The UFC’s 2019 schedule began with a rare two-week offseason … but don’t get used to that. The UFC has 20 events planned in the first half of 2019, including the massive UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw on Jan. 19.
That’s a lot of fights — and, presumably, a lot of title fights. What will the UFC’s championship landscape look like by the end of the year? Before the schedule truly gets underway, let’s have a little fun and predict the year-end champs.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I like the flyweights. I think the division has depth. A lot of people think the division has no depth, because it had a dominant champion for so long in Demetrious Johnson. But I’ve always thought there was nothing wrong with Johnson’s competition. He was just that good.
Well, Johnson is gone now. But it won’t matter. The UFC has made up its mind. T.J. Dillashaw defeats Henry Cejudo at UFC Fight Night on Jan. 19 to become a double champ … and the UFC shuts down the flyweights.
Flyweight champ in January 2020: Weight class eliminated
Dillashaw kicks off 2019 with a championship win at flyweight, and turns his attention back to bantamweight. He faces Brazilian striker Marlon Moraes midway through the year, and then a come-from-nowhere Russian contender in Petr Yan in late 2019.
Bantamweight champ in January 2020: T.J. Dillashaw
There’s plenty of work at lightweight in Max Holloway‘s future — his near future — but that doesn’t mean he’ll drop his title.
With the logjam that already exists at 155 pounds, Holloway will take a Frankie Edgar fight he has wanted for a while, and then move up for a high-profile fight at 155 later in 2019. But even as he makes that move, the UFC won’t force him to relinquish his featherweight belt right away. He’ll hang on to his 145-pound strap until it’s clear he has moved to 155 for good.
Featherweight champ in January 2020: Max Holloway
The final UFC event of 2018 was thrilling, with two champions being crowned. Brett Okamoto is looking for 2019 to bring the excitement, too, and he suggests some fights that will ignite fireworks.
MMA in 2018 saw some unbelievable moments. What can fans expect this year? Our ESPN MMA team provides predictions for what’s in store for the sport in 2019.
Cain Velasquez was considered by some to be the greatest heavyweight ever not too long ago. After multiple injuries in recent years, he is aiming to regain the belt.
Khabib Nurmagomedov sits the first half of 2019 with a suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission (a suspension that comes out of a hearing scheduled for Jan. 29). Ultimately, he fights only once all year, on the UFC’s annual trip to Madison Square Garden in November.
And who does he fight? I’d love to say it’s Tony Ferguson — a fight we’ve literally waited years for — but it’s Conor McGregor, who defeats Dustin Poirier to set up a rematch of UFC 229. Hype for the rematch is similar to what it was for their first fight — and the result is similar as well. Nurmagomedov’s relentless grappling style gets the better of McGregor and it sets the stage for, maybe, finally, Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson in early 2020.
Lightweight champ in January 2020: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Here’s a prediction: This is the year Tyron Woodley gets his due. This is the year he’s finally widely recognized as one of the best UFC champions ever.
At 36-years-young, Woodley defends his title against hungry challengers in Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. At that point, his championship resume will read Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia, Darren Till, Usman and Covington. That’s a run that stands up with any in the sport’s history.
Welterweight champ in January 2020: Tyron Woodley
Kelvin Gastelum gives Robert Whittaker a competitive, back-and-forth fight at UFC 234 in February, but the Aussie champ ultimately prevails on home soil. From there he defends his title for the third time against Israel Adesanya this summer, before closing the year with a fourth defense against Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, who finally gets the title shot he has been eyeing since 2013.
Middleweight champ in January 2020: Robert Whittaker
This is the year Jon Jones proves everything we ever said about him during that run through light heavyweight royalty years ago was (and still is) true. He defends his 205-pound title against Anthony Smith and Dominick Reyes — and makes a move to heavyweight.
Light heavyweight champ in January 2020: Jon Jones
From 1993 to 2016, the UFC had a total of two dual-weight champs. In the past two years, that number has increased to six! If Dillashaw beats Cejudo on Jan. 19, there’s seven. Double champs are in, and you’d expect Jones to want in on the fun.
So, in late 2019, Jones moves up to face Daniel Cormier, who hangs on to the title in a rematch against Stipe Miocic before Jones enters the heavyweight picture. The trilogy goes down at heavyweight, and it’s Jones who emerges from a competitive fight with two belts. His decision on which of the two to hang on to will depend on where the bigger fight exists in 2020. Perhaps Brock Lesnar will return to the table, after lying low in 2019.
Heavyweight champ in January 2020: Jon Jones
Despite back-to-back wins against the most dominant strawweight of all time in Joanna Jedrzejczyk, people still doubt Rose Namajunas. Oddsmakers have already pegged her an underdog in her scheduled title defense against Jessica Andrade in May.
Namajunas is only 26 though. She hasn’t reached her ceiling. She’s constantly getting better. She beats Andrade at UFC 237 in May, in enemy territory, in one of the more memorable moments of the year — but runs into a buzzsaw named Tatiana Suarez in the fall.
Strawweight champ in January 2020: Tatiana Suarez
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Flyweight belongs to Valentina Shevchenko and Valentina Shevchenko alone. She rolls through three title defenses in 2019, none of which are close. The dominance kicks off in the spring, with a TKO win against Jessica Eye.
Flyweight champ in January 2020: Valentina Shevchenko
The newly crowned female GOAT takes her talents back to 135 pounds, where Amanda Nunes makes successful defenses against Ketlen Vieira and Aspen Ladd. The biggest names are mostly behind Nunes (Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino), but there are legitimate challenges still ahead. She continues to pass them in 2019.
Bantamweight champ in January 2020: Amanda Nunes
The UFC and Cris “Cyborg” Justino ultimately part ways in 2019 — and even though she is no longer the champion of the division, it fails to exist without her. Nunes is a bantamweight, with a list of contenders to defend against. The history of the UFC’s women’s featherweight division proves to be a short one.
Featherweight champ in January 2020: Weight class eliminated