As Iron Mike Tyson narrows in on an opponent, the interest he has created for boxing has been almost immeasurable.
After a bumper year of fighting in 2018, what can we expect the UFC to serve up next year? With more big-name fights, rivalries, newcomers and returning former champions, 2019 could be the UFC’s biggest year yet.
Brock Lesnar returns
Before Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic locked horns in one of the biggest super fights in history at UFC 226, fans were shocked to see Brock Lesnar make his presence felt at octagon-side.
Cormier defeated Miocic for the world heavyweight title and in his post-fight interview, called on Lesner to step in inside the octagon, which led to a tense confrontation.
The stage has been set for Lesner to face Cormier sometime next year for title, but there is speculation surrounding when this bout will take place, if at all, with Lesner signing a contract extension with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) so it’s unclear if Lesner will be available to fight early next year.
If Lesnar returns, he’ll be a massive drawcard for the UFC regardless of who he faces.
The retirement of Daniel Cormier
Daniel Cormier has gone on record to say that he will retire by his 40th birthday, and at 39 it’s only around the corner.
Cormier may have only two fights left before he hangs up the gloves. The mentioned title fight with Brock Lesnar is in limbo because of his WWE commitments. Jon Jones has been without a doubt Cormier’s biggest rival to date as the only man to defeat him in UFC.
Cormier lost his light heavyweight title fight against Jon Jones in 2015, but a few months later he would again find himself in the title picture as Jones was stripped of his title due to being arrested on hit-and-run charges.
Cormier would go on to defeat Rumble Johnson to capture the title, but many fans felt his reign was illegitimate because he didn’t defeat Jones for it.
Jones would find his way back into the title picture after dealing with his outside issues, earning a rematch with Cormier for the UFC light heavyweight championship. Jones would get the better of Cormier once again before the fight result was overturned to a no contest due to Jones failing a post-fight drug test. Cormier was reinstated as the light heavyweight champion only for the asterisks to remain on his title reign as far as fans were concerned.
Now that Jones is back, it’s an opportunity for Cormier to earn respect and legitimise his title reign with one last instalment of this epic rivalry.
Conor McGregor returns
Conor McGregor had a rough year in 2018. The ‘Notorious One’ put his UFC career on hold to take on Floyd Mayweather in one of the biggest boxing match-ups in history.
After a ten-month hiatus McGregor returned to the UFC to reclaim his throne as king of the octagon. His next opponent was against the man holding the title that Conor never lost, the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. McGregor would fall to the champion. Khabib inflicted the heaviest defeat of McGregor’s career.
But if we know anything about McGregor, it’s that he’ll bounce back in 2019.
Rumours are abuzz as to what McGregor’s next venture will be. There are several options, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Khabib’s future following his actions at UFC 229. McGregor may have another title shot awaiting him.
There are talks of McGregor fighting powerhouse Tony Ferguson for the vacant title – pending the outcome of Khabib’s hearing – If Khabib is successful in keeping his title, then a potential McGregor-Ferguson match-up would be to determine the number one contender.
The other possibilities is a Diaz trilogy or a fight with George St-Pierre. UFC newcomer Ben Askren wants a shot at Conor McGregor and Anderson Silva has said he wants to fight the Irishman.
For seven years Fox Sports has been the home of the UFC, but come January the UFC will move to ESPN and ESPN+. The UFC signed a US$1.5 billion five-year deal with ESPN that will see a variety of new MMA shows, post-fight and preview shows for the UFC’s pay-per-views and fight nights.
Super fights used to be a dime a dozen in UFC, but in the modern day we are spoilt for choice. There is so much buzz surrounding potential high-profile match-ups. We are already gearing up for Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw for the flyweight championship to see whether Dillashaw can become only the third man in history to be crowned a double champion.
MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world and the UFC is the benchmark. Expect to see more big-name fights, more epic rivalries, exciting newcomers and the returns of former champions in what could potentially be the UFC’s biggest year yet.