The fight game changed forever in the final two months of 2015.
Holly Holm began the shift with a stiff left head kick that knocked out the biggest MMA star on the planet, Ronda Rousey. And Conor McGregor closed out the year by doing what he predicted since walking through the Octagon door for the first time: delivering a first-round KO of Jose Aldo, the longest reigning champion in the UFC at the time.
McGregor and Holm, now the biggest stars in the UFC, will team together for one of the biggest nights in UFC history on March 5 at UFC 197.
Holm defends her title for the first time against Miesha Tate, and McGregor will leave his new featherweight title at home while attempting to become the first-ever multi-division champion in UFC history by facing Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight championship.
Both fighters will enter the MGM Grand Garden Arena with enormous pressure resting on their shoulders. Holm needs to take out Tate to ensure her colossal future rematch with former champion Rousey, and McGregor will try to take out the toughest challenge of his career in pursuit of his second gold belt.
A two-division world champion in his previous organization, McGregor has been eyeing both the 145 and 155 titles all along. In dos Anjos, the Irishman will face a jiu-jitsu specialist who has evolved into one of the most dangerous strikers in his division.
Back at UFC 185, dos Anjos took out Anthony Pettis in dominant fashion, out-striking him on the feet and using his wrestling to take “Showtime” down. Against Cerrone in December, dos Anjos blitzed Cowboy right at the start, and after a vicious body kick, he swarmed to collect a quick finish of one of the hottest fighters in the UFC.
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Dos Anjos said a fight against McGregor would be easy money, and the champ opened as a -150 favorite shortly after the fight was announced.
McGregor, meanwhile, recently took to Instagram to comment on his matchup with dos Anjos: “What can I say, it’s just another night of easy work for me. I don’t just own the game. I run it too,” McGregor said.
Tate has been on the verge of her third title shot for some time. She has defeated all the elite fighters at the top of the division not named Ronda Rousey, and she was all but confirmed as the last No. 1 contender before Holm got the call in the final hour.
Holm showed off her elite striking against Rousey. She combined footwork, movement, accuracy and power like no other woman on the roster. Tate is known for her scrappy standup and her relentless wrestling, and she’ll need to execute a flawless game plan to take out Holm. But apart to Rousey, Tate may be the biggest threat to Holm in the division.
Don’t miss UFC 197, when McGregor and Holm make their first appearance of 2016. You never know how the game could change with just one punch or kick.
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC