November 2016 will see another historic moment for the UFC and mixed martial arts in general. The UFC 205 card will be the first ever MMA event to take place inside Madison Square Garden. So, here is the card I would ideally like to see take place inside the iconic arena.
1. Cristiane Justino vs. Holly Holm
A bout between Cristiane Justino and Holly Holm at a catchweight could be a seriously entertaining contest.
As we know, Cyborg is a formidable fighter and there are few women in MMA that can hang with her. Justino has got to be one of the hardest hitting women on the planet. Now that she is able to fight in the UFC, we have encountered a problem: there is nobody on the roster to realistically match with her.
Cyborg is naturally a lot bigger than most of the other female fighters, and she struggled to even get down to 140 for the fight with Leslie Smith. Surely the best option would be to have her fight at a higher catchweight, as creating another division would not be feasible. Of the women in the UFC, I would say that the only person that could pose a threat to her would be Holly Holm.
Holly was actually given the opportunity to face Justino previously but passed on the bout. She has since made a complete u-turn. I believe the reason she initially passed was because she was coming off a loss to Miesha Tate and there is a very good chance Justino could win.
So what changed?
Well, we now know that Holm will face Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on FOX 20. Holm presumably feels that she will definitely defeat Shevchenko and so she doesn't mind taking the gamble after a certain victory.
I think this fight could go either way. Cyborg is a machine but so is Holm. Holly went from dominating women's boxing to doing the exact same thing in mixed martial arts. Everyone is unbeatable until someone beats them. People thought that of Ronda Rousey until she ran into Holm. On her best day, Holm is the hype-ender. Could she end the Cyborg hype train?
2. T.J. Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt
It is clear to see that Cody 'No love' Garbrandt is being groomed by the UFC (and to some extent the media) to be one of the new big stars of the sport. As Ariel Helwani repeatedly asserted on The MMA Hour, Garbrant vs. Almeida is the first non-title bantamweight fight to be the main event.
Given that Cody has just won that bout by knockout and the amount of exposure he is now getting in the media, it is only a matter of time before he faces a top bantamweight. Former champion T.J. Dillashaw could be a great match-up for him. Dillashaw's clash with Dominick Cruz over the bantamweight title is an example of how creative his offense is.
Look at any of Garbrant's fights in the UFC to see the same from him. A fight between Dillashaw and Garbrandt could feature some exciting stand-up as both fighters like to have fun matches with wild exchanges. It is difficult not to get excited about two fresh-faced stars like Garbrandt and Dillashaw meeting in the Octagon.
3. Uriah Hall vs. Anderson Silva
This fight was originally scheduled for UFC 198, but was unfortunately cancelled the week of the bout as Silva, needed surgery on his gall bladder. It is a real shame as it was sure to be a highlight reel match.
Both fighters are known for their flashy fighting styles that make for extremely entertaining fights. The reason this match suits UFC's first ever event in New York is because it has the ability to generate a lot of excitement, without any animosity involved.
I propose that UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden is where we will revisit the cancelled match.
4. Nick Diaz vs Rory MacDonald
I believe this card should also be an event for returns. As we know, the return of Stockton's own Nick Diaz is imminent. Diaz is a real fan favorite and after having an unjust NSAC suspension shortened, he is scheduled to make a highly anticipated return to the octagon.
In a recent episode of The MMA Hour, Nate Diaz remarked upon his brother's return, saying that if the UFC invites him back it ought to be for a big fight. This is a fight that Nick Diaz would return for. Rory MacDonald has proven that he can really put on a show against a resilient opponent, his five-round war against Robbie Lawler at UFC 189 being proof of this.
Diaz is certainly resilient, not to mention he has an exciting fighting style and propensity to trash-talk inside the cage. This could be a really memorable battle.
5. Robbie Lawler vs Stephen Thompson
Robbie Lawler has been thrown some challenging adversaries in his time as welterweight champion and, all credit to him, he has found a way to emerge victorious every time.
By fighting a number of five-round, fight of the year candidates, he has elevated that belt's prestige. The 170-pound title seems to generate Fight of the Night contests, and two of Lawler's defenses in a row have been given this award.
Stephen Thompson's shot at the belt could make it three in a row, but perhaps for a different reason. Lawler's last two championship defenses were all-out wars; the kind of fights where both competitors go all-in and leave everything in the cage. This might not be the rock 'em sock 'em slugfest that we saw against Carlos Condit or MacDonald but it could certainly be a fight of the year candidate.
Thompson's knockout power coupled with his ability to systematically take out his opponent one piece at a time, could pose a serious threat to the welterweight champion. On the other hand, Lawler often draws people into a brawl. Dragging "Wonderboy" into a scrap could ruin any strategy he may have. Opting out of his measured approach might be the only way for Lawler to defend his belt against Thompson.
This one is fascinating and could go either way. Lawler is tough, but Thompson is a dangerous man.
6. Georges St-Pierre vs Tyron Woodley
Woodley has been moving up the ranks of the welterweight division of late, so much so that he has been given a shot at the title at UFC 201 in Atlanta. Assuming Woodley is not champion when UFC 205 rolls around, I think you pit him against a returning GSP.
