- By Matt Smith
2020 was set up to be a huge year for MMA and kicked off with a UFC card headlined by the biggest name in the sport, Conor McGregor. Having only fought twice in the last 4 years, the industry was excited by the thought of ‘The Notorious’ returning for another run at the title. On top of this, the PFL was looking to host its most exciting season to date with their huge new signing Rory MacDonald and returning stars such as Kayla Harrison and Lance Palmer. Elsewhere, Bellator had recently announced and begun their Featherweight Grand Prix tournament, showcasing that the promotion may hold the strongest roster of featherweight fighters in the industry.
Unfortunately, MMA, along with most sports around the world, was not able to continue the year as strongly as it started. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, an unprecedented pause was placed on the entire sports industry. As a result, the remainder of 2020 was hugely affected with no events on through the spring and the lasting effects still being felt now. All events are still behind closed doors and despite the interest of being able to hear everything going on between the fighters and coaches, it hasn’t been the same without the noise of the crowd.
The industry also had to say goodbye to several of the biggest names in the sports’ history, as fighters such as Daniel Cormier, Anderson Silva and Khabib Nurmagomedov laid down their gloves in the middle of an empty arena. In a more drastic response to the virus, the PFL took the decision to suspend their season until 2021 and look to return with a full season without any postponement.
This is not to say that 2020 was without excitement, we saw the introduction of UFC’s fight island in Abu Dhabi which played host to some amazing fights including Khabib v Gaethje and Joaquin Buckley’s highlight reel knockout. Across the MMA landscape, we have also seen some of the best performances in the sports short history, AJ McKee submitting Darrion Caldwell with a unique neck crank submission in the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix semi-final and Reinier de Ridder upsetting one of the biggest stars in ONE Championship, Aung La N Sang to win the middleweight title stand out in a year that will mostly want to be forgotten.
As we look to 2021, the recent announcement of McGregor’s rematch with Dustin Poirier almost exactly a year on from his last fight, we can again hope that 2021 can be a year to make up for the mostly disappointing previous 12 months. The whole industry would benefit greatly from a more active McGregor back to his old self, lighting up press conferences and attracting viewership figures that rival the biggest names across the whole sporting landscape.
With the hotly anticipated rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov supposedly off the table following his recent retirement announcement, we can look to new match ups for McGregor as he looks to pursue a third UFC title. Fighters such as Justin Gaethje, Jorge Masvidal and Tony Ferguson have all looked to get a shot at the so-called ‘money fight’ with McGregor. If we got to see McGregor fight any of the above mentioned, or the long awaited trilogy fight with Diaz, the MMA world can expect to see a huge increase in the interest and attention thrust on to them by these fights.
Promotions such as the PFL will certainly be looking to hit the ground running in 2021 after their cancellation of the 2020 season. Having grown very quickly to become one of the front runners to contend with the UFC in the future, they have recently managed to attract some of the biggest names in the sport. Former UFC heavyweight champion, and considered to be one of the best heavyweights of all time, Fabricio Werdum has joined the PFL’s ranks and will be looking to make an instant impact when the season starts in April, and will certainly be looking to have his name on the million dollar cheque at the end of the year.
More recently, the PFL have also announced one of the most anticipated signings of the year with the women’s pound for pound number 1 boxer, Claressa Shields, signing on to make her MMA debut with the PFL and challenge Kayla Harrison for the throne of best female lightweight fighter in MMA.
As 2021 progresses, we are certainly hoping to see the Covid-19 situation resolved as soon as possible and the reintroduction of fans for these moments to be that much more memorable and spectacular. We can all look to 2021 to answer a number of questions that 2020 was unable to answer, who will win the Bellator Grand Prix, can McGregor become a 3-time UFC champion? Hopefully, we are able to find the answer to these questions, as well as being able to see more and more stacked fight cards, highlight reel knockouts, and more excitement from one of the most unpredictable sports in the world.