The 2023 MMA Draft: Which 35 fighters would you build a promotion around?
The 2023 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday in Kansas City, and so in the spirit of the festivities, just like we did last year, the MMA Fighting Crew is back to divvy up the best fighters and biggest stars in the world among the top promotions in combat sports.
If you don’t remember what happened last year, it’s simple: Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, Jed Meshew, Mike Heck, and Shaun Al-Shatti all take the reins of one of the top-five promotions in the world, and then draft their choice of fighters to build their franchises around. Once it’s all said and done, the fine readers of MMAFighting.com will determine who has assembled the best collection of talent.
We’ve made a couple of small changes this year, so let’s run down the rules very quickly.
- Any individual in the MMA world is available to draft. Drafting a fighter will lock them into a 5-year contract with the organization.
- Getting a fighter under contract does not mean the fighter has to fight for that organization, they just cannot compete for any other MMA organization. For instance, if you draft Jon Jones, you run the risk of him failing a drug test, getting arrested, or simply not wanting to fight.
- The draft will be seven rounds this year (mirroring the NFL draft). At the end of the exercise, any fighter who is undrafted will revert to the company they are currently under contract with.
- Trades are allowed.
Last year, the five MMA promotions were Eagle FC, ONE Championship, PFL, Bellator, and the UFC, with Al-Shatti’s takeover of Bellator winning the fan vote. Since Eagle FC is fallen off the radar completely, the MMA Fighting Draft Council decided to relegate Khabib Nurmagomedov’s promotion to the lower leagues, and this year it has granted an at-large bid for BKFC to join the draft. All general managers have been randomly reassigned to new organizations. As the new kid on the block, BKFC will have the first pick, then ONE Championship, then PFL, then Bellator, and the UFC will end each round.
Got it? Good. Let’s get drafting.
BKFC: Conor McGregor
Meshew: Last year, mistakes were made. The biggest star in combat sports somehow, inexplicably fell to the third round. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but what I do know is that heads rolled among the front offices of four of these franchises. And this year, we at BKFC have no intention of letting that happen again.
As the lone promotion here that isn’t MMA but is instead focused on bare-knuckle boxing, we at BKFC have a more specific kind of fighter we must target, and even if he weren’t a superstar, McGregor would still fit the bill. The rough-and-tumble kid from Crumlin fits perfectly in with our two-minute rounds, all-action product — and with guys like Eddie Alvarez, Luis Palomino, and of course, best-friend-turned-bitter-enemy Artem Lobov waiting, McGregor has plenty of appealing matchups ahead of him in BKFC.
ONE Championship: Jon Jones
Al-Shatti: After watching my afterthought third-round pick from last year vault straight into Victor Wembanyama territory without even fighting, I suppose that’s why our readers so shrewdly anointed me as the *overwhelming* winner of our 2022 draft. I’d imagine Conor McGregor won’t be the only pick from Team Al-Shatti’s all-star haul to encounter a similar bump in draft stock this time around. Mistakes were made indeed, Mr. Meshew.
So when ONE Championship and its billions upon billion of viewers called our front office for asking for its services after last year’s critically acclaimed transformation of Showtime MMA, how could we say no? First things first: We’re abolishing all this stupid weight-related nonsense. Flyweight means you’re fighting at 125 pounds again. And all that easily circumvented hydration testing? It’s getting tossed out the window. We’re keeping things simple and reverting back to what we know works. Along those lines, soccer kicks and stomps are back on the menu for our rule set. ONE was founded to be the spiritual successor of Pride FC — from henceforth, we’ll be leaning hard into that original ethos.
Speaking of — all those pesky drug tests? Bam — they’re gone too. This is Pride 2.0, baby! If you ain’t partaking in extracurriculars, you simply ain’t trying hard enough. Prepare for the most entertaining mainstream MMA spectacle since the glory days of Bushido.
With that out of the way, let’s talk picks.
This is a layup, fellas. We’re going with the No. 1 name on our draft board this year. The most intriguing man in MMA right now. The likely GOAT. The champ who already may know a thing or two about PED use. Jonathan Dwight Jones, come on down!
