What a wild ride it has been for MMA in 2023…
We had Francis Ngannou leave the UFC, and even the PFL merged with Bellator in a blockbuster deal. It almost feels like every year this crazy sport gets even crazier and chaotic. Of course, it is hard to predict the future, but it sure is fun. Now that we’re in 2024, let’s take a look at some bold predictions for this year in MMA.
The Scrap’s Marcos Antelo & Lee Brown dive into their list and explore the possibilities:
1. Conor McGregor does not fight in 2024
We have not seen the biggest star in MMA history compete for over 900 days now. Since July 2021, to be exact. When Conor McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather back in 2017, the Irishman reportedly earned around $100 million. After McGregor would earn such life-changing money in the second highest grossing boxing match ever, many fans knew that the hungry and determined version of Conor was gone, at least to an extent.
Since 2017, those claims have been justified as McGregor has been as inactive as ever. To top it all off, the two-division UFC champion suffered a potentially career-altering fracture to his leg in his last fight. Ever since Conor was cleared to compete, nonstop speculation has ensued regarding his return. But that’s all it’s been: Speculation. Talks of the “Notorious” one’s return began as early as last summer, and his next fight date has been pushed back again and again.
We are now in 2024, and nothing is officially signed as far as his reappearance in the octagon. Although McGregor has recently broke the internet by announcing a fight on International Fight Week with Michael Chandler, fans are not fully convinced that it’s a done deal. Can Conor McGregor return in 2024? Absolutely. Talks have certainly picked up regarding such, and it is looking like a real possibility. However, would it be shocking if we did not see him fight in 2024? Honestly, based on past evidence, not at all.
2. Jake Paul finally fights in the PFL
2023 was a huge year for the PFL, and perhaps their biggest move yet was signing the influencer sensation that is Jake Paul. Along with signing the 8-1 boxer, Paul would announce the new “PPV Super Fights Division,” in which he would not only become a co-founder… But would also exclusively compete in MMA. Since signing for the promotion this past January, Paul has made it clear that he has been working on his MMA skills. How much? I guess that remains to be seen.
Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz in the PFL has been by far the most speculated fight for his debut. The two boxed back in August, and many believed an MMA fight would immediately ensue. In fact, Jake claims he offered Nate a two-fight deal (1 Boxing, 1 MMA), but he would apparently turn it down. Aside from Diaz, no other names have been thrown out. So if Paul’s MMA debut with Diaz does not come to fruition, it would be interesting to see who they can find for “The Problem Child.” Just a few months ago, Jake would officially gear up in the PFL fight kit for the first time. Given that the early plans were for Jake to step into the Smart Cage in 2024, I don’t see why that would be off the table now.
3. Francis Ngannou will not fight for the PFL in 2024
Much like Jake Paul, Francis Ngannou’s signing with the PFL was a win for the organization. It’s not often that you get the best heavyweight on the planet as a free agent. The PFL was certainly not going to let that opportunity slip. Unlike what he wasn’t able to get in the UFC, the terms of Ngannou’s new PFL deal allow him to go out and box.
Unfortunately for the PFL, I don’t think they were expecting Ngannou to fare as well as he did against Tyson Fury. In fact, I asked PFL President Ray Sefo this question a few months ago. He quite literally stated his shock as far as how the fight played out. Nobody on God’s green earth expected Francis to do this well, meaning the newfound opportunities may be endless for “The Predator”.
Many options for Francis Ngannou indeed, perhaps none of which will include the PFL in 2024. As a die-hard fan, I am all for the growth of MMA. Having a legit alternative to the UFC can really go a long way. However, let’s be completely honest… How many PFL heavyweights outside of Ngannou can the casual fan name? Better yet, how many PFL fighters in general can the casual fan name? Therefore, what fight in the PFL is even remotely intriguing for Francis?
Now we get to the even greater issue at hand. Why would Ngannou ever want to go back to MMA in general? You can argue he just beat the number one guy in a sport that is far more lucrative for top-level fighters than MMA. He proved he’s one of the best in the world and now has a slew of opponents, his next one being Anthony Joshua. There’s more money to be made in boxing, despite the new PFL deal. There are also far better opponents to face too. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect him to fight in MMA, at least not in 2024.
4. Michael “Venom” Page starts UFC career 3-0
The newly signed MVP is a knockout artist that fought for Bellator. Page will fight Kevin Holland at UFC 299 on March 9th in his UFC debut. After an entertaining fight with Holland, the UFC will book “Venom” vs. Geoff Neal late in the summer. Geoff Neal is currently ranked #8 in the welterweight division. Page and Neal could be another standup banger as both are competent strikers. UFC will once again book Page a stylistic friendly matchup against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson late in the fourth quarter. This fight would be a back and forth affair, but ultimately I see Page winning a split decision pushing his record to 3-0 in the UFC.
5. Jon Jones returns to beat Miocic & Aspinall… Then Retires
The legacy fight between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic is going to happen. Jones the greatest light heavyweight champ wants to fight Stipe, the greatest heavyweight of all time. The fight will not decide the best heavyweight in the world, but it could put an end to the GOAT discussion once again. To crown the best heavyweight in the world, Jones will fight Tom Aspinall, the current UFC interim heavyweight champ. Aspinall shocked the world when he beat Sergei Pavlovich to win the interim title. Jones, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, will beat Aspinall and unify the titles. During his post-fight interview, Jones will announce his retirement, lay down his gloves, and the UFC title.
6. A fight is booked between Islam Makhachev & Khamzat Chimaev for the Welterweight Championship
Islam Makhachev and Khamzat Chimaev have been hyped for years as the future of the sport. Both are known for their superior grappling and grade-A ground games. Islam, the current UFC lightweight champ, has already been clamoring for a shot at Leon Edwards and his welterweight title. UFC will have Islam defend his title against Charles Oliviera and if he wins, he gets his wish to potentially become a champ-champ.
While Khamzat wants to fight Israel Adesanya, I don’t think Izzy comes back until late 2024. This means Khamzat would have to fight Jared Cannonier. Cannonier is tough, but Khamzat will smother him on the mat. Khamzat and his team will have to politic with the UFC for a title shot vs. Islam at 170. Especially because he has missed weight in that division before. But, the UFC will trust him to make weight and set up this dream title fight in Abu Dhabi for the welterweight title.
This fight would feature two of the best grapplers in the UFC today. Not mention, both are in their prime. It could very well be the best fight of the year…