2018 ended off with one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. It set the stage for a changing of the guard and a change for Mixed Martial Arts overall. With Amanda Nunes beating Cris Cyborg for the UFC featherweight title in just under one minute of the first round in the co-main event of UFC 232, the once unbeatable Cyborg falling so fast and quick set the stage for 2019 being an unpredictable year for the sport. With a rematch being all but inevitable this year, that fight is one of many things to look out for in the new year.
And speaking of Amanda Nunes, she is one of only three fighters to receive the “Champ-Champ” nickname which is a fighter who has currently or at one time held two titles in two different divisions at the same time. Nunes went into the fight with Cyborg already holding the UFC women’s bantamweight tittle. Conor McGregor was the fist to do this back in 2016 as he held the lightweight and featherweight title at the same time. And before Nunes, Daniel Cormier was the only other fighter having both the UFC light heavyweight title and the UFC heavyweight title in 2018. As UFC bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw looks to be the fourth person added to this list on January 19th as he takes on current UFC champion, Henry Cejudo for the flyweight title on ESPN, fighters like Max Holloway and Jon Jones have also made mention of moving weight classes to get this coveted notch on their belt as well and the term Champ-Champ may be something we get used to saying pretty frequently as the year rolls on.
No, you didn’t just see a typo above, one major story of 2019 is UFC moving to ESPN. After eight years on FOX, the UFC signed a 5 year, $1.5 billion dollar deal with ESPN. The deal includes 30 UFC Fight Night cards, of those, 10 main cards will air on ESPN’s cable TV network. The other 20 will stream on ESPN+, the company’s new digital streaming service. And if the first few cards featuring a flyweight title super-fight, the return of former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the UFC debut of Ben Askren is any indication of how the UFC and ESPN are going to fill their cards from here on out, we should all be very excited to see how long they can keep up the quality of cards on the already huge sports network. UFC will make its debut this Saturday, January 19th on ESPN and ESPN+.
One of the biggest stories of the year happened last October after the main event of UFC 229: McGregor vs Nurmagomedov. After months of build up, Khabib Nurmagomedov submitted Conor McGregor in the fourth round. After he stood up, Nurmagomedov jumped out of the cage and jumped at McGregor’s teammate, Dillon Danis as the two fought outside of the cage. While that was going on, two of Khabib’s teammates jumped into the cage and attacked McGregor. As the fight was for the UFC lightweight title, talks of fines, jail time and being stripped of the title were floating around in the following month. Khabib ended up keeping his title and it’s been kind of quiet lately, but the lightweight division is something to keep an eye on in 2019 as Khabib will likely defend his title later this year. As McGregor has recently talked about fighting in Japan or going back to boxing, Khabib will likely face the winner of Al Iaquinta and Tony Ferguson…if they make that fight.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Jon Jones and what this year will look like. Coming off a big win to close out 2018, Jon Jones won the UFC Light Heavyweight championship a few weeks ago in his rematch fight with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232. That fight was not without controversy as Jones tested positive in a drug test before the Gusstafsson fight but was still allowed to fight because the amount of the substance found was so low. With a fight against Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in March already confirmed, talks of a rematch with Daniel Cormier at heavyweight and a super-fight with Brock Lesnar have taken a back seat for now, but with Jones anything is possible and he is someone who will definitely famously or infamously stay in the spotlight this year.
As Mixed Martial Arts is a sport with no offseason, it’s never short of stories and future classic matchups being made every month. And with the UFC being on ESPN, it brings the sport to a new level as new eyes will be watching a sport that some said was dying out just a few years ago. We rarely know for sure who the winner will be of the fights we love to watch, but what we do know for sure is that 2019 looks to be the year that Mixed Martial Arts was etched in stone as the year the sport is here to stay.