I do not think you should give St-Pierre an immediate shot at the belt; that would not be fair on the other welterweights on the roster, so I am matching him with Woodley, should "The Chosen One" lose at 201.
The reason I am making the fight between Woodley and St-Pierre is because they have a similar, hard-hitting style. The two of them rely on explosive power in their fights and could make for some thrilling stand-up. These two fighters are very similar in that they both combine aggressive strikes, rushing forward at their opponents, with a strong ground game.
7. Miesha Tate vs Ronda Rousey 3
When discussing what was next for the new women's bantamweight champion, Miesha Tate remarked that she would love to face Ronda for a third time in Madison Square Garden. This revelation came at the now infamous UFC 200 press conference.
It would make a lot of sense to conclude this epic feud in the iconic arena. This fight has all of the drama and narrative of a battle meant for "The Garden." The history of this arena makes it a venue that is meant for epic showdowns with a lot of hype.
The unfolding story that has led us to a third fight is fascinating and the situation changes shape all of the time. We are now in a position where Tate has elevated herself, capturing the title that Ronda lost by beating the woman she couldn't. Yes, Rousey has beaten Miesha twice already, but Tate has clearly evolved as a fighter since then. Tate choked out Holly Holm, the same woman that ended Ronda's undefeated streak with a swift head kick. Rousey would certainly want to get the win back from "The Preacher's Daughter", but you bet she wants that title back even more.
All of these elements could work in unison to create a sensational bout inside the most prestigious arena in history.
8. Daniel Cormier vs Ryan Bader
Ryan "Darth" Bader is one of the most underrated light heavyweights in the division. Time and time again he has come within touching distance of a title shot but has been ultimately overlooked in favor of a bigger star. He sits at the top of the rankings of the division and yet he has not received a championship match.
Before Jones returned to action and the feud between he and Daniel Cormier resumed, it looked like Bader could be Cormier's next adversary. They even had a confrontation at a press conference in which they almost came to blows. Jon Jones returning to the title picture ended this developing narrative. However, after the bad blood between those two is leached at UFC 200, I believe Bader vs. Cormier is the next match to make.
If DC is still the champion come UFC 205 it would not only be a big grudge match but a long-deserved championship shot for Bader. Just some of the people he has beaten recently are Ovince St-Preux and Rashad Evans. Whether Cormier is the 205-pound champion at UFC 205 or not, this would just be a fun fight.
9. Jon Jones vs Anthony Johnson
My co-main event for the Madison Square Garden card is Jon Jones vs. Anthony Johnson. That is, if Jones is the champion at that point. If not, I would swap the position of this fight with Cormier vs Bader.
This is another fight that was teased at the UFC 200 press conference. Although it does not have a lot of hype, it is a big fight. Johnson could be a test for Jones in the same way that Cormier and Gustafsson have put him under pressure.
This fight was originally set for UFC 187 until Jones was forced to withdraw after his hit-and-run incident. It would be great to see this scenario finally unfold.
10. Demetrious Johnson vs Dominick Cruz: champion vs champion superfight
Although the bantamweight division got some exposure in the main event of UFC Fight Night 88, it is fair to say that it joins flyweight in being one of the most underappreciated divisions in the company. It sounds absurd to say it but the pound-for-pound best in the world is hardly recognized.
Demetrious Johnson has dominated his division and earned himself this very label, successfully defending his flyweight championship time and time again. Despite these accolades, Johnson just isn't getting the attention of the Conor McGregors of the MMA world.
Similarly, Dominick Cruz is an impressive athlete who has returned from a four-year lay-off due to injury to climb back to the top of the bantamweight division and regain the belt. He won back the title from T.J. Dillashaw, a match in which both fighters put on a striking clinic. Although, just like Johnson, fame and mainstream coverage has eluded him.
I believe the debut of mixed martial arts inside Madison Square Garden is the perfect time to give both fighters a break. They both need a really big match, something to propel them into mainstream popularity. I also believe that their opponents should be each other. Imagine the drama of a champion vs. champion superfight in MSG.
You could have "Mighty Mouse" go up to face Cruz for the bantamweight belt, Cruz could go down to flyweight, or you could even make it winner takes all. This is not such a far-fetched idea; there is now a precedent for people fighting for a second belt. McGregor was supposed to fight for the lightweight title before Rafael dos Anjos got injured.
If the UFC are willing to have a fighter attempt to become a two-weight-class champion on a non-landmark card like 197, then they can certainly do it on the UFC's first event in New York.
Cruz vs. Johnson would be thoroughly entertaining. Both of them are lightning-quick strikers. It would be a joy to watch them fire at each other, trying to make the other guy miss and put together creative counters. With two belts on the line, this could be a match for the ages. It could finally make people sit up and take notice of the phenomenal athletes in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions.
The first mixed martial arts event in Madison Square Garden could be another excuse for the UFC to make big match-ups that the fans want to see.