B/R Staff Roundtable: Bold Predictions for MMA in 2020
Fortune favors the bold.
Or so says that Latin proverb.
But it's hard to argue that axiom applies all that well to combat sports. After all, how many fighters over the course of the UFC's 26-year history have bravely stormed up a divisional tree, only to find out that it was just a little bit too big for them to climb?
Still, the Bleacher Report MMA crew never shies away from making bold proclamations, and that's especially the case around the start of every new calendar year.
We like to think we have access to the least foggy crystal ball in all the combat sports world. And we're not afraid to use it.
Here are the boldest predictions you will find anywhere about the upcoming year in MMA.
Taylor: Khabib Catches 1st Loss
Tom Taylor: UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov is the closest thing we've seen to an unbeatable fighter in MMA. With the exception of a controversial decision win over Gleison Tibau in 2012—it's amazing that fight isn't brought up more often—he's never been anywhere near a loss.
Yes, he got tagged a bit in his fights with Michael Johnson and Conor McGregor. And yes, Dustin Poirier briefly had him tied up in a guillotine choke when they fought in 2019. But focusing on those fleeting patches of adversity is straw-grasping at its finest.
He's simply the greatest unsolved puzzle in our sport.
I have a sneaking suspicion somebody will finally solve it in 2020.
Nurmagomedov's first fight of the year will go down at UFC 249 on April 18, when, barring another fight-derailing disaster, he will attempt to defend his title against Tony Ferguson. If he gets by Ferguson, his next challenge thereafter will probably be provided by Justin Gaethje or Conor McGregor.
It's not that I favor Ferguson, Gaethje or McGregor specifically against Nurmagomedov, but that's as terrifying a procession of opponents as you will find, and the champ getting through all three seems unlikely to me.
Ferguson is a berserker. He has no fear and frequently throws caution to the wind to land outlandish maneuvers that would probably be better left in the Tekken universe.
Gaethje is just as fearless as Ferguson—and possibly even scarier because of his unbelievable durability and brain-scrambling punching power.
McGregor has lost to Nurmagomedov before but remains one of the finest sharpshooters in the sport and would benefit from being the first fighter to get a second stab at the Russian.
Nurmagomedov can definitely beat all of these guys, but I think one of them will catch him, and I think it could happen this year.
Fitzsimmons: Claressa Shields Beats Amanda Nunes
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'll concede to having reached politician-level wavering on this one.
Whether it's a tepid guess that the UFC will add a weight class to a Carolina Reaper-quality vibe that Floyd Mayweather will not only re-enter the combat sports fray but do so in an actual mixed martial arts match, it's difficult to zero in on a pick with the proper balance of boldness and reality.
But darn it! Kelsey is as good a motivational speaker as we have at B/R HQ, so I've got to press on.
For his sake.
Toward that end, I'm going to focus on the women. And more specifically, on the greatest woman to ever compete under the UFC banner: multi-division champ-killer Amanda Nunes.
It says here that the Brazilian virtuoso will lose in 2020.
Yes. I said LOSE.
Something she's done as a UFC competitor just once in 13 fights. And something that's not happened in any circumstance since 2014—when needle-mover McGregor was still a pay-per-view newbie and the only tests failed by Jon Jones had come in classrooms, not clinics.
But when it happens, it will carry an asterisk. Because like her Notorious comrade two-plus years ago, the competitive shortcoming will come not in an Octagon but a boxing ring.
Indeed, the jiu-jitsu black belt will meet her match when pitted against Olympic and professional trinket-collector Claressa Shields, who will vie for her third weight class boxing championship along the frigid New Jersey shoreline Friday night in Atlantic City—with Nunes looking on from ringside.
The drums began beating for a get-together when Shields was invited to attend Nunes' five-round smothering of former UFC featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie in Las Vegas in December. And Shields' promoter returned the favor with an invite for Nunes to Friday's event at the Ocean Casino Resort.
Shields, in fact, has gone all-in on the idea of facing Nunes in both boxing and MMA environments and has enlisted the help of Jones himself for a mini-training camp to get up to grappling speed.
It's an admirable quest for greatness—or at least novelty—for the ring master known as T-Rex.
And assuming the squared-circle encounter comes first, mark it down as a rare L for the Lioness.
McCarson: Mayweather vs. McGregor 2
Kelsey McCarson: You won't be able to say nobody warned you about it later this year when Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor 2 is announced.
Yes, it's going to happen again. No, it won't be inside the Octagon.
Look, UFC President Dana White already said he made some kind of deal with Mayweather that would lead to the undefeated boxer competing sometime in 2020, and he also said it would probably be a crossover event that involved boxing.
So here's the question you have to ask yourself about this whole White and Mayweather working together thing.
Who else would Mayweather want to fight?
I could go through the entire list of options for you, but you already know the score.
Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn't make sense because he's nowhere near competent enough a boxer to seriously compete.
A much as everyone seems to love Jorge Masvidal these days, the UFC BMF champion weighs 170 pounds. Mayweather never ventured past 154 during his prime years as a fighter. You think he's looking to do it now at 42?
But the most obvious reason Mayweather vs. McGregor 2 is going to happen is that the first fight was the second-highest-selling PPV event ever.
With that kind of selling power, it's kind of amazing these fighters haven't already fought three more times by now anyway.