This year brought some of the most memorable fights in the UFC. Over the last year, the UFC has named nine different champions between all respective divisions, with Alex Pereira most recently defeating Israel Adesanya to claim the Middleweight title at UFC 281. Other notable champions include the likes of Amanda Nunes, Deiveson Figueiredo, and Zhang Weili all regaining their titles.
With so many fights to remember this past year, what about what the future may hold? Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno are scheduled to compete for their fourth title exchange in January, while other titles will likely be up for grabs in the near future.
Here, we discuss the five biggest fights fans should desire in 2023. Last year, some of our 2022 predictions came to light, with Colby Covington vs Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier hitting the stage.
Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman III
A trilogy between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman seems inevitable. At their first bout in December of 2015, Usman came away with the unanimous decision victory. Almost seven years, the two met again with Usman holding the Welterweight title at UFC 278. Entering the fifth round of the title fight, Usman was winning 39-37 across all three official scorecards. However, one clean strike is all it took for Edwards to escape with the win.
Since then, both Edwards and Usman have shown interest in a trilogy at some point in 2023. According to multiple reports, the fight could take place as early as March for the London card, with Edwards notably from England. However, Usman is reportedly dealing with a hand injury that may require surgery, which could create a barrier.
Both No. 2 Colby Covington and No. 3 Khamzat Chimaev are expected to fight in 2023, which leaves an opening for the winner of that bout to face the winner between Edwards and Usman, in theory.
Conor McGregor vs Michael Chandler
With McGregor expected to return to the octagon in 2023, he would face an immediate challenger in Michael Chandler. McGregor hasn’t fought since July of 2021, where he suffered a broken leg against Dustin Poirier. Since then, he has been rehabbing his injury and oddly enough, pulled himself from the USADA testing pool.
A fight against Chandler has to intrigue the likes of McGregor. Not only would the bout provide a lot of revenue, but it could even fast track him towards a title shot in the Lightweight division.
Chandler is 2-3 since joining the UFC, but his losses have come against some of the top contenders in the division such as Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and Charles Oliveira.
Alex Pereira vs Israel Adesanya II
Much like the Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman segment, this fight seems inevitable in 2023. The history of Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya dates back to fighting at GLORY of Heroes 1 in China. Their more notorious exchange came in 2017 at GLORY of Heroes 7, where the fight back then had a similar tune to their most recent matchup at UFC 281: Adesanya appeared to be the more well-rounded fighter, but Pereira managed to land shots that had more damage. Because of Pereira’s success, he secured a knockout victory to win the Middleweight title and advance to a perfect 3-0 against Adesanya in MMA.
While it may not be an immediate rematch between the two, UFC President Dana White appears open to the idea of an eventual rematch. “First of all, Israel Adesanya didn’t even flinch about taking this fight,” White said. “He wanted this fight, a lot of people talk publicly and then it’s a whole different story behind the scenes. I wouldn’t rule it out [a rematch]”.
Aljamain Sterling vs Henry Cejudo
Another expected fight in 2023 will be between Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling and retired veteran Henry Cejudo. While the fight isn’t official, reports and interviews in early December indicate that a bout between Sterling and Cejudo could take place as early as UFC 284 in February.
The fight is certainly more intriguing than a potential matchup against No. 1 Sean O’Malley following his own controversial win over Petr Yan. Sterling last competed at UFC 280, where he secured a second-round TKO over TJ Dillashaw.
Sterling, 33, would open as a -150 favorite against Cejudo, who last entered the octagon in 2020 against Dominick Cruz. During his respective title reign, Cejudo defended the belt successfully three times before temporarily retiring.
Francis Ngannou vs Jon Jones
According to reports in November, the UFC is expected to announce the return of Jon Jones for UFC 285 in March. While Francis Ngannou hasn’t been announced as his opponent, given his rehab for a knee injury, it would make for must-watch programming.
The story of Jones is quite the roller coaster both inside and outside the octagon: His last fight was a successful title defense in the Light Heavyweight division against Dominick Reyes in February of 2020. Just one month later, Jones was arrested on four charges, including DWI, resulting in house arrest. In September of 2021, the UFC enshrined Jones into their Hall of Fame, but then 24 hours later, he was once again arrested, this time for domestic violence allegations.
Another potential matchup would have been between Jones and Stipe Miocic, but those negotiations reportedly fell apart, causing the UFC to look in another direction. If Ngannou is not ready to compete by March, I would expect Curtis Blaydes to rise as a possible contender.