An MMA Christmas: 12 Fights We Want Santa to Bring Us in 2018

By Eric Stinton Dec 26, 2017
Every year the same question burns in our minds: what do we want for Christmas? For us MMA fans, the answer is always pretty simple. We want more great fights.

There were a number of great ones in 2017. Justin Gaethje was involved in a couple of classics against Michael Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, Yancy Medeiros and Alex Oliveira put on a scrap for the ages, and T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt put on a hell of a show as well. That’s to say nothing of the memorably one-sided performances as well, from Rose Namajunas’ dismantling of longtime champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Darren Till’s coming out party against Donald Cerrone, Francis Ngannou’s near-beheading of Alistair Overeem, Robert Whittaker’s molly-whopping of Ronaldo Souza, or either of Max Holloway’s wins over Jose Aldo. And that’s just the start; there are dozens more fights that could be mentioned here.

On this most festive time of the year, a week away from 2018, here is our Christmas list of fights we want Old Saint Nick to bring us, one for each weight class.

Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic vs. Cain Velasquez

The heavyweight division is in need of some holiday cheer. Champion Miocic fought only once in 2017, a first round finish of Junior dos Santos in May. While Francis Ngannou shouldered most of the division’s best moments this year, solidifying his spot as the marquee up-and-coming heavyweight, there was a noticeable absence of former champion Velasquez. Once pegged as the next capital-G Great heavyweight, Velasquez has now fought only twice in the last 4 years. If Miocic can get past Ngannou in January, it would give him the all-time title defense record for the UFC heavyweight division. That would put him in rarified air by itself, but a matchup against Velasquez would give Miocic an opportunity to put him in the GOAT discussion in an undeniable way. It would be cool to see greatness fulfilled like that.

Light Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir

I know this fight is already booked, but hear me out. Would anyone really be surprised if -- knock on wood -- something came up between now and Jan. 20? I won’t say the “I” word (hint: it ends in “jury”), but you’re probably picking up what I’m putting down. Santa needs to make sure this fights happens as planned. The division is still reeling from the drug-fueled cameos of Jon Jones, and this is one of the most interesting and exciting matchups there is that isn’t a rematch. For Cormier, it’s a chance to move on from the stain of the No Contest knockout he suffered this past July, and for Oezdemir it’s a chance to complete one of the unlikeliest title runs of all time. With Alexander Gustafsson waiting in the wings, the next title fight will surely be one of the most anticipated matchups of the year regardless of who wins.

Middleweight: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

There are a bunch of dope possible matchups in the middleweight division right now. With Whittaker rightfully promoted to the undisputed champion and the same murderer’s row of contenders licking their chops to take the title from him, 2018 should be a spectacular year for 185 pounders. So this was a tough call to make, especially since Whittaker getting past Luke Rockhold in February is no guarantee. Think about it like this, though: three of the four men involved in the last three middleweight title fights – aside from the interim title fight – were older than 35. Rockhold, the outlier, is an old 33, too. All that to say, it would be awesome to watch two young guns, both under 30, fight for the title. On top of that, they are both exciting standup artists and former welterweights, adding some narrative drama to the mix.

Welterweight: Georges St. Pierre vs. Tyron Woodley

Welterweight continues to be one of the more dynamic divisions, but it’s in a state of plateau in some ways. Woodley has not faced any real adversity since winning the title outside of his fights with Stephen Thompson, and nobody is trying to see round 3 of that matchup. Thompson is still in the mix, however, alongside Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington, with Jorge Masvidal, Darren Till, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Kamaru Usman not much farther behind them. The point is, there is a lot of sorting out to be done to figure out the next rightful title challenger. In the meantime, a contest between the dominant champion of today and the most dominant champion of all time is undeniably titillating. It’s the rare fight that has almost no downside. If Woodley wins, it would be a huge boost to his legacy, and would do little to hurt St. Pierre’s. If St. Pierre wins, it would make the case for him as the pound-for-pound GOAT that much harder to deny, and there’s no shame in losing to that kind of fighter if you’re Woodley.

Lightweight: Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje

Let’s be honest: regardless how you feel about “The Notorious One,” you want to see him back in the Octagon. In a less choosy Christmas wish, I’d simply ask for McGregor to return to MMA competition against anyone, and frankly there are a number of great matchups waiting for him, starting with interim champion Tony Ferguson. Yet if I’m being extra honest, who would make for the most exciting fight for McGregor? None other than “The Highlight,” who accounted for a large portion of all Fight of the Year contenders this year. The pre-fight buildup would be fun, the fight itself would be entertaining -- and there would be dozens of great fights remaining for both of them, win or lose.

