2024 MMA Predictions: UFC Heavyweight Division Will Be Stuck in Transition
The UFC heavyweight division has been a mess since Francis Ngannou left the promotion. Contract negotiations were rough, and Ngannou, the reigning champion, decided to pursue more extensive money options with boxing and the PFL. But convincing long-time light heavyweight champion Jon Jones to increase weight didn’t solve the UFC’s problems.
Jones won the heavyweight championship in May 2023 and was set up for a super fight with Stipe Miocic. But Miococ and Jones didn’t end up meeting up. Jones pulled out with an injury, leaving the division’s future in the air. Tom Aspinall won the interim championship and has been desperate for the UFC to strip the title.
However, UFC CEO Dana White has said the promotion doesn’t plan to strip Jones of the title. The continuing story of how the UFC will try to keep interest in the heavyweights will be one of the most closely watched storylines of 2024. One prediction for 2024 is that Aspinall will never get an opportunity to fight Jones, as he will retire before Aspinall gets a chance to fight him.
Here’s a look at some other predictions for MMA this year. According to MMA news sites, there will be a lot of interesting storylines coming in the next 12 months.
Ngannou Won’t Get Back in the Octagon
It’s funny how one bout can change a narrative. Ngannou had his first professional boxing fight against lineal champion Tyson Fury last November. Many believed that Ngannou would need help adapting to the sport.
But Ngannou surprised many by knocking Fury down and losing a narrow decision. Ngannou had signed with the PFL to join their superfight division. However, the PFL hadn’t been able to nail down a schedule in MMA and agreed to let Ngannou pursue boxing.
After Ngannou lost to Fury, he was booked to fight another former champion, Anthony Joshua, in March. If that fight goes well, don’t expect to see Ngannou back in MMA this year. There seems to be more money in boxing, and with the PFL not having a legitimate heavyweight prospect to pair with Ngannou, online boxing news shows that Ngannou will likely find a way to stay in the squared circle.
PFL Will Struggle in First-year Post-Bellator
There will be growing pains with PFL in its first year with the Bellator roster under its umbrella. Some of the fighters in Bellator have expressed concerns about going with a season-long format. PFL has shown some issues making fights and keeping the current fighters on its roster happy with their activity level.
A rumored fight between Kayla Harrison and Cris Cyborg has never gotten close to happening. There is also some confusion about how PFL will utilize its tournament format with the Bellator fighters. Also, PFL’s ruleset bans elbows.
PFL will need to figure out how to make everything work this season. It will be a messy season, and there will be plenty of complaining from fighters coming onto the roster.
Strickland Won’t End the Year as Champion
Sean Strickland winning the UFC middleweight title by upsetting Israel Adesanya was a big shock last year. However, Strickland is getting sensitive after trash talk that got personal before his January 2024 fight with Dricus du Plessis. Strickland is well known for saying insensitive things about people he’s fighting and other people in the world.
Strickland showing cracks in his mental game may ultimately be his undoing this year. In addition to du Plessis, plenty of other top middleweight contenders could cause Strickland problems. Khamzhat Chimaev could be a stumbling block if Strickland gets past du Plessis.
Adesanya may be eager to get revenge as well. With Strickland’s decision-heavy fighting style, he will end up on the wrong side of a judge’s decision and lose out on the title.
New Stars Will Rise Up in Women’s Decision
Erin Blanchfield, Tatiana Suarez, and Manon Fiorot are all in hot pursuit of title shots in their respective weight classes. Blanchfield and Fiorot are top contenders in the women’s flyweight division. What is holding Blanchfield and Fiorot back is the situation with Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko.
When Grasso and Shevchenko fought for the belt last year, the second bout between the women ended in a draw. Grasso injured herself during the fight and doesn’t have a precise return date. Blanchfield and Fiorot will fight in March in Atlantic City to determine the No. 1 contender.
Suarez missed several years due to injuries and other issues. She returned in 2023 with a few empathic wins. She may get to fight Zhang Weili for the women’s flyweight title. Suarez will get an opportunity to fight for the title in 2024.
McGregor’s Return Will be a Disappointment
Because of injury, Conor McGregor has been out of the octagon for three years. Everyone and their mother has called out the former two-division champion. But despite everyone clamoring for a shot at what will likely be a big payday, the UFC paired McGregor for a 185-pound catchweight fight with Michael Chandler.
Chandler was the coach opposite McGregor on The Ultimate Fighter. Chandler is a former champion in Bellator and is willing to brawl and be involved in some wild fights. The question for McGregor in the future is, where will a win lead him? While Chandler is ranked in the top 10, it’s hard to say he is a legitimate threat to take on Islam Makhachev for the title.
McGregor hasn’t been active, and during his last stay in the UFC, he didn’t look good during a pair of fights with Dustin Poirier. While McGregor may spectacularly beat Chandler, this won’t lead to a comeback for Mystic Mac. He will either retire or pursue a few more big-name fights before retiring.
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