As UFC events return to full-capacity arenas across the country, excitement is starting to build around what the promotion will pull off next throughout a busy 2021.
UFC president Dana White and company got the year off to a strong start with a main event featuring Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier, and even managed to hold the event in front of fans on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
The promotion kept the momentum going by having middleweight champion Israel Adesanya move up a weight class to challenge light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
A few weeks later, Francis Ngannou took the throne at the top of his division by beating then-heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, one of the division’s best of all time.
For the company’s official return in front of fans in the United States, White put together a card with three title fights, highlighted by a rematch between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and the ever-popular Jorge Masvidal.
That type of action would seem like a lot for an entire calendar year in the UFC, but it only spanned six months. So, what’s next for the second half of 2021?
At the end of 2020, we took some guesses as to what fight fans would see in the first half of the new year.
We nailed a few predictions, were close on some, and couldn’t have been more off with the others. But, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
So, it’s time to step into the role of fantasy booker once more, and take our best shot at predicting the UFC’s main events for the second half of 2021.
July 2021: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier III
If it worked for the start of the first half of 2021, then why wouldn’t it work for the start of the second half, as well?
Six months after their rematch on Fight Island, Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will settle the score once and for all as they complete their trilogy in Las Vegas on July 10.
Any McGregor fight is going to be massive for the UFC, but the stakes of this one are incredibly high.
With a win, McGregor would reinsert himself towards the top of the UFC’s lightweight rankings, and could easily be in line for a title shot towards the end of the year. With a loss, McGregor would fall to 1-3 in his last four fights, and could decide to move on from the Octagon.
It’s a massive bout, and well-deserving of the main event spot in July to get the second half of the year off on the right foot.
August 2021: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington II
This stretch of 2021 is going to be filled with a litany of rematches no matter how it all plays out, and it’s just a matter of where the pieces fall. In this case, it makes sense to stick the second bout between UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Colby Covington in August.
Usman has been on fire since becoming champion, and even has an impressive win over Covington already on his resume. He solidified his star status with his wins over Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal in 2021, and it’s time for him to run it back with some familiar faces.
Enter Covington, who gave Usman the biggest run for his money since he became champion in 2019.
The feud is personal, and the talent level that each fighter possesses makes the rivalry even more intense.
Usman fought in April against Masvidal, and Covington last fought in 2020 when he beat Woodley, so each fighter should be rested.
You can’t stick this on the McGregor-Poirier card, so this seems like a guarantee for the month of August as long as everyone stays healthy.
September 2021: Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker II
Keeping up with the trend, the UFC will get another big-money rematch when UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya takes on former champion Robert Whittaker in the fall.
Adesanya called Whittaker out after defeating Marvin Vettori at UFC 263 in June, and Whittaker quickly took to Twitter to say that he was ready for the bout. Considering how this bout realistically could’ve happened in June, it seems like a no-brainer for the second half of the year.
Given Adesanya’s drawing power and the fact that he just fought five rounds against Vettori, it doesn’t seem smart to stick him on a card in August if the UFC can get the Usman-Covington fight squared away. So, the next best thing would be to give “Stylebender” his rival from Down Under on a card in September.
No matter when this one happens, fans are sure to get fireworks from these two fighters in a picture-perfect main event matchup.
October 2021: Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier
The next two main events are a little subjective, as they bank on a certain result in the main event of UFC 264. But, the two bouts are honestly interchangeable, depending on what actually happens when McGregor and Poirier settle the score in July.
In this instance, we’re going off the assumption that Poirier takes out McGregor to win the trilogy, which would seemingly put him next in line for a lightweight title shot against the new champion Charles Oliveira.
Poirier had a legitimate case for a spot in the interim title bout that took place in May, where Oliveira took advantage of the opportunity and knocked out Michael Chandler to win the belt. Instead, Poirier opted for the big-money fight with McGregor, aiming to settle his business with the Irishman in an immediate rematch.
If Poirier beats McGregor, there isn’t much else for him to do in the lightweight division outside of pursuing Oliveira. It also doesn’t make much sense for the UFC to book Oliveira’s next opponent until the dust settles after UFC 264.
If McGregor wins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him slide into Poirier’s spot in this bout. But, for now, we’ll assume it’ll be Poirier getting another crack at becoming the UFC’s undisputed lightweight champion.
November 2021: Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III
If McGregor loses against Poirier in July, it might seem like his UFC career is a lost cause in the immediate aftermath of the fight.
Justifying McGregor’s pursuit of a title after losing what would be back-to-back fights, three of his last four, and four of his last seven would be difficult. With so much interest (and money) in the boxing world, a loss against Poirier could be the catalyst behind McGregor’s full-time switch from the Octagon to a four-sided ring.
But, there is still a perfect bout for McGregor to consider if he falls short in his final fight against Poirier: another trilogy bout, this time against the one and only Nate Diaz.
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Fans have been clamoring for the third bout between McGregor and Diaz since their second bout back in 2016. Five years later, the UFC might be able to get a resolution to one of the company’s most notable rivalries of all time.
Diaz’s star power is at an all-time high in 2021, even after a loss against Leon Edwards at UFC 263. McGregor is McGregor, and fans would watch him fight coming off 20 losses in a row if they had to.
Diaz wants to fight in the three or four months after UFC 263 in June, and an early November card could line up with his desired timing. Whether it’s a fight against McGregor, or even a first-time bout against Poirier if McGregor wins, this seems like a golden scenario for the UFC.
December 2021: Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones
This one may be wishful thinking, but fight fans need to see this one while Francis Ngannou is still the UFC’s heavyweight champion.
Jon Jones looks like a tank after his transition from light heavyweight to heavyweight, and the UFC’s arguable G.O.A.T. made the switch specifically for a big-money bout like this one.
It seems like Dana White wants to book Ngannou against Derrick Lewis in the summer, which would help keep Ngannou active and potentially add another win to his resume before a superfight against Jones later in the year.
If that fight happens in the summer, a December timeline would appear to work well for Ngannou regardless of how the bout plays out. The only issue would be ring rust for Jones, who hasn’t fought since retaining the light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes back in February of 2020.
Unfortunately, money is the topic that will make or break this fight, considering Jones’ accolades and Ngannou’s rise to the top of the UFC’s heavyweight division.
It would be a travesty if this fight falls through the cracks, but we’ll hold out hope that White and company can get this one booked before the end of 2021.