UFC - 286 - Edwards v Usman 3Mar 24
UFC on BT Sport: The five fights we need to see in 2023
We take a look ahead at what might be to come over the next 12 months in the UFC featuring five incredible super fights that we need to see on BT Sport.
Was 2022 the best ever year for British MMA? Quite possibly.
We saw a new British world champion crowned when Leon Edwards stunned Kamaru Usman in stunning style at UFC 278, becoming the welterweight king at long last back in August.
Plus there were two incredible nights at London’s O2 Arena that helped elevate some of our best young talent into genuine stars of the MMA world.
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From Tom Aspinall, Arnold Allen and Muhammad Mokaev to Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann, the Brits seized their opportunity in the limelight this year to set themselves up for a truly incredible 12 months ahead.
But stars were born elsewhere in the UFC too with new world champions crowned across almost every weight division, creating a new generation of superstars heading into 2023.
The UFC schedule for next year is already beginning to take shape with some monster fights already announced, including Islam Makhachev vs Alexander Volkanovski for the lightweight title at UFC 284 in February.
But what other superfights could – or should – be coming your way over the rest of the year?
We’ve compliled a list of the five biggest fights we need to see on BT Sport in 2023, so read on and let us know if you agree!
Francis Ngannou vs Jon Jones
They say good things come to those who wait. Well, we’ve been waiting a long time for this one boys!
It won’t be long until we sail past the milestone of Jon Jones’ two-year absence from the sport following his last appearance back in February 2020 having narrowly defeated Dominick Reyes to defend the 205lb title.
Now 35, Jones has been steadfast in his refusal to entertain a comeback until revised financial terms are agreed with the UFC but it doesn’t appear as though the two sides are as far away from an agreement as they once were.
Jones was even rumoured to be in contention to fight at UFC 282 at one point this year but that failed to transpire leaving Bones’s comeback up the air once again.
There may be a silver lining to his extended absence though with UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou soon expected to have recovered from a serious knee injury that sidelined him for almost all of 2022.
The 36-year-old is many fight fans’ dream opponent to welcome Jones to the heavyweight division given his imposing size and devastating knockout power.
Ngannou won five of his last six fights by stoppage before surprising many to outgrapple Ciryl Gane to a dominant five-round decision win on his last appearance, showing his continued evolution as a mixed martial artist despite his advancing years.
The Cameroonian’s future in the UFC has been the subject of much scrutiny during his absence from competition with the The Predator making no secret of his own desire to negotiate a better contract.
That situation appears yet to be resolved but with the carrot of the Jon Jones fight dangling in the first half of 2023, that could be just the incentive needed to get talks over the line.
Michael Chandler vs Conor McGregor
Whenever Conor McGregor fights, the world stops to watch.
The Irishman remains far and away the biggest star in the sport, even despite the fact the 34-year-old last won a meaningful fight in 2016.
Since then, The Notorious has been stopped by Khabib Nurmagomedov and twice by Dustin Poirier, with his only victory coming against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 almost three years ago.
But his star is undiminished and McGregor will once again set the box office on fire when he makes his expected return from injury in 2023.
McGregor suffered a gruesome compound fracture to his lower leg at UFC 264 in July 2021 and has been sidelined while rehabilitating the injury ever since.
However, rumours have begun to make the rounds in the MMA world that the Dubliner is readying himself to make a comeback – and the UFC have reportedly identified Michael Chandler as the perfect dance partner to welcome him back to the floor.
Chandler is as entertaining to watch as any fighter in the UFC, winning a legion of new fans since joining the promotion with his breathless ‘kill or be killed’ fight style.
A 2-3 record since coming over from Bellator does not look too impressive at face value but the 36-year-old has gone life and death with some of the biggest names in the division during that run including Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier.
There’s no guarantee this one will come to fruition – but if it does, expect to see this fight to stand out from the field as the biggest of the year by far.
Aljamain Sterling vs Henry Cejudo
Earlier this month, Aljamain Sterling announced his next bantamweight title defence would place against Henry Cejudo in March 2023 but since then, not much has been heard about the potential contest between two of the division’s biggest names.
Sterling will be coming into the fight off the back of a strange victory over TJ Dillashaw which, through no fault of his own, proved not to be the statement win he had intended.
Instead, the focus was all on Dillashaw when the finish finally came in the second round of a dominant display by Sterling after it emerged the American, whose shoulder dislocated multiple times during the fight, had entered the Octagon carrying a severe impairment.
It means Sterling’s reign as bantamweight champion now comprises of three undesirable wins, from his DQ victory over Petr Yan to the controversial split decision win in the rematch – and now a win over the one-armed Sterling.
Step forward Henry Cejudo.
The former two-weight UFC world champion and Olympic gold medallist would be the perfect scalp for Dillashaw to finally legitimise his championship credentials and underline his position in the bantamweight hierarchy.
Cejudo, 35, has not fought since May 2020 when he retired off the back of a brilliant bantamweight title defence against Dominick Cruz at UFC 249.
However, Triple C has made sure his name remains relevant in the 135lb mix in anticipation that he would one day return to competition.
And it looks as though that day is fast approaching if this much-anticipated showdown against Sterling materialises early next year.
Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman 3
Leon Edwards produced the feel-good moment of the year for British fight fans in August when he shocked the world to snatch the welterweight crown from Kamaru Usman at UFC 278.
Down on the scorecards and looking short of both ideas and enthusiasm, Edwards produced a stunning head kick from nowhere in the fifth round to lay the champ flat out cold in dramatic fashion.
That secured Britain’s second ever UFC championship with Edwards following in the footsteps of our very own Michael Bisping in winning a world title in the promotion.
It also evened up the rivalry between Edwards and Usman at 1-1 after The Nigerian Nightmare triumphed during the first meeting between the two men back in 2015.
Usman ruled the 170lb division in as dominant fashion as we have seen across any division in the UFC – until he came across Edwards once again.
Both the manner of his defeat and the legacy he had been building are more than sufficient reason enough to run this fight back immediately and there’s hope that the two will top the bill at the recently-announced UFC 286 in London next March.
However, rumours have since surfaced suggesting Usman may be struggling with a hand injury that could rule him out until later in 2023.
In the interim, we pray Edwards keeps hold of the belt so we can see the conclusion to this brilliant rivalry in a pivotal trilogy bout.
Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya 2
Alex Pereira was brought into the UFC for one reason and one reason alone: to fight Israel Adesanya.
Adesanya’s impressive middleweight reign had seen him fend off almost every top contender in the 185lb division – and some twice – during seven consecutive title fights at the weight before fighting Pereira.
In need of fresh competition for The Last Stylebender, the UFC fast-tracked former kickboxing rival Alex Pereira into a championship contest against the Kiwi king, writing another chapter in the long-running conflict between the two men that the Brazilian was already winning 2-0.
After a barnburner at UFC 281, Pereira survived an early scare to defeat Adesanya once again, this time for the first time under MMA rules, when he knocked out the 33-year-old in the fifth round to become a surprise UFC champion.
Speaking after the defeat, Adesanya confirmed his intention to press ahead with a rematch that had already been given the UFC’s blessing for some time in 2023.
“Yeah, me and him [Pereira]. It will be for the belt, it's gonna be me and him,” Adesanya told The MMA Hour in November.
“I'll talk to Dana [White, UFC president] at some point but Mick [Maynard, UFC vice-president of talent relations], he's cool, Mick already knows what's next."
International Fight Week in July, anyone?