2018 has come and gone. Now we’re headed into 2019 and in the MMA world, there are some matchups that haven’t come to fruition just yet… But we definitely hope that this is the year that we’ll see them.
Here are 10 must-see matchups in 2019.
TJ Dillashaw vs Marlon Moraes
For many, this was the next fight to make for each man. However, they will have to get through other obstacles first before that can happen. And if they do so, a fight between the two will surely be a guarantee.
Former World Series of Fighting bantamweight king Marlon Moraes was expected to do big things upon his arrival in the UFC. And after suffering a razor-thin split decision loss in his promotional debut, he’s been meeting the expectations.
His two highlight-reel knockouts of Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera got everyone excited for “Magic” to start taking on the big three of the division. Currently at No. 1 out of the three is the champion, TJ Dillashaw.
Stylistically, this might be the very best matchup at 135-pounds that we haven’t seen yet and it will be an absolute shame if we don’t in 2019 whether it’s for a title or not.
Kyoji Horiguchi vs Demetrious Johnson 2
This rematch could have made a list for must-see fights in 2018 let alone ’19.
Since losing to Demetrious Johnson in his lone career UFC title fight, Kyoji Horiguchi has ascended to an entirely different level of greatness and improved in leaps and bounds.
Having won 11-straight fights since then with six of those ending by finish (four KO/TKOs, two submissions), Horiguchi just picked up arguably the biggest win of his career at RIZIN 14.
After being thoroughly dominated on the ground by the bigger and stronger wrestler in Bellator’s bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell, Horiguchi would end up locking on a guillotine scoring a huge comeback. Thus showing that he’s truly never out of a fight.
This fight saw him face the most adversity since the Johnson bout and the problem was the same for Horiguchi in that one as well; the grappling.
Ultimately, Caldwell is one of the best lighter weight wrestlers on the planet in MMA and is bigger than both Johnson and Horiguchi. Therefore it isn’t fair to use that fight as a negative when looking at how a rematch would go as Horiguchi has shown great improvement in each fight prior to the Caldwell bout and after the first Johnson fight.
Hell, in the first fight, Horiguchi had a solid amount of success on the feet as many will forget. So much so that it led to Johnson taking him down in the first place. Now that both are in Asia, new rules, new enclosures… Whatever it may be, this is a fight that ONE Championship and RIZIN need to make happen.
Tony Ferguson vs Max Holloway
UFC President Dana White has made it clear that he has interest in having his featherweight champion Max Holloway fight in the lightweight division. Holloway will fight anyone and has made that clear.
One of the lightweight division’s elites in Tony Ferguson… Well, he’s let it be known that he would happily welcome Holloway to the weight class.
Both men are two of the most exciting and very best fighters on the planet. A fight between them would be impossibly good. Like, is there really a way that it could be bad? Honestly.
Of course, there are a lot of pieces surrounding the two that make it quite random at this exact moment. But as a fight, it’s something that we just have to see. Pray to the MMA gods that we get it this year.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson
Four times. Four separate, different times have these two men been scheduled to fight. Fifth time’s the charm… Right?
Even though it seems like a cursed fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson is still the fight to make at 155-pounds. It might just be the fight to make in all of MMA. Period.
They’re the absolute best of the best in their division and both have arguments for being the very best. Insane winning streaks, unmatchable talent… It’s an unstoppable force vs the immovable object type of fight. Something needs to give and we need to know what it will be in 2019.
Cris Cyborg vs Julia Budd
Prior to the fight, this was expected to likely be Cyborg’s last fight in the UFC and that continues to look like the case as Dana White and Nunes show no interest in Cyborg getting the immediate rematch that she desires.
Which means it’s the perfect time to finally head to an organization with an actual division that will respect her. And that’s Bellator.
Atop Bellator’s 145-pound weight class sits the consensus second best featherweight in the world (and arguably of all time), Julia Budd.
With all the tools to give Cyborg her toughest test outside of Nunes, Budd would be a great opponent that would provide that “big fight feel”.
