2018 has been an interesting year for the world’s foremost MMA promotion. The UFC hosted a series of incredible bouts over the course of the year and saw the return of Conor McGregor, the biggest star in the sport. Jon Jones will return on Dec. 30, too, giving fans plenty of optimism heading into the penultimate year of the 2010s.

UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway proved just how incredible he is inside the cage, while living-legend Daniel Cormier became just the second fighter in the history of the promotion to hold two titles in separate weight classes, simultaneously. TJ Dillashaw proved why he is the best bantamweight on the planet, but lost his shot at the former pound for pound titleist, Demetrious Johnson, who moved over to ONE FC with Ben Askren going the other way.

Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for Dana White and co. in 2018. The UFC’s band of potential golden boys, Francis Ngannou, Darren Till, and Brian Ortega, all lost for the first time in the promotion, however. Conor McGregor’s return ended as controversially as the “dolly incident” that set up his bout with the lightweight champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

That being said, we have seen some incredible matchups and blistering bouts that indicate that 2019 will be the year where things get even better. With Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 all set up, finally giving fans a bout that we have waited over 4 years to see, I decided to take a look at the other fights that simply have to happen next year. If anything, 2019 could potentially be a year of big, big fights.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson

The fight that has been scheduled four times, only to fall through on four separate occasions, is widely regarded as the most cursed fight in the history of MMA. In fact, there is no fixture in combat sports history featuring fighters as elite as Khabib and Ferguson that has been canceled so many times.

The last encounter at UFC 223 earlier this year saw both fighters almost make it to the Octagon, only for Ferguson to suffer a freak accident. When news broke of “El Cucuy” tripping over a cord at a press conference – rupturing his lateral collateral ligament – I literally felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. This fight is the biggest bout never to happen in the UFC. Joe Silva and Sean Shelby simply have to keep trying to get the bout over the line, even if it means calling an exorcist or witch doctor for help.

Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were scheduled to first meet at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale in Dec. 2015. Nurmagomedov’s back injury meant that the fight fell apart. At UFC on FOX 19 just four months later, Ferguson suffered a lung injury and withdrew. In March 2017 at UFC 209, Nurmagomedov suffered health complications due to a botched weight cut and pulled out again. Ferguson’s last pull-out means that both men are 2-2 in this regard.

UFC President Dana White claims that he has ‘moved on’ from booking the fight, but this is the biggest bout in the promotion right now. Nurmagomedov, the champion, looks as though he has the beating of everyone in the division, possibly with the exception of Ferguson. The Californian is riding an 11 fight win streak and has not been beaten since May 2012.

Why The Fight Needs to Happen

The world’s best two lightweights need to get it on inside the Octagon. Both men are tremendously gifted fighters and the strap that Nurmagomedov currently has will be disputed as long as Ferguson continues to slay everyone put in front of him. Although stripped of the belt, Ferguson is still technically the interim champion at 155-pounds and has the only real claim to a shot at the Russian’s strap.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III

While Nurmagomedov and Ferguson is the biggest fight in the promotion, at least in terms of a matchup, McGregor vs. Diaz III is likely to be the highest grossing bout in the history of the UFC. The logic behind this is, of course, that the second bout between the rivals, UFC 202, grossed 1.6 million in pay-per-view buys while their first encounter pulled in over 1.3 million. These two bouts rank at both 2nd and 3rd in the UFC’s all-time PPV buys, with Khabib vs. McGregor first with 2.4 million.

McGregor and Diaz is widely regarded as the greatest rivalry in UFC history, although Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier may both have something to say about that. In terms of the numbers brought in by both men, however, there is absolutely no competition. McGregor’s time in the UFC signified a period where greater interest from casual fans and those new to the sport really helped to raise the profile of the promotion.

Both men are 1-1. A trilogy fight is the only way to settle the score, once and for all. Even die-hard fans would welcome a third fight between both men, even if there was no title on the line. However, with the UFC rumored to be introducing a new 165-pound division at some point in the future, you could see McGregor and Diaz easily fighting for the inaugural title of this yet to be confirmed weight class.

This fight could certainly help to raise the stock of both men. Diaz hasn’t fought since the razor-thin decision loss to McGregor at UFC 202, while “The Notorious” was easily put away by 155-pound champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, in October. A trilogy bout between both men would give the illusion that both are at the pinnacle of the UFC pool of talent and let’s face it: Diaz isn’t coming back to fight anyone else.

Why The Fight Needs to Happen

It would be fun to watch. More than anything, the trash talk and pre-fight build up would be absolutely immense. The old Latin adage, Cui Bono – translated loosely to “who benefits?” – shows that McGregor, Diaz, the UFC, and most fans would want this fight. It would sell boatloads of pay-per-views for the promotion, so you can guarantee that it happens at some point. Hopefully, before both men are wearing cardigans and pushing mobility walkers around.

Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones III

While Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz have indicated that they have respect for each other, Cormier and Jones have genuine bitterness towards one another. Yes, in Diaz’s case, it is hard to hate someone who has turned your $20,000 to show, $20,000 to win purse into millions. McGregor will always be linked to Diaz, too. Cormier and Jones are completely different animals, but are, just like McGregor and Diaz, inextricably linked whether they like it or not.

