After experiencing the rollercoaster that 2023 has been in MMA, it’s safe to assume that the remainder of the year will be just as chaotic.
Jamahal Hill became the first-ever “Dana White’s Contender Series” winner to capture a UFC title. Sean O’Malley followed Hill’s footsteps, dethroning bantamweight great Aljamain Sterling. Jon Jones and Henry Cejudo made their much-anticipated returns to the Octagon. Women’s MMA GOAT Amanda Nunes announced her retirement after a win at UFC 289 in June. And just this past weekend at Noche UFC, Alexa Grasso’s first UFC strawweight title defense against former champion Valentina Shevchenko ended in a surprising split draw.
With more than three months left in the year, there are plenty of intriguing matchups all along the schedule. Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Eddie Maisonet make bold predictions that could become a reality before the end of 2023.
Okamoto: Jon Jones will retire
Jones has hinted that it a retirement is possible, but one would think it’s not the most likely scenario. Not when he’s still at the top of his game and just signed a new eight-fight contract that could pay him the most money of his career. But I don’t know. I’m preparing for a Jones retirement at UFC 295 in New York. It makes too much sense — to beat the heavyweight GOAT, Stipe Miocic, in your first appearance in New York — then take the mic and say farewell.
I would love to see Jones stick around. I would love to see him fight Sergei Pavlovich. I would love to see him fight Tom Aspinall in England. But we’ve seen him willingly vacate a title before (light heavyweight). My prediction is that Jones will retire in November. But don’t be sad — I also boldly predict that he will then un-retire in the following years.
Raimondi: One more UFC title will change hands in 2023
This has been a year marked by a changing of the guard. Long-term, dominant champions have fallen by the wayside. Pound-for-pound ranked stars have either lost or retired (Nunes). MMA is a cyclical business, and some of the top fighters from the last several years are phasing out, giving way to new faces.
That won’t change this fall. There will be at least one more UFC title change before the end of the year. Where and when it happens is anyone’s guess. Islam Makhachev defends his UFC lightweight title against Charles Oliveira at UFC 294 on Oct. 21 in Abu Dhabi. The following month, Jones puts the heavyweight title up against Miocic.
No other title fights are currently scheduled for the rest of 2023. But one would figure to see a flyweight championship clash with Alexandre Pantoja defending, perhaps against Brandon Royval. There’s also the possibility of Sean O’Malley facing Marlon “Chito” Vera for the bantamweight title and the long-awaited welterweight title fight between champion Leon Edwards and potential challenger Colby Covington.
No one is safe. Not lately, anyway. The UFC titles are like hot potatoes. Alexander Volkanovski, at featherweight, is the only active champion to have held his belt for more than 13 months. Every other UFC champion has been crowned from August 2022 or more recently. There have been eight title changes or vacancies this year alone. Don’t expect that trend to change.
Wagenheim: Sergei Pavlovich will claim the UFC heavyweight title
Yes, I am aware that the title fight on the books is Jones vs. Miocic on Nov. 11. But I’ve seen reports that Pavlovich will serve as a backup for that UFC 295 main event, and it seems to me that if ever an alternate fighter were to be called upon, this would be a likely time.
When Jones won the belt in March, it was his only fight in the past 3½ years. Even when he was more active and on top of the sport, his unmatched accolades had to share the spotlight with his career-derailing troubles, from multiple failed drug tests to arrests on charges ranging from domestic violence to a hit-and-run incident in which a pregnant woman was injured. The UFC suspended Jones three times during his light heavyweight run and stripped him of his title. He has had scheduled fights canceled on more than one occasion.
Miocic hasn’t had that type of shadowy past, but he’s 41 years old and this would be his first fight in nearly three years. To say the former champ, who has more UFC heavyweight title defenses than anyone, has one foot out the door of the Octagon would be an understatement. Miocic has taken his job as a firefighter and paramedic from part-time to full-time, and he’s expected to retire from MMA after facing Jones, if he makes it to the fight.
Maybe Jones vs. Miocic will happen as scheduled, and Pavlovich will have to wait until 2024 for his shot at gold. But considering how long it took for this dream matchup of the overall GOAT vs. the heavyweight GOAT to be put together, maybe we’re all dreaming if we think Mr. Inactive and Mr. Idle will both show up on fight night.
Maisonet: Someone from UFC or WWE will switch sides by the end of 2023
My peers above all made very respectable and intelligent predictions, but let’s get bold, shall we? As of last week, TKO, the newly merged organization comprising WWE and UFC, is now publicly open for business. With the joint union now in motion, why wouldn’t a fighter or wrestler put their toes in the water to gauge the possibilities?
Israel Adesanya’s manager has said it’s on the fighter’s “bucket list” for life after MMA. Brandon Moreno made an appearance at AAA Triplemania 31 in Tijuana earlier this year. Conor McGregor constantly teases showing up at WWE on social media. Those are the moments we know of, but I believe some midcard fighters might be the ones to make a legitimate inquiry.
Could someone from WWE consider a CM Punk-esque transition to UFC? It’s not hard to fathom, and if it didn’t work out, said wrestler would likely be able to return to WWE with a new storyline option in tow.