You thought ol’ Jonny Bones was already ferocious enough at heavyweight? Just wait until you see him on our new ONE “nutrition” plan.
PFL: Francis Ngannou
Martin: After clearly dominating the 2022 draft, I’m back with plans to make the PFL even bigger and better than before. First things first, the SmartCage is out and the computer scoring is being deleted faster than the Fox News email servers. We’re also doing away with the “season” format because two fights and an odd scoring system just doesn’t justify winning fighters getting left out of the “playoffs” simply because they didn’t get a finish.
Instead, we’re going old-school tournament, except this time the winner of each division earns a $1 million prize and the shot at the reigning and defending champion on pay-per-view. With that said, we couldn’t think of a better first selection in the 2023 draft than the hottest free agent in all of combat sports — Francis Ngannou.
Sure, he may not have as much competition in the PFL but we’ll gladly work hand in hand to ensure he gets the boxing matches he wants while still throwing him some cannon fodder to launch into the third row whenever he steps into the new PFL
smart cage. Let the knockout party begin!
Showtime MMA Bellator: Alexander Volkanovski
Lee: As our first order of business, we’re reverting back to the glorious and unique name of Bellator, a brand synonymous with excellence, which will go a long way towards moving on from the numerous missteps Mr. Al-Shatti made last year.
Full disclosure, the plan was to start this draft with a bang by snagging either Conor McGregor, the one fighter capable of single-handedly changing the fortunes of an entire organization, or Francis Ngannou, the most intriguing free agent, but with those names off the board we’ll “settle” for arguably the No. 1 Pound-for-Pound fighter in the world — the inimitable Alexander Volkanovski.
Bellator now employs the best fighter in all of MMA, has a star who can anchor two deep divisions, and gives us at least one mega matchup with our beloved Patricio Pitbull.
UFC: Islam Makhachev
Heck: Here at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, we already have an established brand of dominance in the space, and we have the ability to create new stars since most of my fellow draftees will be cherry picking from my roster. So this year, it’s about getting the best of the best, and getting incredible value where we can find it.
Hence, our first pick. When the best fighter in the best division is available, you take him — and to add to that, when that person just happens to be best fighter in the world, we don’t hesitate. So with our first pick, the UFC drafts lightweight champion Islam Makhachev.
BKFC: Justin Gaethje
Meshew: Mike Heck may not have been able to save Eagle FC last year, but with the way this draft is going, BKFC is ready to make some noise in 2023.
For nearly five years, I’ve told anyone who will listen that the most exciting fight that can possibly be made is McGregor vs. Gaethje. Gaethje is the most exciting fighter of all-time and McGregor is undeniably in the top 10, and their styles match up perfectly with one another. Now, BKFC can be the one to bring that fight to life. We’ll even make a special exemption to allow kicks in this one.
And once it’s over, we still have potential rematches for Gaethje with Alvarez and Palomino.
ONE Championship: Khamzat Chimaev
Al-Shatti: I see BKFC is clearly going with the “Just Copy Al-Shatti’s 2022 Draft” strategy, which, hey, I can’t blame them. The results spoke for themselves.
But the people, they crave freshness, Mr. Meshew. They crave something new. So we have a two-pronged attack plan here in the ONE war room, and with the foundation of Prong No. 1 already in place with Heavyweight Jones, it’s time to take our pillar for Prong No. 2. We’re claiming another of MMA’s biggest intrigues, potentially the man with the most untapped potential still left on the board, a 28-year-old two-division monster who’s still just scratching the surface of what is very, very obvious star potential — give us the Chechen wolf.
Give us Khamzat Chimaev.
PFL: Israel Adesanya
Martin: It’s hard to believe that one of the biggest superstars in the entire sport fell to Round 2, but there’s no way Israel Adesanya was getting past this pick.
