‘It doesn’t make sense’: The challenges facing the UFC in 2020 after UFC Norfolk
In the weeks leading up to the UFC Fight Night card in Norfolk, Virginia, flyweights across the company’s roster were rooting for Joseph Benavidez to defeat Deiveson Figueiredo and take home the division’s title for the first time in his career.
Then, after Figueiredo shockingly missed weight for the fight by 2.5 pounds, the Benavidez fandom rose to new heights.
The division’s future was already up in the air heading into the bout with a vacant title and Henry Cejudo, the division’s previous champion, booked to defend the bantamweight title against Jose Aldo in May. Only one person could possibly win the belt on that night in Norfolk in February, and the pressure was on Benavidez to keep the division on the move in 2020.
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Unfortunately for every UFC flyweight outside of Figueiredo, the worst-case scenario happened. The Brazilian knocked out Benavidez in brutal fashion, sending the division into an even more drastic state than it was in before the fight began.
There likely won’t be another flyweight title fight for at least six months, with Cejudo sitting as the only logical answer for a bout with Figueiredo if the division stays afloat, and that’s only if the UFC trusts the latter after he missed weight for the biggest fight of his life.
And, not to pile on, that tricky situation is only one of the challenges facing the UFC in 2020.
Need other examples? Look no further than the UFC’s two heaviest divisions: light heavyweight and heavyweight.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, is running through any challengers who step into the Octagon looking to take his title from him. And ever since Daniel Cormier’s departure from the division, no light heavyweight fighter has been able to create any real buzz surrounding any of Jones’ title defenses.
One division up, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is in a similar situation, albeit with the opposite issue as it relates to Cormier.
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The champion’s last two fights have each been against Cormier, with each fighter taking one installment in what should turn into a trilogy at some point in the next year. But, Cormier’s nearing his breaking point as it relates to his retirement, and Miocic doesn’t have many other challengers in the division that provide any potential for a big-money fight.
So, where does that leave everything? Fans and fighters want superfights to help bridge the gap. Fans want Jones to square up against Miocic or face off with Cormier at heavyweight. Jones himself wants a battle with upstart middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, and Miocic wants a crossover with the boxing world in a bout with world champion Tyson Fury following Fury’s win over Deontay Wilder.
So, in addition to the flyweight fiasco, there are two divisions without any high-profile challengers, who just so happen to have two of the more marketable champions in recent memory.
Other divisions aren’t safe either, and two other previously-mentioned champions, Cejudo and Adesanya, are in on the issues, as well.
At bantamweight and middleweight, Cejudo and Adesanya find themselves fighting Aldo and Yoel Romero, challengers who are each coming off of a loss in their previous fight.
The announcement of Cejudo’s fight against Aldo raised some eyebrows and irked UFC fans around the world, considering the result of Aldo’s last fight against Marlon Moraes and the presence of fighters like Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan.
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Injuries have long derailed the middleweight division that Adesanya currently sits on top of, and Paolo Costa, the presumed number one contender for the belt, is no exception to this trend. The undefeated Brazilian defeated Romero in his last fight at UFC 241, but a second bicep surgery took Costa out of the equation until at least May or June.
In the meantime, Dana White and the UFC had to take advantage of the momentum surrounding Adesanya and the middleweight division, and threw Romero’s hat into the ring as an answer.
“Israel Adesanya wants to fight Yoel Romero,” White said prior to UFC 246. “How does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense.”
“You know what makes sense?” White continued. “Israel Adesanya is such a badass that he wants to fight the guy that nobody wants to fight. Costa, the guy he’s supposed to fight, is hurt, right? But we can wait a couple of months and do that fight. He doesn’t want to wait. He wants to fight one of the baddest dudes ever, in the history of the division.”
All in all, the four divisions create some disasters for the UFC to deal with in 2020. The flyweights are up in the air (no pun intended), Miocic and Jones need challengers that draw, and Cejudo and Adesanya have challengers who draw but don’t make sense as far as becoming a contender is concerned.
Meanwhile, the company could strike gold throughout the year with plenty of opportunities. Conor McGregor’s comeback continues, Jorge Masvidal’s stock keeps rising, Khabib Nurmagomedov battles Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in April, and Jones and Adesanya are moving down a path that could lead to one of the more intriguing UFC matchups of all time.
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Odds are the company will get through the trials and tribulations it’ll face throughout the year unscathed, and still have options for big-name fighters like McGregor, Jones, Miocic, Adesanya and more to work with in 2021.
But, there’s plenty of room for error, with fighters coming off of losses able to win belts, a championship remaining vacant, and stars potentially going to waste. If it all goes poorly in the worst-case scenario, the state of the UFC and the company’s entire future could change drastically.
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