As 2019 draws to a close, the time is perfect to take a closer look at some of the matchups that could well define 2020.
In many ways, the sport has continued to grow and evolve before our very eyes as mixed martial arts managed once again to reach new heights in 2019.
With the glare of mainstream attention never more prominent, there really is an opening for yet another leap as we find ourselves on the cusp of what appears to be a new era within the sport’s premier promotion, the UFC.
We’re going to take a look at five of the most interesting confirmed matchups that are headed our way during the opening half of 2020.
It’s a fight that ticks every possible box in terms of the stylistic clash on offer and the stakes that surround the tie.
Cerrone will no doubt be coming into this one with as much motivation to win as he has likely ever experienced in his career – given the sheer magnitude of the event but in Conor McGregor, he will be facing a former top-5 pound-for-pound with more to prove than ever before.
Conor’s fall from grace has been widely publicized, as we all know, but now, he in a unique position – with every chance to re-establish himself in the sport that he helped shape in its current state.
It’s a matchup for the ages and a perfect opener to what should be a pivotal year for the UFC.
Jones should be winning this one, there’s no doubt about it. As the world’s premiere pound-for-pound talent and champion of the light-heavyweight division, it did appear as though Jon was simply going to run through the newest generation of contenders up until his most recent title defense.
Thiago Santos gave the champion all he could take during their five-round showdown at UFC 239 and while Jones was able to win on the scorecards, the performance as a whole was enough to make some of us have an added level of faith in the division’s rising contenders and their chances at dethroning the champion.
Dominick Reyes will no doubt enter the UFC 247 main-event as a massive underdog but as an unbeaten fighter and an undoubtedly modern athlete – it’s going to be interesting to see how Jon can deal with the problems he can cause.
Had the Santos fight gone smoother for Bones, we’d likely be looking at this contest as an easy win for the champion but now, given all we know, it’s hard not to get that bit more excited.
Weili Zhang (c) vs. Joanna Jerzejczyk – UFC 248
Jessica Andrade had been seen as the most vicious knockout artist in the strawweight division ever since her first-round destruction of Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 228 and the brute strength she showed in slam KO’ing Rose Namajunas did little to hurt that title.
When Weili Zhang ran through her on her way to a first-round TKO in her home-country of China earlier this year, it became very apparent that we were witnessing another level entirely.
Zhang is a knockout artist in a way that few others at 115lbs are right now. A technically skilled striker with an undeniable killer instinct, she will undoubtedly face the biggest test of her career to date in the form of the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248.
There are few out there who would deny that Joanna is still one of the three best strawweights on the planet – a true legend of the division, one who would no doubt carve out her spot in the UFC Hall Of Fame with a victory.
Whittaker’s legacy as one of the finest middleweights to ever do it has been set in stone for some time now but in his last outing, did just didn’t have an answer for the striking expertise of Israel Adesanya.
It’s hard to know how much of a part The Reaper’s inactivity and health issues of late played into the fight’s outcome but with a matchup against dangerous contender Jared Cannonier up next, another crack at the belt could well await him if he is successful.
Cannonier, who has famously dropped down twice from heavyweight before finding his natural home at 185lbs, seems to truly be hitting his stride of late.
With power and athleticism to match even the most fearsome of the middleweight crop, he will certainly present Whittaker with some serious problems if he can find his chin over the course of the bout’s duration.
It’s pretty clear that we’re looking at a title-elimination matchup with this one but even as a stylistic clash, it has all of the makings of a classic.
The fifth time will hopefully be the charm as the two greatest lightweights of all time get ready to finally settle things once and for all inside the octagon.
No matter what the weight-class, it’s nearly impossible these days for a pair of fighters on win-streaks like these to end up facing each other down inside the octagon.
Both men are 12-0 in the UFC and both have beaten all comers with the type of flair, finesse, and brutality that makes me look at this matchup as more of a super-fight than anything.
Khabib’s reign atop the division has always seen Tony cast into the role of the boogeyman, a presence that shadows everything he does – no matter how impressive he looks.
Simply put, it’s a fight that needs to happen.