After successful two Olympic gold medals in judo, Kayla Harrison started her blended martial arts profession two years in the past as a prized prospect. She has lived as much as the hype, going 8-0 with six finishes and successful $1 million because the Skilled Fighters League ladies’s light-weight match champion in 2019.
However Harrison can also be a realist. No different main MMA group provides a 155-pound division for girls, and Harrison is aware of that the big-money fights for her sooner or later will likely be at 145 kilos. With the PFL having suspended its season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Harrison obtained permission from the PFL to compete for the Invicta FC promotion, and she or he not too long ago did so at featherweight.
Harrison’s PFL contract expires in 2022, and there is little doubt that the UFC could be concerned with signing such an elite athlete. And naturally, the promotion would have one explicit battle in thoughts involving Harrison: a attainable superfight towards her American High Group teammate Amanda Nunes, extensively thought-about the GOAT of ladies’s MMA.
With a number of components needing to be addressed, will that battle ever transpire?
One essential battle that is certainly set to happen is Tony Ferguson versus Charles Oliveira at UFC 256 on Dec. 12. It is an opportunity for Oliveira to make an enormous title for himself towards Ferguson, who had gained 12 in a row earlier than shedding to Justin Gaethje in Could. Whereas Oliveira has gained seven straight, none of these victories has come towards a fighter with Ferguson’s credentials. Can Oliveira probably grow to be a contender at 155 with a win?
ESPN’s skilled panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim discusses these matters and extra, breaking down what’s actual and what’s not.
Actual or not: Harrison will ultimately battle Nunes.
Okamoto: This can be a robust one for me. I discover myself going backwards and forwards. On the one hand, Harrison desires that battle (ultimately), and I assure the UFC would need it, too — assuming each proceed to win. And Nunes actually would not flip it down, though it is price noting she would not want it. And that final half is what will make me finally go along with “not actual.”
I do not assume we’ll ever see this battle. Or at the very least, I do not assume it is the most definitely situation. There are too many issues that have to go proper. First off, each have to maintain successful. Second, Harrison would, presumably, want to depart the PFL for the UFC — and I do not assume the PFL would make that a straightforward name for her. That promotion is closely invested within the Kayla Harrison enterprise, and it figures to do all it could possibly to hold on to her long-term. And third, Nunes must maintain preventing, which feels removed from a assure. She has toyed with the thought of retirement on quite a few events, going again years. Her legacy is safe. Will she even battle into 2022, which is the yr Harrison would grow to be a free agent?
As a fan, I hope so, however I can not say for certain. I would like to see this battle and I feel there’s a likelihood we are going to see it. However as of immediately, I’ll guess it by no means occurs.
Actual or not: The Ferguson battle will show to be a breakout second for Oliveira.
Charles Oliveira connects on a number of uppercuts within the second spherical towards Kevin Lee. For extra UFC, join right here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Wagenheim: I feel that is actual, or on the very least an actual risk. Oliveira has gained seven fights in a row, all finishes, but he is nonetheless mired again within the pack amongst light-weight contenders. That is his alternative to step ahead.
Oliveira’s string of conquests has come towards fighters not fairly at Ferguson’s stage, however it’s honest at this level to query whether or not even Ferguson himself is at that elite stage. He’s coming off a Could knockout on the heavy arms of Justin Gaethje, some of the brutal beatdowns in latest instances. What would be the residual results?
In different phrases, Oliveira is getting his shot at Ferguson at an advantageous time. “El Cucuy” is perhaps nearly as good as new on Dec. 12, however historical past suggests in any other case. Fighters who get brutalized usually do present the results of their subsequent outing.
Ferguson, even at his greatest, is susceptible to placing himself in harmful positions, then counting on his unorthodox knack for preventing his method out. However with Oliveira, there’s not essentially a method out. He has 14 submissions within the UFC, greater than anybody in historical past. Give him an inch, and he’ll take an arm.
Regardless of the consequence, it’ll be enjoyable getting there. Oliveira has 16 postfight bonuses, the second most in UFC historical past. Ferguson has 11. Watch these totals develop earlier than our eyes.
Actual or not: Deiveson Figueiredo is making a mistake by turning round so rapidly.
Joe Rogan is excessive on Deiveson Figueiredo’s efficiency after a first-round end of Alex Perez at UFC 255.
Helwani: No method. Not actual. This can be a good transfer on his half. To begin with, Figueiredo did not get damage on Nov. 21 in his win over Alex Perez. That is most vital. Second, he’ll make history when he fights on Dec. 12 as a result of that would be the quickest turnaround for a champion ever. That is an enormous feather in his cap. Third, followers and the corporate merely love a fighter who turns round rapidly — simply ask Khamzat Chimaev. A transfer like this solely endears him to, properly, everybody, and helps expedite his progress as a star. Fourth, this may assist maintain his weight down. There is not any doubt he is a giant man, however the fast turnaround will preclude him from getting too huge as a result of he agreed to this battle earlier than he left the Apex final week. There wasn’t any time to get out of form.
He is sharp and in form and has an opportunity to seal his destiny because the 2020 male fighter of the yr by headlining his second straight pay-per-view. A no brainer if there ever was one.
After all, he has to win, and I feel Brandon Moreno is a more durable battle than Alex Perez, however it’s a danger price taking, particularly when you think about the luxurious of simply with the ability to keep in Las Vegas. Hindsight would possibly show in any other case if Figueiredo finally loses, however I just like the transfer so much for a budding star.
Actual or not: The UFC heavyweight title will likely be defended greater than as soon as in 2021.
Stipe Miocic explains why Francis Ngannou deserves the following heavyweight title shot, however says the end result would be the identical as their first bout.
Raimondi: It must be, proper? Heavyweight has been the slowest-moving division on the high for a number of years. The title has been defended solely 5 instances up to now three calendar years — and three of these defenses had been in 2018.
For probably the most half, it is nobody’s fault. Daniel Cormier beat Stipe Miocic for the belt in July 2018, then circled fairly rapidly to defend towards Derrick Lewis three months later. Then, Cormier wanted again surgical procedure, which put him out till a rematch with Miocic in August 2019. Miocic beat Cormier, however suffered a torn retina in that bout, which sidelined him for a yr. Miocic gained the trilogy over Cormier again in August and now could be unlikely to defend the belt once more till the primary quarter of 2021 (or later). Accidents do occur on the highest stage, and we’re speaking a few pair of athletes of their late 30s and 40s.
Miocic is prone to face Francis Ngannou subsequent. If that battle does occur in early 2021 as anticipated, there’s loads of time for the winner to get at the very least one title protection in earlier than the tip of subsequent yr. If Ngannou wins and turns into champ, he’d prefer to defend the belt twice inside 2021, a supply near the rising UFC star informed me this week.
The following title challenger, regardless if Miocic or Ngannou wins, will in all probability be former longtime gentle heavyweight champion Jon Jones, arguably the perfect UFC champion ever. There will likely be main incentive for Jones and the UFC to get that battle carried out. Jones has not fought since final February, and if his subsequent battle is for the heavyweight title, it is going to be properly over a yr in between fights for him. With all of these issues factored in, I am cautiously optimistic we’ll see a number of UFC heavyweight title defenses in 2021.