He’s once again the king of the middleweight division after viciously knocking out Alex Pereira and he still has the potential to once again test himself at light heavyweight as well. Adesanya knows how to draw a crowd and he just happens to be one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the entire sport. Plus, with Adesanya and Ngannou on board, PFL Africa will be happening sooner rather than later!
Bellator: Jake Paul
Lee: Last year, I received just two percent of the vote in a poll asking who won the draft.
For all that didn’t vote for me, just know — this pick is for you.
That’s right, Bellator is using its second overall pick on “The Problem Child,” the No. 1 influencer boxer in the game, the hardcore MMA fan’s favorite fighter, Jake motherfreakin’ Paul.
With apologies to our PFL pals, we want all of that Paul smoke. We’re filling our lungs with it. People want to say Bellator lacks buzz? Well guess what, we’re rocking the youth vote and capitalizing on all the TikToking, Instagraming, Snapchatting, hip-hopping and bee-bopping that’s all the rage these days. How do you do, fellow kids?
UFC: Brandon Moreno
Heck: Again, the value here is absolutely tremendous, which has led me to another no-brainer selection. Since youthful exuberance seems to be a theme in this round, allow me to draft that man that personifies that more than any other fighter on the planet, and he just happens to be an incredible fighter, who at 29, is barely knocking on the door of his athletic peak.
Since the 2022 draft, this man has finished Kai Kara-France to win our interim flyweight championship, then went on to unify the titles with a dominant finish of Deiveson Figueiredo to officially put his longtime rival behind him. We’ve already got meetings with Lego and Funko set for mega-sponsorship deals as we draft “The Assassin Baby,” Brandon Moreno with our second pick.
The BKFC offices have traded their third-round selection to the UFC in exchange for the UFC’s third-round pick, plus the rights to Robbie Lawler and Calvin Kattar.
BKFC UFC: Jiri Prochazka
Heck: It’s tough to lose a legend in Robbie Lawler, who arguably has competed in the two best fights in UFC history against Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald, and is a surefire Hall of Famer, plus an all-around bad dude in Calvin Kattar. But the potential to rattle the cages of my fellow promoters was way too high to pass on this opportunity.
So with this gift, the UFC retains the services of the man that many consider to be the real UFC light heavyweight champion, Jiri Prochazka. The fight between one of the most exciting fighters in our sport and current 205-pound champ Jamahal Hill is going to be a doozy, and the second Prochazka is back from injury, it’s going down.
Sorry, not sorry — to the rest of the promotions, Jiri is staying with us. Thank you, Jed!
ONE Championship: Leon Edwards
Al-Shatti: Savvy move, Mr. Heck. We were ready to sprint to the podium and snatch up Prochazka with our pick. But hey, that’s why you have Plan Bs and Plan Cs. The loss of Crazy Jiri just means it’s time to pivot — and there’s no better way to pivot than by continuing to bolster our welterweight division with the best damn welterweight in the entire sport.
Welcome home, Leon Edwards!
Overnight “Rocky” opens the doors to a massive show in the United Kingdom and enters our fold with built-in opposition waiting for him between Chimaev, violence connoisseur Roberto Soldic, reigning champ Christian Lee, and even Sage Northcutt if we’re feeling silly.
We’re playing the long game here and the plan is in motion…
PFL: Sean O’Malley
Martin: Star power sometimes matters more than championships, and Sean O’Malley is one of the biggest draws in the sport right now. Ever since he dazzled Dana White on the UFC’s Contender Series, O’Malley has been one of the most discussed prospects on the planet.
From his wild and colorful hair to his non-stop action style in the cage, O’Malley is a money-making machine; plus at just 28 years old, he’s got plenty of tread left on the tires. O’Malley is exactly the kind of fighter you build around — he’s got swagger for days and a nasty style that always draws a crowd.
Bellator: Alex Pereira
Lee: Once again, the PFL has foiled us by taking one of the hottest names off the board right before our pick. But no matter, we’re not all about Facebooking and MySpaceing.
