This has certainly been a year for the ages, but we know you are all excited to see what the Crystal Ball has in store for 2019.
2018. Stop and let it sink in for a moment. It’s a year that put the heavyweight division on the map when Stipe Miocic became the first heavyweight champion in UFC history to defend his belt three consecutive times. It’s the year when a true “double champ” emerged after Daniel Cormier shocked the world and landed in the history books — he’s also the first man to actually defend one of those titles. The world was turned on edge with the Conor McGregor bus incident that does not need any further explanation. Months later, fans finally saw McGregor step back inside the Octagon for the first time in almost two years. Those same fans looked on as Khabib Nurmagomedov employed a flawless strategy that didn’t just end inside the cage with a fourth-round submission of McGregor, but also featured a “flying eagle” attack that created one of the worst brawls in recent MMA history. We’re not even done yet, either. Jon Jones closes out the year when he takes on Alexander Gustafsson once again. Meanwhile, women’s featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino finally gets a superfight with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. It’s also the end of the Fox era for the UFC — bring on ESPN.
Let’s look into the Crystal Ball and see what could be in store for next year…
1. The UFC attempts to book Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson for the fifth time.
One can’t help but wonder what these two did to deserve such a string of bad luck. The pair has been set to fight since 2015. Whether it was injury, lung issues, an ill-fated weight cut or a ridiculously comical-turned-real trip-and-fall that resulted in a torn fibular collateral ligament. After Ferguson’s “Fight of the Year” candidate with Anthony Pettis earlier this year and Nurmagomedov silencing the McGregor fans, it seems these two may finally meet. It’s a fight that makes sense now more than ever, and maybe the MMA gods were just waiting for the right time. Don’t be surprised if Ferguson is able to submit Nurmagomedov and then goes on to fight Al Iaquinta. For the sake of Nurmagomedov, Ferguson, the division and the fans, let’s hope the fifth time’s the charm.
2. Rose Namajunas makes up for lost time and defends her title twice.
When Namajunas first defeated the seemingly unstoppable Joanna Jędrzejczyk in the first round of their 2017 affair, most assumed it was just a fluke — Namajunas had “puncher’s luck.” She silenced all the doubters in the rematch, where she took a unanimous decision and controlled four of the five rounds on the judge’s scorecards. Unfortunately, Namajunas was caught in the infamous bus incident that was caused by McGregor. She hasn’t stepped inside the cage since. Look for “Thug Rose” to return to action in 2019 and remind the world why she is the champion of the strawweight division. Meanwhile, Tatiana Suarez will make her way into title contention, as will Jessica Andrade.
3. Daniel Cormier fights once more… against Jon Jones.
I know — cue the eye roll, right? Keep in mind, this is contingent on Jones getting past Gustafsson in their second outing, which seems likely. Cormier has unfinished business with Jones, and it would be the perfect “backup” fight in case the Brock Lesnar deal falls through, which seems inevitable. It’s been rumored that Jones has wanted to compete at heavyweight for years, and Cormier would be the perfect opponent to welcome him to the division. If “DC” can pull off the win, then he climbs higher up the ladder as one of the greatest of all-time. A win over Jones won’t do anything to further the career of the soon-to-be retiree, but it’d be one hell of an exit for Cormier. If Jones can keep his head in the cage and out of the clouds, though, then he could once again become an unstoppable force.
4. Tyron Woodley vs. Ben Askren could be a possibility, but it won’t happen.
It’s not the first time a set of teammates has faced the dilemma of meeting inside the Octagon. Yet most of these previous rivalries — Jones and Rashad Evans, T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt, Mike Perry and Donald Cerrone — had fighters who were not exactly on the same page anymore. It’ll be much different for Askren and Woodley, if the opportunity ever arises. According to Askren, it never will happen. It’s frustrating for the division, because it could end up with the top two fighters in the weight class never meeting to decide the true No. 1. Askren will get a gritty win over someone like Robbie Lawler, Colby Covington or Kamaru Usman. However, he’ll never lock horns with Woodley. We can only hope the 165-pound division arrives soon.
5. The 165-pound division replaces the 125-pound division and thrives.
It needs to happen. Weight-cutting issues have plagued the UFC for long enough. It’s not like there will be a lack of fighters jumping at the chance to compete. Kevin Lee, Nate Diaz, Ben Askren, Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Chiesa and Donald Cerrone could all find a new home in this weight class. So many fighters could benefit from this division.