The 2024 MMA calendar is officially underway, as the UFC and ONE have major cards booked in January. Moreover, PFL’s acquisition of Bellator should make for an interesting schedule mix for fight fans to enjoy.
As the year rolls forward, news and rumors will commence with updates on potential matchmaking, promotion updates and fight locations. As such, we’ll have it all covered right here, with analysis from insight from our reporters and writers.
Which fighters will main event at UFC 300? Who will take the challenge to be Francis Ngannou‘s first opponent in PFL? Will Stipe Miocic or Tom Aspinall be the next challenger for Jon Jones‘ UFC heavyweight title? Check out our latest updates now and refresh often for the latest as the year unfolds.
Jan. 23: Criticism mounts for UFC women’s bantamweight division and title
Former UFC welterweight and UFC analyst Alan Jouban didn’t hold back when giving his opinion on the UFC’s 135-pound women’s division after Saturday’s title fight between Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva. Pennington won by unanimous decision, becoming only the second fighter not named Amanda Nunes to hold the title since 2016.
Even after the division crowned a new champion, Jouban doesn’t like its current standing, and compared it to the light heavyweight division for perspective.
“There was a while, maybe even still, where the men’s light heavyweight division just made no sense,” Jouban said on the podcast “The Fighter vs. The Writer.” “When Jon Jones left, and [Daniel Cormier] went up, and all these things happened and it’s just new champ after new champ and all the things that happened with the draws and the no-contests, this and that. The division makes no sense. There’s no clear-cut contender or superstar. Obviously, [Alex] Pereira came in and now wears the gold. [When] we look at the women’s division, the bantamweights … it’s a wasteland.”
Jouban believes that Julianna Peña is the biggest draw in the women’s bantamweight division. However, she doesn’t have the belt and hasn’t fought since losing to Nunes in her first defense of the title at UFC 277 in July 2022.
Coincidentally, Peña shared her thoughts following the women’s title fight as well, stating that she was not entertained.
“It was a snooze fest,” Peña said of Pennington’s win over Bueno Silva on “The MMA Hour” with Ariel Helwani. “I was not impressed with their performances, as my friend Georges St-Pierre likes to say. … It was all around just a complete disappointment.”
Jan. 22: Don’t rule out an Amanda Nunes comeback
“The Lioness” was in attendance at UFC 297 to witness the moment Raquel Pennington beat Mayra Bueno Silva to claim the women’s bantamweight title. Nunes, who held the title for all but seven months between July 2016 and June 2023, relinquished both the bantamweight and featherweight titles during her retirement after beating Irene Aldana at UFC 289. But even at the time of her retirement, some believed we may see her in the Octagon again soon.
During an interview on the UFC 297 Post Show, Nunes appeared to entertain the idea of a comeback.
“I think I [made] the right decision, you know [to] retire, rest a little bit, and take care of the babies … and then see what happens,” Nunes said. “I’m still young [and] fresh, you never know. We have a lot of things to do … to see what happens.”
When asked if that meant the door for a return may still be open for her, Nunes said, “I don’t know. We never know. I’m a fighter — this is my job. I enjoy not being in the gym every day and having a normal life. But I’m still healthy and powerful [and] smart. I think like a champion and I still feel like a champion. We’ll see.”
While she may not have an exact plan to get back into the Octagon at the moment, it certainly appears that the women’s MMA GOAT isn’t ruling out a return.
Jan. 10: Funkmaster staying at 145 pounds
Former UFC men’s bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling isn’t looking back.
After holding the UFC’s 135-pound title for over two years, Sterling was dethroned via second-round knockout by “Suga” Sean O’Malley. Following the loss, despite Sterling’s callouts for a rematch against O’Malley, the UFC decided to go in a different direction — booking him to make his first title defense against Marlon Vera in the main event at UFC 299 in March.
With his bantamweight title hopes now in the rearview mirror, Sterling has booked a fight to make his featherweight (145 pounds) debut against Calvin Kattar at UFC 300. Sterling, who was always big for the bantamweight division, hopes that cutting ten fewer pounds could help extend his fighting career.
“There’s no more 135,” Sterling said in an interview with MMA Junkie. “I didn’t even want to do it the last time.”
Jan. 6: Cejudo — Belal Muhammad is ‘the closest person to a guy like Khabib’
Few in MMA have been on a roll like Belal Muhammad, as his undefeated 10-fight run includes nine wins over respected fighters like Gilbert Burns, Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque. However, his one no-contest during this period was due to an accidental eye poke from current welterweight champion Leon Edwards in 2021, and the UFC will likely rebook the two in a rematch in their milestone UFC 300 card in April.
Henry Cejudo, a former Olympic gold medalist and two-division UFC champion, analyzed the possible rematch via his YouTube channel and raised an interesting comparison to Muhammad — Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“It’s going to be a great, competitive fight. Stylistically, the way that Belal Muhammad — what he did to Gilbert Burns and how he did it to him, he’s only gotten better. I will say this: The closest person to a guy like Khabib Nurmagomedov, his name is actually Belal Muhammad. They do the same kind of cross steps. They kind of run and shoot. They do the same kind of feints with that lead hand to eventually level change for the takedown.”
In their 2021 matchup, Edwards was a -275 favorite over Muhammad.
“I’m going to have to go back and rewatch their fight the first time and see how that actually went,” Cejudo said of Muhammad’s first clash with Edwards. “I will say this: They both have gotten better, but if there’s one person that I would say that has evolved more than the other, his name is Belal Muhammad. He’s just gotten so, so freaking much better. He’s a freestyle fighter.
Jan. 5: Raul Rosas Jr. returns at Noche UFC to face Ricky Turcios
19-year-old bantamweight prospect Raul Rosas Jr. will return to the Octagon at UFC Mexico City on Feb. 24 to face former Ultimate Fighter standout, Ricky Turcios, first reported by Eurosport’s Marcel Dorff.
— Marcel Dorff 🇳🇱🇮🇩 (@BigMarcel24) January 5, 2024
Rosas Jr. is 2-1 since earning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2022, just two weeks after turning 18. In his most recent victory, Rosas Jr. scored a highlight-reel TKO over Terrance Mitchell at Noche UFC this past September.
“El Nino Problema” will take on Turcios, who, since being featured on TUF back in 2021, is also 2-1, with both wins coming by way of split decision.
Jan. 5: Aspinall-Miocic trade words on Twitter as fight with Jones looms
Newly minted UFC interim heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall has his eyes set on the ultimate prize in the weight class. So too does Stipe Miocic.
Both heavyweight stars have eyes on Jon Jones, the current heavyweight champion. Miocic was supposed to fight Jones at UFC 295, but Jones suffered an injured pectoral and was forced out of the match. Instead of Aspinall stepping in for Jones to face Miocic, the UFC booked Aspinall vs. Sergei Pavlovich for the interim title. Moreover, the UFC hit the reset button and will book Jones vs. Miocic when the champion is healthy. With Aspinall’s defeat of Pavlovich, he could have to wait a year to get his shot at the No. 1 spot.
Needless to say, Aspinall’s not pleased with the long waiting game, and took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the matter.
Last time Stipe fought and won, GTA: San Andreas had just come out on PS2. He will fight next for the undisputed heavyweight title, ahead of me, who’s the interim champ, active and ranked #1 in the world right now. This makes me quite upset
— Tom Aspinall (@AspinallMMA) January 4, 2024
While GTA 2: San Andreas was released in 1999, Miocic hasn’t fought in nearly three years and hasn’t won a fight in over three-and-a-half years. Miocic defended his place in line, but offered an olive branch to Aspinall, if he can dethrone Jones later this year.
I have never caused a delay in the Jon fight.⁰⁰Tom, once I get this win, let’s talk to unify the belt.
— Stipe Miocic (@stipemiocic) January 5, 2024