We’ve got substance, we’ve got style, and with our next pick of Alex Pereira we’re adding even more of both. Pereira is flat-out one of the most exciting in-cage performers today, and you can bet your butt that we’re going to match him up with the kind of competition that can only help him create more viral highlights. You thought Michael Page had collection of crushed cans? Pereira’s résumé is about to look like the backyard of a frat house.
Plus, you’re getting Pereira vs. Yoel Romero, which justifies this whole exercise.
UFC BKFC: Max Holloway
Meshew: I feel like I’m fleecing y’all at this point. Would I have liked to have Pereira so he could knock out Luke Rockhold? Of course. But instead by moving back I gained two more fighters who fit in perfectly with our all-violence in BKFC, and I still get to draft another of the top-10 most exciting fighters in MMA currently. Just look at the roster BKFC is amassing right now! This is the start of something special.
BKFC: Dustin Poirier
Meshew: Speaking of special, you know how the UFC was tentatively planning to rematch the 2018 Fight of the Year between Poirier and Gaethje? Well, not anymore. BKFC has that. Plus a tetralogy with Conor McGregor, trilogies with Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway, and maybe even a Mike Perry scrap. I feel like I’m running up the score at this point.
The UFC is again moving up in the draft, this time trading the rights to Sergei Pavlovich, Curtis Blaydes, and its fourth-round selection to ONE Championship in exchange for ONE’s fourth-round pick.
ONE Championship UFC: Jailton Almeida — Traded immediately to Bellator for Usman Nurmagomedov
Heck: Perceived value is the key here. Getting Jailton Almeida at a steal is just tremendous, and while it’s near impossible to upgrade a pick with such tremendous future upside, somehow, I have done it. We wish Almeida well with his inevitable Bellator heavyweight championship run, but I ended up with arguably the best prospect in the sport, and a man who just turned 25 years of age that could end the year as a top-5 fighter in the sport’s Cadillac division.
When Makhachev wants to move up to 170, or wants to end his career on top, Nurmagomedov will slide right in there in his stead and has a really good shot to be a long-reigning champion, and perhaps the best lightweight in the history of our great sport when it’s all said and done. Welcome to the squad, Usman. I can’t wait for the incredible matchups we will be able to put you in.
PFL: Shavkat Rakhmonov
Martin: I’m not going to lie, we had our eye on Usman Nurmagomedov as a potential late-round pick, but we’ll soothe those wounds by drafting one of the most ferocious welterweights in the world in Shavkat Rakhmonov.
He’s a devastating striker and a well-versed ground specialist with the potential to run roughshod over any 170-pound fighter foolish enough to engage with him. Rakhmonov boasts a 17-0 record with a 100 percent finishing rate, including five consecutive wins in the UFC. It’s safe to say Rakhmonov is a pay-per-view draw just waiting to happen.
Bellator: Zhang Weili
Lee: Usman Nurmagomedov, thank you for your service, but when you can trade a top-10 lightweight for the man who will soon be universally recognized as the worlds’ best heavyweight, you’ve gotta do it.
Bolstering our ranks even further, we’re picking the first woman in the draft — and you can’t do better than Zhang Weili. Of course, this is in the interests of tapping into the vast China market, but Zhang is also one of the most feared women on the planet and a force of nature in the cage. Bringing the strawweight division back to Bellator is long overdue and Zhang will lead the way, with the door wide open for her to move up to flyweight.
UFC ONE Championship: Charles Oliveira
Al-Shatti: Ha! The goal for this stage of the draft was simply to bolster our heavyweight division as much as possible with compelling fights for Jon Jones. Somehow, we did exactly that, without giving out much of anything of substance. With new additions Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes, Jones instantly has two more compelling fights at his disposal — a monstrous Russian knockout artist who’s going to look scarier than you’ve ever thought possible on his patented new ONE Championship Nutrition Plan™, plus a wrestler who presents one of the more dangerous matchups in the whole damn division (if he chooses to wrestle).
The fact that I was able to snag “Do Bronx” as an added bonus this round is just icing on the cake. Not only is Charles Oliveira a fan-favorite, he’s a top-5 most exciting man in MMA! Hell, he can even moonlight in our submission grappling divisions or have some fun grapplers’ delights fights against Shinya Aoki or Garry Tonon if he wants.
