Obviously the UFC has made it a priority to have the best fighters in the world on their roster. Therefore, any of the world’s best fighters are potential targets for the world’s most recognized mixed martial arts promotion. However, there are a few guys which are slightly more likely to sign with the UFC before the year is over. These names come from rumors, speculation, interviews, etc.
1. Takanori Gomi – Gomi at one time was widely considered the best lightweight in the world. However, following the demise of PRIDE Gomi has not been the same. He lost two fights and has looked to rebound. MMAMania recently held an interview with the Japanese lightweight where he revealed that he was going to fight in America soon. Obviously, that means he could be with Affliction, Strikeforce or the UFC. He indicated in that interview that the UFC was indeed an option.
My next fight will be in the U.S. Now we have several offers from some promoters, including, of course, Affliction. We are considering all those offers right now. I am willing to have a fight in the U.S. as soon as possible. I want to show the U.S. fans my fighting spirit.
While Strikeforce has some lightweight competition in Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez the talent pool is not as deep. That may not bother Gomi who is looking to repair his image among fans. Strikeforce is a viable option for “The Fireball Kid”. It had been rumored that Gomi was to fight at Affliction 3 in August, but that fight fell through. That proves Gomi has had some talks with Affliction which is where he could land, but Affliction is still up in the air after their third event. The UFC has courted Gomi for a while and rumors have long swirled about Gomi to the UFC. I would have to bet that would be the best option. The UFC has an offer on the table for Gomi and the ball is in his court. Perhaps he will not get the money from the UFC he would have gotten a year ago, but he is still capable of being a top 10 lightweight. Gomi will fight in the U.S. it is just a question of which promotion.
2. Bobby Lashley– He has made it very clear that he wants in the UFC. The UFC has been reluctant to jump on Lashley because of the perception of having a couple of WWE fighters turned MMA. However, Lashley is a real prospect and a real draw. He is serious about training. He appears to have real skills. He has a fight coming up this week with Bob Sapp. If he gets by Sapp I look for Lashley to quickly be signed by a big promotion. The UFc has been intentional about bolstering their heavyweight division and Lashley would be a solid addition that would be a big draw a la Brock Lesnar. Some critics will not be crazy about Lashley in the UFC, but I think he is a legit fighter and Saturday we will learn more about him.
3. Andrei Arlovski – Arlovski has looked horrible in his last two fights. He certainly lost a lot of street cred after being KO’d by Brett Rogers. However, Arlovski is still a very skileld fighter capable of hanging with the best in the world. Despite his suspect chin he can be a great fighter. However, Arlovski has to determine what he wants to do. He has long had aspirations of a boxing career and Freddie Roach swears he can make it in boxing. The question is does Arlovski want to be a mixed martial artist. Arlovski is no longer under contract with Affliction and they will not pursue him any further according to Tom Atencio…
His contract has expired and right now we have so many fighters under contract that we are just concentrating on working with them … we are not [talking to Arlovski about a new contract] right now.”
With Affliction seeing Arlovski as damaged goods it will be interesting to see if the UFC will give him a chance. Dana White had said before that Arlovski was the one guy that the UFC did not want to lose. However, that was before his loss to Rogers. He may need a win somewhere before he goes back to the UFC or a big promotion. We could very well see “The Pitbull” back in the octagon.
4. Paul Daley – I do not know if Daley is signed to a multiple fight contract with Affliction or not, but he is slarted to fight Jay Hieron at Affliction 3. If he wins there (which is a big if) he could very well head to the UFC. Daley has said he wanted to be in the UFC before the end of 2009 and with a show in the U.K. later this year it is very possible to see the British welterweight in the UFC in enough time to make that show. It could very well be the winner of the Daley/Hieron fight ends up in the UFC.
5. Nick Thompson – He is coming off of a loss to Tim Kennedy at Strikeforce’s last event, but that was at middleweight. Thompson is still one of the world’s best welterweights. He also has mentioned a desire to fight in the UFC. The aspiring lawyer could soon be free of his Strikeforce contract and join the strong force of welterweights in the UFC.
6. Jake Shields – Maybe not this year, but soon. It seems inevitable that he will end up in the UFC. He has shown he can compete with the middleweights, but he is a top 5 welterweight. Strikeforce has little to offer Shields at 170 lbs. If he wants to fight at 170 the UFC is the place for him. I think it is only a matter of time before he joins the UFC. Once he fulfills his Strikeforce contract he may very well fight for UFC.
7. Vitor Belfort – This is no secret. Dana White announced at the Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale he wanted a Belfort vs. Silva match. It is almost certain that if Vitor can get by Jorge Santiago at Affliction 3 that he will end up in the UFC. Perhaps by year end he could be in the UFC again.
8. Alistair Overeem – Overeem was seen at UFC 93 and in a Dana White vlog it was proposed Overeem fighting in the UFC. With the UFC working on the European market Overeem would be a big draw. However, Overeem is tied up between Strikeforce and DREAM. I believe he has two or three fights left with DREAM and has been rumored to fight Brett Rogers in August at Strikeforce. It does not look like Overeem will be in the UFC in 2009 unless he gets free of contracts with other promotions, but the UFC does want Overeem.
Also on the radar: Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler, Daniel Puder, Rex Richards, Zak Cummings, Jay Hieron, Eiji Mitsuoka and Gilbert Melendez.