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2019 Year Preview: The fights we want to see

Written by Sean Cameron | Edited by Albert Acevedo

2018 has been a big year for the UFC, Daniel Cormier knocked out heavyweight record-breaker Stipe Miocic to become a two-weight class champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov dominated Conor McGregor in possibly the biggest fight in MMA history, Robert Whittaker narrowly beat Yoel Romero in a Fight of the Year candidate to retain the middleweight belt, Tyron Woodley defeated Darren Till to enter the greatest of all-time discussion, and so many more exciting moments captivated the fans. All of this led to Jon “Bones” Jones reclaiming his light heavyweight belt and the crowning of the “Greatest Female Mixed Martial Artist of All Time” Amanda Nunes, as she defeated Cyborg to become the first ever Female Champion in two weight classes in the UFC. The many great fights we saw throughout the year set the stage for some really intriguing matchups in 2019. Although many of these matchups may not come to fruition, here’s to hoping the UFC will consider them. Here are ten potential fights to get excited for going into 2019.]

10. Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz III

A post shared by Nate Diaz (@natediaz209) on Feb 11, 2018 at 3:25pm PST

This fight pretty much books itself at this point, right? I know a lot of fans will clamor for a rematch between McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, but there are too many worthy contenders at 155 to book that fight right away. McGregor is coming off a one-sided loss to Khabib for the 155 lb. title at UFC 229. While Diaz was scheduled to fight on UFC 230 in November versus Dustin Poirier, but was canceled after Poirier suffered a hip injury. Diaz is now coming off 2 years of inactivity since his controversial split decision loss to McGregor at UFC 202 and this massive rubber match makes sense for both fighters. The winner of this fight is immediately entered into title fight conversation, and it has the ability to headline a pay-per-view event and do massive numbers. There are reasons the first 2 fights broke records for PPV buys and ticket sales. McGregor is the biggest star in MMA history, and Diaz brings a cult following based off his persona as a soft-spoken trash talker who keeps it real and brings an aggressive fight. Real bad blood exists between the two, and with both guys lacking clear direction now is the time to set up this match and settle their feud once and for all.

9. Georges St. Pierre vs Tyron Woodley

Carlos Condit, Kelvin Gastelum, Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia, Darren Till. These are just a few of the trophies Tyron Woodley has claimed during his UFC run and championship reign. In most divisions his accomplishments would cement him as the greatest to ever do it, but at 170 a certain Quebecois superstar would have something to say about it. George St. Pierre is viewed by many to be the best ever not just at welterweight, but in the entire sport of MMA. With GSP recently coming back and winning the middleweight belt from Michael Bisping, it sets up this potential clash to decide definitively who is the greatest to ever do it in the 170 lb. division. I know GSP has said that a fight with Woodley doesn’t interest him ( but he’s also said that the only fights he wants are big fights that can increase his legacy. Those two statements contradict each other and there may be only one opponent who could do more for GSP’s legacy than Woodley (we’ll get to that later). From a company perspective the UFC really needs to break open the checkbook and do whatever it takes to get these two into a cage.

8. Francis Ngannou vs Brock Lesnar

A post shared by Francis Ngannou (@francisngannou) on Nov 19, 2018 at 5:12am PST

This entry will be the first of a few that come from somewhere a little bit out in left field, but come on; as a fan of MMA there is no way you can tell me this wouldn’t excite you. Any fight between two fighters with the sheer size and physiques of Lesnar and Ngannou will draw interest from the viewing public. The 6’4 254-pound Ngannou standing and facing off with the 6’3 280+ pound Lesnar would make for a stunning visual on any fight poster and then on any television screen anywhere. And with Lesnar calling Ngannou a “piece of shit” in the cage after UFC 226, there is some impetus for a feud between them. The fight itself is intriguing too, a classic striker vs grappler matchup between one of the most vicious knockout artists in the UFC today in Ngannou and a guy with some of the most brutal ground and pound in UFC history in Lesnar. I know all the rumors point to Lesnar facing Cormier for the 265 lb. title, but give Stipe Miocic his rematch and put Lesnar in a fight to EARN a title shot. This fight is really a win on all fronts.

