Fights the UFC Needs to Make Happen in the 2nd Half of 2019
We're halfway through 2019, and the UFC has given fight fans a lot to cheer about. As the calendar continues to turn, there are still numerous fights on the docket to anticipate.
Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya, Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic II, Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm and Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington are some to look forward to. But there could be more.
There are a number of fights that are not booked yet that should be given consideration, both with and without titles on the line. The UFC has a stacked roster of talent chomping at the bit for top-level fights and a sea of fans waiting for its next Fight of the Year contender.
So, let's help the UFC out. Let's give them some fights they can add to their slate for the remaining days of 2019.
Jon Jones vs. the Heavyweight Champion
Let's begin with an easy one, shall we? Jon Jones, assuming he beats his second-straight middleweight challenger Thiago Santos, should challenge for the UFC heavyweight championship.
The fight makes too much sense if Cormier defeats Miocic. Jones has already beaten him twice at light heavyweight, and Cormier's surge of finishes in the heavyweight division adds an element of intrigue to the rivalry.
Cormier getting one final crack at Jones before retirement is a great story, and should nothing change, then Jones gets passed the heavyweight torch.
Should Miocic win, the fight is still viable. Jones and Miocic briefly teased a fight earlier this year via social media.
Jones' move to heavyweight has been anticipated for years. After getting through another challenger for his light heavyweight title, it will be time for the big challenges under the UFC banner. There is nothing left to prove at light heavyweight at this time.
Jones vs. whomever the champion may be would make for a stellar end-of-year main event.
Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren
This fight should have already been rebooked. Instead, the UFC has given Ben Askren a date with Jorge Masvidal.
Win or lose against Masvidal, the UFC should still run this one back. Robbie Lawler deserves the rematch, and the welterweight title situation is set for the time being with Usman due to fight Covington.
In the first meeting, Lawler slammed and pummeled Askren. He was near a finish. Askren's mettle was on display, and he survived. He then got a bulldog choke on Lawler. That is where the controversy began. Without tapping, the referee stopped the fight and awarded Askren the win.
Why should Askren move forward until this fight is appropriately settled?
Askren vs. Lawler deserves another go around inside the Octagon. Anything other than a rematch doesn't make sense.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson
The strawweight division is in a bit of a holding pattern after the UFC granted Weili Zhang a title shot against Jessica Andrade. The next contender, presumably, is Tatiana Suarez. Thus, there is no title shot to be had for the remaining contenders in 2019.
But it doesn't mean the division is without interesting fights between those contenders.
Michelle Waterson and Joanna Jedrzejczyk would be a sensational matchup between two of the best strikers in the division. And the stakes remain high as the winner would be a logical choice for a crack at the gold in 2020.
And it would be a banger.
Waterson and Jedrzejczyk have never met previously. The fresh matchup offers fans a top-tier strawweight tilt with meaning without retreading past bouts between ranked opponents. It's the best option the UFC has to keep both women active and fighting elite competition.
Henry Cejudo vs. Joseph Benavidez
The flyweight division is sticking around, and Henry Cejudo is still its champion. The UFC needs to book a title fight in the division before the end of the year, and Joseph Benavidez deserves the shot.
While Cejudo is riding high at the moment, it cannot be forgotten that his last loss came at the hands of Benavidez.
Cejudo should get a chance to get that win back and firmly establish that he is the best flyweight in the UFC. Because with that victory, Benavidez has a claim to the throne. The previous fight, which ended in a split decision, gives the UFC a little backstory to sell it to the masses.
Cejudo could defend the bantamweight title against Aljamain Sterling, but there is no backstory or reason for the fight. The flyweight title is a more pressing issue as the UFC needs to reinvigorate the division. Benavidez has earned the shot, and it is a rematch that Cejudo should want as well.
Julianna Pena vs. Katlyn Chookagian
Former bantamweight contender Julianna Pena hasn't been seen inside the cage since a January 2017 loss to Valentina Shevchenko. She took time off to start a family, but she is now ready to get back in the cage. She posted on her Instagram that she is ready for a return, as MMAJunkie.com's Mike Bohn noted.
