It’s going to be tough for Dana White and the UFC to top 2021 as they start to plan out fights for 2022.
2021 had the initial rematch and subsequent trilogy bout between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier in January. It had a heavyweight title clash between former champion Stipe Miocic and new king Francis Ngannou a few weeks later.
It was a dominant year for welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, and fans saw Rose Namajunas’ return to the top of the strawweight division.
Add in the reemergence of Nick Diaz, the rise of prospects like Sean O’Malley and Khamzat Chimaev, and everything in between, and it was a strong year for the UFC.
But, there’s still plenty to be excited about as MMA fans get set for the new year.
We will likely see McGregor return from injury midway through the year, and Jon Jones could make his debut at heavyweight at some point, as well.
Miocic will return to the Octagon as he attempts to reclaim heavyweight gold, Israel Adesanya will look to prove that his first win over Robert Whittaker wasn’t a fluke, and there’s a litany of incredible options for clashes at lightweight, welterweight, and other divisions across the company.
As the UFC gets set for another calendar year, it’s time to dust off one of our favorite traditions and take our best shot at predicting the promotion’s pay-per-view main events for the first half of 2022.
January 2022: Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane
The lone fight on this list with completely confirmed logistics, this bout ensures that we’ll at least go 1-for-7 with our predictions.
Francis Ngannou will finally defend the UFC heavyweight title for the first time since he defeated Stipe Miocic for the belt 12 months prior. Meanwhile, interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane will look to skyrocket himself to superstar status by taking out one of the most intimidating fighters in UFC history.
This one will either be the true start of a dominant title reign for Ngannou, or it’ll go down as one of the bigger upsets in UFC history if Gane pulls out the win. Either way, this will serve as a firework-filled start to 2022.
February 2022: Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker II
If all goes according to plan, the UFC will have its own star-studded matchup as the sports world sets its focus on Super Bowl LVI and the end of the 2021 NFL season.
A rematch between UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and former champion Robert Whittaker is inevitable at this point, and the question is when this fight will happen, rather than if it’ll take place.
It seems as if hiccups could arise with this matchup if Adesanya’s camp holds strong on their stance that the fight should happen in a stadium. But, we’ll go with the glass-half-full approach and assume that this one goes off without a hitch in February.
March 2022: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
It’s rare to see fans clamoring for a fighter to get another title shot after they lost to the champion twice. But, Max Holloway isn’t your usual featherweight.
Holloway is the clear-cut No. 1 contender for Alexander Volkanovski’s featherweight title, and Dana White seemed to indicate that the former champion is next-in-line to square off with Volkanovski for the belt.
This matchup was a co-main event to a Kamaru Usman title defense on two different occasions, so they may not have a case to headline a pay-per-view. But, their last two wars were incredibly close, and from a quality perspective, it’s definitely worthy of the main event shine.
April 2022: UFC lightweight champion vs. Justin Gaethje
The Dustin Poirier situation is a sticky one, but it’ll have major implications for our predictions for the UFC’s 2022 calendar.
Poirier had quite the year in 2021, knocking out Conor McGregor in January before winning the trilogy bout in July via doctor’s stoppage after McGregor broke his leg. Fast-forward a few months, and he’s challenging UFC lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in the main event of UFC 269.
If Poirier wins the title, the UFC may want to have him stay off the grid until a potential bout with McGregor upon the Irishman’s return.
But, the smart move for the division is to have Justin Gaethje, the clear next challenger, fight for the belt in April.
With McGregor revealing that he’ll be cleared to spar around April, scheduling this title fight for April gives him some time to fully prepare for another bout on this list.
May 2022: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Another one of these UFC calendar stories, another time where I have to try to speak the Amanda Nunes-Valentina Shevchenko superfight into existence.
These two have met twice before at bantamweight, with Nunes earning the win on each occasion.
But, times have changed since their last meeting at UFC 215, and each fighter represents the most formidable challenge for the other at this point in their respective careers.
Both Nunes and Shevchenko are dominating in their respective divisions, with Nunes holding onto the UFC women’s bantamweight and women’s featherweight titles while Shevchenko rolls through her opponents as the UFC women’s flyweight champion.
Having Shevchenko battle for the bantamweight title would garner enough attention to make this a pay-per-view main event, with three different title belts represented in a single fight.
It’s the fight to make, and scheduling this for May gives each fighter time to compete in co-main events in February or March.
June 2022: Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones
The heavyweight division is all over the place at this point, even without factoring in the potential debut of former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Stipe Miocic is well-deserving of a rematch against Francis Ngannou in a trilogy bout for the title, but the UFC clearly has hopes for a superfight between Ngannou and Jones in the near future.
Money will likely trump logic here, and Ngannou will square off with Jones at some point in 2022. Scheduling it for June gives the UFC time to potentially pit Miocic and Jones against each other for the No. 1 contender spot in February or March, as well.
July 2022: Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor IV
With or without the lightweight title, a bout between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor when McGregor is fully healthy seems like a no-brainer for Dana White and the UFC.
The way their trilogy bout ended had fans wanting more, and left enough question marks for a fourth bout to be interesting without feeling like the promotion is jumping the shark for more money.
McGregor has made things incredibly personal with Poirier over the last year, and continues to ramp things up on social media as each month passes. There are a ton of other options for McGregor to pursue, including a trilogy bout with Nate Diaz, but it’s hard to argue with the hype that would surround a main event against Poirier.
The UFC tends to stack the box for its July pay-per-view, so don’t be surprised if the “Notorious” one finds himself headlining one of the promotion’s biggest cards of the year against one of his biggest rivals.