The world of mixed-martial-arts has been derailed recently due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, with many promotions postponing and cancelling events indefinitely. The UFC, Bellator, ONE Championship, and Cage Warriors have all experienced setbacks – leaving fights scrapped entirely, and competitors without paychecks. As things stand, the UFC are preparing to go ahead with UFC 249 on April 18th. as scheduled – but we’re yet to finalise a location or venue.
Our timeline remains cloudy as to when we’ll see the Octagon or cage land again, that’s undeniable. We’re likely to miss a handful of action over the coming months due to the ongoing outbreak – but when things resume to normal, or as normal as can be, here’s ten matchups I’d make in 2020.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler:
Both Gaethje and Chandler are currently under contract with different promotions for starters. Gaethje, a perennial UFC lightweight contender, Chandler, one of the greatest mixed-martial-artists in Bellator promotional history. All is not lost though. The three-time lightweight champion is considering testing free-agency this summer ahead of his scheduled rematch with Benson Henderson. Chandler, like Gaethje, is an extremely talented wrestler – but that doesn’t stop both from displaying their ever-improving striking chaps.
Gaethje has managed three straight wins over James Vick, Edson Barboza, and Donald Cerrone, firmly instating himself in the 155-pound title picture. Chandler on the other hand, defeated Sidney Outlaw in a December outing, adding to a rematch title win over Brent Primus, Brandon Girtz, Goiti Yamauchi. The 33-year-old has only dropped losses to fellow champions, Will Brooks, Eddie Alvarez, Patrício Freire, and Primus in his ten year Bellator stint.
Tony Ferguson vs. Conor McGregor:
A couple of things need to happen in order for this mouth-watering clash to occur. Tony Ferguson must first get past Khabib Nurmagomedov in April, and Conor McGregor must secure a victory upon his expected July return against the aforementioned, Gaethje. It’s a pairing which was a realistic possibility back in 2017. McGregor was still the lightweight champion, while Ferguson had slapped a triangle on Kevin Lee to secure the interim throne in the Dubliner’s absence while he made a professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
In terms of styles, this one is an absolute barnburner on paper. Ferguson – one of the most prolific pressure fighters the 155-pound ranks has ever seen, and a talented grappler to boot. McGregor – a sharp counter-striker with precise boxing and movement. A perfect scenario for this pairing is this year, with gold possibly up for spoils.
Stipe Miocic vs. Jon Jones:
The heavyweight calling of light heavyweight champion, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones has been echoing for a couple of years now. The Jackson-Wink MMA staple has struggled majorly in recent outings against Thiago Santos, and Dominick Reyes in particular. A change of pace a division higher may suit Jones as he begins to clock up the miles in the sport. If a move materialises this year – he’ll likely challenge for gold from the get-go. The current gold-holder; Cleveland’s Stipe Miocic. A trilogy bout between Miocic and Jones’ rival Cormier is expected to land in the Octagon sometime this summer. If Miocic emerges with overall bragging rights, sign me up for Miocic vs. Jones for all the marbles.
Aleksandar Rakić vs. Jiři Procházka:
In terms of new blood in the light heavyweight division, Rakić represents new blood metaphorically, and Procházka represents new blood, quite literally. Austria’s Rakić lost some momentum recently with a hugely close decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir, while Czech Republic native, Procházka moved to the UFC earlier this year following a knockout of C.B. Dollaway in Japan-based promotion, RIZIN FF. For European fans, this matchup is highly attractive as it singles out another major contender. Procházka is a knockout merchant by nature, while Rakić has also displayed his eye for a stoppage via strikes. Somebody falls.
Jared Cannonier vs. Yoel Romero:
This one could prove to be a matching which offers a somewhat changing of the middleweight guard. Jared Cannonier is chomping at the bit for a 185-pound title tilt, while Romero is fresh from a less than memorable middleweight championship showing against Israel Adesanya. A victory over Romero proves to everyone that Cannonier is here to stay, and if Romero shuts out Cannonier, it means the exact same. How long can the Cuban remain relevant at 185-pounds? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing’s for certain though – this matchup is a real possibility given Robert Whittaker’s recent pairing with former welterweight tile challenger, Darren Till.
Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal:
While there’s some distance between the two in the highly competitive welterweight ranks, a clash Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Geoff ‘Hands Of Steel’ Neal could determine the best kickboxer 170-pounds has to offer. The two-time title chaser, Thompson, recently put a three-round battering on the gritty Vicente Luque, while Neal managed to move to 5-0 in the UFC via a brutal head-kick knockout of Mike Perry. Given the outcome of both men’s next outing – a clash between the two content kickers is a realistic possibility before the year’s end.
Bibiano Fernandes vs. Kyoji Horiguchi:
Two of the best bantamweight’s the mixed-martial-arts world has to offer. Two-time ONE Championship bantamweight champion, Bibiano ‘The Flash’ Fernandes, and former RIZIN FF and Bellator bantamweight best, Kyoji ‘TheTyphoon’ Horiguchi. Fernandes – a dominant grappler with a decorated résumé. Horiguchi – a legitimate knockout specialist, and one of the most naturally gifted mixed-martial-arts competitor ever. Both men share different promotions like the previously mentioned Gaethje and Chandler – but the meeting of Fernandes and Horiguchi represents one of the most competitive in mixed-martial-arts today. The Japan native is currently recovering from a debilitating knee injury, but a clash before the year’s end is still possible.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko III:
Both Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko have steamrolled the ranks at bantamweight, and flyweight respectively. With challenger after challenger lying in the pair’s wake – the only plausible matchup is a trilogy bout between the duo. Nunes is booked to feature against Felicia Spencer in her first attempted defence of the featherweight title in May, while Shevchenko has a flyweight title date with Scotland’s, Joanne Calderwood at UFC 251. If both exit those respective contests unscathed – let’s pair them for a champion versus champion rubber-match in the final quarter of the year.
José Aldo vs. Dominick Cruz:
This one is almost as possible as when Aldo held the featherweight throne, and Cruz, the bantamweight seat. Legendary striker, Aldo, will challenge Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight championship at UFC 250 in May, while Cruz is eyeing an eventual return – with a matchup against Cory Sandhagen reportedly in the pipeline. Should both emerge victoriously, lets pair arguably the greatest featherweight and bantamweight of all time together. Granted, both of them are arguably beyond their prime – but I’d have no doubt an entertaining stylistic would be in store.
Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodríguez:
Finally – we’ve got two of the most promising featherweight contenders in today’s ever-changing ranks. It’s a pairing which has been set before back at UFC 228, but one we’ve never seen come to fruition. Both men are approaching the featherweight championship summit, and the winner would likely determine the number one contender at 145-pounds. Zabit has been rumoured to face former title challenger Brian Ortega in his next outing – but if that fails to materialise once again, let’s finally see Magomedsharipov vs. Rodríguez – and more importantly, in a five-round headliner.