7. Georges St. Pierre vs Anderson Silva

For years people talked about this fight as the Mayweather vs Pacquiao of MMA. The clear top two fighters in the sport, both head and shoulders above the rest of their divisions, competing only one weight class apart. Before the rise of Jon “Bones” Jones the debate about MMA’s GOAT always came down to Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. Like Mayweather vs Pacquiao, politics got in the way of the fight happening when the fighters were in their primes and, like Mayweather vs Pacquiao it should happen anyway when both fighters are older. It lacks a lot of the shine it once had, but nostalgia is a powerful seller (look at Hollywood, all the biggest movies this decade are remakes of old stories) and longtime MMA fans would still love to see these two icons of the sport face off in the cage. The best part is it makes sense from a fight perspective. There is a chance that Silva can attain the middleweight championship within the year to set up this fantasy matchup. He is scheduled to co-main event UFC 234 on February 9, 2019 versus Israel Adesanya and has been promised a title shot if he wins. GSP says he only wants big name legacy fights, and a matchup with Anderson Silva checks both boxes. If there is a middleweight belt on the line you can guarantee GSP will be calling for Silva at the end of 2019.

6. Robert Whittaker vs Gegard Mousasi

A post shared by Robert Whittaker (@robwhittakermma) on Dec 29, 2018 at 1:58am PST

Out of all the fantasy fights on this list this one might be the least likely to happen because they are in two different fight promotions. Whittaker and Mousasi are two of the best mixed martial artists on the planet and are in the same weight class. Watching them fight would be a treat. Mousasi’s popularity is on the rise in Bellator thanks to being one of the promotion’s biggest champion’s. His soft-spoken demeanor didn’t draw much attention while in the UFC, but as time went on he got more and more brash and recently has been joining the long list of fighters to have a feud with UFC President Dana White. As evidenced by his recent dominant victory over Bellator 170 lb. champion Rory MacDonald, there are not a lot of top-notch contenders to face the champ over in Bellator. Where there would be a tremendously intriguing fight is in a theoretical cross promotion champion vs champion fight with UFC middleweight titleholder Robert “Bobby Knuckles” Whittaker. Undefeated at 185 and coming off a fight of the year contender with Yoel Romero, Whittaker is establishing himself as one of the best fighters in the UFC. What better way for him to keep doing that than by facing a legend of the sport in Mousasi who was on the verge of challenging Whittaker prior to his UFC deal expiring. Mousasi has compiled a record of 45-6-2, and he has victories over: Hector Lombard, Cyborg Santos, Jacare Souza, Mark Hunt, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, and Chris Weidman just to name a few. From a pure MMA standpoint it’s a top notch matchup of great fighters, and it could be the first ever cross promotion champion vs champion bouts in MMA history[MOU1] [AA2] .

5. Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler II

MMA fans, especially newer ones, tend to forget just how popular Nick Diaz was during his prime as Strikeforce welterweight champion. His keep-it-real trash talking style and aggressive high output striking got him a huge following. With it being 5 years since his last fight, and with his younger brother Nate turning into an MMA star in that time, people are anxious to see Nick Diaz fight again. He’s been linked to a fight with Jorge Masvidal at UFC 235, and no matter what ends up happening with that fight, he should give his second ever UFC opponent a rematch. Diaz and Lawler first fought back in April of 2004(!) and it was an exciting back and forth brawl that ended with a second round Diaz KO. Both have accomplished so much since then, and both are still as popular as ever. Any PPV with this as co-main event would receive a massive boost in intrigue and attention, and the fight itself promises to be a beautiful display of violence that any MMA fan could get behind.

4. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Max Holloway

A post shared by Khabib Nurmagomedov (@khabib_nurmagomedov) on Apr 3, 2018 at 9:39pm PDT

UFC Featherweight Champion, Max Holloway, was chosen as a last minute replacement to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title on UFC 223 in Brooklyn. It was an opportunity for him to become a two-division champion. While cutting weight the New York State Athletic Commission deemed him unfit to compete for fear of his safety. Nurmagomedov went on to win the lightweight championship at UFC 223. Fast forward to UFC 231 where Holloway thoroughly dominated the highly touted undefeated challenger Brian Ortega, and questions of a possible bout versus Khabib Nurmagomedov surfaced again. Holloway has essentially cleared out his weight class at this point and Dana White seems to be insisting that he moves up to 155 for some reason, so it makes sense to have two dominant champions face off. Holloway said in a press conference that he loves giving undefeated guys their first loss, so give him a shot at the most impressive undefeated record in the sport today.

