THE return of Conor McGregor at UFC 246 is set to kick 2020 off in style, with his big game in and out of the octagon often sending fans into a spin in trying to predict who will be next in line for the ‘money fight’. But there are plenty more potential match-ups not including the Irishman which will draw eyes to the leading promotion, with the task of matchmaking looking a little easier in the near future. Note, fighters who feature multiple times are not expected to have every bout eventuate, these are simply the best match-ups to be made.
HEAVYWEIGHT | Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 2
While we have plenty of love for Daniel Cormier, that is perhaps exactly why we do not want to see him getting the next heavyweight title shot. Having reached the pinnacle of the sport and coming off a KO loss at the age of 40, ‘DC’ has nothing left to prove. That is not the case for Ngannou, whose hype train was halted at the hands of current champion, Miocic in 2018. A rematch seems fitting with Ngannou coming off three-consecutive first round T/KO wins, and Miocic reclaiming his crown in 2019. The question will be whether Miocic can again quell the power of Ngannou over five rounds, and if the 33-year-old Cameroonian has indeed found the right level of maturity in his game. Let’s have it.
What better way to prove you are the greatest mixed martial artist of all time than jumping up a weight division to claim the mantle of baddest man on the planet. It would be the cherry on top of an unmatched career for Jones, but is of course pending how he fares in his February match-up with Dominick Reyes. It seems a touch unlikely given Jones’ unwillingness to move up, arguing that the weight difference between him and some of the bigger heavyweights is much more stark than the 20lbs gap to middleweight for say… Israel Adesanya. Miocic, of course will have contenders coming, but another superfight would be hard to pass up.
These two are already going back and forth and while a fight looks unlikely for as soon as this year, it seems inevitable that they will eventually meet in the octagon. Jones, a generational martial artist is in need of a new challenge and rivalry, and the “freshman” on the block in Adesanya is sure to give him exactly that. ‘Stylebender’s’ two-year rise to the top of the UFC middleweight division makes it easy to forget that he is only two years the junior of Jones, and is a terrific match-up for him on the feet given his storied kickboxing career. But having looked a touch below his absolute best of late, this fight could well provide ‘Bones’ with the right kind of motivation to show exactly why he is the pound-for-pound number one. But again, he needs to get past Reyes first.
MIDDLEWEIGHT | Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero
Perhaps not the ideal next title fight at middleweight given Romero has lost three of his last four bouts, but is a match-up which tempts the newly-crowned champion. Adesanya has gone on record saying he would prefer to prove doubters of his grappling prowess wrong, and a win over Romero would logically go a long way to proving his status as a well-rounded martial artist. With the rightful number one contender, Paulo Costa out of action and former champion Robert Whittaker already booked, it is almost the only fight left to make. For Romero, another shot at UFC gold would be impossible to pass up, and he is the youngest (scariest)-looking 42-year-old of all time.
MIDDLEWEIGHT | Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till
England vs. Australia, a rivalry rich in history across all sports. So, why can’t we have Liverpool’s Till vs. Australia’s first ever UFC champion, Whittaker? Whittaker was swiftly booked to fight Jared Cannonier at UFC 248 just as rumours pitting these two against each other began to grow, but a future bout between them is not out of the question. Till remains on the hunt for a worthy opponent, with Costa injured and Romero set to claim the next middleweight title shot, so may even wait on other results before being booked. Nonetheless, do it in either nation and the people will come to see these much-loved fighters do their thing.
WELTERWEIGHT | Tyron Woodley vs. Colby Covington
The top of the welterweight division is arguably the most intriguing across the entire promotion, and poses a ton of potential match-ups. This fight may not be at the forefront, but was poised to happen when Woodley held the welterweight strap and Covington was on his come-up. The two American Top Team (ATT) teammates have history at the famed gym and simply do not like each other. Given they also share the unfortunate title of having lost to Kamaru Usman in championship bouts, it would be a perfect match-up to settle the score. Plenty has been and is yet to be said, with fireworks set to ensue if this goes down.
