HEYDORN’S TAKE: A gaze into UFC’s 2018 crystal ball

BY ZACK HEYDORN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST

2017 has been knocked out and is about to hit the canvas with a thud. For the UFC, its been a tumultuous year with high highs and low lows. The company and the sport of MMA were featured in front of the largest audience ever due to the Mayweather vs. McGregor boxing super fight and in the same year UFC lost major star power like Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones, and the aforementioned Conor McGregor who fought, but not in a UFC octagon. Go figure.

Because of those missing stars, 2017 has been the year of attempting to build new ones. Ultimately, the UFC failed in that endeavor. They had a year without a single PPV selling over one million buys and simply didn’t find that mainstream level star to replace the likes of Rousey and McGregor. We should call that spade a spade, but realistically that’s an impossible task to accomplish in one year’s time. When you essentially lose your top two stars out of nowhere, interest and business will inevitably slip. Dana White will tout record revenues but the eye test alone proves that the UFC suffered this year because of those losses. Therefore, it’s been a transition year and therein lies UFC’s biggest success of 2017. They laid important groundwork for what 2018 will be. The goal is still to find and build a batch of new stars and because of 2017 they have logs on the fire ready to burn bright in 2018. Will they catch fire and grow the company? Will reliable stars like Conor McGregor return? Will an outside presence like Floyd Mayweather sign with the company to increase revenue and interest? Those are the questions. It’s time to dust of the ‘ol crystal ball for 2018 and look deep into UFC’s future to answer them. The picture is pretty for three big reasons.

1. Conor McGregor will fight in 2018 for the UFC

Conor McGregor (photo credit Adam Hunger © USA Today Sports)

The prodigal son will return. This means big business and increased attention on MMA and the UFC. McGregor has a slew of mega fights to take in 2018 and undoubtedly one or more will come to fruition. McGregor vs. Tony Ferguson is the first. This is obvious given that McGregor is the lightweight world champion and Ferguson is the interim champion in that division. The second is the trilogy fight between McGregor and his arch rival, Nate Diaz. Diaz did not fight in 2017 and swore not to until his money fight with McGregor was made. 2018 could be the year for that. The UFC will need a big fight at some point and that one would certainly fit the bill. The wild card for McGregor in 2018 is Georges St. Pierre. That is a dream match up that would attract an enormous amount of attention and money. White has said GSP wouldn’t be getting that fight, but anyone remember if he said the same thing about GSP and Michael Bisping? Yeah …

McGregor’s return to the UFC is the most important happening that will take place in 2018. Yes, the UFC needs new stars, but they also need big buys and revenue. McGregor delivers those. In addition, if someone should fight and defeat Conor McGregor, a major star will automatically be born anyway. McGregor is the key to a lot and his 2018 journey will be an important factor in how successful the UFC is throughout the year.

2. The heavyweight division will be reborn thanks to UFC’s newest mainstream star, Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannou (Photo credit Michael Adamucci © USA Today Sports)

Francis Ngannou rose through the heavyweight division in flawless fashion and is the breakout star of 2017 in the UFC. His 2018 will be even bigger. Right out of the gate, Ngannou has a date with UFC heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, at UFC 220. This will be Ngannou’s first championship opportunity and its coming off the heels of a career defining win against heavyweight staple, Alistair Overeem. Ngannou winning the heavyweight championship will breathe life into a comatose division. More so than that, Ngannou is extremely marketable as the heavyweight champion of the UFC. He’s a good talker, a self promoter within his unique personality, and delivers in massive ways when he’s in the octagon. Ngannou knocking out Overeem in glorious and scary fashion is like a train wreck that people have to see. His vicious fighting style coupled with his personality is something that the UFC can and will get behind. It will yield big dollars and solidify Ngannou as UFC’s first new major star of 2018. Think Mike Tyson without the shockingly disgusting baggage. Ngannou will be a guy worthy of UFC’s rocket and will endear himself to MMA fans all around the world.

3. Max Holloway and Brian Ortega make each other stars with an epic title fight

Max Holloway (photo credit Gary A. Vasquez © USA Today)

Max Holloway was arguably the fighter of the year in the UFC. He dismantled Jose Aldo twice and did so in grand fashion. Those wins firmly planted him as the man in the featherweight division. Holloway is in the midst of a historic run and is earning the trust of UFC brass to anchor big cards and major events. He is a reliable fighter that is on the cusp of super stardom. He isn’t loud and brash like McGregor but has a demeanor to him that is likable. He’s an easy guy to root for. On the flip side, Brian Ortega opened many eyes in 2017 with a flashy submission victory over UFC mainstay, Cub Swanson. The submission earned him some notoriety and deservedly so. These two young guns are on a collision course and I see them making each other stars by having a legendary title fight in 2018. Both need a signature fight under their belt and with Holloway plowing through contenders in the division, a match-up with Ortega is not out of the question. Because their styles differ so greatly, I see a war between these two that draws attention and money leading to Holloway officially becoming a go-to star for the UFC and Ortega rising near that status as well.

Overall, 2018 will be a big one for the UFC. Their television rights are up for negotiation and the need for stars both past and present is more significant than ever. Call me crazy, but I believe we’ll get both in 2018 and it will lead to intriguing fights for fans and record business for the company.

Contact Zack at heydornzack@gmail.com and follow Zack on Twitter at https://twitter.com/zheydorn


NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: The 5 fights Floyd Mayweather should take if he has to come to the UFC

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