Crooke’s Cage: Predictions for the UFC in 2023


Photo via Creative Commons

By Aidan Crooke, Staff Writer, Sports

The new year is upon us, and it’s time to step back into the Octagon and see what UFC President Dana White and the UFC have in store for us. 

A light heavyweight king was crowned in Brazil when former 205 champion Glover Texeira and top contender Jamahal Hill went at it for the belt at UFC 283—Hill now reigning supreme over the division after dominating the former champion. We’ll also have the opportunity to see another double champ when Alexander Volkanovski gambles his #1 pound-for-pound spot against Islam Makhachev at lightweight during UFC 284. 

Outside of that, here are a few predictions I have on what the UFC has in store for the first quarter of 2023.

1: Jon Jones is going to fight more. 

After stripping Francis Ngannou of the championship, White and the UFC have confirmed that Jon Jones will fight Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 for the heavyweight title.

Every UFC fan and their mother has been screaming for White to get Jones back into the octagon after nearly three years away. There have been rumors that “Bones” is going to move up to heavyweight after being placed in that division on “EA Sports UFC 4,” but fans are tired of waiting for his return. With Jones’ old rivals Daniel Cormier and Rashad Evans long retired, it’s time for him to face a new wave of talent. Possible light heavyweight matchups include a tune-up against Jiří Procházka or Magomed Ankalaev. After Gane, putting him against Derrick Lewis or any of the top five heavyweights would be a good choice. The question is—can Jones hang in a new weight class with fresh faces coming to the UFC? His last fight was against Dominick Reyes in February 2020, and after three years, is it worth it to automatically give him a title shot? We’ll see in March.

2: We need women’s superfights

Amanda Nunes has run roughshod over the women’s bantamweight division, and if there aren’t going to be any women’s featherweight fighters, it’d be a good idea to gamble pound-for-pound rankings instead. Just as Volkanovski is gambling his top ranking for a belt, Nunes could drop a division and challenge Valentina Shevchenko by gambling her pound-for-pound queen status. I’m unsure if Nunes wants to go for three belts, but it would be interesting to see cross-division matchups across the UFC as a whole. Even though Nunes was a coach in the most recent Ultimate Fighter season, this could be an excellent lead-up to a title-for-rank bout in the UFC. And we know White loves his pay-per-view buys.

3: Sean O’Malley gets a title shot

Sean O’Malley shouldn’t automatically get a shot at the belt. After a controversial decision against Petr Yan at UFC 280, it would be a smart idea on the UFC’s part to have a title eliminator bout before O’Malley gets a chance to fight for the belt. O’Malley is marketable and a good fighter, but he must get a decisive win before he challenges Aljamain Sterling. Moreover, it’s going to have to be O’Malley vs. Yan 2. If we get this bout, it’ll need to be a title eliminator—the winner fights Sterling for the belt, likely in the range of late summer to early fall. If O’Malley holds the line and justifies the judges’ scorecards at UFC 280, then expect “The Sugar Show” to get some more flash with the UFC championship around his waist by 2024 at the earliest.

4: Bo Knows

If you’re a fan of NCAA wrestling, Bo Nickal is the guy you might be keeping an eye on coming into this year. After two finishes on White’s Contender Series, the former Nittany Lion is well-equipped to step into the octagon. Both of his wins during his time in the Contender Series were submission wins in the first round: the first by a rear-naked choke against Zachary Borrego, and the other by a triangle choke against Donovan Beard in less than a minute. He’s had under three minutes of time in the cage, he’s got three wins to his belt, and he’ll be in the middleweight division. It can be expected that Nickal will get a couple of fights against unranked fighters before challenging someone like Dricus Du Plessis or Darren Till. It’s a matter of time before we see something special from an NCAA wrestler and three-time Division I national champ. Nickal is slated to appear at UFC 285 with a matchup against Jamie Pickett as the final featured bout before the co-main and main event fights.

So, what do we do about these predictions?

Take any and all predictions with a grain of salt. While no bouts are currently confirmed for Nunes or O’Malley, these fighters are major draws for the company and should be expected to fight at some point in the year, barring any sort of injury or cancellation. Jones vs. Gane will certainly look to be a major fight come March, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll see Nunes in a championship bout likely before the end of the summer. Nickal gets a huge debut matchup as well with a chance to steal the show against 13-8 Jamie Pickett as the final featured bout before the co-main and main event bouts.

Potential matchups for fighters

Nunes simply has to wait before another title defense comes around. The potential of a trilogy fight with number one contender Julianna Peña may seem likely to be booked to kick off the summer, however, Raquel Pennington may insert herself into the title conversation after her victory at UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs. Imavov catapulted her into the number two contender spot, even stating in her post-fight press conference that she “should not be denied anymore” when it comes to who will challenge the “Lioness” next for the women’s bantamweight championship.

As was mentioned earlier, O’Malley will likely have to go through another fight before getting a chance at the men’s bantamweight championship. Sterling is slated to defend his belt at UFC 287 in April, and whoever wins may end up facing O’Malley depending on if O’Malley gets his number one contender shot sooner rather than later.

For the near future, UFC 284 and 285 are loaded to the teeth in terms of star power and will set the tone for the year to come in the Octagon.