McGregor vs. Gaethje and other UFC fights I’d like to see in 2020

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When I put together a “Fights I want to see” list going into 2019, the No. 1 matchup was Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson. Well, it didn’t happen, and — spoiler alert — Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson is still the No. 1 fight I want to see.

The good news is, as we head into 2020, that matchup is on the books. UFC 249 on April 18 in Brooklyn. We’re getting there.

I want to see this fight, first and foremost, because it will determine the best lightweight on the planet. Yes, right now that distinction has to go to Nurmagomedov. But there is this shred of doubt in Nurmagomedov’s claim as the best, because he hasn’t proved it against Ferguson yet. It’s a fight that has to happen.

There’s another layer to this contest, of course — that it’s the most cursed matchup in UFC history. The UFC has booked it four times previously only to see it fall through, including once because Ferguson tripped over a TV studio cable in 2018 and pulled out of the fight on April Fools’ Day.

All of that is in the past, though. I don’t believe in jinxes, so I’m going to come right out and say it: I guarantee this fight happens on April 18, 2020. The Okamoto guarantee. We’ve suffered enough, but it will be worth the wait.

And with that settled, here are some other fights (in no particular order) I would like to see in 2020.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington, welterweight

“Friends turned enemies” is one of the most cliché storylines you can have surrounding a fight … but I’m still a sucker for it. Masvidal and Covington are former friends, training partners and roommates — but their dislike for each other now is clearly genuine. We like asking fighters, “Is this one personal to you?” Well, there’s no question this would be deeply personal for both. Covington failed to capture the title at UFC 245, which I believe would have set up a fight against Masvidal immediately, but I still hope we somehow arrive at this one in 2020.

Conor McGregor vs. Justin Gaethje, lightweight

McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone on Jan. 18 is a great fight. I love it. McGregor vs. the guy who holds the most wins in UFC history. But I do have to say, I would have loved McGregor vs. Gaethje more. McGregor is talking a big game (surprise, surprise) going into 2020. He’s talking BMF belts and Nurmagomedov rematches, and I’m all for it. But there’s no way he should jump Gaethje in line at 155 pounds, unless he beats him. That’s the No. 1 contender fight in the UFC’s most exciting division. Look, I don’t need more spectacle from McGregor. I don’t need him moving to 170 for BMF belts. The most intriguing thing he could do this year is prove he’s the best lightweight in the world. And that path includes a fight against Gaethje.

Nate Diaz vs. Dustin Poirier, lightweight

This was supposed to happen last November but didn’t — for reasons that differ, depending on whom you ask. I won’t lie to you, there are problems with this matchup. Namely, I don’t think it would excite Diaz. But I don’t see a better option right now. Diaz prefers to compete at 170 pounds these days, but which opponent makes sense? He also considers himself a pay-per-view headliner, and I’m not sure a fight against Poirier qualifies. For those reasons, I’m not optimistic we actually see this — but I’d love to watch it. Poirier’s stock went up in 2019. There’s a history between these two. Stylistically, it’s one of the most exciting matchups either could be in. It’s just a darn good fight.

Israel Adesanya (c) vs. Paulo Costa, middleweight

Two undefeated fighters who are confident in their stand-up and do not like each other. Take my money. Adesanya has had his eye on Costa since as early as last summer. Costa has promised nothing short of serious bodily harm to Adesanya when they do meet. I thought we were going to see this matchup earlier, as both climbed the ranks — but Adesanya got to the title so fast, it didn’t happen. Well, the circumstances are even better now.

Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou, heavyweight

Is 2020 the year Jones moves to heavyweight? I vote yes. He has made his point at light heavyweight. And as great as a fight between Jones and the current champion, Stipe Miocic, would be, Ngannou is the scariest dude on the planet. Miocic is the baddest, but Ngannou is the scariest. You’d think this fight would have to happen with the heavyweight title on the line, and I’m not sure exactly how we’d get there — but that could certainly happen, and I would love to see it. There’s potential here for multiple fights, honestly, depending on how it went.

Stipe Miocic (c) vs. Daniel Cormier III, heavyweight

There’s a score to settle here. Simple as that. Cormier has said he has one fight left in his career, and it has to be against Miocic. Miocic hasn’t discussed retirement, but I wonder how many he has left as well. We could all walk away from this matchup and leave the series tied at one apiece … but there’s no fun in that. The stakes will be immeasurably high in a trilogy. It wouldn’t just be for a title. The winner will be able to say he was the greatest heavyweight of his era. The loser will not. Stakes don’t get much higher than that.

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez, featherweight

This one’s not going away. These two have to square off at some point. The UFC wanted them to in 2018, and actually briefly cut Rodriguez from the roster entirely when he turned it down. That issue was resolved and the fight was eventually made, only to fall through. Since then, Magomedsharipov has accused Rodriguez of ducking him. Rodriguez has accused Magomedsharipov of doing the same. In the meantime, all each has done is win. Trust me, this fight is inevitable. And both of them know it.

Zhang Weili (c) vs. Tatiana Suarez, strawweight

Weili has her hands full in March when she’ll defend her title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk — the most dominant strawweight of all time. But the excitement surrounding an eventual Suarez title shot remains high, even though she was unable to fight in the second half of 2019 with a neck injury. When Suarez is healthy, she’s a beast. Weili is one of the most physical athletes in the division, as is Suarez. There’s a lot of horsepower in this potential matchup.

Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Maycee Barber, flyweight

Barber would be a massive underdog in this matchup, and I wouldn’t like her chances at an upset. But she wants the opportunity, and thus far she has done everything to deserve it. Barber wants to be the youngest champion in UFC history. She wouldn’t even need to win the belt in 2020 to accomplish it — she has some time — but if she wins her next bout in January, there’s a case to be made to book a title shot next. Shevchenko is cruising through every flyweight anyway, give her a fight with a story, against an opponent who would be a major underdog but who is also, maybe, a bonafide phenom.

Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (c), bantamweight

I don’t care what UFC president Dana White says, or anyone else for that matter: Nunes is running out of competition. There are not many intriguing fights left for the female GOAT. She already has defeated Shevchenko twice, but the second fight — a five-round split decision win in 2017 — was a questionable outcome. Personally, I had Shevchenko winning that one. Look, it’s possible that the only woman who has a chance against Nunes right now is Shevchenko. And the only woman who has a chance against Shevchenko right now is Nunes. Even though we’ve seen it twice, this is the best possible matchup in women’s MMA. And I am down for a third meeting in 2020.

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