped from his title due to the inactivity, it's likely Cruz will only need one victory before being granted a title shot against Dillashaw.
If watching Cruz fight against the only other man who's been able to effectively utilize the footwork he popularized doesn't excite you, you should probably contact your physician.
5. Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor steps into the Octagon against Dustin Poirier next month as the No. 9 featherweight in the UFC.
He'll probably walk out ranked a little bit higher. About four spots higher.
At that point, he may not be the most worthy opponent to Jose Aldo's featherweight crown, but he may be the UFC's most exciting one.
Think about it: Frankie Edgar already had his chance to knock Aldo off the mountain and failed. Even Cub Swanson, the last man to face a titleless Aldo, couldn't last more than eight seconds with the pound-for-pound phenom.
It really wouldn't be that hard for the UFC to sway opinions and deny both of these men of their deserved title shots in favor of slotting McGregor in what would be their best opportunity at showcasing just how big of a show the smaller guys can put on.
4. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson II
Jon Jones is set to take on Daniel Cormier next month at UFC 178. The former Olympian thinks he has what it takes to take Jones to the mat and the crown from his head, while the current champion thinks he has what it takes to shut his opponent up.
Chances are the taller, longer fighter takes this one because he's just that—the taller, longer fighter.
What's likely to stand as Jones' most impressive victory to date will be the setup to what's likely to be Jones' most anticipated bout as the 205-pound champ: A rematch with Alexander Gustafsson.
The competitive aspect of this rematch should be more than reason to tune in. The comical social media feud these two fighters have going on should give you some reason, too.
3. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva III
A lot of you will scoff at this selection before taking to the comment section to share your sentiments. You're tired of hearing about this fight. Go ahead. Complain.
But let's be real for a second: Just because you don't want to watch this fight, doesn't mean you won't watch this fight. Because for as big as Weidman vs. Silva II was, you have to imagine that Weidman vs. Silva III will be even bigger.
Having lost to Chris Weidman for the second time, Anderson Silva claimed he wanted no part in fighting Weidman for a third time—he was done chasing the title and it was time for other fighters to cement their history, he told Globo (via MMAFighting.com)
Just five months away from making his highly anticipated return to the cage against Nick Diaz, Silva feels a bit different, he told MMA reporters on a UFC conference call.
"Right now, it's not my priority," he said about a run at the title. "If I have the credentials to fight for the title, I'll be more than glad to do it."
Already the No. 1-ranked fighter in the UFC's middleweight division, a strong performance against a game Nick Diaz at UFC 181 could be all the Spider needs before securing his third shot at the middleweight crown. But, hey, a fight against Lyoto Machida, Luke Rockhold or Vitor Belfort before getting there would be cool, too.
2. Cain Velasquez vs. Jon Jones
For as competitive as Jones vs. Gustafsson I was, there's reason to believe that Jones vs. Gustafsson II won't be. That reason? Jon Jones gets much, much better each and every time we see him step into the cage.
In hypothetically defeating both Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson in what will likely be his next two bouts, Jones will have little left to prove in the UFC's light heavyweight division. Sure, he'll probably face off against Anthony Johnson at some point in mid 2015, but for as scary as Rumble's been since his return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it's unlikely he'll have more to offer against Jones than Rampage Jackson, Glover Teixeira or Rashad Evans did.
This sets the table for a bona fide super fight between the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world and the baddest man on the planet: UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
1. Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg
Ronda Rousey's already stepped into the Octagon twice in 2014, spending all of one minute and 22 seconds to prove that she's far and beyond the best female fighter in the UFC.
Pending agreement and putting pen to paper, Rousey'll likely cap off her 2014 campaign against the former face of women's MMA, Gina Carano. Considering Carano's not stepped foot inside of the cage since a 2009 loss to Cris "Cyborg" Justino, there's little reason to believe this fight will be anywhere near as competitive as Dana White and company want you to believe.
With that blockbuster of a fight against Carano and a logical bout with deserving contender Cat Zingano out of the way, Rousey will be in prime position to finally share the cage with her most bitter rival: Cyborg.
Once claiming bantamweight an impossibility, Cyborg's scheduled to make her 135-pound debut in December. Assuming Cyborg will remain the best female fighter on the planet not named Ronda Rousey, it's more than likely that Cyborg will be able to hold up her end of the bargain in creating what will likely be the most anticipated bout of 2015.
Comment below with what fights you think were left out.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.
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