Which PFL vs. Bellator champs could dethrone UFC titleholders?

Jon Jones weighs in on MMA diversifying, interest in fighting Francis Ngannou (4:44)

Jon Jones joins the "PFL vs. Bellator: Champs" broadcast and predicts he would beat Francis Ngannou and other heavyweights in potential future matchups. (4:44)

Cross-promotion in MMA is like fantasy sports or a video game coming to life. This past weekend, we experienced a bit of it when the best of the PFL met the best of Bellator. Before Saturday's throwdown of champions in Saudi Arabia, any comparison of Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader existed in only a hypothetical world. But then Ferreira, the PFL heavyweight champion, knocked out the Bellator belt-holder in just 21 seconds, leaving no room for argument.

There still is room to fantasize about world MMA supremacy if you also factor in the champions of the UFC -- which your discussion should include, of course, because that's the biggest promotion in the sport. But when the UFC is part of the discussion, it's only talk. No one in the UFC gets to walk the walk against the best that other fight companies have to offer. The UFC does not cross-promote.

That's because while cross-promotion excites many, it's unsettling to the UFC. A big part of that is a business decision. The UFC is the most prominent promotion in the sport, so why spotlight companies competing with it? And speaking of competition, that's another aspect of the UFC's reluctance to participate. The aversion goes back decades to the night in 2003 when Chuck Liddell, one of the UFC's brightest stars and a close friend of Dana White, repped the fight promotion at an event put on in Tokyo by the biggest rival company, the Pride Fighting Championships. Liddell arrived in Japan with much hype behind him but left as the recipient of a brutal knockout, courtesy of a Pride star of the time, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

The UFC has not engaged in an MMA cross-promotion ever since.

But what if it did? What if the UFC's champs faced the champs of the other top promotions? Not every UFC weight class has a counterpart in the PFL, Bellator or other fight companies, but here are some fantasy-sports-like assessments from Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim on what might happen in weight divisions where there are potential matchups.

Heavyweight: UFC's Jon Jones vs. PFL's Renan Ferreira

Okamoto: Is it easy or hard to handicap Jon Jones now?

On one hand, it's Jon Jones, the greatest of all time, and of course he would beat Renan Ferreira because he beats everyone. On the other hand, Jones is 36 years old, and he has fought only once in the past four years. And we saw him for only two minutes in that fight. Is there a decline coming? Has it already happened, and we just haven't seen it yet? At some point, there will be a decline. Taking so much time off is great in a sense, because it has kept Jones relatively healthy, although he is coming off a pretty severe injury from last year. This amount of inactivity, though, probably isn't great for competing at the highest level.

Ferreira has been active, and his timing and physical ability have never looked better. If Jones and Ferreira fought, Ferreira would be the better athlete, which maybe hasn't been the case in a single fight in Jones' career. If Ferreira caught him and knocked him out, it would be shocking because it's Jon Jones, but given the circumstances, it wouldn't be that shocking.

Still, I must go with Jones' overall skills, plus his ability to always show up on fight night.

Prediction: Jones by decision

Light heavyweight: UFC's Alex Pereira vs. PFL's Impa Kasanganay

Alex Pereira shocks Jiří Procházka to win light heavyweight title

Alex Pereira survives an early battle and stuns Jiří Procházka with a second-round knockout to win the UFC light heavyweight championship.

Raimondi: Kasanganay afforded himself well Saturday against Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen on the PFL vs. Bellator card. There's no doubt about that. Many believed Eblen would run over Kasanganay with his wrestling and pace. That was not the case. Kasanganay showed off some slick striking and tactical adjustments to avoid those things at times. Eblen won via split decision, but Kasanganay did the most damage in the bout.

The problem for Kasanganay is that Pereira is a terrible matchup for him. Kasanganay is a good striker with slick combinations and some pop in his hands, but Pereira is dominant on the feet and was recently inducted into the Glory Kickboxing Hall of Fame. He's an elite standup artist with some of the best power in all of MMA. Kasanganay can grapple and has had some submission wins in his career, but Pereira is a tough man to get off his feet, and he'll be bigger than Kasanganay. It probably would not be a fun evening for the PFL light heavyweight champion.

Prediction: Pereira by KO

Middleweight: UFC's Dricus du Plessis vs. Bellator's Johnny Eblen

Wagenheim: The narrative heading into Saturday's matchups of PFL and Bellator champs was that only one of those titleholders could make a strong case for being the best fighter in the world at his weight, regardless of promotion. That champ was Bellator middleweight Johnny Eblen. Then, the PFL's Impa Kasanganay quickly put him in survival mode. So much for Eblen's claim on world supremacy, right? Not so fast.

Eblen did win his fight, and in having to stage a gritty comeback, he showed a resilience that had not previously been called upon. Du Plessis, who is aggressive and all-around solid, would surely test that resilience.

Now that we know that Eblen has what it takes to fight back against adversity, we must ask ourselves if that would be enough for him to get the nod over Du Plessis. Tough call. The Bellator champ is unbeaten, but the UFC champ has lost only once in the past decade and has shown himself to be more of a finisher against a higher level of opposition. I'm not saying Eblen couldn't win this, but I'd lean toward Du Plessis by wear-him-down decision.

Prediction: Du Plessis by decision

Welterweight: UFC's Leon Edwards vs. PFL's Magomed Magomedkerimov

Magomedkerimov clinches playoff spot behind vicious haymaker

Magomed Magomedkerimov drops David Zawada with a big right hand, then finishes him off to earn the top seed in the PFL playoffs.

Okamoto: Edwards has established himself as a bona fide pound-for-pound candidate, which means he's essentially matchup proof. It doesn't mean he can't lose, obviously, but it does mean that one particular style isn't going to give him fits.

