We head into February looking forward to a marvelous UFC
247 card featuring the likes of Jon Jones, Dominick Reyes, Derrick Lewis and
Valentina Shevchenko. While we wait in
anticipation and excitement for what’s sure to be an incredible card on
Feb. 8, let’s have a look at some of the most intriguing
match-ups that fight fans want and deserve to see this year. These fights have not been booked yet, but if we’re lucky, the UFC will make them happen.
Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Chang Sung Jung
The “Blessed” era has come to an
end. The UFC featherweight division has
truly never been more exciting after kingpin Max Holloway was recently defeated
by Alexander Volkanovski in a lopsided unanimous decision in which the
challenger out-hustled and out-struck the formerly dominant champion. Just like that, the division is wide open for contenders to climb the ladder and claim their right as the baddest man in the UFC featherweight division.
The question now is who gets to challenge the champ for the title. According to UFC President Dana White, it appears that Holloway will get his rematch sometime in 2020. Meanwhile, two of the most exciting, powerful and consistent contenders of the division impatiently lobby for their right at a shot for division supremacy. If you are a fight fan, there is no chance on Earth you haven’t fantasized to the thought of a clash between Zabit Magomedsharipov and “The Korean Zombie” Chang
Sung Jung in what would surely be a “Fight of the Year” candidate.
Magomedsharipov is currently riding a 14-fight
winning streak, with his last six performances taking place inside the UFC’s Octagon. In 2019, he defeated Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar. The Russian fighter is currently
averaging just under five significant strikes per minute and a 6.23 takedown
average per bout. The Korean Zombie had an equally impressive 2019, with back-to-back first-round finishes of Renato Moicano and Frank Edgar.
There are several reasons to love the idea of these two squaring
off. One, both are flashy, exciting and
brutal combatants who leave everything in the cage. It’s difficult to name a single fight either of
these men have been involved in which resulted in a boring outcome. Second, both fighters need a high-profile win involving a top-ranked opponent before they can truly enter the discussion for a title bid. This fight solves this dilemma, as Magomedsharipov sits at No. 3 in the UFC’s standings and Jung follows in fourth. So, why not set up a title elimination bout
sometime at the end of Q1 or Q2 and have the winner challenge for the strap
after Volkanovski and Holloway run it back?
Thiago Santos vs. Anthony Smith
It’s been a long time since the UFC’s
light-heavyweight division has gotten fans roaring for upcoming match-ups. The days of Chuck
Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans are long gone. Instead, fans have been lucky enough to experience and witness the Jon “Bones” Jones era for over a decade now.
Jones is without a
doubt the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, and he has consistently
proven as much for over a decade with double-digit title defenses and an effective
cleaning out of the division with relative ease. Personally, light heavyweight has been one of
my favorite divisions to watch since I was a kid, but that excitement has gradually
faded away throughout the last 10 years. It has finally returned, though, with the influx of recently surging contenders like Anthony Smith, Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson,
Thiago Santos, Johnny Walker and Alexander Rakić. This brings us to the next fight we
very much hope and look forward to seeing in 2020: a showdown between the aforementioned Santos and Smith.
These two men have been a breath of fresh air in a
lacking 205-pound weight class. Both
recently lost in 2019 to Jones in title fights after compiling impressive
winning streaks against some of the division’s best.
Smith fought Jones in March 2019, and although he was
defeated, his performance was nothing short of inspiring, as Smith pushed Jones
through all five rounds. He bounced
back with an amazing performance in June when he defeated Alexander
Gustafsson via submission in the fourth round. Ever since moving to 205, this man has been on a tear. I expect nothing but great fights from him in 2020.
Santos, despite ultimately suffering the loss, is
the first fighter in history to win even a single scorecard against Jones. The Brazilian challenged Bones for the title in July. This match-up might not have sparked a ton of excitement, but it turned out to be the most competitive fight of the main card by a
mile. Santos used his superior striking
and stellar Muay Thai to keep Jones at bay and remained competitive for all five
rounds. It’s no secret that the former middleweight suffered some brutal leg and knee injuries which severely limited his ability in the fight, but he still managed to go the distance and win on one judge’s scorecard. He has not fought since then due to the healing time his injuries required, but he should be good to go soon.
Jones is set to defend his belt
against Reyes. He should do so successfully and once again leave the division yearning for a challenger. An exciting bout between two of the only men to truly challenge
Jones in the last decade would be a great way to produce another contender worthy
of a rematch with the pound-for-pound great.
Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje
Give us the rematch!
The UFC’s lightweight division has
arguably been the most exciting, talent-rich, and competitive division the company
has been able to display for the last decade. It has housed multiple superstars and hosted memorable finishes. “Fight of the Year” candidates
have come out of the ultra-competitive weight class, and it’s only
getting better in 2020. While most of the division is already scheduled for
action, including the thrilling fifth booking of Khabib Nurmagomedov and
Tony Ferguson, two of the top-five fighters — Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje — are on the loose and looking to lay their foundation for a successful 2020 campaign.
The first time Gaethje and Poirier tangled, the result was an easy “Fight of the Night” winner in which both combatants imposed their will and displayed slick and aggressive striking abilities. Ultimately, Poirier came out on top with a fourth-round finish, but it was certainly looking like Gaethje was winning on the scorecards prior to the stoppage, thanks to his brutal leg kicks and everlasting pace.
Poirier went on to win the interim
lightweight title in 2019 and then lost a title-unification bout to the aforementioned Nurmagomedov. Gaethje, on the
other hand, has been on an absolute tear, scoring three consecutive first-round
finishes of James Vick, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone.
Their first encounter was nothing short of great. It’s difficult to imagine running it back won’t produce more of the same. Perhaps the UFC matchmakers could find it in their hearts to put Poirier and Gaethje in the co-headliner of UFC 249? Just a thought…
Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal
The UFC’s welterweight division is certainly appealing right now. Top
contenders include the recently crowned BMF champion Jorge Masvidal, former titleholder Tyron Woodley, Leon Edwards, Colby Covington and Conor McGregor. They are all trying to make their case to earn a shot at reigning kingpin Kamaru Usman.
For a division that is so exciting, the title picture is very murky right now. Sure,
we have Woodley and Edwards squaring off on the London card in March, but not much else is clear on what the UFC plans to do with the large number of contenders sitting in the upper half of the division. However, it would make sense for the company to entertain the idea of a pairing of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Geoff Neal.
Since his debut in 2012, Thompson has become a household name and garnered a solid fan following due to his flashy striking, unorthodox movement, and the numerous memorable finishes he has delivered inside the Octagon.
Meanwhile, make it five in a row on the big stage for the surging contender Neal. The Texan rounded out his 2019 campaign with an impressive head-kick finish of Mike Perry at UFC 245. Neal fought three times in 2019 and looked more impressive with each outing as he displayed his immense power and athleticism.
Currently, Thompson sits at No. 7 in the UFC rankings, while Neal recently moved into the No. 10 spot after his strong year. The rankings make sense. The styles make sense. The fight makes sense. Set these men up for a date in the Octagon and they will
Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen
Last, but certainly not least, we have what could be one of the most exciting match-ups the UFC can and should make in the bantamweight division.
If you haven’t jumped on the Petr Yan hype train yet, you are missing out. Since his UFC
debut in 2018, Yan has rattled off six straight wins and completed his 2019
campaign by defeating John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and, most recently, the legendary Urijah Faber. Yan has looked close to unstoppable since joining the UFC. The 26-year-old continues to impress in each bout, using his masterful
striking, rigorous pressure, and what seems like an endless gas tank. He boasts 6.46 significant strikes landed per minute and an 83 percent takedown-defense average. Yan is looking to capitalize on a successful 2019 by facing an opponent who
will launch him toward a fight for bantamweight supremacy.
There’s no one better to fill this role than Cory
Sandhagen. The 27-year-old is coming off an
equally impressive 2019 in which he defeated Mario Bautista, John Lineker and Raphael Assunção. The Elevation Fight Team product, who sits at No. 4 in the UFC rankings, was recently scheduled to face Frankie Edgar on the UFC Raleigh card, but the bout was canceled after Edgar chose to replace Brian Ortega and fight Chang Sung Jung. Sandhagen comes from an extensive kickboxing background and won several WKA titles before transitioning to MMA. He is currently averaging just under nine significant strikes per minute since his Octagon debut and frequently uses his speed and extensive striking background to pressure and wear
down his opponents.
This one is a no-brainer. With the enigma that is
Henry Cejudo doing Henry Cejudo things, let’s get this incredible match-up
scheduled, and soon. It will no doubt be one of the most
memorable bantamweight bouts of the year.
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