MMA Stories to Keep an Eye on in 2020
The major stories of 2019 have been covered exhaustively; TJ Dillashaw’s EPO scandal, Jorge Masvidal’s career explosion, the rise of Israel Adesanya, and the list goes on and on. As we enter 2020, it is worth putting a microscope on the current state of MMA in an attempt to see what stories might captivate the community in the new year.
To start, we have the return of Conor McGregor. Whether you love him or hate him, the sport of MMA is quite exhilarating when there’s a McGregor fight on the horizon. Given his tumultuous 2019 that was characterized by sexual assault accusations and pub fights, 2020 will be perhaps the most important year in McGregor’s storied career. On January 18, he squares off against Donald Cerrone in the main event of UFC 246. It comes down to one overarching question: Will McGregor continue his downward spiral or rectify his career damage and recapture his former glory? The new year will certainly provide the answer.
Dana White has always expressed his admiration of the sport of boxing. Earlier in 2019, White announced that Zuffa, the former parent company of the UFC, would aim to expand into boxing. Throughout the year, small bits of information concerning the story were gleaned, but it seemed that we would not see Dana White the boxing promoter for quite some time yet. Rumors have swirled regarding Dana and co. buying Premier Boxing Champions outright, signing fighters to compete with major promotors, or co-promoting. In November of 2019, Dana and Floyd Mayweather were spotted at a Los Angeles Clippers game, and the two apparently discussed “business.” White and Mayweather both corroborated that “something fun” was in the works for October or November of 2020. While details regarding Dana White’s exact plans are indeed still murky, 2020 might be the year that Zuffa Boxing hits the ground running.
Late in 2019, Rory MacDonald announced his signing with Professional Fighters League (PFL). It should be noted that MacDonald was something of a trailblazer in testing free agency. After his UFC loss to Stephen Thompson in 2016, MacDonald signed with Bellator MMA, becoming the largest signing in the promotion’s history at the time. MacDonald’s transition subsequently led to an influx of UFC fighters joining the promotion, including Ryan Bader, Gegard Mousasi, Frank Mir, Lorenz Larkin, and recently, Cris Cyborg. Once again, Rory MacDonald is the largest signing for a promotion seeking to rival the UFC. Will his entrance lead to more fighters joining the PFL? Time will tell. Not to mention, PFL recently signed a lucrative deal with ESPN, partnered with DraftKings betting, and is seeking to hold shows across the globe in the next year. 2020 may very well be an eventful year in the growth of PFL.
Potential Return of Nick Diaz
Despite not having fought in over five years, Nick Diaz continues to be the topic of much discussion in the MMA world. After a recent interview with Ariel Helwani, many pundits began speculating if Diaz was planning a return to the sport. In late December of 2019, Dana White revealed that the UFC was indeed in-talks with Diaz for a comeback fight. Now, fans are salivating over potential matchups: Diaz vs McGregor; Diaz vs Masvidal; Diaz vs Covington. While stories of a Diaz return pop up a few times a year, this one seems to have the backing of Dana White and is therefore worth noting.
Daniel Cormier’s Retirement
Daniel Cormier said he did not want to fight past his 40th birthday. However, his loss to Stipe Miocic and the scheduled rematch have delayed those plans for now. Nonetheless, there have been rumblings that the rubber match with Miocic may truly be his final fight. As the former simultaneous double champion of the promotion, Cormier has been an outstanding ambassador for the sport, whether in the octagon or in a suit. If Cormier bids farewell from fighting in 2020, the sport will have lost one of its most celebrated figures. Thus, let us cherish the buildup to what should be an outstanding title fight against Miocic.
The Continued Rise of Masvidal and Adesanya
2019 was a breakout year for Jorge Masvidal and Israel Adesanya. They managed to capture the imagination of the masses, catapulting themselves into superstardom. The year saw Masvidal score knockout victories over Darren Till and Ben Askren, resulting in the fabled “BMF” fight against Nate Diaz. For Adesanya, 2019 saw him earn a victory over the legendary Anderson Silva, a fight of the year decision over Kelvin Gastelum, and a career-defining performance against Robert Whittaker to claim the Middleweight championship. The crazy part? It seems like both men are just getting started. These are two careers to watch as we enter 2020, as it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their superstar statuses.
Upcoming MMA Prospects
Every year brings new fighters that seek to make names for themselves, and 2020 will be no different. In fact, it is always quite difficult to determine which fighter will have their “Masvidal/Adesanya” year and become a full-on celebrity. However, some prospects in the UFC simply have an aura of untapped potential, and 2020 might be the year that their hype is realized. Maycee Barber, Nasrat Haqparast, Geoff Neal, Edmen Shahbazyan, Nathaniel Wood, Jack Shore, Sean O’Malley, Arnold Allen, and Tatiana Suarez all seem poised for huge 2020s. Keep an eye on these fighters as we progress through the year.
Overall, 2019 was an outstanding year for MMA, and the sport will hopefully build on that success heading into 2020 and over the next decade. The first quarter of the year already has some remarkable fights scheduled that will lead to big stories. There is no resting for the avid consumers of this unpredictable sport, so let this article act as a roadmap to prepare for the narratives that are likely to dominate 2020.