Mailbag: What are the three best UFC fights still to come this year?

We’re coming off an off week in the world of MMA, with the biggest thing happening being the Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal boxing match. Other than that, we’re also at the halfway mark of the year, so let’s get to a real mishmash of questions, including the best fights to come this year, Dustin Poirier’s “Last Dance,” and Jiri Prochazka’s existential crisis.

Upcoming Fights

What’s your top three most anticipated fights (UFC) for the second half of the year that are booked already or have a great chance of being booked sometime this year?

Love this question because two of them were absurdly easy, and the third was quite difficult.

My most anticipated fight for the rest of this year is quite easily Dricus du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya. I backed “DDP” from day one, and was among the most vocal proponents of making this fight after the Derek Brunson matchup. Seventeen months later, I’ll finally get what I want.

DDP vs. Izzy is probably the best fight since Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor, in terms of the totality of things. These men are polar opposites in and out of the cage and there’s real animosity between them, with real, meaningful stakes on the line. These matchups don’t come around all that often. Plus, there’s a high likelihood of something funny happening if DDP runs headlong into Izzy’s offense and gets clobbered. A+++ fight.

Second, and this will be most people’s No. 1 fight, is Ilia Topuria vs. Max Holloway. It’s an exceptional matchup between the new champion and the old guard who is coming off possibly the best performance of his career. Terrific on all counts.

The reason this isn’t No. 1 for me, other than my longstanding love for DDP-Izzy, is I’m a bit more skeptical of Holloway’s chances than most are. It seems like no one is factoring in that Holloway looked so good against Justin Gaethje because a) Gaethje himself is a little old and b) it was at lightweight. Max’s last couple of fights at 145 pounds were not bad performances, but they weren’t the best of his career. I kind of wish he’d just stay at 155 pounds and see what kind of havoc he can wreak up there. But still, great fight.

The final one was the tough call. Jon Jones will never fight Tom Aspinall, so that’s out. No one has ever been excited about a Leon Edwards fight (or a Belal Muhammad fight either for that matter) so that’s out. Islam Makhachev vs. Arman Tsarukyan seems to be up in the air and besides, I kinda think that’s a Georges St-Pierre-Jon Fitch situation. So I’m going to go with my heart, even though 82 percent of you will hate it: Alex Pereira vs. Magomed Ankalaev.

Ankalaev is a good fighter! Quite possibly the best light heavyweight in the world. And though he certainly has been boring before, it’s not like he’s the aforementioned Jon Fitch. Ankalaev has plenty of exciting performances. Plus, I want to see just how powerful the magic of Alex Pereira is. In theory, Ankalaev is a difficult style matchup, but is that true? I want to find out. It’s far more interesting than having him fight a random heavyweight.

Also, just as an aside, if this question extended beyond just the UFC, the true No. 1-with-a-bullet fight for me is Eddie Hall vs. Mariusz Pudzianowski, as it should be for all true MMA fans.

Dustin Poirier

Would a Dustin Poirier vs Nate Diaz be the perfect final bout for “The Diamond?”

So despite Poirier sort of retiring after UFC 302, it didn’t take long for him to almost immediately walk that back. I never thought Poirier would retire (MMA is like comic books and death: everyone comes back except Uncle Ben, Bruce Wayne’s parents, and Khabib), but I was even surprised by how quickly it happened. And yes, the clear and obvious choice for any “Last Dance” for Poirier is Nate Diaz, but I suspect that doesn’t happen.

Diaz just pulled off a minor upset in beating Jorge Masvidal in their boxing match this past weekend, and immediately after, Stockton’s finest laid the foundation for a return to the UFC. Will it happen? I don’t know. But even if it does, Nate won’t be fighting Poirier. There’s a non-zero chance Nate can walk right into a welterweight title shot on his return, and if he doesn’t do that, Conor McGregor is waiting. Conor would (and probably wants to) abandon the Michael Chandler fight instantaneously. Those are bigger fights for Nate, and so for Poirier, it’s just bad timing.

If Poirier really does want to do one last rodeo, there are only two options. The first is Alexander Volkanovski, who already called for it, and the other is a trilogy bout with Justin Gaethje. The Volk fight is a fun, new matchup, that everyone can feel good about. The Gaethje fight is the conclusion of the rivalry (and the careers) of two of the greatest action fighters in history. Personally, I hope it’s the latter, but Volk wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

Jiri Prochazka

What do you think about Jiri moving down to middleweight? I think light heavyweight is his correct weight class, Alex is just too good of a technical striker for him. Do you think Jiri would be best changing camps and working on his defense?

So apparently Jiri is considering a drop down to 185 pounds for a fresh start after getting iced by Pereira for a second time, and I personally could not hate something more.

Jiri did not get knocked out because he’s too small at light heavyweight (I have never once thought him to be anything other than enormous at 205), and he didn’t get knocked out because Pereira’s spirit powers. He got knocked out because he’s got bad defense, and he learned absolutely nothing from their first matchup.

Seriously, Jiri got killed by Pereira, went back to the gym and said “for the rematch, I will do the same thing, only switch stances so his leg kicks hurt me less.” And he thought that was some skeleton key to victory? That’s insane.

The truth is, Jiri does not need to change anything. This has always been his style, it’s just that 95 percent of light heavyweights haven’t been able to punish him for it. Pereira was. I’m not sure anyone else will be able to at light heavyweight. At middleweight? Different story. It’s a better division, and it’s unlikely Jiri will be able to take the same shots he does now after a weight cut like that. 185 pounds would only hurt him.

The way to solve Jiri’s problems is to actually work on his game, like how Justin Gaethje did after losing back-to-back fights. Gaethje realized he’d reached a ceiling, and you know, learned how to not fight like a lunatic at all times. He still has that in him, and deploys it at opportune moments, but he also is a VASTLY improved defensive fighter with a more varied game. That’s what Jiri needs to do. Go work with Jason Parillo or Duke Roufus and actually “evolve,” instead of hoping being bigger will solve your problems.

My Favorites

Your top five favorite fighters of all time.

This is easy because I think about stuff like this all the time.

To note, this is in chronological order of when I became a fan of them, NOT a ranking. That’s too hard for me to figure out. But these are the guys who when they fought I would get legitimately nervous about. Others are also in that tier as well, notably Carlos Condit just misses the cut here, but these are the big ones. Give me yours down in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in tweets (Xs?)! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again, and see y’all next week.

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