The UFC begins its 2020 schedule with a bang on Saturday, January 18 in Las Vegas as “The Notorious” Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon to square off with veteran gunslinger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the main event of UFC 246.
But the first fight card of the year is just the beginning of what is shaping up to be an action-packed year inside the UFC cage, with the February slate featuring three championship bouts plus several other high octane pairings and a collection of bouts already announced for March and April packing a serious punch.
Here’s an advance look at some of the exciting contests set to hit the Octagon later this year.
After a massive breakthrough year in 2019, China’s first UFC champion, Zhang Weili, returns to the Octagon to defend her strawweight title for the first time against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the former champion who looks to reclaim her throne and end Zhang’s reign before it ever really gets rolling.
Zhang’s championship-winning effort against Jessica Andrade at the end of August might have been the most impressive and eye-opening championship effort of the year. While many believed the streaking challenger had the potential to unseat the Brazilian titleholder, few expected she would blitz and finish the champion in just 42 seconds amidst a hailstorm of knees and punches.
Currently riding an incredible 20-fight winning streak that includes 17 finishes, the 30-year-old champion has the potential to become a massive star and dominant force in the division, but first she has to get through Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 on March 8.
It’s been a rocky couple of years for the Polish standout, both inside and outside the cage, but Jedrzejczyk delivered a dominant performance that harkened back to her days atop the division in her lone appearance of 2019, outworking Michelle Waterson en route to a near-shutout decision win. The longest reigning champion in strawweight division history, Jedrzejczyk would like nothing more than to begin 2020 by once again becoming “Joanna Champion.”
This one has the potential to be the best fight in the division’s history, and regardless of how it plays out, don’t be surprised if this becomes the first of several memorable battles between these two ultra-talented competitors.
Now entering his sixth year on the UFC roster, China’s Li Jingliang is like that veteran who just quietly goes about his business, steadily putting up better numbers than you remember until you look up and realize he’s deserving of All-Star consideration.
Since alternating wins and losses over his first four UFC appearances, “The Leech” has posted seven wins in his last eight fights, including consecutive third-round stoppage wins, to climb into the Top 15 in the welterweight division.
Up next is a showdown with Top 10 fixture Neil Magny, a conditioning machine with Go-Go-Gadget limbs and a 14-6 record inside the Octagon. Out of action since November 2018, you can be sure the mild-mannered Elevation Fight Team member will be looking to make an impact in his return to put himself right back in the thick of the welterweight title conversation by halting Li’s extended run of success.
Johnny Walker and Nikita Krylov have a combined 53 career fights between them; 51 of them have ended inside the distance.
Bottom line: someone is getting finished.
The light heavyweight cult figures are two of the most consistently exciting fighters on the roster and they pursue stoppages with reckless abandon, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way in order to thrill the fans and avoid long nights inside the UFC cage.
This matchup feels like one of those classic Hollywood setups where the young upstart has to topple the cagey veteran in order to take the next step forward in his career, with Brazil’s Formiga playing the role of the savvy vet and Moreno serving as the emerging talent.
Once considered the top flyweight in the world, Formiga hasn’t been able to match that form since moving to the UFC, but he’s been a Top 5 fixture throughout his 14-fight run in the Octagon, registering nine victories and only ever falling to elite competition.
Moreno began his UFC career like he was shot out of a cannon, winning three straight to emerge as a surprise contender before stumbling in back-to-back contests. After a one-fight absence, he was called back to the Octagon last fall, earning a win and a draw in two starts. Tough as nails and consistently showing improved skill, the 26-year-old Mexican could earn himself a flyweight title shot with an impressive showing against the Brazilian stalwart in this one.
This feels like the UFC equivalent of a summer Hollywood blockbuster, as these two heavyweight behemoths with menacing power go head-to-head in a clash to determine the top contender in the division.
Ngannou had a terrifying first half of 2019, needing a combined 97 seconds to ice Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos to push his winning streak to three and returning to being one of the scariest figures in UFC history. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik went from making his debut in February to knocking out Alistair Overeem in the final seconds of his first UFC main event at the start of December, finishing with a 4-0 record, getting the top spot in Thomas Gerbasi’s collection of newcomers and (clears throat) calling out Ngannou by name specifically because he’s the scariest dude in the division.
The tension in the building when these two finally stand across from each other and the fight begins is going to be palpable and there is a high probability that this one will produce an early Knockout of the Year candidate.
Get your popcorn ready.
All right, so this one isn’t happening in March, but it’s on the calendar for mid-April and we’re so excited for it that we had to include it here.
These are, without question, the two best lightweights in the world, and after multiple failed attempts to have them share the cage, we’re once again trending towards Nurmagomedov and Ferguson meeting in the center of the Octagon to resolve their longstanding rivalry.
Here’s how you know this is one of the most highly anticipated fights of all-time: Nurmagomedov is a perfect 28-0 in his career and has only lost a handful of rounds during that time and yet just about every expert and pundit in the business can give you a list of potential ways for Ferguson to secure a victory.
Every day we get closer to this one happening, it becomes a little more exciting.
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