Ariel Helwani’s MMA thoughts — Finding an opponent for each UFC champion


With two title fights out of the way this weekend, I thought this would be a good time to do another state of the UFC champions address.

Let’s hit it:

Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic

Next fight: TBD

According to his manager, Jim Walter, Miocic still isn’t cleared to return to action after having eye surgery last year. They are hoping he’ll get cleared soon. If he does, I suspect the UFC will book him versus Daniel Cormier in August. If he doesn’t get cleared and will be out for a considerable amount of time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC attempted to book Cormier vs. the winner of Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik, which happens on March 28, for the vacant title later this year.

Light heavyweight: Jon Jones

Next fight: TBD

I saw Dominick Reyes in Las Vegas last weekend. He seemed frustrated. He said the UFC wants to book the rematch but Jones is pushing for Jan Blachowicz. I still maintain the rematch is the way to go. It’s the biggest fight possible and it’s warranted, too. It’s not some gratuitous matchup. It’s the right thing to do after how close their first fight was. My guess is cooler heads prevail and they book it for the fall.

Middleweight: Israel Adesanya

Next fight: TBD

Adesanya’s next opponent is no secret. It’s Paulo Costa. That’s the fight that has to happen and it’s the best option out there, too. Adesanya said on Monday that July was a possible month for his return, but I think it happens later in the summer/fall. I can’t wait for that one.

Welterweight: Kamaru Usman

Next fight: TBD

Usman will fight Jorge Masvidal next. That’s all but a lock. The question is, when? Last month, UFC president Dana White said they were shooting for UFC 252 on July 11, but if they in fact book Conor McGregor vs. anyone that date, Usman vs. Masvidal would get pushed back. Why? Because McGregor makes and generates so much money that they wouldn’t put another champion on one of his cards because then that champion would get a larger chunk of the pay-per-view revenue because most champions get PPV points. And, as of right now, the hope is still that McGregor returns on July 11 vs. Justin Gaethje.

Lightweight: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Next fight: April 18 vs. Tony Ferguson

I thought Ferguson won the presser round 10-9 over Nurmagomedov this past Friday. Nurmagomedov kicking the belt was a rare misstep and made it seem like Ferguson was getting to him.



During their face-off, Khabib Nurmagomedov kicks Tony Ferguson’s belt off the stage.

Featherweight: Alexander Volkanovski

Next fight: TBD

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Volkanovski will return to action June 6 in Perth, Australia, versus Max Holloway. I didn’t hate the idea of Volko fighting Chan Sung Jung, but since Jung had eye surgery he has been ruled out. And, let’s be honest, after what happened this past weekend, Jung needs to fight Brian Ortega next.

Bantamweight: Henry Cejudo

Next fight: May 9 vs. Jose Aldo


Flyweight: Vacant

Next fight: TBD

White said last week they want to rematch Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez because Figueiredo missed weight. I wish we were getting Figueiredo vs. Cejudo instead, but alas, I give up. Run it back, I guess. At least the division isn’t going away, which would have been very unfortunate.

Women’s featherweight: Amanda Nunes

Next fight: May 9 vs. Felicia Spencer

Credit to Nunes, the mother-to-be, for pushing to be a fighting champion at 135 and 145. This is great stuff, and they obviously made the right choice by giving this fight to Spencer instead of Megan Anderson because Spencer beat Anderson last year. Spencer will be a tough out, by the way. Is she ready for Nunes? Remains to be seen, but we learned when she fought Cris Cyborg in July that she doesn’t back down from anyone.

Women’s bantamweight: Amanda Nunes

Next fight: TBD

Nunes fighting at 145 next is great because it also buys the 135ers some time to assert themselves in a division with no clear-cut No. 1 contender. I personally think Irene Aldana is the best of the rest, but she’ll probably have to win at least one more time before getting a crack at Nunes.

Women’s flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko

Next fight: June 6 vs. Joanne Calderwood

Shevchenko is a promoter’s dream. She fights, she usually wins in impressive fashion and then she asks the bosses when she could fight again days later. Good fun. I also love how she’s starting to get more comfortable with the media. The subtle shade that she was throwing Zhang Weili‘s way on Monday’s show was entertaining.

Women’s strawweight: Zhang Weili

Next fight: TBD

Obviously Zhang will need some time to recover after her incredible battle against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing her back in action any time soon. If Rose Namajunas wins on April 18 against Jessica Andrade, she’ll be a lock to fight Zhang next. After all, the UFC tried to make that fight before the Jedrzejczyk fight. If Andrade wins, things get tricky, considering Zhang steamrollered Andrade last August to win the belt. I wouldn’t be surprised if they run it back with Jedrzejczyk if Andrade wins.

Random thoughts

I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t wait for Kevin Lee vs. Charles Oliveira on Saturday night. That’s a phenomenal lightweight fight.

Sign me up for Yoel Romero vs. Darren Till next.

UFC wants to book Cory Sandhagen vs. Dominick Cruz in San Diego next, but something tells me Cruz isn’t so into it. I wonder what happens? Sandhagen vs. Aljamain Sterling would be a nice consolation.

No one really believes Paulo Costa knocked out Logan Paul, right?

Speaking of wacky, I still can’t believe Brian Ortega slapped Jay Park because of a translation. I mean, shouldn’t he be mad at Chan Sung Jung? Bizarre. Ortega apologized to Park on Tuesday night.

I’ve decided that Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk is my favorite women’s title fight ever, but it doesn’t surpass Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson as my favorite fight ever. That’s still No. 1 in my book.

Zhang and Tony Ferguson bonding over a baseball is one of my favorite developments of 2020.

The Bellator 241 main event between Patricio Pitbull and Pedro Carvalho is a really good one, and it’s a shame no one is really talking about it.

I was hoping for a few more big names, but I generally like what PFL has done this offseason. I particularly like the Olivier Aubin-Mercier signing. I think his best days are still to come. I like the Mohammed Usman signing, too. He’s Kamaru’s brother and a solid prospect.

Closing quote: “To all you artists out there, who don’t wanna be on a record label where the executive producer’s … all up in the videos, all on the records, dancin’ … then come to Death Row.”

Enjoy the fights.

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