What to expect from the UFC in 2019
Another year is almost in the books for the UFC and it’s been a fascinating one, with some massive fights and shows bringing the Fox era of the promotion to an end with a bang. With 2019 now just days away, what can we expect from the world’s biggest MMA promotion in the New Year?
Well, we know that everything is about to change with regards to where to watch the UFC, in the US at least. The Fox deal – which began back in 2012 – has now ended, and the promotion’s new deal with ESPN is about to begin.
Pay-per-view unsurprisingly appears to remain the home of the UFC’s biggest shows – and will likely continue to be the biggest money-maker for the promotion – while the Fight Night series will now take place on the ESPN+ streaming service – the first time that the UFC will be streaming shows outside of their own Fight Pass service. The cards which once took place on ‘big’ Fox meanwhile will move to the ESPN network proper.
Hopefully, the new television deal will mean better-paced shows that don’t last for hours on end regardless of the length of the fights, and perhaps the ESPN spotlight shining on the promotion could mean the creation of new stars, too.
With plenty of fights already announced – and rumoured – for early 2019, here’s what we can expect, division-by-division, for the New Year.
The big question at Heavyweight going into 2019 obviously surrounds the status of Brock Lesnar. After Daniel Cormier won the UFC Heavyweight title at UFC 226, it was pushed as practically a done deal that he’d be facing off with former UFC champ and current WWE superstar Lesnar in early 2019, perhaps at March’s UFC 235. Now though, that fight feels like it’s up in the air.
Since the announcement of Roman Reigns’ battle with leukaemia, Lesnar has recaptured the WWE Universal title, throwing his status into question. Since then it’s been reported that he’s signed a new deal with the pro-wrestling company, but the reports also suggest that the contract will allow him to face Cormier.
It’s a risk for both WWE and the UFC, as both promotions risk losing face should their man lose the fight. Cormier has already stated he only has a couple of fights – if that – left in his career though, so win or lose, if the Lesnar fight goes ahead it may well be the last time we see ‘DC’ in the Octagon.
That could open up an opportunity for any number of contenders to claim the potentially vacant title. Interestingly though – perhaps acknowledging the questionable status of the next title fight – there haven’t been many Heavyweight matches booked for early 2019 thus far.
There is one big one on tap – hopefully – though, in the form of Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou, which is pegged to headline the first show on ESPN on February 17th. Velasquez hasn’t fought since July 2016 but his reputation precedes him and many still consider him the greatest big man in UFC history, while Ngannou looked back to his best in his November destruction of Curtis Blaydes.
The winner of that one should definitely see title contention, perhaps even a title fight later in 2019, but if Velasquez wins and Cormier still holds the title, then the plot thickens further; the two men are good friends and training partners and would likely refuse to face off.
Elsewhere at Heavyweight, the controversial figure of Greg Hardy is set to debut on January 19th on the UFC’s first ESPN+ show. The fight won’t impact the title picture – but expect to hear a lot more about it come the New Year due to Hardy’s already questionable status.