Sporting year in review 2018

The 10 boxing and MMA fights we really want to see happen in 2019

  • Three heavyweight giants could clash next year
  • What next in UFC for Conor McGregor?
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 11:56am

2018 was an incredible year in boxing with some terrific scraps. World titles changed hands, underdogs prevailed and giants were felled. We can only hope that 2019 offers a fraction as much drama.

But boxing didn’t have a monopoly on the spectacle this year. The continued growth of MMA and UFC in particular has seen the organisation break records for attendances and pay-per-view takings, not to mention the skyrocketing skill levels involved throughout the championship.

Here we list five boxing fights and five UFC bouts we’d really like to see in 2019. Most of them are strongly touted to be signed, others are slightly more wishful, all would be potential classics.

Boxing

Billy Joe Saunders vs Gennady Golovkin

Undefeated Englishman Billy Joe Saunders endured a difficult 2018. There was an unsavoury incident, unfortunately caught on camera (by Saunders and his friends) for which the Englishman was heavily criticised, and then there was a suspected case of doping.

He returned to action in December but will be hoping for a far more fruitful 2019.

Gennady Golovkin could be the perfect fit for Saunders, who at 29 is looking for a big win to propel him Stateside.

Golovkin is coming off the back of a disappointing and controversial loss to Canelo Alvarez, and Saunders is one of the biggest names in the middleweight division.

These two have circled each other before, but the fight has never happened. It would be a blockbuster occasion whether it were held in the UK or the US.

Chances of happening (out of five): ★★★★

Vasyl Lomachenko vs Mikey Garcia

Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko is arguably the most exciting fighter in boxing today. His technique is like nothing that has been witnessed in the sport in recent memory. He’s still only fought 13 times, but 2018 was his breakout year with impressive wins against Jose Pedraza and Jorge Linares.

Four-weight world champion Mikey Garcia is viewed as the biggest fight out there for Lomachenko, and perhaps the only man who could really test the 30-year-old. Unfortunately, it seems like boxing politics are likely to get in the way of this happening. The two fight on rivalling TV networks for a start and that has been an obstacle blocking big fights since the sweet science became televised.

Chances of happening: ★★

Gennady Golovkin vs Saul Alvarez III

The first clash was a thrilling draw that slightly more who saw it felt the Kazakhstani had done enough to win. The second stanza was a win for the Mexican “Canelo” Alvarez, which even more who witnessed it thought Golovkin had done enough to win. It seems a natural progression that the two will go at it for a third time while the veteran Golovkin is still at something like his best. But you may question the appetite for a third chapter from Canelo's side. He’ll know it was a grind to claim the win second time around. In his quieter moments, he may even admit he was lucky to get the nod. There would be no guarantees he would hold on to those titles if they went at it again.

Chances of happening: ★★

Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua

After Englishman Tyson Fury’s successful return after years away from the ring (I thought he’d shown quite enough to get the decision over Deontay Wilder, in spite of the two knock-downs), it's only natural that those three giants of the heavyweight division will criss-cross each other's paths over the next couple of years.

With a big public appetite to see a rematch between Fury and Wilder after their fight of the year contender in December, 2019 might come a tad too soon for this bout but in a perfect world, we’d see all three of them meet each other in the coming year.

Chances of happening:

Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder

These heavyweight behemoths have made no secret of a desire to face one another. Anthony Joshua stepped up his talk of wanting the fight after seeing how American Deontay Wilder struggled against Tyson Fury. Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn are confident they can get a deal done for April. The only question now is: how much does Wilder now want the fight? He must be perturbed by the apparent eagerness of Joshua in light of the Fury bout, and he has been a lot less vocal about the match-up in recent weeks. Let’s hope the American is just trying to enjoy a quite holiday season. If Wilder is as eager for the fight as Joshua is, surely it will happen. And it could be a clash for the ages.

Chances of happening: ★★★★

MMA/UFC

T.J. Dillashaw vs Henry Cejudo

Californian T.J. Dillashaw catapulted himself into the UFC elite with a second, hugely convincing win over Cody Garbrandt. Some thought it was a fluke first time around, but Dillashaw put paid to those theories with a devastating defeat of his old foe second time around back in August. The question now is: Where does the hugely impressive 32-year-old go from here?

Step forward Henry Cejudo. Back in August, the 31-year-old ended the six-year-plus reign of long-standing champion and UFC hall-of-famer Demetrious Johnson.

We won’t need to wait too long for this dream bout to become a reality; the fight was confirmed for UFC Fight Night on January 20.

Chances of happening: ★★★★★

Conor McGregor vs Nathan Diaz III

The first two chapters of this potential trilogy were mesmerising contests. So far it’s one apiece, however, this is a series we may never get to see a conclusion to.

Nate Diaz has been inactive since the second Conor McGregor bout, which he lost narrowly in August of 2016, and has intimated that a third fight with the Irishman is the only match-up he would return for. However, Diaz took a savage beating in that fight, and it was only his lion’s heart that allowed him to survive three heavy knock-downs that night in Las Vegas.

As for McGregor, despite recent evidence to the contrary, the Irishman doubtless sees his remaining fights in UFC against more elite opposition than Diaz.

Although the fight would doubtless be a stupendous one for a baying public, the chances of this one happening get slimmer with every passing season.

Chances of happening: ★★

Max Holloway vs Conor McGregor II

American Max Holloway has been on a tear since his last loss in UFC, an August 2013 loss to Conor McGregor. McGregor dispatched Holloway on his road to greater challenges and beat Chad Mendes for the featherweight title four fights later.

Holloway has now repaired his reputation (the McGregor loss was his third in 10 fights) and with the Irishman in a dip, and Holloway very much at the top of his game, this could be a very realistic clash in 2019.

The Hawaiian has been very vocal to UFC chief Dana White about his desire for a do-over. He might just get his wish.

Chances of happening: ★★★

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson

It should be on to bigger and better challenges for the Russian following his comprehensive win over Conor McGregor. There’s arguably no one in the division out there who can offer a sterner challenge to the Dagestani than Tony Ferguson.

The American is unbeaten in over five years and was back to something like his best following injury in his win over Anthony Pettis in October.

As for Nurmagomedov, it’s hard to see who could possibly beat him. Even in this fight, Khabib would be a huge favourite. It doesn’t appear there’s a more even contest out there for the grappler, unbeaten in 27 fights, in the coming year.

Chances of happening: ★★★★

Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier III

In theory, this shouldn’t even be a thing. Trilogies don’t tend to go to a third chapter when one of the protagonists has won the first two fights so convincingly. But Jones’ second win was tainted by that failed drugs test.

Daniel Cormier is a proud warrior who has said he will retire at the age of 40, which will be in March next year. Cormier, a role model champion, has just the one blot on his fight record of 22 wins, one loss and one no contest (the second, drug-tainted clash against Jones), it’s not difficult to imagine he’d would eye thi as a fairy-tale ending to his hall of fame career in the sport.

Chances of happening:★★★★