As another year in the world of mixed martial arts comes to a close, I take a stab at predicting how the next year plays out in the sport’s upper echelons.
Last December, I brought you our first attempt at predicting how the completely unpredictable landscape of the sport would look after 365 days and while it was a tough task, I am glad to report that at least some of my predictions came to pass.
Jon Jones, of course, managed to get himself a reduced sentence and a scheduled fight before the year’s end and his great rival Daniel Cormier – along with Stipe Miocic – overcame their respective challenges at UFC 220 with ease before being signed to fight in the summer. Although I called that bout for Stipe.
Namajunas bet Joanna in the rematch and Darren Till encountered his first setback but unfortunately – against all odds – Paulo Costa did not capture the middleweight crown (haw haw).
Calling fights is a funny business.
In other news, no, Holly Holm did not usurp Cris Cyborg and Cain Velasquez, Dominick Cruz and the Diaz brothers have not fought in the time since.
It’s funny to read back on the predictions I made at the time but with another year ahead of us, here’s my new batch of predictions for the end of December and 2019 as a whole.
Daniel Cormier is expected to retire by March – just prior to his 40th birthday with a showdown against Brock Lesnar but neither of those things will happen. Whether it’s through an injury he sustains or (more likely) through Lesnar not committing to a mixed martial arts contest – we’ll see DC hanging around until at least the summer where his third fight with Jon Jones will finally happen, at heavyweight.
The bias within me is strong but I’m going to put it out there that DC’s power at heavyweight will translate into a KO victory and with that he’ll retire.
Expect either Stipe Miocic or a resurgent Francis Ngannou to pick up the title in his absence.
So obviously, DC/Jones III will come about on the back of a winning performance from ‘Bones’ at UFC 232 against Alexander Gustafsson – the type of performance that reminds us exactly why he’s the greatest to ever do it.
It’s hard to know what will happen with Cain Velasquez (and I was way off the mark last year), but I do believe he will return this year – facing Miocic in a top-contender bout. Although this time I believe he will lose by way of knockout.
Jones’ departure from the 205lb division will once again leave the weight-class in a weird spot and while Alexander Gustafsson is the clear favourite to take the division by the scruff of the neck – look to the likes of Dominick Reyes and possible even Yoel Romero to move into the top-5.
Just like with light-heavyweight – heavyweight will be at a loss for fresh-contenders (just look at the recent losses of Tai Tuivasa, Alexander Volkov, and Curtis Blaydes) but there will be more than enough drama between the division’s top fighters to keep us interested.
At middleweight, Robert Whittaker will remain king.
I know Israel Adesanya is as good as it gets and part of me wants to see him sitting atop the 185lb rankings but I believe he will need another win after Anderson Silva at UFC 234 and I do believe that he will encounter his first defeat in that title-eliminator bout.
Whittaker will defeat Gastelum and could honestly find a rematch with Jacare Souza in front of him before the year is out – but again, will come out on top. It’s hard to know who is going to make a splash at middleweight in the same way that we saw ‘The Last Stylebender’ catch the eye but if I would imagine Darren Till is getting ready to take the division by storm given his issues with making 170lbs.
Tyron Woodley will encounter very little in the way of a challenge to his title next year. I see him fighting twice and winning both by way of finish.
I could see both Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington fighting and losing to the champ before September – setting Woodley up for a big-money fight at the end of the year – or in the early part of 2020.
The big question on everyone’s mind is whether the UFC will implement a 165lb weight-class – and while it looks like a no-brainer, I don’t see it being fully in place next year.
Ben Askren will come in and look every bit as dominant against Robbie Lawler as we would expect but will get caught with a hard shot at some point – suffering his first career loss. This may slow his progress somewhat and he might not fight again until the very end of the year.
I can see Stephen Thompson continuing to fight at welterweight instead of making the climb up to middleweight and although I am a huge fan of his, I can see him losing to either Kamaru Usman early in the year or Gunnar Nelson later on.
Khabib Nurmagomedov won’t fight until August at the very earliest – facing and defeating Tony Ferguson in a fight that ends up being a lot less competitive than we would expect. I can see El Cucuy fighting and winning before then though.
