The UFC kicks off its 2020 slate with an electric pay-per-view event in Las Vegas, with “The Notorious” Conor McGregor returning to the Octagon for a showdown against veteran gunslinger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone that is guaranteed to start the year off with a bang.
But it’s not just the return of the confident and charismatic Irishman that should have fight fans excited about the first quarter of 2020 inside the UFC cage, as there are already a host of highly anticipated, action-packed fights on tap in February, including a trio of title fights and an early Fight of the Year candidate in New Zealand.
Jon Jones is the LeBron James of the UFC — a fighter who is so skilled, so talented, so next level that he’s remained the best in the game through several different eras. He was the young standout destined for greatness who dispatched former champions and massive stars at the outset of his first title reign, transitioned to vanquishing those who came up at the same time as him, and is now in the midst of dealing with the next generation of light heavyweight challengers as he readies to take on the undefeated Reyes in the main event of UFC 247.
If Jones is “King James,” Reyes is aiming to be Kawhi Leonard, the quiet, yet abundantly confident standout who currently stands as the best player in the NBA. While Leonard has already proven his excellence on the hardwood, this is Reyes’ first test of this magnitude, but he’s handled every other challenge that has been thrown his way with aplomb.
Sporting a perfect 12-0 record with nine first-round finishes, the former NFL hopeful made quick work of former middleweight champ Chris Weidman last time out and believes he is the one who will dethrone Jones and usher in a new era in the 205-pound weight class.
Two months before the latest Bond film No Time to Die hits theatres, real-life 007 Valentina Shevchenko will look to successfully defend her flyweight title for the third time as she takes on Katlyn Chookagian in the UFC 247 co-main event.
The 31-year-old champion speaks multiple languages, is handy with a firearm, kicks ass, and looks terrific in formalwear — and she also went toe-to-toe with current double-champ Amanda Nunes in a pair of close decision losses prior to moving to her natural weight class and ascending to the flyweight throne.
Sticking with the film comparisons, Chookagian has some “Rocky Balboa ahead of the first fight with Apollo Creed” vibes heading into this one, though she was born 47 miles north of Philadelphia in Quakertown. An underdog to Shevchenko, the relentless “Blonde Fighter” has shown a willingness to “get one to give one” and the tenacity to battle through tough spots throughout her career.
Can Chookagian succeed where Rocky came up short and unseat the dominant champion? Tune in on Saturday, February 8 to find out.
What happens when two of the biggest cult figures in the UFC meet inside the Octagon? We’re going to find out as Derrick Lewis welcomes Ilir Latifi to the heavyweight ranks for the first time.
Lewis has become “The People’s Champ” over the last several years due to his devastating power and one-of-a-kind sense of humor. While everyone talks about fighters only needing to land one shot, the punishing heavyweight from Houston, Texas has proven that to be the case many times over, including his iconic comeback win over Alexander Volkov.
Latifi has basically been the European equivalent to Lewis for the last several years. While he doesn’t possess his opponent’s off-kilter sense of humor and entertaining social media habits, the Swedish “Sledgehammer” is more of a fashion icon with a great sense of style and a love of riding horses shirtless on the beach. He’s also a dangerous veteran with an abundance of power and the kind of all-around skill set that could make him an immediate contender as he transitions to the heavyweight division.
While Jones and Reyes battle for the light heavyweight title in the first main event of the month, the second headlining tandem could very well determine who is next to challenge for the belt as Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz meet for a second time in hopes of securing a championship opportunity.
Anderson, who won the light heavyweight competition on Season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter, enters on a four-fight winning streak, having closed out his 2019 campaign with a blistering first-round knockout win over highly-touted Brazilian upstart Johnny Walker. “Overtime” has made consistent progress over the course of his five-year, 14-fight UFC career and is just now beginning to put it all together, positioning him as a potential breakout candidate in 2020.
The 36-year-old Blachowicz was a standout under the KSW banner before shifting to the UFC, but his time in the Octagon has followed a similar trajectory as Anderson, who got the best of things in their first meeting all the way back at UFC 191. Blachowicz went 2-4 over his first six appearances in the Octagon, but has since registered six victories in his last seven fights, highlighted by his punishing knockout of Luke Rockhold at UFC 239 last summer.
Will Blachowicz earn a measure of revenge, evening things up with Anderson while punching his ticket to a title shot or will the 30-year-old member of the “Iron Army” push his winning streak to five and move one step closer to earning that ever-elusive title shot?
In most fights, you can make a pretty reasonable guess at what’s going to happen and how things will play out, but with these two, all bets are off.
The inaugural Ultimate Fighter winner, Sanchez remains a mean-mugging bundle of kinetic energy as he sets to embark on his third decade competing inside the Octagon. The 38-year-old, who has been a part of some of the most wild and entertaining fights in UFC history, split a pair of appearances in 2019, but possesses that kind of indomitable spirit and unmatched heart that make him must-see TV every time he steps into the cage.