Ryan Bader vs Gegard Mousasi
When it comes to accomplishments, Gegard Mousasi has practically done it all and fought everyone.
The current middleweight king of Bellator could be entering the final year of his illustrious career as he predicts only three fights are left for him. Maybe fewer now that he’s suffered a recent injury.
With that in mind, why not allow him to try and achieve the ultimate send-off with another big champion vs champion fight? But this time at his old home of 205-pounds which gives him the opportunity to become a double champ. Speaking of that…
Another champion who has been incredibly impressive in recent years is the Bellator light heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader. And by the end of this month, he very well may be the first ever Bellator double champ if he can get past the heavyweight icon, Fedor Emelianenko.
Throughout his career, Mousasi has been almost unbeatable at light heavyweight and Bader presents an amazing challenge for him to try and fully cement himself as one of the sports most legendary figures.
Tyron Woodley vs Colby Covington
For how much longer does the bad blood need to continue boiling over? Your guess is as good as anyone’s at this point.
Despite becoming the interim champion in June 2018, Colby Covington has yet to receive his title shot against undisputed champion and rival, Tyron Woodley. And it looks more and more unlikely that he ever will as the days go on.
It’s just one of those fights that need to happen, really. Covington has earned his top spot and literally earned his title shot by becoming the interim champion. Whether it was a logical thing to create or not, the UFC did make it.
They both hate each other, they’re both the best in their division. It should have happened months ago.
Ben Askren vs Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre is one of, if not the greatest fighter of all time. After having won the middleweight title in November 2017, St-Pierre has been sidelined and battling with ulcerative colitis.
Now that he’s recovered, “Rush” is only interested in big legacy building fights.
While St-Pierre has acknowledged that new UFC signee and one of the best fighters who have yet to compete in the Octagon, Ben Askren is a very good challenge for him, he doesn’t believe his name is big enough to warrant the fight.
However, with Askren’s long-awaited promotional debut now set to go down in March, this gives the “Funky” former ONE Championship and Bellator welterweight champion some time to get stock boosting wins under his belt that could entice GSP into the epic fantasy fight.
They’re both two of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. Askren wants to prove he is the greatest welterweight of all time, and there’s only one way to do that. Now that he’s in the UFC, this fight is no longer too good to be true.
Hey, Askren even made a bold yet specific prediction that he and St-Pierre will square off in late 2019…
Robert Whittaker vs Israel Adesanya
The future of the ANZAC is now.
As Australia and New Zealand’s reigning and defending first and only UFC champion, Robert Whittaker has been flawless as the middleweight king.
Once upon a time a mid-tier welterweight, “The Reaper” re-invented himself with a move up in weight classes and hasn’t looked back since.
Another burgeoning star out of Australia/New Zealand is the sensational striker, “Stylebender” Israel Adesanya. Perfect in his MMA career to this point, Adesanya could be staring at a title shot with a win over Anderson Silva in his next fight at UFC 234.
At that very same card that is taking place in Melbourne, Australia, Whittaker will be defending his crown against Kelvin Gastelum. If both he and Adesanya pick up the wins at home, it sets up a potentially epic fight for the ANZAC faithful.
One way or another, it’s a great clash of styles that we hopefully get to see at some point.
Conor McGregor vs Donald Cerrone
Despite still waiting to get his troubles with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) squared away, McGregor has made it seem like he won’t be going anywhere in 2019.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, on the other hand, is never gone to begin with.
After picking up a big and much-needed hometown win over Mike Perry in November 2018, Cowboy is moving back down to his original fighting landscape of 155-pounds. Welcoming him back will be Alex Hernandez at UFC Brooklyn next Saturday night.
A win could line things up perfectly for a bout with McGregor assuming he doesn’t get a lengthy suspension from the NSAC.
Regardless, who wouldn’t want to see two fighters with the styles of McGregor and Cerrone going at it?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 1/9/2019