WELTERWEIGHT | Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal
We could not have a fights to make piece without ‘The Notorious One’, and the McGregor is intent on remaining active in his soon-to-start 2020 “season”. While a loss to Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 would put a huge spanner in the works of a lot of potential match-ups, McGregor seems to be back in the right mindset. That said, the short-lived BMF title hype could come up again here as McGregor looks to snatch all the belts, and Masvidal has admitted he would be game to opt for this fight over one for the welterweight title. Add to that the Irishman’s wish to stay at 170lbs, and this could be the next logical match-up.
WELTERWEIGHT | Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3
Say McGregor does not emphatically beat ‘Cowboy’ on Sunday, there is another certain lightweight-cum-welterweight who could be next on the agenda. McGregor has long been open to the idea of a trilogy bout with Diaz, but the American has been notoriously selective of his bouts since overcoming the Irishman in 2016. A third bout to settle the score makes sense at any point, so why not now if nothing else can be reached. The pair are two of the UFC’s biggest pulls, and given the legendary status of the first two bouts, this one would again be massive. No promotion needed, it sells itself.
WELTERWEIGHT | Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal
Taking a leaf out of the book which poses Covington against Woodley, a fight with Masvidal would pit another pair of former-ATT teammates against each other. While their relationship now is a far-cry from their former self-admitted friendship, the two know each other very well and there is some serious heat between them. Masvidal is game for anyone and has quickly broken into the mainstream, as well as the title picture, so taking down everyone’s favourite fighter to hate would take him to another level. For Covington, a win would keep him well within the title picture and potentially open up a bunch of other match-ups at the top end of the division, even serving as a title-contender eliminator.
WELTERWEIGHT | Jorge Masvidal vs. Leon Edwards
Alright, this is the last time we will mention Masvidal, but the possibilities are seemingly endless when it comes to the UFC’s BMF. While Edwards looks likely to be booked against Woodley, and Masvidal is either next in line for the title shot or one at McGregor, these two have already landed blows on each other – albeit out of the cage. They met after featuring in the main and co-main events of UFC Fight Night: Till vs. Masvidal, and seemed likely to settle the beef inside the octagon right after the infamous altercation. Now both top five welterweights, this bout still makes sense as both have their eyes on the ultimate 170lbs prize.
Yes, the lightweight division is stacked and yes, a Khabib vs. Connor fight has been widely spoken of should the two win their upcoming bouts, but this is the 155lb match-up that intrigues us most. Both men have been ramping up their pursuit of each other, seemingly ready to go whenever the UFC wants to make it official. A teammate and long-time friend of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev could well serve as a sighter for Lee on his way to getting that lightweight strap. But the Russian is no joke, often unable to find a match-up due to his 18-1 record and crushing sambo style. But Lee is game, and very smart, putting himself in the line of fire when few others have dared to. If it goes the other way, Makhachev could prove himself as the next big thing at 155lbs with a massive step up in competition.
Not much to say about this one, an immediate rematch only seems fitting for the consensus greatest featherweight champion, Holloway. Having only just claimed the title at UFC 245 in December, Volkanovski was immediately faced with the idea of granting Holloway a second chance given the Hawaiian did the same for Jose Aldo upon his first title win. It makes sense, and presents the opportunity for Volkanovski to dispel any doubts about his decision win – not that there is much. For Holloway, a chance to get his belt back and overcome one of the rare opponents to have defeated him is only fair.
FEATHERWEIGHT | Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Chan Sung Jung
Two of the scariest and most well-rounded fighters across all divisions, and perhaps the next two in line for the featherweight belt. Magomedsharipov has seamlessly broken through against dangerous ranked opponents on his way to climbing to third spot in the 145lb division, and a win over the ‘Korean Zombie’ would only prove his title credentials. With newly-crowned champion Volkanovski poised to face Holloway in an immediate rematch, why not have these two killers battle it out to become next in line? Of course, Sung Jung was poised to face Brian Ortega in a similar line of thinking, but instead accounted for Frankie Edgar within a round. Hardcores would love this match-up, with so many ways to win on either side.
