2020 was a year many would like to forget, and there’s an opportunity to do just that heading into a fresh calendar year in 2021.

There are a lot of unknowns going into the new year, but without further ado, here are six bold MMA predictions for the next 12 months …

UFC will top 1 million pay-per-view buys six times

UFC president Dana White claims 2020 was the biggest financially successful year in company history. If true, and the general interest in the sport has grown, 2021 is poised to be even bigger for the MMA leader.

Although there was some initial skepticism around the promotion’s shift to hosting pay-per-view through ESPN+, the back half of 2020 showed real promise. Two events – to our knowledge – surpassed the 1 million buys mark. It only happened once total in the three years prior to that.

The UFC’s strong run in 2016 holds the record for most events with 1 million buys or more at five, and it’s not crazy to think 2021 could match or surpass that high, even with illegal streaming taken into account.

Conor McGregor already has his return on the books for January and appears keen to keep active, Jon Jones is making a long-awaited move to heavyweight and Khabib Nurmagomedov could potentially return. Meanwhile, potential double-champ Israel Adesanya’s stock is rapidly rising and proven names such as Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz seemingly have returns looming.

If the UFC is able to keep its biggest names relatively active and put on the right momentum-building fights that trend into marquee matchups, there could be more eyeballs on the sport in 2021 than any year to date.

UFC will host a fight card with a full crowd

It’s hard to tell at this point how bold this prediction is, I’ll admit. It’s no secret Dana White doesn’t want to dip his toe back into bringing fans back, but allowing 30 percent or so into a venue isn’t the preference. He’s said it’s all or nothing in terms of a crowd.

Perhaps the COVID-19 vaccine will open up the opportunity later in the year, but it remains to be seen how long it will take for enough UFC fans – most of whom are in the 18-34 demographic and aren’t prioritized – to get vaccines that would allow them to enter a sporting venue.

Somehow, though, I think White’s going to pull it off. We’ve heard rumblings – and even comments directly from White himself – about opening the “Fight Island” experience to fans in some manner. Perhaps that’s the avenue to bringing something to life.

AJ. McKee will become a double champion in Bellator

Last year in this column, I predicted A.J. McKee would evolve into a Bellator champion and the company’s biggest star in 2020. That didn’t happen, but largely due to the delay in the promotion’s even schedule to the pandemic.

If things had played out as they should’ve, the Bellator featherweight grand prix would be over by now, and my estimation is McKee would have that 145-pound title around his waist and be one of the faces of Bellator.

Everything is still trending in that direction, but after seeing how McKee submitted Darrion Caldwell in their tournament semifinal, I’m pushing all my chips in on the second generation MMA fighter.

Not only do I expect McKee to take the featherweight belt and $1 million in prize money against the winner of Patricio Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez, I think McKee’s grander vision is going to come to life. “Pitbull” also holds Bellator’s lightweight belt, and McKee said he’s going after that once he wins the grand prix.

The champ-champ thing hasn’t worked out so well for Bellator thus far, but McKee seems like someone who will bring that status to new heights inside the organization.

UFC’s commentary rotation will feature no active fighters

This one may not be an enormous stretch, but it would mean the retirement of two top-ranked fighters in their respective divisions.

The UFC’s typical rotation of color commentators to go alongside Jon Anik, Brendan Fitzgerald or John Gooden are Daniel Cormier, Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, Dominick Cruz and Paul Felder. The majority of that bunch have moved on from active competition, but Cruz and Felder still linger.

If I had to put a guess out there, 2021 could be the final year we see both men. Cruz is scheduled for what has many of the attributes of a make or break fight against Casey Kenney at UFC 259 in March, while Felder is on a two-fight losing skid.

Felder seems to have the most fire to keep competing after his split decision loss to Rafael dos Anjos on short notice in November. I could see that leading to another fight or two, but after that? Felder might be ready to take the full-time step into broadcasting.

Venum will upgrade UFC apparel quality


Perhaps this is more of a hope than a prediction. Last year I accurately guessed 2020 would be the final complete year in the UFC-Reebok apparel partnership, and with that deal set to official go by the wayside come March, Venum has stepped in to serve in its place.

Many of the promises that originally came with the Reebok deal did not come to fruition. Given its history in the MMA space, Venum seems far more equipped to comply with requests for increased fighter individuality.

UFC president Dana White has also been quoted as saying the Venum deal will be more financially beneficial for the athletes. We can only hope that to be true, and this relationship ends up being everything we hope the Reebok deal would be.

UFC heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic will retire

Stipe Miocic

Going into 2020 one of my big predictions was that reigning UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov would retire from MMA. The circumstances leading up to that retirement didn’t fall in line with my prediction, but it did in fact happen when Nurmagomedov announced he was done with the sport at UFC 254 in October.

Now, I’m going to guess that another man who currently owns a UFC belt is going to make his exit from the game in 2021, and that man is reigning heavyweight kingpin Stipe Miocic.

Miocic has said numerous times that he’s contemplated retirement after every fight in the UFC because of the mental and physical stress it brings. He’s always come back for more, though.

At 38, however, and with 2021 potentially bringing some fights that would put the perfect bow on Miocic’s career, it’s entirely possible the coming 12 months could be the final stretch for the arguable heavyweight GOAT. It’s just a matter of if he can go out on top.

Miocic is looking at a rematch with feared power-puncher Francis Ngannou in the first quarter of the year. A loss could spell the end – or maybe set up a trilogy. If he manages to beat Ngannou again, the biggest fight of Miocic’s career will be waiting against Jon Jones, who is moving up to heavyweight.

If the circumstances aligned for Miocic vs. Jones, there would be no better way to finish his career. If Miocic lost, that would be a conceivable final moment, too.

There are many avenues in play for Miocic in the coming year, but many of lead to similar conclusion point.