Two years have passed since Zuffa – the former owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, who were instrumental in bringing UFC and the sport of MMA as a whole to it’s current state – have sold the company and turned the reigns over to the new owners, WME-IMG. While the new ownership kept the long time President Dana White at the helm, many things have changed under the WME banner: the match makers and overall approach to match-making, the broadcast team, expansion of women’s weight classes, and of course the ever-changing stream of champions – regular, interim, multiple-weight-division, disputed and undisputed. The highlights of 2018 included Khabib Nurmagomedov defeating Conor McGregor in the highest-selling Pay-Per-View (PPV) event in UFC history, Daniel Cormier winning and defending the heavyweight title while simultaneously holding the light-heavyweight belt, and Amanda Nunes ending Cris Cyborg’s 13-year undefeated streak and becoming the first woman to earn the “champ-champ” accolade. But there is a flip side to every coin: Khabib’s win was followed by a near-brawl between the fighters’ corners, resulting in a yet-to-be determined punishment for the lightweight champ, which does not help clean up the already confusing title picture at 155 lbs. Cormier was forced to give up his light-heavyweight title to pave way for the return of his nemesis Jon ‘Bones’ Jones – which turned into a huge fiasco due to Jon’s continued inability to pass a PED test, and the UFC’s willingness to sweep it all under the rug. Nunes’ win (or more precisely, Cyborg’s loss) raised serious questions about the viability of women’s featherweight division. And I haven’t even mentioned the first ever fighter trade between major MMA organizations, as UFC released Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson to fight for Singapore-based ONE Championship promotion, in return for acquiring the services of welterweight wrestling prodigy Ben Askren.
The only thing that remains constant in the world of MMA is the inevitability of change. This may be mostly due to it still being a relatively new sport which is trying to establish it’s long-term identity. The behind-the-scenes turmoil only adds to unpredictability of what is already an inherently unpredictable sport in terms of fight outcomes: the fact that there are so many ways to win a mixed martial arts bout makes it significantly more likely to see unexpected outcomes in MMA than boxing, or any other combat sport with a more restrictive rule set. And don’t even get me started on MMA judging: if a relatively close bout goes the distance, you might as well flip a coin to predict the judges’ decision. This makes MMA a tricky sport to bet on; however it also makes the reward sweeter when you do get it right. It also makes watching the fights that much more exciting when you have something riding on the outcome. So if you think that you can predict the winner of the next big fight and are willing to put your money where your mouth is, there are many resources available to place a bet online. With all that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on what 2019 will hold for the UFC.