ONE Championship just got an absolute haul here in Round 4. Thanks, UFC!
BKFC: Jessica Andrade
Meshew: OK, now it’s time to diversify. I considered just going all-in on the “Draft lightweights (and almost lightweights) exclusively since it’s the best division in combat sports” strategy, but BKFC is known for it’s thrilling women’s bouts, and so we need to get some more talent in the room to make sure that remains a strength. Enter Andrade, who can compete in multiple weight classes and packs the most power per punch of arguably any woman in fist-fighting. Andrade is going to deliver highlight-reel knockouts for BKFC and the hairs on the back of my neck are already standing up just thinking about her title fight against Britain Hart.
ONE Championship: Yair Rodriguez
Al-Shatti: There’s still plenty of value left on the board, so let’s not over-complicate this, shall we? “El Pantera” instantly opens us to the Mexican market, is a balls-to-the-wall action fighter who seemingly just leveled up in a *major* way, and is only 30 years old with the potential to be the best featherweight in the world by the time his career is said and done.
Our war room may have taken a bit of a detour from our original two-pronged plan of attack with this pick, but we didn’t expect a hyper-exciting young talent like Rodriguez to still be on the board. We have two more rounds to land the plane anyway. I like where we’re at.
PFL: Vadim Nemkov
Martin: An argument could be made that Vadim Nemkov is already the best light heavyweight in the world, and he only seems to be getting better. After dropping a couple of rounds to Corey Anderson in a fight that was eventually declared a no contest, Nemkov retooled and came back a better version of himself by dominating the ex-UFC fighter over five rounds.
Nemkov is a brutal striker with fast hands and a pedigree coming from the same team that produced the great Fedor Emelianenko. You couldn’t ask for much more in a 205-pounder. Plus, imagine if we get Nemkov vs. Adesanya one day in the future. That’s a fantasy matchup nobody even considered, yet everybody would absolutely watch!
Bellator: Kamaru Usman
Lee: The Bellator welterweight division has always been highly competitive, but it’s never had much drawing power, going back to the days of Ben Askren’s dominance. One way to fix that problem? How about bringing in the man who ran that division in the UFC for the past few years.
Usman’s best days might be behind him, but we’re confident he’s still pretty damn good. If there’s one thing you know about Bellator, it’s that we’ll take pretty damn good former UFC stars all day, every day! This is what one would call a traditional Bellator signing, which might not get the blood pumping, but understand that we have a reputation to maintain here.
UFC: Aljamain Sterling
Heck: Somehow, another one of our current champions is on the board this late in the draft, and while 135 isn’t the sport’s best division, there is a very strong case that it’s No. 2. So I’ll end up with the best fighter at bantamweight currently, and maybe the most underrated fighter in the sport right now in Aljamain Sterling.
Sure, Sterling’s current title run has been mired in some controversy, but as Eric Bischoff once said, “controversy creates cash.” Sterling faces the returning Henry Cejudo in less than two weeks in his next title defense, and should he be victorious, “Funk Master” wants to move up to 145 to make a splash in lieu of one of our other top bantamweights in Merab Dvalishvili.
Too much value to ignore, and we’re truly honored to keep Aljamain Sterling with us at the UFC.
BKFC: Anatoly Malykhin
Meshew: Could I have gone with the most obvious pick in the world and taken Nate Diaz here? Sure. That would have basically sealed a victory for BKFC this year, but these buffoons aren’t going to draft Nate, so I’ll simply take a run at him as an Undrafted Free Agent and instead get a guy that I otherwise wouldn’t have a shot at — and one who fills a much needed role on my roster. Plus, the later rounds are where you’re supposed to take big swings, and I’m not sure anyone in the sport swings bigger than Malykhin. This guy is a monster, and the rest of the MMA world is soon to realize just how good he is, when he is dealing destruction across two weight classes in BKFC.
