Welcome back from your first UFC-free weekend.
I must admit, my break from the UFC Fight Night / PPV schedule was short lived. Mixed martial arts was able to bust its way into real life for me. I was invited to be a part of a gallery exhibition that opened this weekend in northern Denmark.
They requested a set of charcoal drawings because the black and white simplicity is in line with Scandinavian aesthetics. Among paintings of ocean waves, a couture canvas tricked out to look like a Louis Vutton handbag, and sculptures of vikings toting canoes, were drawings of RIZIN, ONE, and UFC violence, redepmtion, and struggle.
It’s always interesting to talk with people who have no familiarity with MMA. They are often curious, wonder if I am an angry person, sometimes discomfited by the violence. This time around the work was well received. Hopefully the networking I did will result in a bigger exhibition in 2024 in both Denmark and possibly Berlin.
UFC 4th Quarter projections
But now we must return to the grind and I’m looking at the final quarter of 2023 like a CEO, a Fight Genius if you will, where I see a number of exceptional UFC fights in the final quarter that will enrich fight fans in ways that money, streaming supbscriptions, and PPV buys cannot quantify. These are the top five most consequential happenings on the UFC calender.
Jon Jones’ legacy defining UFC fight
Jon Jones has been teasing the idea that this is his final UFC fight. That this is our the last chance to witness greatness and it will come against Stipe Miocic, the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history. For all his faults and flaws, I can’t deny that every time Jones steps into the cage it is a legacy moment for one of the greatest MMA careers. If fighting in a cage is the only place where Jon Jones is truly in control of his life, I guess it’s also the only time we can look past his foibles, when an all-too-human individual can transcend himself.
Fantasy matchmaking the Makhachev era
Islam Makhachve seems like the next great UFC champion. While his record is not flawless, the man has all the markings of an all-time great. Dominant grappling and improved striking aside, the reason I say this is due to a defensive stat; Makhachev absorbs 1.27 strikes per minute. No matter how dangerous the title challenger, if you can’t put hands on the man you cannot win. For Makhachev to have an all-time career progression, he would have to defeat the old guard at lightweight first, Oliveira and Gaethje, perhaps a Poirier or Dariush, then usher in the next generation.
This is where things get interesting. I’d love to see Makhachev in a rematch with Arman Tsarukyan. Moving up the ranks are Mateusz Gamrot, Grant Dawson, hopefully a fully recovered Fiziev one day. Dare we dream that Makhachev builds up a GOAT-level title run and finds himself squaring off with another Serra-Longo Cinderalla story upset candidate in Matt Frevola? I dare.
The most exciting champions ever?
Alex Pereira, Jiri Prochazka, Alexandre Pantoja, and Brondon Royval have combined for thirteen post-fight bonuses since 2020. I’m at a loss for words over how much excitement these four men have provided in such a short time. This will have to just be a picture gallery instead.
Future title holders
We will wrap up 2023 with two prospects making the leap to title contention given the step up in matchmaking. When we say matchmaking, it’s a combination of their opponent’s skill & experience, name value, and card placement. Jailton Almeida will headline a UFC fight night one week before UFC 295 against Curtis Blaydes. The grappling stud must make it past one of heavyweight’s most talented UFC fighters.
Blaydes has fallen short of his own title shot multiple times, but never has he looked anything less than a blue chip heavyweight. Almeida on the other hand has yet to show us he’s capable of hanging at the highest levels. Heavyweight is thin division so if he proves successful and Jon Jones retires the following week, this marks a sea change for the title picture.
The most compelling contender of this list is Shavkat Rakhmonov. Paired with Stephen Thompson on the absolute banger that is the UFC 296 PPV, this is undoubtedly Rakhmonov’s time to shine. He has shown some defensive holes that led to one of the best UFC fights of 2023 in his battle with Geoff Neal, and a fearlessness that promises further violent delights.
There are many prospects we should watch out for in the final quarter of 2023. Ian Garry and Roman Dolidze, plus the return of Adrian Yanez are all must-see UFC fights, but their waves are not yet cresting. It’ll take time and a few more wins. I hope the moments I’ve listed above will all come to pass, that they’ll deliver on their promise and that I can add artworks of them to the strange and wonderful gallery scene in Scandinavia.
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