Big questions: Lesnar back in the UFC? When will Jamahal Hill defend?
Apr 24, 2023
Marc RaimondiESPN Staff Writer
UFC president Dana White went on a fight-announcement spree last week, setting up co-main-event bouts for the next two upcoming pay-per-views and filling out what looks to be a deep UFC 290 card in July during International Fight Week.
The rest of the summer, though, is a bit of a mystery. The UFC expects to do a second pay-per-view show in July, another in August and likely one in early September. Many of the inquiries received from fans this week revolved around this topic, including: When will we see UFC champions Jamahal Hill and Zhang Weili defend their titles next?
One would expect Hill and Zhang to fight at some point in the next four or five months. Hill has been willing to book a fight for a few months, sources said, but the UFC is waiting on the return of former light heavyweight champion Jiří Procházka, who suffered a bad shoulder injury late in 2022. Right now, it seems like the UFC wants Hill vs. Procházka as the next 205-pound title fight. Hill, per sources, is hoping for August. Nothing is set quite yet.
There has been some buzz online about UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya or former middleweight champ Alex Pereira challenging Hill for the belt. Those options have not yet been discussed, though Adesanya would like to come back soon, potentially before the end of the summer. Sources said Hill would be more than happy to take on that challenge if it’s presented.
As for Zhang, she hasn’t fought since reclaiming the UFC women’s strawweight title from Carla Esparza in November at UFC 281 in New York. Amanda Lemos seems like the only contender who makes sense right now. But expect the UFC to see how the fight goes between Jessica Andrade and Yan Xiaonan next week at UFC 288. If Andrade wins, a rematch against Zhang for the belt would be the most attractive option from a promotional standpoint, given Andrade’s name and status as a former champ. Zhang seems likely to land in a co-main event at UFC 295 or 296.
Speaking of UFC 288, Aljamain Sterling defends his UFC bantamweight title against former champ Henry Cejudo in the main event. Do not be surprised if the UFC wants the winner to turn around quickly and face rising star Sean O’Malley for the belt sometime this summer.
Below are my answers to some more legitimate questions culled from social media, including: Could we see Brock Lesnar back in the octagon one more time?
Any idea as to when UFC 300 will be? I thought it would be on IFW but its looking like it could be anywhere between March-May, depending on the scheduling.
— Fredo (@AintFredoYou) April 20, 2023
I wouldn’t overthink it. UFC 300 will fall wherever it will fall. Don’t expect the UFC to alter a successful pay-per-view calendar just to shoehorn UFC 300 into July’s annual International Fight Week. Right now, as you said, it looks like it might fall in April 2024. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If anything, it means the UFC will follow this 30th anniversary year with two bankable pay-per-view properties next year without even booking a fight.
International Fight Week sells itself at this point. It’s something fight fans mark on their calendars for early July. UFC 300 will be the same way. It doesn’t really matter when or where it happens. Now, it would be cool if the promotion upped the ante with that event. Maybe try to run Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. But again, I wouldn’t expect the UFC execs and matchmakers to hold back fights specifically for that card. They put together the fights as they come and it’s a fast-moving business. If it comes together organically, great. If not, it’ll likely still be a strong pay-per-view event.
How important is it to win the first round decisively? It’s been on my mind since Whittaker Izzy 2. If the first round is definitively won by one fighter, how likely is it for judges to subconsciously favour that fighter if subsequent rounds are closely contested?
— Sascha Alexander (@Sascha_pm) April 20, 2023
Interesting question. I’ve talked to a lot of judges and I’ve never heard of such a thing. This should never be a factor. Of course, it’s human nature to remember the first thing we see and the last thing we see more vividly than what happens in between. But this phenomenon is combated in MMA by the fact that judges must turn in their cards after every round. They’re not just hanging on to their scores for the whole fight with the chance to alter them. A good judge will forget how they scored the previous rounds, because if they don’t, it could lead to that subconscious bias you mentioned. I’m not saying this has never happened — judges are human, after all — but I also have never sensed that kind of pattern.
What are the chances we see Brock in the octagon one more time? — carlosjbanuelos via Instagram
Slim to none. If Lesnar was going to return to the UFC, it would have been in 2019 to challenge Daniel Cormier for the heavyweight title. Lesnar didn’t show up to UFC 226 and confront Cormier in the Octagon for no reason. At the time, there definitely was at least a loose plan for Cormier to fight Lesnar for the belt. But it never came to fruition. Lesnar re-signed with WWE and things fell through. There were surely financial reasons there, as well.
Lesnar is 45 years old, and one would expect him to be winding down his WWE career fairly soon. But never say never when it comes to him. Lesnar is still a phenomenal athlete and wouldn’t be an easy opponent for many of the heavyweights in the UFC, especially smaller ones who are not as well-versed in wrestling. But does he have another training camp in him and his price tag worth it for the UFC in 2023? I’d venture to say probably not.
For more on this, Lesnar had a great sitdown interview with Cormier for ESPN during WrestleMania week in Los Angeles earlier this month. It’s worth a watch.
Why is the heavyweight division so thin? What changes could the ufc make to make it a more sustainable division?
— bbq_chknpzza (@bbq_chcknpzza) April 20, 2023
I’m not sure it is, at least relatively speaking. Heavyweight has never been the strongest division in MMA and it has gone through far worse eras. There was a few-year stretch in the early 2000s where Ricco Rodriguez and Tim Sylvia were UFC heavyweight champions. All respect to those guys — they’re pioneers of the sport — but at the time the best heavyweights in the world were in Japan with Pride.
I’d argue the UFC’s heavyweight division is the best it has been in some time. Francis Ngannou is obviously a massive loss at the top. But look at the rise of Sergei Pavlovich, who starched Curtis Blaydes on Saturday. UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard has done a terrific job finding guys like him, Tom Aspinall and Ciryl Gane in Europe. Jailton Almeida of Brazil is dangerous and seems like he’s going to come on, too. Add that group of guys in with champion Jon Jones, Tai Tuivasa, Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik and it’s hardly a lost division.
Another thing to consider here is pay. MMA is not going to get the best large athletes in the United States unless that changes, because they’re going to flock to other sports like football and basketball. Not only is the pay scale better at the highest level compared to MMA, but they’re also less dangerous sports.
Is this guy Chimaev ever going to fight someone or what?
— Grahamatic (@GGGrahamatic) April 20, 2023
Right now, it’s looking like October in Abu Dhabi, a middleweight fight. I wouldn’t be shocked if Adesanya fights before then and if Khamzat Chimaev wins — potentially in a fight against Paulo Costa — he’ll be queued up for the next 185-pound title shot. Former champion Robert Whittaker and Dricus Du Plessis will meet at UFC 290 in July and the winner of that bout could also become the No. 1 contender. But if it’s Whittaker, it’s not clear how keen the UFC would be on giving him a third crack at Adesanya.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.