Russia’s Sergei Pavlovich has well and truly bounced back after the first defeat of his professional MMA career in his UFC debut.
What a big year we witnessed in 2018.
We saw Jon Jones test positive again and have an entire fight card moved on six days notice, ‘Mighty Mouse’ Demetrious Johnson finally defeated – and then traded out in a historic deal, and ‘The Notorious’ blow up the internet by throwing a trolley through a bus window.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic
Current Champion: Daniel Cormier
Stipe began the year by crushing rising star Francis Ngannou and completely and utterly embarrassing him. After this performance, I felt there were no other deserving challengers who would be a genuine threat to Stipe’s record breaking reign.
In steps Daniel Cormier. At the time, DC was the current light heavyweight champion and was in a similar predicament to Stipe, without too many worthy challengers with Jones suspended and so the super fight was created.
DC went on to claim the heavyweight title and achieve the rare feat of holding two belts simultaneously with a devastating knock out.
Verdict: DC moving up weight threw a spinning back fist into my predictions and wasn’t something I quite factored in, believing Velasquez entering the picture would keep his good friend down at light heavyweight. Wrong.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier
Current champion: Jon Jones
Cormier has finally earned the respect he so dearly deserves by holding onto his light heavyweight title all throughout 2018, with a victory over Volkan Oezdemir before moving up in weight as previously discussed.
Jon Jones finally cleared up his issues with ASADA, and the only person to defeat Daniel Cormier returned to reclaim the throne he has long reigned over.
It seems Jon Jones is the only man who can defeat Jon Jones.
A very composed performance at UFC 232 in a rematch of what many consider the best light heavyweight fight ever, if not the single best fight, against Alexander Gustafsson saw Jones reclaim the belt and announce “Daddys home”.
Verdict: in a single word – wrong. It was unknown if Jones would return at all in 2018, so left out of my thought process at all but I will claim that I would have gone with Jones and I’ll back that up by saying he will be the champ at the end of 2019.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker
Current champion: Robert Whittaker
Australia’s Robert Whittaker had a phenomenal year, defending his belt against Yoel Romero. The fight won ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus in a back and forth brutal war.
It was all the more impressive after finding out that he broke his hand early in the fight, which just adds to the incredible mental strength he possesses after defeating Romero in 2017 on virtually one leg.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Whittaker, who was forced to withdraw from what would have been his first title defence which was to be held at UFC 221 in Perth against former champion Luke Rockhold, which Romero stepped in and won.
Verdict: That’s a win, and I’m confident he can do it all again in 2019 starting with Kelvin Gastelum.
Prediction: Georges St Pierre
Current champion: Tyrone Woodley
This prediction hung entirely on GSP returning to reign over the division of which he defended the belt a total of nine times. He finished 2017 as the middleweight champion but vacated the belt soon after after suffering from ulcerative colitis, which ended up with him sitting 2018 out entirely.
I envisioned GSP returning mostly because the UFC seemed desperate to rid the division of Tyrone Woodley, as there is some serious conflict between Dana White and the champ.
However, Woodley dismantled Darren until with a nice submission finish in the second round at UFC 228 which was his only octagon appearance.
Verdict: Nope. GSP sitting the year out certainly made this an impossible outcome, but in hindsight, it probably wasnt going to materialise and Woodley is laying all the foundations for a record-breaking run with the belt.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Current champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov
In 2018, Khabib finally got his body healthy and fulfilled his undoubted potential by tearing through Al Iaquinta for the vacated lightweight title after McGregor’s date with Floyd Mayweather.
The now infamous first title defence against the former champion Conor McGregor will unfortunately always be remembered for the events that followed the main event in which Khabib tapped Conor out via rear naked choke after a fairly one sided contest in which Khabib not only took him down with relative ease (Khabib doing Khabib things) but also dropped him with a vicious overhand right which caught The Notorious completely off guard.
Verdict: Another pass. Only Khabib could have prevented himself attaining this one with injuries and weight cut issues. Hopefully that is all in the past.
Prediction: Max Holloway
Current champion: Max Holloway
Max Holloway had a very challenging year but mostly for reasons outside the octagon.
He was forced out of a scheduled event against Frankie Edgar in March due to a leg injury. In April, he was called up as a late replacement for Tony Ferguson against Khabib for the vacant lightweight title before being pulled just 48 hours before due to weight cut issues.
And just as things couldn’t get any worse, Holloway was forced out of a scheduled featherweight title defence against Brian Ortega in July.
But as Max put it, it’s not how you start but how you finish, and he certainly finished the year in style, with a performance I can’t give justice to with my vocabulary. In a word, perfect. He is astonishingly relentless like an artillery barrage and he somehow picks up the pace every single round.
Verdict: An easy win. Holloway is the best featherweight of all time. End of. With Ortega climbing the ranks and undeniably being the number one contender, Holloway ends the year with a big question to answer; does he continue to layout challengers in featherweight, or does he chase something special at lightweight?
Prediction: Cody Garbrandt
Current champion: TJ Dillashaw
Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw did run back their exhilarating 2017 bantamweight title fight as predicted, but the outcome was the same and thus I was wrong.
TJ put in a very good performance and Cody seemed to play into TJ’s hands, leading to a first round TKO.
Verdict: Wrong. And I love Cody Garbrandt. And I think he will no doubt hold the title again in the near future but while TJ is in the picture, hes unlikely to get another title shot any time soon.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson
Current champion: Henry Cejudo
What a fight it was between these two. Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson put his belt on the line against former Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo but came up short in a split decision loss.
I’ll admit, I don’t really follow this division closely, and wouldn’t have had a clue who a genuine challenge was for someone of DJ’s incredible skill set.
Verdict: Strike that down as a loss! TJ Dillashaw moving down to flyweight will keep the division momentarily interesting in 2019, but if you ask TJ, it’s the beginning of the end for the flyweight.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes
Current champion: Amanda Nunes
What an incredible year it was for Amanda Nunes, who solidified herself as the womens all time greatest MMA fighter after demolishing Cris Cyborg in 51 seconds; much in the same fashion she obliterated Ronda Rousey. Shes not only kept her 135 pound belt with a win over Raquel Pennington, but moved up in weight to defeat Cyborg.
Verdict: a big tick with an incredible year that even bettered my expectations.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrezjczyk
Current champion: Rose Namajunes
‘Thug’ Rose defeated Joanna Jedrezjczyk in November, 2017 to win the strawweight title with a first round stoppage against Joanna.
The two would run it back and Rose proved that it was no fluke with an exceptional performance where she took it on the cards quite early in the fight and didn’t seem in any trouble when Joanna picked up the pace in the back end of the fight.
Verdict: A swing and a miss and one that ultimately leaves Joanna with a very long road back to title contention.