Khabib vs. Ferguson
It is hard to believe that the first time we were promised Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson was almost four-and-a-half years ago. We were only midway through the decade at the time, and both were surging UFC lightweights shooting for the brass ring. Even in the moment, it seemed clear that the winner had a realistic path to the title.
It was not meant to be in 2015, nor in the year that followed. Each orbit of the sun since then — five straight calendar years — has included either an announced fight booking or a rumor, and yet no fight has ever materialized, largely due to some cosmically bad luck. While some of us have already thrown in the towel on the idea — refusing to get invested again only to suffer another disappointment — others continue to hold out hope it finally happens, even as the decade closes out behind them. The fight is scheduled again, of course; we already know that they’ve signed to fight each other on April 18 at UFC 249. But that fact isn’t exactly filling anyone with confidence. To which I say, it’s Christmas! This is a time of faith and miracles! It’s going to happen. It has to happen. It must happen!
Please Santa, don’t let us down like last year. We’ve been extra good this year! We’ve sat through so many Toyo Tires and P3 protein commercials with barely a complaint! We stay up until all hours of the night (and morning) to watch! We are tired! Please, Santa!
A few other things for under the tree:
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa
Most signs point to this as Adesanya’s first defense as UFC middleweight champion, although the fight’s potential was put into doubt when Costa acknowledged he needed left biceps surgery in October.
Just recently however, Costa announced he was already on the comeback trail, and he remains on track to be able to fight in the spring. Now, the question is whether the UFC will wait for him or pencil Adesanya into the schedule where it suits them, something they have often done when in a lurch.
Given their respective records — Adesanya is 18-0 overall and 7-0 in the UFC, while Costa is 13-0 overall and 5-0 in the UFC — it’s a no-brainer. Now let’s hope the UFC has the patience to wait.
An infusion of young talent in the heavier weight classes
There is such a wealth of talent in the lighter weight classes of MMA that the infusion seems endless. Young fighters who had breakthrough years include UFC bantamweights Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen, Bellator bantamweight Patrick Mix, Bellator featherweight Adam Borics and UFC flyweights Weili Zhang and Maycee Barber.
The heavier weight classes? Slim pickings. UFC light heavyweight Dominick Reyes rose from the pack to become the next challenger to Jon Jones, and UFC heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik is undefeated and intriguing, but it would be great to see continued forward strides from talent like UFC heavyweight Ciryl Gane, UFC light heavyweight Aleksandar Rakić and Bellator heavyweight Tyrell Fortune. We could certainly use it.
The end of boxing vs. MMA callouts
Stipe Miocic wants Tyson Fury, Clarissa Shields wants Amanda Nunes, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Floyd Mayweather want each other. Yawn.
I get it; it’s fun to throw out fantasy bookings. But don’t these things need at least a whiff of possibility to draw our attention? Sure, Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor did huge business, but it was ultimately it’s own best argument for why these cross-fights don’t work. They’re all sizzle, no steak. They’re not competitive. Do promoters really believe fans will shell out their hard-earned money in record numbers again? If they did, we would have already seen more of these fights. That was a perfect moment in time, and it worked, but it has long passed, and we should move on from it.
Happy trails for Daniel Cormier
In September, Cormier said he would face Stipe Miocic in a rubber match for the UFC heavyweight championship, and then retire — win or lose. While I’m usually skeptical of pre-announced retirements, I am going to take Cormier at his word. Yes, he’s already reneged on one announcement, saying he would not fight after the age of 40, but I do believe he is simply too competitive to let the tie with Miocic stand. If he’d won both fights, I think he would have already bowed out. Hopefully, this result will allow him to exit the sport with some peace of mind about all he accomplished. We already know Cormier has many positive things ahead of him, and frankly, he deserves every one of them.
More spotlight on A.J. McKee
Despite an undefeated record, McKee is quite underrated on the worldwide MMA scene. Perhaps that will change as he progresses through the Bellator featherweight tournament, where he will take on the winner of the upcoming Adam Borics-Darrion Caldwell fight. McKee is flashy, he’s a finisher, and he’s a winner. And hopefully in 2020, he gets a little more shine for it.
A slowdown of champion vs. champion fights
These fights have been fun and exciting, from the lead-up to the actual action, but they often end kind of unspectacularly. So far, we’ve had four double champions: Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes, and Henry Cejudo. Three of them — McGregor, Cormier, and Cejudo — either lost or relinquished one of the belts without ever defending it because … because defending two belts at the same time is not doable. No one can be that active, even if the UFC wants them to be. The only reason Nunes still has the featherweight belt is that that division is mostly a mirage. If It’s a handful of fighters at most, and since no one’s success demands a title shot, she can hang on to it, just in case.
The clarity for Conor McGregor
2019 was a confusing and troubling year for both McGregor and his fans. He threatened retirement. He was arrested twice: for robbery in Miami and for assault in Dublin. Most disturbingly, he was put under investigation for a pair of sexual assaults. In the midst of all of his legal woes, he never made it to the cage, meaning he’s only fought MMA once in the last three years. That streak ends in January, when faces Donald Cerrone, but a cloud still hangs over McGregor’s head. These are serious charges, raising questions of whether McGregor is fit to continue competing in the UFC. There was a time when Dana White said that “you don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman,” but McGregor’s accusations are far worse than even that. For now, he remains free as the police investigate, and so the UFC will do as the UFC does in making money. Here’s hoping that in 2020, the law offers some clarity, and either explicitly tells us McGregor didn’t do it or that it takes him from us to face justice.
These fights have been fun and exciting, from the lead-up to the actual action, bu