W. FEATHERWEIGHT | Amanda Nunes vs. Claressa Shields
This one is a little fanciful, we admit, but who the hell else is Nunes going to fight at 145lbs? Cris Cyborg swiftly exited to Bellator after their bout, and is set to face Julia Budd (who Nunes KO’d in 14 seconds), while PFL champion Kayla Harrison seems quite content winning millions of dollars there. The two have already spoken to the idea, with Nunes adamant that a fight would only ever happen in MMA because, well she is an MMA fighter. Shields, a two-time Olympic boxing champion who holds all four major world titles, is open to the idea – albeit if she needs more than a year to train for the bout. Nunes is quite confident she would “wrestle the s**t” out of Shields, so let’s have her prove it – Dana White is not opposed.
BANTAMWEIGHT | Henry Cejudo vs. Petr Yan
‘Triple C’ Cejudo does not seem keen on simply taking on the number one contenders in his quest to become the MMA GOAT, instead looking to take out challengers to that throne in Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo. But let’s be real here, this is the fight that makes the most sense and Petr Yan is as deserving as any contender across the UFC. Three impressive wins in 2019 have put the Russian right in the title frame, and this seems the right match-up for Cejudo to defend his bantamweight belt given he is set to lose his flyweight one. Talk aside, the fight promises to be an intriguing one, with Cejudo levelling up his striking to go with his wrestling pedigree and undeniable heart, with Yan constantly pushing his opponents into deep water. Do the right thing, Henry.
These two champions are fast running out of worthy contenders having emphatically accounted for each one to have come their way thus far. And that is just the thing, Nunes is 2-0 up against Shevchenko in the UFC – both wins via decision – but the rivalry is still alive given the closeness of both bouts. Neither fighter is booked for 2020 as of yet, and with Maycee Barber looking like pushing into number one contender status at flyweight, Nunes could face Aspen Ladd at bantamweight if things go the American’s way this year. But in the meantime, with no clear number one contender at either weight, this could be the superfight that the women’s divisions need.
FLYWEIGHT | Henry Cejudo vs. Joseph Benavidez 2
An unlikely match-up given Benavidez is set to fight for the soon-vacant flyweight title, but would have been ideal if Cejudo was interested in actively defending both of his belts. After Benevidez takes on Deiveson Figueiredo and Cejudo accepts a challenge for the bantamweight strap, a second meeting between the two would be feasible. In their previous meeting in 2016 post a heated Ultimate Fighter series, Benevidez got the better of a raw Cejudo via split decision and would relish the chance to do the same against his rival.
W. FLYWEIGHT | Valentina Shevchenko vs. Maycee Barber
This is another fight pending upcoming results, and even more in the case of Barber. The 21-year-old wrecking ball is impatiently climbing the flyweight ranks, proving too physical for many of her opponents. In a rush, she aims to beat out Jones and become the youngest ever UFC champion, so 2020 could be her year with Roxanne Modafferi her first opponent. But Shevchenko, who does not have many clear challengers at the moment, is as dominant a champion as the promotion has and will be a tall order for the youngster. If she does not pursue a third fight with Nunes, Shevchenko could well find herself coming up against ‘The Future’.
W. STRAWWEIGHT | Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk 3
The UFC women’s strawweight division is tight at the top, with plenty of moving parts in play during 2020. Jedrzejczyk is already booked to fight for the strawweight crown, and if she wins could have her first defence against one of the two woman to beat her (twice), Namajunas. That also depends on whether Namajunas exacts her revenge on Jessica Andrade, but the two could meet either way. Now both former champions, either fighter could reclaim their title this year and this may well be one of the avenues. Given the intense build-up of the first two bouts and how close the second fight was, a third would be a barnburner.
W. STRAWWEIGHT | Zhang Weili vs. Tatiana Suarez
Suarez is widely touted as the next in line for the strawweight title, dominating each of her opponents on her way to an 8-0 record. No one has yet found an answer for her smothering wrestling, with but the power of Zhang Weili could well take it out of the equation entirely. The champion’s early finish of Andrade makes this an interesting stylistic match-up, but again depends on whether she can hold on to her crown. Suarez looks poised to wait for the next title fight either way, and already has the look of a champion.
Stiff to miss:
Cormier vs. Miocic 3
Cormier vs. Jones 3
Adesanya vs. Costa
Masvidal vs. Diaz 2
Nurmagomedov vs. St. Pierre
Poirier vs. Hooker
Poirier vs. McGregor 2
Gaethje vs. McGregor
Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor
Aldo vs. Cruz