That said, as hard as it is to bet against Edwards' greatness, it's nearly as hard to bet against Magomedkerimov's top game and knockout potential. Magomedkerimov trains with Khabib Nurmagomedov's team out of Russia, and Magomedkerimov's only loss in the PFL came when Ray Cooper III clipped him in 2021. Edwards is so sharp, well conditioned and well rounded right now. He should be able to win the details that decide this kind of fight, but it would be dangerous for him.

Prediction: Edwards by decision

Lightweight: UFC's Islam Makhachev vs. Bellator's Usman Nurmagomedov

Raimondi: This is a fun matchup to consider, but it'll never happen in reality. Makhachev and Nurmagomedov have trained together essentially their whole lives, including as kids under Nurmagomedov's uncle Abdulmanap, the father of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov. Some people know how this goes, though -- the training partners and coaches who have worked with them over the years and seen them spar. They are unlikely to weigh in on this debate, because wars inside the gym in MMA are meant to stay inside the gym.

Javier Mendez, who coaches both men at American Kickboxing Academy, has said that Usman Nurmagomedov is the most purely talented fighter in the room. He might be the best pure striker among the Dagestani crew, with a well-rounded game on the feet and some strong wrestling and grappling. Makhachev, however, would be the bigger, stronger, more experienced fighter in a prospective fight. He has faced much tougher competition over the years. On the other hand, Usman is 25 years old (Makhachev is 32) and only getting better. This debate could continue for years to come.

Prediction: Makhachev by decision

Featherweight: UFC's Ilia Topuria vs. Bellator's Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire

UFC Champion Topuria: I've been a superstar since day one

Ilia Topuria shares his thoughts after knocking out Alexander Volkanovski to win UFC's featherweight title.

Wagenheim: Topuria's opponent here could just as well be PFL champion Jesus Pinedo, who was scheduled to take on Pitbull at Saturday's event in Saudi Arabia but withdrew shortly before fight night. Either way, whether facing Bellator's champ or the PFL's, I'm comfortable saying Topuria would come out on top and do so in an eye-opening style.

His undefeated record got much shinier a little over a week ago with his title-winning knockout victory over Alexander Volkanovski, who entered their UFC 298 bout as the promotion's longest-reigning champ. Topuria smoked him with a lethal combination of speed, power and confidence. And if Topuria could do that to a top-three pound-for-pound star, imagine what Topuria would do against an even more aged opponent, 36-year-old Freire, or a relatively inexperienced one, Pinedo. I would not expect the cageside judges to be needed for this one.

Prediction: Topuria by KO

Bantamweight: UFC's Sean O'Malley vs. Bellator's Patchy Mix

Okamoto: This would be a fantastic matchup. Every O'Malley fight breakdown starts with his speed, footwork and ability to move around the cage and freeze opponents with feints. Mix is more straightforward, walking opponents down with steady pressure and power shots, and then he'll look for what he really wants -- an entry into your hips for the takedown.

We're still waiting for a complete test of O'Malley's grappling skills. He and his team continue to say it's there, but we haven't fully seen it, mainly because O'Malley hasn't allowed anyone to get him down. Mix is clever in his entries. He's also a finisher once he gets you down.

O'Malley gets the edge because every round starts on the feet, but Mix would probably test that ground game in ways even Aljamain Sterling couldn't.

Prediction: O'Malley by decision

Men's flyweight: UFC's Alexandre Pantoja vs. Rizin's Kyoji Horiguchi

Pantoja retains belt in wide decision over Royval

Alexandre Pantoja retains the flyweight title with a dominant decision win vs. Brandon Royval.

Raimondi: Horiguchi left the UFC as a free agent in 2017 on a three-fight winning streak at flyweight. The only man in the UFC he lost to at 125 pounds was longtime champion and all-time great Demetrious Johnson. Horiguchi departed the UFC for his home country of Japan and the Rizin promotion and Bellator, where he moved up to bantamweight exclusively -- until his past three fights. Horiguchi is 2-0 (1 NC) since moving back down to flyweight and beat Makoto "Shinryu" Takahashi to win the Rizin flyweight title on New Year's Eve.

Pantoja vs. Horiguchi would be a phenomenal fight that would be hard to predict. Pantoja has faced the tougher competition of late in the UFC and has looked excellent during his five-fight winning streak. Both of these men could fight anywhere. Pantoja might have a slight edge in both striking and grappling, but Horiguchi arguably has more power in his hands, especially at 125. And he's no slouch on the ground, either. This is a marquee fight, one of the best skill-for-skill matchup on this list.

Prediction: Horiguchi by decision

Women's flyweight: UFC's Alexa Grasso vs. Bellator's Liz Carmouche

Alexa Grasso keeps flyweight belt after split draw

Alexa Grasso retains her flyweight title after a split draw with former flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.

Raimondi: Carmouche is tough as nails and has won seven in a row since being released by the UFC following a title-fight loss to Valentina Shevchenko. She's a women's MMA pioneer, having been in the first UFC women's fight against Ronda Rousey. Carmouche started her pro career in 2010, three years before the UFC debuted women competitors. This year, she'll enter the PFL's inaugural women's flyweight season and be one of the favorites.

Carmouche is 40 years old, though. Grasso is 10 years her junior, and last year, she defeated Shevchenko, the woman who beat Carmouche in one-sided fashion in 2019. MMA math like that does not always work. But Grasso is the much slicker striker in this equation, with power in her hands. She has also improved her takedown defense exponentially over the years. Carmouche would be looking to take the fight to the mat, where she could use her strength and grappling ability. Grasso should be able to keep things on the feet and land big punches en route to a decision victory. Carmouche hasn't been finished since Rousey submitted her 11 years ago. She has never been knocked out.

Prediction: Grasso by decision