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A new year typically means new beginnings. After watching Jon Jones reclaim his light heavyweight title at UFC 232 just days before the new year began, we at CBS Sports pondered what the champions in each division will look like at the end of 2019. With a full calendar year to look forward to and plenty of championship bouts on the horizon, Brian Campbell, Jack Crosby and Brandon Wise gave their best guesses.
Of note, none of the three participants believe that Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov or Conor McGregor will be holding a strap on New Year’s Eve 2019.
Let’s get to the picks.
Campbell on women’s strawweight: Although she previously lost her 115-pound title shot against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk via unanimous decision, all Andrade has done is continue to evolve. Her recent one-punch knockout Karolina Kowalkiewicz was a thing of beauty and the kind of devastation this division doesn’t often see. Should she secure a title shot against new champion Rose Namajunas this year, it would be hard to bet against her, even with the old “MMA math” that might suggest: Namajunas beat Jedrzejczyk (twice) who beat Andrade. As we all know, it’s actually styles that make fights and Andrade’s hunter mentality and power in both hands could spell trouble for Namajunas.
Crosby on women’s flyweight: There are very little challengers — if any — in the women’s flyweight division for Shevchenko, so I’m predicting she’ll defend at least twice, both easy victories. In regards to the women’s flyweight division, the focus should probably be on any rising contenders who may be able to challenge “Bullet” come 2020.
Crosby on women’s bantamweight: Nunes won’t be made to relinquish one of the titles she now holds, as I believe Dana White is going to let her run this year as dual-champion, so I’m not predicting the death of the women’s featherweight division just yet. What I will predict, however, is there is still no woman in either division who can stop the “Lioness.” She ends the year with the two titles she entered with.
Wise on women’s featherweight: It’s time to say goodbye. Hopefully, UFC brings about some change in 2019 that helps alleviate some of the issues with weight cutting, but it’s hard to envision a division that has gone more than a year without official rankings continuing on, especially if Nunes goes back down to 135 pounds.
Wise on flyweight: In a similar position to women’s featherweight, flyweight’s fate may depend on the result of TJ Dillashaw vs. Henry Cejudo in January. Unfortunately, it’s tough to see the division surviving the next 12 months with as much turnover as we’ve seen as many 125-pound fighters have already been released.
Crosby on bantamweight: Cejudo will begin the year by continuing his incredible run and becoming a dual-champion in taking the bantamweight crown from Dillashaw. He’ll end the year with that bantamweight title around his waist, likely after defeating Dillashaw in a rematch and one other contender from the top five.
Campbell on featherweight: Ortega showed so much championship heart and determination in his TKO loss to Max Holloway that it wouldn’t be a surprise, should UFC president follow through on his wish of moving the champion up to lightweight, to see Ortega become the next champion. The submission specialist appeared to hurt Holloway on his feet multiple times midway through the fight until a volume of pinpoint strikes led the cage-side doctor to end the fight after four rounds due to Ortega’s grotesquely swollen left eye. Outside of newcomer Alexander Volkanovski, who looked great in sending Chad Mendes into retirement at UFC 232 in December, featherweight is particularly lacking in terms of credible contenders that Ortega hasn’t already beaten.
Campbell on lightweight: Let’s face it, no one is more deserving of a title opportunity in entire sport than Ferguson is at lightweight in the midst of an 11-fight winning streak. He also may be the only fighter crazy enough with his volume striking style and sadistic indifference to walking through pain to hand champion Khabib Nurmagomedov his first pro defeat. Considering this is a fight that has been booked four separate times and has yet to come to fruition due to freak injuries and weight issues, it’s hard to imagine it actually happens. But it’s a fight that should happen next and Ferguson very well may be the last man standing in this insanely competitive division when all is said and done.
Wise on welterweight: My pick for the most fun division and title fights in 2019, I think Usman is the last man standing at the end of the year. Woodley and Colby Covington will continue to trade barbs (and then punches) before Usman gets his shot at the winner. In the end, I think Usman’s overall game is better than both guys and he could have a similar reign to Woodley for some time to come.
Wise on middleweight: What could be coming down the pipe at 185 pounds is what fight fans should really be excited about. Given that Adesanya and Whittaker both win at UFC 234, the two should have a date set for this summer with the winner likely holding on to that title for quite some time without a true challenger on the way up. In the end, I trust “The Style Bender” to deliver the goods.
Crosby on light heavyweight: I’m going out on a limb here slightly because I understand most believe Jones will move up to heavyweight at some point this year to challenge rival Cormier for the title. I don’t see that happening, as Jones will stay at 205 pounds where he may very well face Cormier again. From there, Jones will defend the light heavyweight title against someone the likes of an Anthony Smith or Corey Anderson.
Campbell on heavyweight: UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is such a great friend that he once moved down a division and went on to hold the promotion’s light heavyweight title in order to not get in the way of teammate and friend Velasquez’s title plans. Would DC be willing to do the same once again with the possibility of a Jon Jones trilogy ahead of him and a self-imposed retirement at age 40? It’s not a surreal thought and it’s one made more likely by the fact that Velasquez, a former two-time champion, is finally returning from a two-plus year injury in February when he faces Francis Ngannou. Should DC choose to chase Jones at 205 and give up his heavyweight belt, a vacant title bout involving Velasquez and Stipe Miocic would be appointment viewing. Considering many already believe that the often-injured Velasquez, when healthy, is the greatest heavyweight UFC has ever known, seeing him close out 2019 with the title around his waist for the third time wouldn’t be out of the question at age 36.
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