The sport of MMA has finally rivalled boxing for the role of the world’s leading combat sport across 2016, with much thanks to an abundance of highly entertaining UFC cards in previous months. Ireland’s Conor McGregor has shot to stardom with his brash talking outside of the octagon and devastating knockouts inside of it, which for many is the key reason for the UFC’s rampant rise in popularity.
Following a monumental 2016 for the organisation, which included the likes of the record-breaking UFC 200 in Las Vegas and a historic UFC 205 card in New York City, here are the top five fighters to look out for in 2017.
Who else? The deadly Dubliner has become the UFC’s modern day Muhammad Ali with his trademark trash talking during media duties and at press conferences, while his signature left hand has helped him become a two-weight world champion.
After a historic year for ‘the Notorious’, in which he stopped Eddie Alvarez to impressively clinch the lightweight title in New York, he will take a short break away form the octagon to oversee the birth of his first child. His return is swiftly expected and there are a host of mammoth match-ups which could take place over the next 12 months, including a title defence against Russian contender Khabib Nurmagomedov or completing a trilogy with old rival Nate Diaz. He is a leading favourite to overcome the latter in the latest bet365 betting
With McGregor having vacated the UFC featherweight strap, Max Holloway took one step closer to claiming that crown in 2017, with it recently being awarded back to Brazilian former champion Jose Aldo.
This uprising Hawaiian is on a clinical streak of 10 successive victories in the organisation, with his most recent being a dominant stoppage triumph over former lightweight title holder Anthony Pettis. At just 25 years of age, Holloway will next take on former dominant 145 pounds champion Aldo, as he aims to reign supreme in 2017 and finally make it his year in the organisation.
Regarded by many as the best MMA fighter in history, Jones will look to bounce back from a controversial year when he eventually returns to proceedings in 2017.
The now 29-year-old New York native was set to face Daniel Cormier on the huge UFC 202 card but was pulled from the bout for failing a drugs test. He was later found guilty of taking a banned substance and was subsequently suspended by USADA. He is set to return in July, though, and will undoubtedly be involved in an attempt to reclaim the light-heavyweight crown.
Doo Ho Choi
South Korean talent Ho Choi has risen to prominence in a short space of time with the UFC, with his successful knockout wins over Juan Puig, Sam Sicilia and Thiago Tavares, all of which came in the opening round.
Despite an epic points loss to Cub Swanson at the end of the year, 2017 looks promising for the 25-year-old as he aims to make his mark in the octagon.
‘Cowboy’ Cerrone is yet another who will be hoping to make a strong impression in 2017, with the Colorado fighter having recovered from his defeat to Rafael dos Anjos back in December 2015 to put together a dominant four-bout winning run.
He will face Jorge Masvidal early in the New Year as he attempts to maintain his devastating run at welterweight.