The inaugural UFC card at Madison Square Garden is an event almost a decade in the making. Heavy lobbying efforts finally paid dividends earlier this year when the state of New York belatedly legalized Mixed Martial Arts.
From that point forward the formation of the MSG card has been on the minds and mouths of fans, fighters, media, and the UFC itself. UFC 205, much like 200, is an event in and of itself. However, this time around, everyone is hoping that the somewhat lackluster performances of that milestone event (UFC 200) will not be repeated come November 12th.
At present only a few fights have been announced and or targeted for the UFC’s return to New York. Among the fighters blessed with such an opportunity are Tim Kennedy, Rashad Evans, Gian VIllante, Frankie Edgar, Cowboy Cerrone, Chris Weidman, and Al Iaquinta. Also just recently announced is the much-anticipated Welterweight title fight between Stephen Thompson and Tyron Woodley. So far the MSG card is looking exceptionally strong but there remain several open spots as well as the propensity for injury on the part of the fighters already listed.
With UFC 205 beginning to take shape, now is as good a time as any to play matchmaker and help Joe Silva and Sean Shelby round out what promises to be a great card. Here are my top five fighters who should be added to the UFC’s historic event in NYC.
Unless “The Funkmaster” is seriously injured I absolutely guarantee that he will fight in New York. The obvious reason “Aljo” needs to be on this card is threefold. First, he is extremely well known fighter in the New York Area. Second, he fights out of the same camp as Chris Weidman and Al Iaquinta who are also among the most prominent New Yorkers on the card. Finally, Sterling finishes the majority of his fights and is a welcome addition to any card. Although Sterling is coming off of a split-decision loss to Bryan Caraway back in late May, I believe the time is perfect for his return. He tends to take anywhere from 4-7 months between fights and the 6-month window between his last bout and MSG seems to perfectly fight his usual timeline. Once again, unless “The Funkmaster” is seriously injured, you can expect to see him come November.
This might seem like a weird choice at first but there are a number of reasons why I like Lewis on this card. First off, I know Lewis is scheduled to fight in October. However, the relatively thin heavyweight division has made it a necessity for UFC matchmakers to give favorable matchups to anyone with real momentum. I see “The Black Beast” easily knocking out his opponent in Manila and then throwing down just a month later state side. As it stands the MSG card is without any heavyweight fights and I see Lewis as the perfect man to fill in at least one spot. You can expect to see Lewis take on someone like Francis Ngnnaou or perhaps even Ben Rothwell.
The man who many see as Lightweight’s uncrowned king is yet another fighter who resolutely needs to be put on UFC 205. Following his April trouncing of octagon newcomer Darrel Horcher, “The Eagle” has been inactive aside from calling out then champ Dos Anjos and current Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez. If Nurmagomedov is healthy, and that is clearly a big if, I see no reason why he shouldn’t make the walk November 12th. Aside from his health the biggest question is his potential opponent. Unless Nurmagomedov is needed to replace an injured Dos Anjos or Ferguson on the eve of MSG, I see him either fighting for the belt or against Edson Barbosa. “The Eagle” has clearly earned the right to contend for the title but with rumors of a McGregor/Alvarez super fight circulating, his prospects are far from concrete.
Whether he fights Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, or rematches Conor McGregor, you can expect to see Featherweight’s greatest Champion make his New York debut. After his masterful victory over Frankie Edgar, many are interested to see a rematch between the Brazilian legend and the Irish superstar. Sadly though, I don’t see this fight taking place, at least not yet. The fact is, the amount of marketing and exposure time needed to adequately sell the McGregor/Aldo rematch is simply not achievable in two short months. If “The Notorious One” is once again allowed to shirk his responsibilities at 145lbs I’d like to see Aldo face the Hawaiian Max Holloway for the legitimate Featherweight Title.
This will come as no surprise but my number one fighter to see at MSG is “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. McGregor is probably my least realistic pick for two main reasons. First, as stated above McGregor fights need long periods of time for buildup and advertisement, this two-month window simply isn’t enough. Second, much like UFC 200, because of its milestone status, UFC 205 sells itself. Sure having MMA’s biggest star on the card will help but the event will do very well without him. Moreover, the UFC can use McGregor much like they did at 202, that is, to bolster cards that wouldn’t sell well otherwise. In all likelihood the Irishman won’t be making an appearance at the Garden but wouldn’t it be something if he did?
Honorable mentions go to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Anderson Silva, Junior Dos Santos, Ryan Bader, and Holly Holm.