That is Pena's true weight class. Like various others, she moved up to 135 to join the UFC before they had a flyweight division. Once the UFC announced their intentions to open a 125-pound classification, Pena was one of the first to speak up on how she would like to join their ranks, according to FoxSports.com's Damon Martin.
Pena wants to fight at 125? Check. Pena is nearing a return? Check.
So, who should she fight?
The division is thin, and Pena is a former top contender at a higher weight class. She should be thrown right into a title eliminator. Katlyn Chookagian is the No. 2-ranked contender in the division and primed for a title eliminator of this magnitude.
Should Pena win, she has an interesting story to be told opposite Shevchenko. Their first meeting was a title eliminator at 135, and Pena showed well against Shevchenko before being caught in an armbar. In a division many see as lopsided due to Shevchenko's presence, Pena is a credible contender who can be seen as a legitimate threat to the champion.
Justin Gaethje vs. Donald Cerrone
Donald Cerrone came up short against Tony Ferguson in a probable title eliminator, but he still put on an entertaining fight. With the title situation locked up with Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier and Ferguson waiting in the wings, Cerrone can be the huckleberry for another waiting contender.
And who better than Justin Gaethje?
If the UFC wants to book a fun lightweight scrap while the title situation gets worked out, then why not pull the trigger on this powder keg?
Gaethje has looked great in his last two outings. While Cerrone is coming off a loss, he is still a bigger name and top contender in the division. The fight still makes sense, and the winner could jump into the title picture for 2020.
The one hope for this potential fight is that it is a Fight Night main event. That way it will be scheduled for five rounds. While it would be unlikely that the fight would need the full 25-minutes, scheduling it for 15 would be a woeful misstep by the UFC.
Give us this war.
Tatiana Suarez vs. the Strawweight Champion
Suarez looked to have locked up a title fight at UFC 238 when she defeated Nina Ansaroff. However, the UFC gifted Zhang that title shot against Andrade.
But Suarez wasn't disappointed with the decision. She appeared on The Luke Thomas Show on SirusXM and stated that she entered UFC 238 with a neck injury. The Andrade vs. Zhang fight will give her time to address the injury and return at 100 percent.
And when she returns, she should get the title shot. Period.
Suarez doesn't need another title eliminator and shouldn't be usurped by former champion Rose Namajunas. She is the No. 1 contender no matter what the UFC's official rankings say. Suarez not being at No. 1 only goes to discredit their internal rankings. Suarez is at the top.
More importantly for the UFC, fans are buying into Suarez. Per MMAFighting.com's Dave Meltzer, the UFC 238 prelims on ESPN that Suarez headlined gave the UFC its best performance in months, with it peaking at 1.2 million viewers for Suarez-Ansaroff.
Suarez is the present and future of the division. She has done everything she needs to earn the title shot regardless of who walks out of China with it around their waist.
Suarez is next.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz III
The UFC needs to get Conor McGregor back in the cage. Prior to UFC 238, Cerrone was the easy choice. While Cerrone is still a quality option, Nate Diaz is the right choice following Cerrone's defeat.
McGregor's coach, John Kavanagh, told ESPN's Ariel Helwani that he prefers the Diaz trilogy. Kavanagh has made the right read.
Diaz appeared on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show earlier in June, but he said he didn't want the McGregor fight. However, his response sounded more like traditional smack talk than a truthful denial that he doesn't want that fight. His response sets up the trilogy more than anything else.
Diaz said: "I'm interested in winners. He lost his last fight, and I won my last fight. You think I'm trying to fight someone who just got his ass beat all over the place? I'm a black belt in jiu-jitsu. That s--t wouldn't happen to me."
However, Diaz did not win his last fight. It was a decision loss to McGregor.
Diaz is set to fight Anthony Pettis at UFC 241, but win, lose or draw, the McGregor trilogy is the right call.
It does the best business for McGregor, Diaz and the UFC—something all three parties would be interested in. It also settles the score of one of the UFC's most entertaining rivalries in and out of the cage. Both men have won one fight against the other. Settle the trilogy, cash the checks and prepare for a massive 2020.