Pereira did a back flip off the scale during the ceremonial weigh-ins for his last fight. He’s done back flips off the cage wall in actual fights before and fights with the kind of unpredictable wildness that puts you on the edge of your seat before the bout has even started. The 26-year-old Brazilian orchestrated one of the best debut performances of 2019 with his first-round stoppage win over Danny Roberts in May and should combine with Sanchez to deliver a frenetic, unpredictable fight midway through the month.
Paul Felder and Dan Hooker are both allergic to being in boring fights and now that they’re going to share the Octagon with a place in the thick of the lightweight title chase hanging in the balance, don’t be surprised if the results are an early Fight of the Year contender.
Hooker politely asked Felder if he would like to fight when the contender and color commentator was interviewing him in the cage following his victory over Jim Miller two years ago. Since then, the 29-year-old “Hangman” has added knockout wins over Gilbert Burns and James Vick and a dominant decision victory over former title challenger Al Iaquinta to his resume, bringing his record to 6-1 since moving back to the lightweight division.
Felder registered a pair of wins in 2019 to bring his record to 7-1 in his last eight lightweight appearances, most recently earning a split decision victory over perennial contender Edson Barboza in the co-main event of UFC 242 back in October. While he politely declined Hooker’s initial inquiry about throwing down together, the mutual respect of that moment has given way to animosity and tension, with Felder eager to venture to Hooker’s home country and halt his opponent’s climb up the rankings.
Both guys are action fighters who are constantly pressing forward for the finish, even if it means getting cracked on the way in, so this should be a non-stop firefight from the outset.
Nearly eight years after becoming the first fighter to earn victory in the UFC’s flyweight division, Joseph Benavidez looks to make good on the old “the third time’s the charm” adage when he faces off with Brazilian finisher Deiveson Figueiredo in a battle for the vacant flyweight title.
A 13-year veteran of the sport, Benavidez has been a constant bridesmaid throughout his career, first coming up short in two meetings with Dominick Cruz during his bantamweight days in the WEC before twice running into Demetrious Johnson during the initial days of the UFC flyweight division. Since then, however, Benavidez has systematically worked his way through the remaining threats in the 125-pound ranks, including earning a victory over now former champ Henry Cejudo, who opted to permanently relocate to bantamweight.
“Triple C” clearing out made way for Figueiredo to step in and the Brazilian contender is more than capable of continuing Benavidez’ nightmare run in flyweight title fights. Figueiredo began his career with 15 consecutive victories, including wins in each of his first four UFC appearances, and rebounded from his first and only loss with back-to-back wins over Top 5 threat Alexandre Pantoja and former title challenger Tim Elliott.
The flyweights have always delivered thrilling fights and this championship main event in Norfolk, Virginia at the end of the month shouldn’t be any different.
After impressing in her rookie campaign in 2019, Felicia Spencer makes the first appearance of her sophomore year in the Octagon at the end of March, squaring off against French veteran Zarah Fairn in the UFC Norfolk co-main event.
Over an 11-week stretch last spring and summer, Spencer made her first walk to the UFC cage, secured a first-round submission win over a fellow former Invicta FC champion in Megan Anderson, then agreed to make a quick turnaround to face Cris Cyborg and went the distance with the Brazilian standout, showcasing her toughness and establishing herself as a potential future star in the process. Now the Montreal-born, Orlando-based featherweight returns looking to build off a successful rookie campaign and put herself in position to challenge for championship gold later this year as she takes on Fairn.
Like Spencer, the French veteran enters this one off a loss, but boasts the size, toughness and experience needed to derail the emerging contender’s plans to establish herself as the top title threat in the division.
It’s been an up-and-down go of things since transitioning to the UFC for Megan Anderson, but after registering a first-round submission win at home in Australia to close out her 2019 campaign, the former Invicta FC standout has designs on making 2020 her best year yet, starting with a victory over promising promotional newcomer Norma Dumont on February 29.
Anderson has all the raw tools to be a tremendous threat in the featherweight division and a potential star in the UFC, boasting tremendous size, proven power, a memorable look and the kind of “take no prisoners” moxie that resonates with fans. Her first three starts in the Octagon produced a 1-2 record and more questions than answers, but the former Invicta FC featherweight titleholder showed out in her return to Australia in October and looks to build on that performance here.
Dumont is an intriguing new addition to the UFC featherweight division, a 29-year-old Brazilian with a black belt in the Chinese combat art Sanda who has earned four wins in as many appearances during her MMA career. Fighters like Dumont are difficult to read because while she has limited MMA experience, she’s a long-time martial artist and has never tasted defeat, which makes it impossible to know what to expect from her when she makes the walk to the Octagon for the first time in Norfolk.
Given Anderson’s aggressive style and how wide open the featherweight division is at the moment, don’t be surprised if this one gets started fast and is a wild back-and-forth for as long as it lasts.