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Bold predictions for 2024: Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, Joe Rogan, UFC 300 and more

2023 was another year of challenge and change in mixed martial arts, but with that chapter expired, there’s a chance to start brand new in 2024.

There are a lot of unknowns going into the new year, but without further ado, here are seven bold MMA predictions for the next 12 months …

* * * *

Leon Edwards gets through the fire with UFC gold

Leon Edwards

The rate of UFC title turnover over the past two years has skyrocketed, and there’s a good chance a lot more of it happens in 2024. Multiple in the current crop of champions appear vulnerable, especially with a majority of them so early into their reigns.

The current male UFC champs with title defenses on their resumes include Alexandre Pantoja, Alexander Volkanovski, Islam Makhachev, and Leon Edwards. That’s it. They each have tough tasks ahead in their respective divisions, but Edwards (21-3 MMA, 13-2 UFC) is who I want to focus on for this particular prediction.

The reigning welterweight champ has said his goal is to break Georges St-Pierre’s divisional defense record of nine. He’s currently at two, and after getting through Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, the path ahead doesn’t get any easier.

Edwards is staring down fights with Belal Muhammad, who is riding a 10-fight unbeaten streak and seething with confidence in a rematch scenario, as well as Shavkat Rakhmonov, who is on an 18-fight winning streak with all finishes and looks poised to claim gold.

Many people seem to think Edwards can get through one of those contenders, but not both back-to-back. It’s a tough ask, but I’m going to guess he does it, which would be quite the feat.

Tony Ferguson snaps his losing skid

Tony Ferguson

If former interim UFC champ Tony Ferguson does, in fact, choose to fight again after his seven-fight losing skid – and all signs point to him doing exactly that – let’s hope he’ll turn things around in 2024.

It’s been a dreadful and painful experience watching Ferguson (25-10 MMA, 15-8 UFC) flip from a 12-fight winning streak to seven consecutive losses over the past few years. He’s not the man he was in his prime in so many different facets, but maybe, just maybe, he’s still got one more in him (insert Vince Carter meme).

I don’t know what it’ll take for Ferguson to get his hand raised this year. Will the UFC give him a significant step down in competition? Should it choose to keep him under contract, one could only hope that’s the case. If he goes elsewhere, whether it’s a PFL/Bellator, somewhere overseas, BKFC or other avenue we’re not thinking of, I pray his team and the promoter work to find him a situation with a high probability of success.

Combined Conor McGregor and Jon Jones fights: One

Conor McGregor and Jon Jones

It’s become something of an annual tradition in this predictions column to cast some doubt over the activity and availability of Conor McGregor and Jon Jones, so here we go again.

After perfectly forecasting McGregor and Jones wouldn’t fight or compete in 2022, we did get the return of “Bones” in 2023 to capture the vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285 in March. McGregor, however, didn’t see action at all – much to his dismay.

As of right now, things will be vastly different in 2024. McGregor essentially has a fight on the books against Michael Chandler on June 29, and by all appearances is keen to keep active afterward. Jones, meanwhile, is currently recovering from an injury but could return as soon as mid-year for a widely loathed title defense against Stipe Miocic.

With both men tentatively teed up for summertime action, a best-case scenario could include them competing again toward the end of the year. Having a total of four fights featuring McGregor and Jones in 2024 would be a massive win for UFC, as well as for the fans and the media like us here at MMA Junkie.

When you’re talking about these two men, though, there’s always justified skepticism. All you need to do is point to past history to see the laundry list of reasons that could derail the availability of one or both of these men, and sometimes it’s just hard to bet against history.

I’ll predict now that we see just one fight collectively featuring McGregor and Jones in 2024. It seems grim, but that’d still be equal to or an upgrade over the majority of recent years.

UFC 300 won't be among the five best cards of the year

UFC 300

Now I want to be clear about this prediction from the outset: I’m not talking about the depth of talent on a card or what it looks like on paper. I’m talking about how it plays out in reality.

UFC 300 has about as much expectation as I can remember for any card since, well, UFC 200 back in July 2016. As of this writing we only have three confirmed fights for the April 13 event at T-Mobile Arena, and given who is currently available and unavailable, the speculation about how UFC is going to produce a lineup that lives up to the occasion rages on.

I fully expect the promotion will deliver and give fans a card to be excited about going in, but for some reason, it always seems like these shows that have so much hype fail to deliver. That’s not always the case, but something tells me UFC 300 won’t be in the Event of the Year discussion when we’re doing our awards at the end of 2024.

Islam Makhachev becomes lightweight GOAT

Islam Makhachev

This might be my least bold prediction of the bunch, but some may disagree.

We talked about the murderer’s row 170-pound champ Edwards has ahead of him in 2024, but reigning lightweight champ Islam Makhachev also has some tough tasks ahead.

Makhachev (25-1 MMA, 14-1 UFC) has said he wants to defend his title three times this year if possible. Meeting that goal will require UFC to book him before the Ramadan break, perhaps for its Saudi Arabia debut on March 2 to kick things off. If he’s healthy and scheduled accordingly, the three likeliest opponents, in any order, would be: Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje and Arman Tsarukyan.

Although Makhachev has already beaten two of those names, the rematches would presumably be more challenging fights. If he can get through them all, Makhachev would have five consecutive title defenses, which would put him well beyond the current divisional record of three, shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov, Benson Henderson, Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn.

For me, Nurmagomedov is currently the best lightweight to ever do it. We all know his career was prematurely cut short, though, which opened the door for Makhachev to make his push to the top. Everything about the Dagestani is trending upward at the moment, and for my money he’s the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport right now. I expect him to further solidify that status in 2024, as well as separate himself from the pack as the best 155-pound champion the UFC has ever seen.

Joe Rogan commentates no more than five UFC events

Joe Rogan

Although Joe Rogan’s presence in the UFC commentary booth has diminished year over year, he’s still found his place on the A-team alongside Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier for the majority of pay-per-view events, especially when they take place in North America.

As Rogan’s podcast continues to be institutional listening for many around the globe and his opportunities elsewhere grow, it’s going to become easier for him to pass on attending shows. He’ll always find time for the biggest events, but my instinct leads to thinking he won’t be seen as often in 2024.

I’m not basing this on anything heard behind the scenes, but for the sake of this column, I’m setting the over/under on the number of shows he calls at five. The number might be foolish, because between January’s UFC 297 in Toronto, February’s UFC 298 in Anaheim, March’s UFC 299 in Anaheim, April’s UFC 300 in Las Vegas and McGregor’s expected return during International Fight Week on June 29, also in Las Vegas, that’s already five cards Rogan would typically call by the midway point of the year.

Nate Diaz fights Jake Paul in PFL

Nate Diaz vs. Jake Paul

This feels like the boldest prediction of the bunch, mainly because to this point, Nate Diaz has given no indication he’s actually going to bite on PFL’s $10-$15 million offer to rematch Jake Paul under MMA rules.

But let’s pretend, for one reason or another, he changes his mind and is the man who welcomes Paul into MMA.

The odds of this coming together feel slim. It really does, and I’ll admit that. PFL boss Donn Davis has consistently stated Paul will debut in MMA in late 2024 and claims the offer is primed and prepped for Diaz to accept.

Diaz has not shown great interest, though, and it’s understandable why. He could have some lucrative boxing possibilities on the table, and the option of returning to UFC for fights with the likes of Dustin Poirier or McGregor always exist.

I don’t have a good string of logic that explains why Diaz would venture away from those avenues to sign up for an MMA fight against Paul in PFL. In theory, it should be an easy win and easy payday for him. But the downside of a potential loss is immense.

Still, though, I think it ends up happening.

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