2020 has been an unusual year for sports. When humanity was struck with a global pandemic that disrupted and uprooted millions of lives, a return to normalcy and stability seemed out of reach, even for the realm of pro sports. But despite the upheaval, the UFC has managed to stay relevant and has produced exciting fights all year.
Coming out of the gates hot with a thrilling clash between Jon Jones and Dominick Reyes in the beginning of February, to debatably the fight of the year between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk in early March, the UFC continued to generate excellent fights despite all the setbacks from COVID (ESPN). Whether it was the jaw-dropping bout between Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson in the beginning of May, to the fierce battle between Dan Hooker and Dustin Poirier, to a fight island showdown in Abu Dhabi featuring Max Holloway versus Alexander Volkanovski and Kamaru Usman versus Jorge Masvidal, 2020 has been a legendary year for the UFC; and believe it or not, it’s far from over.
With the highly anticipated heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic less than a week away and the Khabib/Gaethje showdown already set for October, Dana White continued to build upon this exciting year by recently announcing that middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will be defending his belt against Paulo Costa come September 19th (ESPN). But outside of these three bouts, there’s still plenty of big fights to be had before the year is up. With a handful of cards still yet to be announced or even filled, Dana White has a lot of room to work with and it’s only a matter of time before more big fights will be scheduled.
However, the lingering question that has yet to be answered, is which fights should the UFC set up before the end of 2020? Here’s my top five must-see fights before the year concludes:
#5 Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns: After a clinical victory against Masvidal in July, Usman virtually looks untouchable in his division. After taking out Tyron Woodley to get the belt, Usman pounded Colby Covington and dominated Masvidal, leaving pretty much no one left to fight besides Gilbert Burns. Initially scheduled to fight each other in July (before Burns was diagnosed with the coronavirus), Burns remains to be the most dangerous contender left for Usman to check off his list and is one of the most underrated challengers he’s yet to face. Coming off a 6-fight winning streak, Burns is strong wrestler with knockout power that flattened veteran Demian Maia earlier in March (ESPN). Ever since he’s moved up from 155 to 170, Burns has adapted extremely well and has proven how deadly he can be with the strength he’s put on. Although Usman just fought, this is a big fight White might want to reschedule at the end of the year. We all know Usman and Burns will face each other at some point; it’s just a matter of when.
#4 Tony Ferguson vs Dustin Poirier: Yes, it can’t be said enough! This fight speaks for itself in every which way possible. With Tony Ferguson sitting at third in the lightweight rankings and Dustin Poirier in second, this fight would decide who is worthier for the next title shot, something both fighters have been longing to reclaim (UFC). If you thought the Poirier/Hooker fight was good, this clash has the potential to be much better, considering that both fighters are two of the best strikers in the UFC. What’s unique about this fight is that surprisingly, it’s never happened before, presenting a very new and unfamiliar challenge for both Ferguson and Poirier. Whether Dana White will schedule this fight prior to Gaethje’s and Khabib’s showdown in October, is still uncertain. But there’s no reason why it can’t happen. And ending the year with a fight between Poirier and Ferguson, would cap off an incredible 2020 for the UFC.
#3 Petr Yan vs Marlon Moraes: If you had the opportunity to watch Petr Yan fight in UFC 251 when he took on Jose Aldo, you can understand why this young Russian fighter is the new champion of the bantamweight division. Over the course of almost five full rounds, Yan gradually increased the pace and pressure against Aldo, hammering down power shots with precision and authority that led to a brutal KO/TKO finish (ESPN). Although Aldo is certainly an elite fighter, he’s not in his prime anymore and is currently sitting outside of the top five in the division (UFC). Marlon Moraes on the other hand, is one of the best fighters in the bantamweight division and is the number one contender as well. Coming off a victory against Jose Aldo last December, Moraes is eager to get his redemption after losing badly to Henry Cejudo roughly a year ago (ESPN). In addition, there’s really no one else for Moraes to fight outside of Cody Garbrandt, who has recently been scheduled to fight the flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo in November (ESPN). I wouldn’t expect this matchup to be announced soon, but everyone saw just what kind of fighter Yan is. And setting him up with the most dangerous opponent in his division, would make for an electrifying showdown. If there’s one big bantamweight fight that White should schedule before the end of the year, it has to be this one.
#2 Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos: The first time this fight happened, it was nearly impossible not to cringe at the gimpy effort from Thiago Santos after he suffered ACL, MCL, PCL, and Meniscus injuries against Jon Jones that night. In addition, what made it more frustrating is that before his knee blew out, Santos was putting together a good fight. And for it to end like that, was simply disappointing and calls for a rematch. After Jones scraped by with a controversial unanimous decision victory against Reyes in his previous fight, it’s unlikely a rematch between the two of them would happen this year. But at 36 years-old and with over a year of rest, it’s time for Santos to get back into the octagon and fulfill his legacy before he fades out of his prime. Don’t forget, Santos is still listed as the #2 contender in the light-heavyweight division under the UFC rankings; and a rematch against Jones this year, is only fitting.
#1 Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Brian Ortega: That’s your number one fight?! Absolutely! We just saw the rematch between Volkanovski and Holloway; so any fight relating to those two gentlemen, could be out of reach for the remainder of the year. But on the contrary, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Brian Ortega haven’t fought in a very long time (Zabit’s last fight was in November and Ortega’s was in December of 2018…). Ortega, who came off a brutal loss to Holloway, is in dire need of a bounce back victory. Moreover, Zabit is one of the deadliest strikers in the division right now, which grants Ortega a great opportunity to prepare himself for a title shot against Holloway or Volkanovski if the time comes. Don’t forget that Ortega has been a sitting duck at the #2 overall position in his divisional rankings for far too long now (UFC). And if you’re going to own that position, then you have to step up and take on the big fights that come with it, and Zabit is a suitable opponent for Ortega’s return. Although Zabit recently called out Volkanovski for the belt, the only two, notable fighters he’s defeated in his division consist of Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens, which doesn’t speak much volume for a title contender (ESPN). However, a victory against Ortega would place Zabit immediately into the title shot position he’s looking for, and that’s an opportunity he should embrace since it’s unclear if Volkanovski will want to return to the octagon this year. When all is said and done, this matchup is number one on my list because it has everything to be a thrilling showdown, that at the same time, contains so much at stake for both fighters. And if the UFC could set this up, the fans would be in store for a special treat.