I know I said it last year but this time around, I have more of a reason to believe that both Nick and Nate Diaz will return to the octagon.
One will win, one will lose. I’m going to leave it at that to keep it mysterious.
Conor McGregor is a hard one to predict but I do believe he will fight twice next year – taking on and beating Dustin Poirier comprehensively – setting up a massive showdown with Khabib on the end of the year card.
A lot will depend on McGregor’s motivation to compete but if he returns to his very best – I can see him stopping Khabib Nurmagomedov in the rematch.
F**k it, I look forward to reading your angry comments.
However, my prediction is that he doesn’t come back with the same hunger that saw him capture two world titles, and I expect him to get smashed even more emphatically this time around by way of a TKO stoppage in the second.
Motivated or not, though, he’s too much for Poirier and the mental edge he will have over him due to his first KO victory will be massive.
Expect José Aldo to defeat Cub Swanson before moving up to lightweight. After Max Holloway defeats Brian Ortega he will almost certainly be angling towards the same move – facing someone along the lines of an Edson Barboza or a Kevin Lee in his 155lb debut.
I think Zabit Magomedsharipov is on a mission for gold and will end the year as the 145lb champion. I think he matches up well with everyone in the top-5 and expect him to finally get a shot at a top-level opponent if he wins his next fight.
At bantamweight, nobody will manage to defeat TJ Dillashaw – that is, unless he fights Dominick Cruz again. I can see Dillashaw defeating Henry Cejudo and maybe even Marlon Moraes but he will get outpointed by Cruz in their rematch.
The demise of flyweight will see the likes of Ray Borg, Deiveson Figueiredo, Sergio Pettis, and perhaps even Joseph Benavidez have success at 135lbs but none will be able to crack the top-5 by the end of the year.
As much as it would be interesting to see Amanda Nunes defeat the dominant force that is Cris Cyborg at UFC 232, I just don’t see it happening. Cyborg could well leave the UFC with her crown and with that – the 145lb division will be dismantled.
Nunes will return to 135lb and maybe face Holly Holm in a title-defense, a fight she will also lose. It’s not a dig at Nunes as a fighter but I just believe both matchups are bad ones for her.
I like the look of Ketlen Vieira and Aspen Ladd as potential contenders who could establish their claim to the #1 spot before long but because of the fact that the divisional champ is gearing up for a super-fight – expect the division to be stunted somewhat until at least no matter what happens next.
Valentina Shevchenko shouldn’t encounter much in the way of a strong challenge from the current crop of flyweights. I do think her fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk this weekend will be competitive – but I also think that her skill and size will give her the edge.
Personally, I’d love to see a 125lb showdown between Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade – who fought at bantamweight before – but as things stand, at the very least, I could see Andrade capturing the title at some point next year.
Whether that sets up the super-fight before 2020 is unclear.
So yes, I do see Rose Namajunas losing her title. She’s been a fighter I have been high on for some time and while I would not be surprised if she ended the year as champ – the sharks that circle her and her title are so vicious that it would require something extraordinary for her to come out unscathed.
Tatiana Suarez, Claudia Gadelha, and even Karolina Kowalkiewicz all join Andrade as fighters who could ask some seriously interesting questions of the champ but expect Rose to fight Andrade next and get finished.
As for the miscellaneous predictions, I don’t see Georges St-Pierre fighting and, of course, Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa will leave us all feeling cheated.
But you didn’t need me to tell you that.
UFC Champions 1/1/2020
115lbs: Jessica Andrade
125lbs: Valentina Shevchenko
135lbs: Holly Holm
145lbs: Cris Cyborg (or the division will be erased)
135lbs: Dominick Cruz
145lbs: Zabit Magomedsharipov
155lbs: Khabib Nurmagomedov
170lbs: Tyron Woodley
185lbs: Robert Whittaker
205lbs: Jon Jones (or Gustafsson if he relinquishes the belt)
265lbs: Stipe Miocic
If even 30% of these turn out to be true, we’ll call it a pass.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena