Francis Ngannou has defeated American legend Cain Velasquez at UFC Phoenix.
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The UFC is bracing to explode in the first quarter of the year, with Fight Night 143 headlined by a champion vs champion fight in Henry Cejudo vs TJ Dillashaw, while Robert Whittaker is scheduled to defend his middleweight title on home soil at UFC 234.
We already know we will see Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva for a likely middleweight title shot. There’s rumours of Justin Gaethje vs Edson Barboza which already hurts my body just thinking about it. But before any of that gets underway, here’s a list of fighters I’m most excited to see step into the octagon.
Zabit Magomedsharipov – Featherweight
The Dagestani featherweight is an absolute nightmare. He stands at 6’1″ which gives him the height and reach advantage over anyone else in the division and he has such creative striking, trips and take downs. He’s won fight bonuses in his four UFC fights to date, including submission of the year with an incredible knee bar in his last outing.
I think we will see him become a very serious contender if he can get in the cage with a bit of frequency and if he can find people willing to fight.
The 14th-ranked featherweight is due to face the number sixth ranked fighter in veteran Jeremy Stephens. A win at UFC 235 in March would open up doors into the top five and a potential title fight towards the end of 2019/early 2020.
Ben Askren – Welterweight
‘Funky’ Ben Askren is finally in the UFC. It’s perhaps a few years late but considering he has such a dominant, wrestle heavy approach and has barely taken any damage in recent fights, means that his body should be relatively healthy.
For those who don’t know, Ben Askren is an undefeated fighter boasting an 18-0 record after stints with One Championship and Bellator where he defended the welterweight title in both promotions. He was “traded” to the UFC in return for one of UFC’s most gifted fighters and longest reigning champion; Demetrious Johnson.
He is extremely outspoken, vocally putting down anyone within his sights including Nick Diaz telling him “I realise you haven’t won since 2011 but people seem to think you are good”, telling his little brother Nate that he “cant keep waiting for his sugar daddy Conor Mcgregor”, Colby Covington who he describes as “dumb” and Kamaru Usman who he comically refers to as ‘Marty from Nebraska’.
Hes a very similar fighter to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but first he will have to get through former champion, ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler. Lawler, the 6th ranked welterweight, will be an interesting match up. If he can get the win, there will only be top 5 contenders, who he believes are all scared to fight him.
Alexander Volkanovski – Featherweight
The Australian finished 2018 as a genuine contender in the featherweight division by knocking perennial contender Chad Mendes into retirement.
The Aussie is on a 6 fight win streak since entering the UFC and has serious credentials for a title shot, particularly if Max Holloway steps up to lightweight for bigger fights after demolishing the featherweight division.
Which brings me to my next fighter…
This inclusion may seem a little odd, considering he’s one of the pound for pound greats and if you ask me, the undisputed greatest featherweight of all time. Sit down Jose Aldo.
The reason for his inclusion is because it’s becoming increasingly likely that we see him vacate the featherweight title and step up to the plate at lightweight, and boy, oh boy, are there some fun fights to be had there.
The UFC loves a champion vs champion fight and Khabib Nurmagomedov is surely a huge draw after the Conor McGregor madness at UFC 229. Max verse anyone in the top five would be fun; rematch with Conor, Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson (but for the love of God, please book Ferguson vs Khabib first…again), Iaquinta; the list of potential massive, money spinning, legacy defining fights goes on.
Some consider Cain the best heavyweight of all time and his record gives this argument plenty of weight.
With a record of 14-2, the former champ has wins over Travis Browne, Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos and Antonio Silva but has been decimated by injuries of late.
He returns to the cage with a match up against Francis Ngannou, ranked #3, who’s coming off a knock out win over Curtis Blaydes after two less than impressive losses to Stipe Miocic in a title fight, and Derrick “my balls was hot” Lewis.
I am psyched to see Cain return and expect him to brush Francis aside and fight for the title by the end of the year, especially with current champion DC expected to retire in the first half of 2019.
Who are you most excited to see fight in 2019? Who will be the breakout stars?
Have your say below, Roarers!