3. Conor McGregor vs Jose Aldo II

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jan 6, 2016 at 5:37pm PST

When Conor McGregor ended Jose Aldo’s decade long run of dominance in just 13 seconds at UFC 194, it was the culmination of one of the craziest build ups to a fight in the history of the UFC and maybe the most shocking result of a title fight ever. There were talks about having a rematch for Aldo in the aftermath, but that got lost in the whirlwind of Conor McGregor’s career. While he lost 2 title bids to Max Holloway, Aldo has also outclassed Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 and melted Jeremy Stephens with a brutal KO off a hook to the body at UFC on Fox, proving that he’s still a very dangerous fighter. McGregor has plenty of options for lucrative fights so Aldo might not be high on his list of priorities. A rematch between Aldo and McGregor would be an interesting matchup stylistically. A lot of MMA media and fans have said in one way or another that the first fight was a fluke, that Aldo took the trash talk to heart and came in too emotional and too aggressive. If McGregor is able to beat Aldo again he can silence those critics for good and position himself to go on another great UFC run. If Aldo can beat McGregor this time, he’ll be able to make up for a past defeat and prove that he is still one of the best fighters in the UFC.

2. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson

The most cursed fight in MMA needs to become reality in 2019. Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov are the two best lightweight fighters on earth and they need to fight for the right to be the clear #1. This fight has been booked and canceled 4 separate times, sometimes for reasons as weird as tiramisu related weight cut issues ( and tv cable knee injuries ( Despite all this MMA bad juju, and despite Dana White saying he’ll never book the fight again, it has to happen in 2019[AA3] (it seems Dana may be warming up to this idea recently). It’s too good of a fight with too much history behind it. Nobody is more qualified than Tony Ferguson for a title shot, and the Californian’s relentless striking output, insane cardio, and creative submission game create the greatest challenge at 155 to the dominant Dagestani. “Is Khabib’s top game good enough to smother Ferguson and his ‘SnapJitsu’?” “Is Tony Ferguson the one guy in the UFC who can fight at Khabib’s pace for 25 minutes and not get exhausted?” and many other questions would be answered by this phenomenal matchup. When Khabib is finally allowed to fight again by NSAC, making this fight needs to be priority number one for the UFC.

1. Daniel Cormier vs Jon Jones III

Time has a way of putting things into perspective. One year ago today I knocked out Daniel Cormier to reclaim my light heavyweight title. It was the culmination of all the sacrifice and hard work put in on the road back to where I truly know I belong. That’s at the top…the only place I’ve ever dreamed of being. Turns out it wasn’t a forever moment but a fleeting one as two weeks later I find out on TMZ of all places my title has been stripped and I’m suspended once again. To go from the spotlight to darkness, and have everything taken away from me again was a hardship the public will never truly understand. It bent me but did not break me and I had to learn to fight in a different way. I’ve spent the last year living right and getting healthy, but much of that work was spent correcting and repairing my mental space. Call it weakness if you will but even the toughest individuals need assistance getting back on track. I’ll be back, and when I am it will be a more complete version than the world has ever seen. You have to turn the lemons life gives you into lemonade, and you have to take time to sit back and enjoy it. The struggles don’t define you. It’s how you handle them that determines who you are. Be good, enjoy the day and God bless.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Jul 29, 2018 at 11:48am PDT

Maybe the most intense and personal rivalry in UFC history was thought to be closed at UFC 214 when Jones knocked out Cormier with a head kick. The first fight was a competitive but clear-cut decision win for Jones, and with him winning again in a decisive fashion, everyone thought he had established himself as being a tier above Cormier and ending the rivalry. That all changed when Jones failed a post-fight drug test and changed the win to a no contest. While Jones was serving an 18 month suspension by CSAC Cormier won back the 205 lb. title, moved up to 265 and knocked out the greatest heavyweight in UFC history Stipe Miocic to become a simultaneous multi division champion. Jones reclaimed the 205 title at UFC 232 by decisively beating Alexander Gustafsson by KO/TKO. After the fight he called out Cormier to come get his belt back. It sets up a trilogy fight between Jones and Cormier either for DC to win back a title he never lost at 205, or for Jones to try and become a champion in two divisions and establish himself as the obvious GOAT in MMA history. Here’s hoping we get to resolve this rivalry in 2019.

Honorable mentions:

Conor McGregor vs Max Holloway II, Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov II, Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier II, and TJ Dillashaw vs Demetrious Johnson.

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