But the most important thing is that he’s a heavyweight I can believe in, and even though I’ve only been the CEO of BKFC for a few hours, it was already starting to be difficult to look myself in the mirror with Alan Belcher as my heavyweight champ.
ONE Championship: Colby Covington
Al-Shatti: Oh no, Mr. Meshew, you stole away a man who only three people reading this right now could actually pick out of a lineup. I’m heartbroken. Allow me to dry my tears with all this money I’m about to make by immediately instituting Jon Jones as my new heavyweight champion in Malykhin’s stead. What a tragedy.
No, rather than worry about what y’all are doing over there, we’re going to secure the talents of one of the most divisive names in all of combat sports. Welcome aboard, Colby Covington! That Covington vs. Chimaev fight the UFC failed to make? Oh yes, it’s back on the menu. The Edwards vs. Covington fight the UFC keeps teasing? It’s all ours. Whether you want to see Covington get his comeuppance or get his flowers, we’re here for you.
The coffers at heavyweight and welterweight here at ONE are fully loaded now.
There’s just one move left to complete our master plan…
PFL: Ilia Topuria
Martin: Fierce. Powerful. Vicious. Violent. Future champion?
These are all ways you could describe featherweight terror Ilia Topuria, and that’s why he’s tailor-made to join the PFL roster. In this organization, he won’t have to go hunting for Liverpudlian scoundrels who’d rather throw hand sanitizer than throw hands, because with a tournament format, Topuria will get the opportunity to mow down whoever gets in his way.
Topuria also sports a perfect 13-0 record with four straight finishes on his résumé, and his style is so fan-friendly that people will line up around the block just to see this man compete.
Plus, a future showdown between Topuria and Brendan Loughnane just sounds like a recipe for chaos and everybody will be asking for seconds.
Bellator: Paddy Pimblett
Lee: We missed out on Sean O’Malley. There was no way Paddy Pimblett was getting past us.
That’s right, it’s another buzzy pick, and one that also holds international appeal. London has always been good to us, so why not add another one of England’s favorite sons to our roster. And guess what? Over here, any worries about him eventually running into stiff competition that might derail him are greatly assuaged by the sudden departure of Usman Nurmagomedov. See what we did there?
“The Bellator Baddy” as lightweight champion has a nice ring to it.
UFC: Robert Whittaker
Heck: I know we lost Israel Adesanya, and we lost Khamzat Chimaev, but that opens the door for “Bobby Knuckles” to have, perhaps, an Anderson Silva-like reign at the top of the UFC’s middleweight division.
Who is going to beat this man at 185 pounds now? I can’t think of anybody on the roster who would be a betting favorite in any way to do so. Robert Whittaker is the second-best middleweight, and probably one of the 10 best fighters on the planet right now, so to be able to nab him as the final pick of Round 6 is just incredible fortune for us.
And I think I may have a terrific matchup in place for Whittaker — maybe not immediately — but unless someone snags my seventh-round pick up, we’re going to make this happen as a potential headliner in 2024.
BKFC: Salt Papi
Meshew: The seventh round is always where the fun takes place, and who is more fun than the most electric man in boxing? Salt Papi AKA Busta Breezie AKA Nathaniel Bustamante AKA The Filipino Flatliner is the best of this rising crop of influencer boxers. Seriously, I’ve watched them all, and Papi is one of a limited few who have legit hands, which is made all the more captivating by the fact that he looks decidedly like he does not have any fighting ability whatsoever. But when the bell rings, my man goes to work, oozing a level of confidence you rarely see from hardened professional fighters, much less a TikToker who decide to throw fists. And when he puts you down, this short, bespectacled southpaw who is soft around the middle lets you know all about it. Salt Papi is everything BKFC stands for.
ONE Championship: Jon Anik
Al-Shatti: That’s right! Suck it, UFC! With our final pick, we’re cutting the MMA leader off at the knees. The voice of the UFC? The hardest-working man in the business? The best damn play-by-play man the sport has ever seen? He’s ours now.
And the puzzle is finally complete.
