It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2018. Throughout the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
The year 2018 was full of unprecedented happenings in the world of MMA.
It was the year in which fans experienced their first-ever “trade” between promotions. The UFC, tiring of a men’s flyweight division that failed to garner much interest despite housing one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, took the opportunity of a recent defeat for Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and the animosity between the former champ and the promotion as an excuse to trade Johnson to ONE Championship. In return, the UFC received former ONE welterweight kingpin Ben Askren to enhance its welterweight roster. Never before had the UFC cozied up to another major organization for a talent swap, and the move generated a ton of chatter among MMA fans and analysts.
It was also the year in which we found out that the UFC would finally move to ESPN, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” for live events beginning in 2019. To a degree, the move represents another final frontier for MMA, which had already landed on network television with the UFC’s previous deal with the Fox family of networks. In addition to a full lineup of events on broadcast ESPN, the deal also takes the organization to a streaming platform outside of its own UFC Fight Pass with a lengthy slate of cards scheduled to air on ESPN+.
However, it wasn’t until the last week of the year that 2018’s biggest story came along. It was another unprecedented move for the UFC: a short-notice relocation of an event made simply so a fighter could remain on the card. That fighter was Jon Jones, and the event was UFC 232.
Jones, already carrying a ton of baggage for past mistakes, was set to return from a reduced 15-month suspension for a doping violation. The UFC was set to strip the UFC light heavyweight title from Daniel Cormier, who had returned to the heavyweight division to become a two-division champion, but Cormier relinquished the belt before he could be officially stripped of the title. The UFC scheduled Jones to meet Alexander Gustafsson for the crown at UFC 232. The year-end show was set to take place at the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada. However, there were inconsistencies with a drug test Jones submitted to on Dec. 23 — he had “picogram” levels of turinabol in his system — and the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to license Jones as a result.
With just one week until the show, the UFC was sent scrambling. Jones was the headliner, and instead of replacing him, the company decided to move the event to The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Needless to say, this change in venues left many fight fans who had already booked flights and hotels in Las Vegas out in the cold. It did keep Jones on the card, though.
Meanwhile, Jones also had to submit to VADA testing in addition to USADA testing in order to get cleared for the contest. He made it over these hurdles and into the Octagon on Dec. 29. With “Picogram-gate” still casting a shadow over him, Jones managed to beat Gustafsson in convincing fashion and regain his light heavyweight crown.
While Jones walked away the winner, and the show included other memorable moments, the biggest story of all, and our 2018 Combat Press “Biggest Story of the Year,” was how Jones caused the relocation of an entire UFC event.
Other finalists: The Trade of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson to ONE Championship and Ben Askren to the UFC, The UFC’s Move to ESPN
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2018 MMA Award winners.