Featherweight: Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar

This fight has to happen. It was supposed to go down already, of course, but the mischievous injury Grinch got in the way. There are a number of things that make this matchup special. Edgar has been knocking on the door of featherweight gold for several years now, and has only been thwarted by Jose Aldo, a stylistic nightmare for “The Answer.” Edgar deserves another shot to become the fifth fighter to win titles in two UFC divisions, especially after his Beatdown of the Year effort against rising star Yair Rodriguez. For Holloway, this is a chance to solidify his spot in the division by pushing out the remaining contender from the last generation, which would then usher in a new era of a young champion and a crop of young challengers. That’s the most exciting part of the game, watching the torch get passed from one generation to the next. Plus, the state of Hawaii has a bone to pick with Edgar, and Holloway is the perfect man to bring some reconciliation to Edgar’s demolitions of B.J. Penn.

Women’s Featherweight: Cris Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson

Women’s featherweight is a division in its infancy. Talent is still developing, and it’s no secret that there are few legitimate challenges for reigning queen “Cyborg.” While she will certainly be a large favorite against any and all comers, there is genuine intrigue in seeing Justino fight Anderson. The Australian is not just the current Invicta featherweight champ, she’s a multiply talented finisher and a slick, offensive-minded striker. She has the tools, youth and confidence to pose the kind of problems to push Justino into the next gear. “Cyborg” still has a large task in front of her in Holly Holm, but should she emerge the victor at UFC 219, Anderson will remain the last remaining challenge on the horizon.

Bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt vs. Raphael Assuncao

Bantamweight is better than ever. Current champion TJ Dillashaw and two former champions Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz are the rock, paper and scissors at the top of the division, but Assuncao has quietly earned his spot right alongside them. He’s 9-1 since 2012, only suffering a decision loss to Dillashaw. It’s time to give him the chance to crash into the Holy Trinity at the top of the division. You could make the argument to give him a fight against any of the three, including a title shot rubber match against Dillashaw, but 1) the fight against Garbrandt is the most exciting one of the bunch, and 2) we have other plans for Dillashaw on this wishlist. Garbrandt has a smooth, visually pleasing style of standup, and Assuncao is the master at dragging opponents into an ugly, awkward grind. Plus, as his recent lights-out knockout of Matthew Lopez showed, Assuncao may have an equal claim to possessing the most one-punch power in the division. Garbrandt will likely want to debunk that hypothesis.

Women’s Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Women’s bantamweight is in a strange spot. There is more talent in the division top-to-bottom than there has ever been, but the picture at the top is a little shapeless. Amanda Nunes sits firmly at the top, having defeated Valentina Shevchenko – the top-ranked contender – twice. After Shevchenko in the UFC rankings is Holly Holm, who will either be the featherweight champion or 1-4 in her last five fights after UFC 219. Juliana Pena beat Cat Zingano, who was the last to beat Nunes, but Pena also lost to Shevchenko in her most recent bout. It’s a mess. In Raquel Pennington, however, you have a longtime contender on a four-fight win streak, a recognizable name, and a fighter who poses new challenges to Nunes. While the rest of the scene figures itself out, giving Pennington a hard-earned title shot is the right thing to do.

Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson vs. T.J. Dillashaw

For a lot of people, this fight should have already happened. Alas, Demetrious Johnson broke the all-time title defense record by notching his 11th against Ray Borg, while Dillashaw became the bantamweight champion for the second time by being the first man to beat Cody Garbrandt. This is the best fight for “Mighty Mouse” while the rest of the top contenders figure out amongst themselves who deserves a crack at the title. For Dillashaw, this is probably the biggest fight available to him, not only to become the first to dethrone Johnson but also to become the next two-division champion.

Women’s Flyweight: Nicco Montano vs. Jennifer Maia

Women’s flyweight is the newest addition to the UFC, and it may not even boast the best women’s flyweight fighter. That title likely belongs to Invicta flyweight champion Jennifer Maia, who has not tasted defeat in 3 years. In the early stages of a weight class, it’s important to pull up as much talent as possible and give it an extra push towards broad development. In other words, the UFC should plunder Invicta’s roster and get to booking title fights so the division doesn’t fade into the realm of the forgotten. Montano vs. Maia is a really solid fight stylistically, and it will provide some clarification as to who the best female flyweight is.

Women’s Strawweight: Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade

Namajunas shocked the world when she turned off the lights on the dominant, defending champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in November. A lot of great matchups await, but none have more potential for violent fireworks than a fight with Jessica Andrade. “Bate Estaca” had an overall strong year, beating former Invicta champ Angela Hill before losing a competitive fight to Jedrzejczyk, then topping off 2017 with an upset win over Claudia Gadelha, long considered the second best in the division. Andrade has the tenacity and toughness to test the new champ, and do so in a way that’s going to be guaranteed entertainment.

Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.
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