ONE Championship leaves this year’s draft with a loaded heavyweight division (headlined by the GOAT), potentially the best welterweight division in the entire sport, plus two of the most exciting lighter-weight talents in the game, as well as a new trusted face to lead our press conferences and guide our billions upon billions of fans through the magic of fight night. (Not to mention — that recent Covington vs. Anik beef? Expect to see it exploited with as many eating competitions and obstacle courses and 1-on-1 hoops matchups and whatever other competitive endeavors those two men want to entertain. Trust me, you’re going to love it.)
Screw all y’all’s influencer crap. We’re diving all-in on good-ol’ Pride-era violence and spectacle — and just like that, ONE’s fortunes changed overnight. This couldn’t have gone any better.
PFL: Logan Paul
Martin: Since Bellator stole one Paul brother, we decided to take a shot on the superior sibling by welcoming Logan Paul to the PFL.
Unlike Jake, Logan was actually a third place finisher in wrestling in the state of Ohio and that’s no small feat. He’s also an athletic freak — just go watch his WrestleMania highlights if you don’t believe me. Plus this might seem like a somewhat controversial statement, but Logan just seems like the bigger draw with better prospects for the future.
Sure, there’s no guarantees he does MMA any time soon, but he’s teased the possibility in the past, and until then, he can serve as a hype man and commentator at the events.
And last but certainly not least, PFL Prime Energy sounds really good to us!
Bellator: Bo Nickal
Lee: Some big middleweight names went off the board, but nobody picked the man who’s going to dominate the division for the next decade? Can you say steal?
Bo Nickal is about as sure a thing as you can get in a business where there are no sure things. The three-time national wrestling champion is just some seasoning away from dominating any 185er you can think of, and along with Volkanovski, Zhang, and Pimblett (just let me have that one, I’m still sad about losing Vadim Nemkov), we’re laying undisputed claim to several weight classes.
Plus, Nickal has that collegiate wrestling pedigree that Bellator covets, so this is on brand. It’s a mystery that we ever let him end up in the UFC’s vile claws to begin with.
UFC: Johnny Eblen
Heck: AK snatched up Bo Nickal, and that is a wonderful selection. But I’m going to select a man who has shared the mat with Nickal at American Top Team on a number of occasions — the now-former Bellator middleweight champ, Johnny Eblen.
Up until this point, Bellator had a case to be made to have the best fighter in multiple divisions — middleweight being one of them. That case is now closed, as “The Human Cheat Code” now gets to test himself against some of the best middleweights in the world on the biggest stage possible.
While our fans will want us to throw Eblen right in there with Whittaker for the vacant title, I’m not ready to do that just yet. A win or two for Eblen certainly will get him that title shot, and when he gets there, it’s going to be a big one.
Final draft results:
BKFC (Jed Meshew)
- Conor McGregor
- Justin Gaethje
- Max Holloway
- Dustin Poirier
- Jessica Andrade
- Anatoly Malykhin
- Salt Papi
Acquisitions: Robbie Lawler, Calvin Kattar
ONE Championship (Shaun Al-Shatti)
- Jon Jones
- Khamzat Chimaev
- Leon Edwards
- Charles Oliveira
- Yair Rodriguez
- Colby Covington
- Jon Anik
Acquisitions: Sergei Pavlovich, Curtis Blaydes
PFL (Damon Martin)
- Francis Ngannou
- Israel Adesanya
- Sean O’Malley
- Shavkhat Rakhmonov
- Vadim Nemkov
- Ilia Topuria
- Logan Paul
Bellator MMA (Alexander K. Lee)
- Alexander Volkanovski
- Jake Paul
- Alex Pereira
- Weili Zhang
- Kamaru Usman
- Paddy Pimblett
- Bo Nickal
Acquisitions: Jailton Almeida
UFC (Mike Heck)
- Islam Makhachev
- Brandon Moreno
- Jiri Prochazka
Jailton AlmeidaUsman Nurmagomedov
- Aljamain Sterling
- Robert Whittaker
- Johnny Eblen
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