You know the UFC wasn’t going to ease into 2019 and its new deal with ESPN with just any event, right? So it was no surprise that the first show of the year featured a SuperFight between flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and bantamweight titleholder TJ Dillashaw. The stage was set for fireworks, but not what anyone expected, as Cejudo successfully defended his crown with a 32-second knockout victory.
Welcome to 2019.
While Cejudo set the stage for a big year in the Octagon, it’s key to point out that it wasn’t just the veterans of the sport making noise. By the end of the summer, a new set of prospects from Dana White’s Contender Series were signed to the promotion, joining season two standouts Alonzo Menifield, Greg Hardy, Ryan Spann, Antonina Shevchenko, Maycee Barber, Edmen Shahbazyan, Sodiq Yusuff, Ian Heinisch, Roosevelt Roberts, Devonte Smith, Augusto Sakai and Johnny Walker that already had fight fans ready to see the new generation in action.
But while the time for those fighters would come, the existing stars in the promotion were still doing work in the Octagon and setting the bar high.
One of those stars on the rise was Israel Adesanya, and he made a statement in his biggest fight to date when he defeated one of his MMA heroes, Anderson Silva, in the main event of UFC 234 in February. Later that month, Francis Ngannou was in scary form as he spoiled the comeback of former champion Cain Velasquez in just 26 seconds.
On March 2, a huge pay-per-view show took place in Las Vegas, and at UFC 235, Jon Jones successfully defended his 205-pound title against Anthony Smith, Kamaru Usman took Tyron Woodley’s welterweight belt, and highly-touted Ben Askren made his UFC debut with a win over Robbie Lawler.
Yet waiting in the wings to steal 2019 from everyone in his path was none other than welterweight veteran Jorge Masvidal, who kicked off the best year of his career in March with a second-round knockout of Darren Till in London. Also in March, Anthony Pettis visited the 170-pound division for the first time as a UFC fighter and it was quite a success as he knocked out former title challenger Stephen Thompson with a Superman punch in the second round.
If fans thought March was eventful, April upped the ante with the UFC 236 card, as two of the best fights of the year thrilled fans in Atlanta. In the main event, Dustin Poirier defeated featherweight champ Max Holloway for the interim lightweight title, and in the co-feature, Adesanya scored a stirring five-round decision win over Kelvin Gastelum to earn the interim middleweight belt.
A title changed hands in May when Jessica Andrade slammed the strawweight title belt out of the grasp of Rose Namajunas at UFC 237, while Brazilian legends Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo met defeat at the hands of Jared Cannonier and Alexander Volkanovski, respectively.
After Dillashaw was stripped of his bantamweight title and suspended for a USADA violation, Cejudo and Marlon Moraes were selected to fight for the vacant belt at UFC 238 in June, and it was Cejudo becoming the newest double champ after his third-round TKO of his opponent. In the co-feature in Chicago, Valentina Shevchenko knocked out Jessica Eye to retain her women’s flyweight crown.
To end June, Ngannou took out another former heavyweight champion, as he halted Junior Dos Santos in 71 seconds in Minneapolis, and then it was off to International Fight Week, where Jones decisioned Thiago Santos, Nunes knocked out Holly Holm, and Masvidal stole the show with the fastest knockout in UFC history, as he needed just five seconds to finish Askren.
It was a star-studded cast joining the UFC Hall of Fame during IFW, with Michael Bisping, Rashad Evans, Rich Franklin and the fight between Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida all getting their place with the greats.
The month ended with Max Holloway and Cris Cyborg successfully defending their titles against Frankie Edgar and Felicia Spencer, respectively, and in August it was Shevchenko doing the same against Liz Carmouche.
A week after Shevchenko-Carmouche, Stipe Miocic regained his heavyweight title with a fourth-round knockout of Daniel Cormier, and Nate Diaz made a triumphant return with a decision win over Pettis.
Not all champs kept their titles, though, and on August 31, Zhang Weili became the first fighter from China to win a UFC title when she stopped Andrade in 42 seconds to win the strawweight championship.
In September, the Octagon returned to Abu Dhabi for UFC 242, and Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title for the second time with a submission of Poirier.
Contenders and prospects battled it out for the rest of the month, setting up an October where Adesanya became undisputed middleweight champion with a stoppage of Robert Whittaker in front of over 57,000 fans in Melbourne, Australia.
It would be hard to top that, but the UFC tried for its Madison Square Garden show in November, as it created the inaugural BMF belt to be awarded to the winner of the UFC 244 main event between Masvidal and Diaz. And on a night where President Donald Trump was in attendance, it was Masvidal getting the win by third-round TKO.
But the big events weren’t over, as UFC 245 featured three title fights in Las Vegas. The last time that happened, all three titles changed hands, but that wasn’t the case at T-Mobile Arena, as only Alexander Volkanovski unseated a reigning champ, beating Max Holloway to take the featherweight title. In the other two title fights, Nunes defeated Germaine de Randamie via decision and Usman stopped his heated rival Colby Covington in the fifth round of the main event.
2019? It was a heck of a year.
Israel Adesanya-Kelvin Gastelum
Kamaru Usman-Colby Covington
Paulo Costa-Yoel Romero
Dustin Poirier-Max Holloway II
Vicente Luque-Bryan Barberena
Jorge Masvidal-Ben Askren
Valentina Shevchenko-Jessica Eye
Aleksandar Rakic-Jimi Manuwa
Niko Price-James Vick
Kevin Lee-Gregor Gillespie
Bryce Mitchell-Matt Sayles
Khabib Nurmagomedov-Dustin Poirier
Demian Maia-Ben Askren
Marlon Moraes-Raphael Assuncao II
Ovince Saint Preux-Michal Oleksiejczuk