October got off to a less explosive than expected start in the world of MMA, as powerful strikers Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker fought cautiously and went the distance in Saturday's UFC Fight Night main event.
But a busy month of October has just begun. Holly Holm returns to featherweight and main events a Fight Night card against Norma Dumont. That same night, both semifinal fights in the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix take place.
To close out the month, the PFL runs its championship event mid-week on Oct. 27, crowning six $1 million champions. Kayla Harrison headlines as she seeks her second women's lightweight championship, and as a pending free agent, her future is set to become a major topic of conversation.
Finally, the UFC returns to Abu Dhabi for UFC 267, headlined by Jan Blachowicz's light heavyweight title defense against Glover Teixeira, and an interim bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen.
A lot can happen over the next four weeks, so we tasked our team with making bold predictions for the rest of October. They range from future plans for Nick Diaz and Harrison, how Harrison's decision could alter the future of the women's featherweight division in the UFC and how the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix could shift the pound-for-pound balance across the board.
Here's what Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi had to say:
Diaz will be in serious discussions for another fight
Okamoto: I don't know if Diaz will end up booking another fight in the next 30 days ... as in, I'm not sure if he'll have a signed contract. But I'll make a bold prediction that he's in serious talks regarding an opponent and date.
The reason this is bold is 1) He just went through a six-year timeframe in which he didn't fight and 2) He basically admitted prior to his comeback last month that he doesn't want to fight anymore.
But we know the UFC thought he performed well. UFC president Dana White went so far as to rave about his performance, following that six-year layoff. And everyone around Diaz I've talked to says they are in favor of him fighting again, and believe he will look a lot better in his next appearance because the inactivity won't be as big of an issue.
It's always dicey predicting a Diaz fight. Both Nick and Nate are prone to long layoffs these days. But right now, I think there is a desire on both sides (Diaz's and the UFC) to keep him active, so I won't be surprised if his next fight is a major topic of conversation throughout the next 30 days.
Corey Anderson explains how a conversation with Daniel Cormier changed his perspective on making money by fighting and led to his signing with Bellator MMA.
Harrison wins second PFL title -- and re-signs with promotion
Raimondi: Harrison will beat Taylor Guardado to win her second PFL women's lightweight title on the promotion's championship card Oct. 27 in Hollywood, Fla. There is nothing bold about that prediction. Harrison is more than a 30-to-1 favorite in some sportsbooks. She's not only expected to win; she's expected to dominate. The undefeated Harrison, after all, is a two-time Olympic champion in judo. And there hasn't been an opponent yet who can really hang with her physically.
Here's where the bold part comes in. Harrison will capture another $1 million -- and then she'll re-sign with PFL thereafter. Harrison's PFL contract is scheduled to expire after this season, and there's been a fair amount of speculation. Many within the industry expect her to make the jump to the UFC, or possibly even go to Bellator for a monster fight against Cris Cyborg.
I don't think either will happen.
I believe Harrison heads back to PFL for another season. Another season of gaining more experience; another season of honing her already sublime game. PFL will back the proverbial truck full of money up to Harrison's South Florida driveway, and she will stay. PFL didn't invest in bringing in former Bellator champion Julia Budd for next season if it expects to lose Harrison. That was clearly a move to get Harrison better opposition.
Honestly, Harrison is in a bit of a weird position here. There's no doubt she's an incredible fighter, and one of the best women competing in MMA on the planet. She just hasn't really gotten an adequate chance to prove exactly where she belongs in that conversation. She currently fights at 155 pounds, which is a non-existent division elsewhere but PFL. Even in PFL, most of the 155-pound fighters are coming up from 135 and 145. I'd expect the 2022 season to have a 145-pound division (featuring Budd) as Harrison makes her way down to a (somewhat) more competitive and marketable weight class for the future.
On top of all that, there aren't a ton of fights for her that are interesting, other than Cyborg and Amanda Nunes; the latter also happens to be her teammate at American Top Team. I don't get the sense that Nunes, Harrison or the ATT coaches would be overly excited about that matchup at this juncture. They just recently went through an ugly split with Colby Covington, who had intra-gym beef with Jorge Masvidal and Dustin Poirier. But past Nunes in the UFC and Cyborg in Bellator, the other potential opponents in both promotions aren't nearly as interesting. The UFC's 145-pound women's rankings beyond Nunes, the champion, don't exist.
It wouldn't be the worst idea for Harrison to secure a giant bag of money in 2022 from PFL, run through the opposition again -- including Budd -- and make herself undeniable for 2023. In the meantime, maybe the UFC and Bellator can also put together 145-pound divisions that would be a better fit for someone the caliber of Harrison, so she can build her way up toward a superfight.
Holm will bring the 145 division back to life in the UFC
Legaspi: UFC fans assumed the women's featherweight division was done when Megan Anderson was released, and it made sense. But for now, that conversation is on hold with fan favorite and former women's bantamweight champion Holm moving to 145 to face Norma Dumont.
Holm's decision seemed odd at the outset, especially considering her back-to-back wins against Irene Aldana and Raquel Pennington at bantamweight. It's hard to tell when Nunes would defend her 145-pound belt. If Nunes successfully defends her 135-pound title at UFC 269 against Julianna Peña, the landscape in both divisions seems uncertain. In addition to Nunes' dominance in two divisions, the drum beat for a trilogy fight against Valentina Shevchenko, who has also seemingly run through most of her top-level competition, will continue to grow louder.
But Holm fighting at featherweight can open the door for other women to follow her for interesting fights. The UFC would probably approve a move-up for Aspen Ladd, currently ranked No. 4 in the bantamweight division, after her fight was canceled after a hard-to-watch weight cut situation on Friday, which wasn't Ladd's first issue making the cut to bantamweight. Her scheduled opponent for that fight, Macy Chiasson, mentioned that she was considering going back to 145 for her next fight.
Even without Nunes defending her women's featherweight title, the division can come back to life in the next months. And despite what Marc mentioned, Harrison could very well end up as a free agent after this season in the PFL. If Harrison joins the fray at 145 in the UFC, the division would very quickly start to build some depth.
Corey Anderson is going to be the light heavyweight people are talking about by the end of the month.
Wagenheim: Several top-shelf 205-pounders are in action in October, including the champions in both the UFC and Bellator. But UFC titlist Blachowicz is defending on Oct. 30 against venerable tough guy Glover Teixeira, an opponent who is difficult to look good against. And Vadim Nemkov, the Bellator belt holder, fights Oct. 16 in a World Grand Prix semifinal against a late replacement foe, Julius Anglickas. So unless one of the challengers pulls off a dethroning, those two title fights might not add much to the highlight reel.
But on the same Bellator 268 card as Nemkov-Anglickas, the co-main event pits two of the promotion's best 205-pounders -- Anderson and former champion (and reigning heavyweight king) Ryan Bader -- in the other Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix semifinal. Both of these men are superb wrestlers, so that element could very well be nullified, leaving their striking to decide the outcome. And while Bader is powerful, Anderson is faster and explosive.
If Anderson gets the victory in his third Bellator fight, he would be one fight away from becoming a champion -- a status that eluded him during an otherwise stout run of nearly six years in the UFC.