Jones won the first bout and this set up one of the fiercest rivalries in combat sports history. Prior to that fight, both men went at it at the press conference in a Las Vegas hotel, showing that there was tension before the fight. However, things just went absolutely bonkers afterward, with both men trading barbs and insults that make the rest of the historic trash talk in the promotion look tame in comparison.

“Bones” went on to win the second bout by KO, resigning Cormier to tears. Not long after, Jones was stripped of the title following a positive test for turinabol, with the decision of that fight being overturned to a No Contest. Things have not calmed down since then, with Jones amping up the verbal assault following his return to the promotion after he served his 15-month suspension.

“It might sound weird but I do think that if our lives had somehow crossed in a different way, we might have ended up being friends in some way,” Jones said to USA TODAY Sports in 2017. “But too much has happened and that’s just how it is. I think he is a good guy but he is not a good guy to me. Or maybe he is just a fake good guy. It doesn’t matter if someone is the best guy in the world, if he acts like that towards you then that’s how you’re going to see him.”

Jones pretty much summed things up, from his perspective, in this one sound bite.

Why The Fight Needs to Happen

Jones has an obsession with Cormier that will never be satisfied until he is certain that the whole world knows that he is the better fighter, even if proving that he is the better man is akin to bashing his head against a concrete wall. Cormier has an obsession with Jones that will never be satisfied until he… you get the picture. Fans want this bout, Jones wants this bout, the UFC wants this bout.

Over to you, DC.

Max Holloway vs. Conor McGregor

The last time UFC featherweight Max Holloway lost about, Nelson Mandela was still alive and he was still 21. His opponent, Conor McGregor, had just won his second fight and was still relatively unknown to the average UFC fan in the United States. Fast forward to 2018 and Holloway is arguably the best fighter in MMA. Currently riding a 13 fight win streak, “Blessed” is being talked about as the greatest 145-pounder in history.

The Hawaiian has just turned 27. It is incredible to see just how much he has achieved since breaking into the promotion as the youngest fighter on the roster. Holloway has beaten everyone there is to beat at featherweight – with the exception of Frankie Edgar -and made the division’s “hypiest” of hyped up fighters, the unquestionably talented Brian Ortega, look average.

In the back of Holloway’s mind, McGregor surely lingers. While the Irishman is credited with many things – such as increasing the popularity of MMA around the world – some go as far as to credit Holloway’s upward trajectory to him, too. While Holloway and McGregor fight in different divisions now, the 27-year-old is getting older, meaning weight cuts are getting more difficult. Some believe that it is just a matter of time before the Honolulu-native moves up to 155-pounds. Well, he has fought at lightweight before…

Holloway is a master striker and pressure fighter that brings excitement into the Octagon in ever fight. McGregor certainly works best against strikers and this matchup would be certain to be as explosive as it would be bloody. For Holloway, he can finally prove to the world that he is the best featherweight to have ever done it, while McGregor gets a chance to do the same with a win, even if it is in a different division. Crazy, right?

Why The Fight Needs to Happen

Look, any fight featuring Conor McGregor is bound to get the juices flowing for casual fans. This one would be as close to a dream matchup that you can get for die-hard fans, however. There is both a backstory and a narrative that will appeal to everyone. This could also be the fight that turns Max Holloway from a stellar fighter – and the darling of many MMA fans – into a global superstar.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Georges St-Pierre

A little out of left field, right? Nope. Think again. This is a fight that just might happen in 2019, if the stars align. You might be thinking, “Georges fights at welterweight and middleweight, how is he expected to get down to 155-pounds?” I understand your reservations but check GSP out here. GSP also stated that he was interested in fighting the winner of Khabib vs. McGregor prior to that bout. Freddie Roach, the Canadian’s boxing coach, also confirmed that he was eyeing up a title shot at 155.

“What about Khabib, he wouldn’t want to fight GSP, surely?” Think again. The Russian has spoken out in the past about how the fight would be his dream matchup, given the great respect that “The Eagle” has for him. St-Pierre also provided something of an ultimatum when speaking to esteemed MMA journalist Ariel Helwani earlier this year. If he can’t secure a fight with the UFC lightweight champion, he will likely retire. Is this enough for the UFC to grant him his wish?

It is my opinion that Georges St-Pierre is the greatest MMA fighter to have ever laced up gloves. His last appearance inside the Octagon was a sensational submission over Michael Bisping to win the middleweight title and still appeared to be as popular as ever. While fellow-legend Anderson Silva has endured a tough few years, fans still know St-Pierre as a winner, first and foremost. He would certainly turn heads with a bout against Khabib, that’s for sure.

Nurmagomedov would certainly jump at the chance to take on a fighter he regards as one of his greatest inspirations. The matchup itself would be one for the purists, given that it would feature two of the most methodical and systematic winners in the history of the sport. While the fight would not feature the type of trash talking and disrespect of a McGregor vs. Diaz bout, it would, conversely feel like an old-school matchup between two warriors who respect each other tremendously.

Why The Fight Needs to Happen

Georges St-Pierre vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. Need I say any more?

Related Articles
Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *