The UFC’s heavyweight division could well be setting up for a very, very interesting 2019 – one full of super-fights, money-fights and full-on freak shows.
There are alternates and outliers in this discussion but Cain Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes aside, I believe that there are six potential players in the heavyweight title picture right now.
Any one of these six men could very possibly hold the title of ‘baddest man on the planet’ by the end of 2019 and no matter which way it plays out, we are in one helluva time with the big guys over the course of the coming months.
DC’s short-notice showdown with The Black Beast at UFC 230
Many are calling this bout a formality for the champion but his future could hinge on one mistimed effort to evade. Lewis’ power is no joke. This was solidified into our memory for eternity after UFC 229 and for Cormier, he will need to be very, very careful for the fight’s duration if he wants to get out unscathed.
If he can come out of this one conscious, he will put himself in a position to make the most money he has ever earned in his life.
He has his sights set on a March retirement and two more fights in his career – including this one.
But we’ll come back to that later.
If Lewis is able to shock the world just under a month after beating Alexander Volkov, he could well find himself in pole position to face the winner of Jones/Gustafsson II.
I somehow feel as though Stipe Miocic is going to get the shortest end of the stick out of these six guys. The UFC have already shown that they are willing to give Brock Lesnar a shot at the belt – even with his lengthy absence from competition.
Jon Jones returns to face his toughest challenge to date
If Jones can do what we expect him to do and defeat the Swede, he’s getting a super-fight for the heavyweight title – it doesn’t matter who holds it at the time. The promotion made this very clear with their decision to book this one as a 205lb title matchup for the undisputed belt.
If it is, in fact, Cormier who sits at the top of the heap, expect all talk of retirement to go out the window. Even if he fights Brock Lesnar first, DC will take that third Jones fight – mark my words.
The man is a competitor with a long and storied history of competitive excellence and I have no doubt that he wants to get that win more than anything he could ever possibly desire.
Super-fights sell and in this day and age, getting Jon Jones, who seems destined to be the G.O.A.T into as many blockbusters as they can is the play.
If Gus can pull off the upset, I highly doubt he would make the move to heavyweight right away.
The trilogy fight?
If DC manages to defeat Derrick Lewis and Gustafsson is in possession of the light-heavyweight strap, expect Brock Lesnar to get the call. Cormier will then edge towards his retirement upon fighting the hulking WWE superstar.
Unless the UFC do what I think they would in that situation at 205lbs and book an immediate rubber-match showdown – Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones III.
In that case, Cormier would continue – as heavyweight champion – to claim that he plans on retiring after Brock as both Jones and Gustafsson go at it one more time.
If he beats Brock and Gustafsson records another win over Jones – making it 2-1 in his favour, expect DC to make good on his promise and ride off into the sunset.
However, if Jones can rally from the lone defeat of his career and beat ‘The Mauler’ in the trilogy fight, again, the matchup with Cormier is the fight to make.
A collision course
Whether it’s his next fight after UFC 232 or the next one after that, if Jones and Cormier are both in the win column by the summer and at least one of them holds a belt, this fight is going to happen.
Now, if Derrick Lewis or Brock Lesnar can manage to dethrone Cormier on his way there, expect all-out madness as Jones, Gustafsson, Miocic, or even possibly Cain Velasquez go head-to-head to take on the champ.
Dana’s ideal scenario
DC will likely lose his opportunity to fight Brock and Jones if Lewis defeats him but if I were in charge of the UFC, this is how I would prefer if things played out.
At UFC 230, Daniel Cormier easily beats and ideally stops Derrick Lewis. At UFC 232, Jones does the same to Gustafsson – or at least gets out of there injury and damage-free.
Cormier then fights Jones with the heavyweight title on the line and the winner eventually fights Brock Lesnar – because it’s pretty clear that both guys and the promotion want that fight.
Although, if there’s any delay on getting Jones in there with DC right away, maybe they will do the Cormier/Lesnar fight as they intended and allow the champ to build up his star-power, making Jones/DC III even bigger.
No matter which way it plays out, 2019 is going to be crazy!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena