The Great Divide is a reoccurring function right here at MMA Preventing in which our personal Shaun Al-Shatti and Chuck Mindenhall debate a subject in the world of MMA — whether or not it’s information, a battle, a loopy factor someone did, a loopy factor anyone didn’t do, or some ethical dilemma threatening the very basis of the sport — and check out to determine a decision. We’d love so that you can be a part of in the dialogue in the feedback under.
Half one in every of The Great Divide’s 2019 preview collection, in which our heroes held an impromptu fantasy draft for the future champions of 2019, might be learn right here. This week, the two proceed their three-part preview collection by questioning: Which three current UFC champions have the roughest road ahead in the new yr?
Welcome again, Mr. Mindenhall. I’m glad to see you’re nonetheless right here — I feared you might bail on me after that whooping I placed on you final time.
So final week we took a stab at predicting three fighters who we every consider will declare UFC gold by the finish of the yr. This time round, for half two of our three-part 2019 preview collection, let’s flip issues on their head and name our photographs for the UFC champions who we really feel have the toughest slog ahead of them in 2019. And earlier than we begin, let’s preface this by noting that this record isn’t about titleholders who we consider are the weakest or most weak. It’s merely about those that we really feel have the hardest power of schedule in phrases of apparent title challengers lined up in the new yr.
Additionally, since we’re doing this, we might as nicely rank our picks from three to at least one, with one being the most troublesome power of schedule…as a result of hey, rating issues is enjoyable!
With that, allow us to start. And though I hate to do that, my pal in the hat, I really feel as if I need to kick off my listing at No. three with a person who we shall be speaking about very, very quickly…
three) T.J. Dillashaw
I gained’t lie, Chuck. I’m scared for subsequent week. I’m scared for what T.J. Dillashaw is trying. I’m scared for what the headlines in Brooklyn will convey. The extra I see of it, the extra every part about this transfer to flyweight scares the hell out of me.
When Dillashaw vs. Cejudo was first introduced for 125 kilos, it was a bit shocking, positive, however I feel all of us understood what T.J. was making an attempt to do. Rising into the rarefied air of a double champ is all the rage nowadays, and there’s clearly no double-champ alternative for Dillashaw if Henry Cejudo is the one shifting up in weight. Dillashaw has lengthy teased that a transfer to flyweight can be a breeze for him, and I’ll admit I believed him, even when he was principally 150 kilos on battle night time towards Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227.
However for actual, have you taken a peek at the man’s social media these days? Let’s simply say that Dillashaw doesn’t appear to be he’s…having fun with…the minimize to flyweight.
I don’t need to venture an excessive amount of, so let’s simply depart it at that.
Ten kilos is numerous weight once you already have so little physique fats to drop, and even when Dillashaw makes the minimize efficiently, contemplate for a second the slate of opposition he’s already eyeing for 2019: 1) First preventing a blue-chip athlete in Henry Cejudo in a probably diminished state; 2) then ballooning again as much as 135 kilos for both Marlon Moraes or Raphael Assuncao (the former of whom could also be the solely fighter in the division extra explosive than Dillashaw, the latter of whom already owns a win over the bantamweight champ); three) then probably ending the yr with a showdown towards a returning Dominick Cruz (one other previous rival who owns a win over Dillashaw).
Good lord. A schedule like that’s already daunting sufficient for T.J. with out additionally throwing in the variable of the weight! Keep in mind when Anthony Pettis stated he blew as much as 205 kilos after his disastrous minimize to featherweight? This stuff have ramifications, man. Typically long-lasting ramifications. I’m a bit of involved, Chuck. That’s all I’m saying.
2) Robert Whittaker
Esther Lin, MMA Preventing
Look, Robert Whittaker is just eight fights into his middleweight profession and he already could also be one in every of the most gifted 185-pound fighters I’ve ever seen. Let’s set up that time upfront. He’s additionally certainly one of the most missed and underrated fighters in the whole sport, if not the single most ignored and underrated. So this decide speaks extra to the burgeoning depth of younger expertise effervescent to the floor at middleweight than anything.
As a result of it’s solely potential — and certain possible — that Bobby Knuckles is staring down the barrel of a yr the place he might face these three males in succession: 1) Kelvin Gastelum, 2) Israel Adesanya, then three) Paulo Costa. Yikes.
The Gastelum battle is already on the books for UFC 234, and regardless of his standing as a perennial underdog, “KG” has seemed like a person possessed at 185 kilos.
It’s apparent that Adesanya is being positioned as the subsequent man up. Solely a 43-year-old Anderson Silva stands in his approach, and Izzy demolished the subject in MMA Preventing’s 2018 Breakthrough Fighter of the Yr voting for a really rattling good purpose.
Then, quietly lurking in the background, is the undefeated Costa — a person who in his UFC run has completed nothing however showcase his monstrous potential (4 knockouts in 4 UFC outings, all various levels of brutal) and his supernaturally giant huevos (the man referred to as out Yoel F*cking Romero, for God’s sake — repeatedly).
Speak about a troublesome slate for poor Robert Whittaker. Survive back-to-back wars towards Romero and that is the thanks you get? Yeesh. If ol’ Bobby Nux can get by way of 2019 alive together with his belt intact, it’ll be considered one of the extra spectacular feats I’ve seen in fairly a while.
1) Rose Namajunas
Esther Lin, MMA Preventing
I do know, I do know. Maintain your hat on, Chuck, I already know what you’re about to say. This decide isn’t coming as a lot of a shock after I used my first-round draft decide to pick Tatiana Suarez in final week’s Contender Draft. And hey, that’s truthful. I gained’t mislead you, Suarez lingering in the shadows like some demonic strawweight specter definitely performs into this choice. I consider the grappling arsenal she carries at 115 kilos is unparalleled, Nurmagomedov-esque even, and by now it’s apparent that I feel her future is to seize gold in 2019.
However Suarez is just one issue in this equation.
Don’t inform me y’all have forgotten about Jessica Andrade.
The feminine Wanderlei Silva has seemed like a terrifying drive since her 2017 loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Slapping collectively 10-8s on Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres is one factor. However what Andrade did to Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 228? That’s one other factor solely. The approach she deaded Kowalkiewicz…the energy and ferocity with which she did it…I genuinely don’t know if I’ve ever seen a extra surreal one-punch ladies’s knockout.
So as to add to that, Andrade is by some means getting the champion to journey to her — UFC 237 is in discussions to be held in an enormous 45,000-seat soccer stadium in Curitiba, Brazil. Add in the proven fact that Namajunas is coming off a reasonably vital neck damage, and wow…what else are you able to say? In each 2017 and 2018, Rose Namajunas proved her place amongst the greatest in the world at 115 kilos. In 2019, she’ll have to show her maintain on No. 1 is completely unassailable — and achieve this towards two of the most formidable challengers any division presently has.
Good luck, Thug Rose. You have your work minimize out for you.
three) Tyron Woodley
Esther Lin, MMA Preventing
For causes that may by no means be absolutely defined, it’s trendy to sleep on Woodley. Every time he will get in the Octagon there’s a well-liked sentiment that he’s about to return crashing again to earth. Perhaps it’s extra a deep-rooted want to see him go…or perhaps it’s as a result of Dana White is all the time type of subtweeting that he’s dodgy when it comes proper right down to the brass tacks of matchmaking.
And at any price, right here I’m doing the similar rattling factor.
Realistically, the cause I’m together with him on this doubtful record is as a result of welterweights — particularly these nearest Woodley in the standings — are cruel, lethal, vengeful souls. We all know that Woodley is already booked for a title protection towards the undefeated Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, and that’s no picnic. The finish of the Woodley period might come as quickly as March. I’ve already talked about Usman being a Frightful Proposition in our final Great Debate. However even when he solves Usman, there’s nonetheless the likes of the shtickmonger Colby Covington, who’s peeved after the interim shell recreation that the UFC performed with him, and other people like Ben Askren floating round.
He won’t ever struggle Ben Askren you say? They’re previous flimflams from means again? Ain’t occurring? In all probability proper. However presume Askren beats Robbie Lawler in March. And presume that Woodley clears Usman, but is in no hurry to leap again in the Octagon afterwards. We’ve seen how shortly Dana White will get pissed off at Woodley for taking day without work, regardless if he’s injured or is simply in search of some leisure. How lengthy will the UFC look forward to him? How shortly will it look to make an interim title battle between Covington and Askren, if these two flamable items discover themselves prepared and able to go?
Of all my decisions, I like this decide the least. I feel Woodley is vastly underrated and I swore I’d by no means sleep on him once more after watching what he did to Darren Until out in Dallas. However we’re speaking tough roads. And Woodley’s roads are by no means something aside from tough.
2) Jon Jones
Esther Lin, MMA Preventing
At this level the healthiest approach for an MMA fan to strategy the ongoing, almost inaccessible saga of Jon Jones is to only begin over. Simply take a look at him as a beleaguered nice with out going into the particulars. For the remainder of us, he’s the human equal of a hazmat spill. We don’t go close to him with out tongs. And that’s why he eternally finds himself with a troublesome road ahead. We by no means understand how Jon Jones goes to spend a random Tuesday night time. He’s simply as more likely to be coaching his ass off as he’s snorting up the sidewalks of Albuquerque or doing beer bongs till daybreak.
Particularly when he will get a recent ego-boost after a triumph.
We noticed Jones present up and beat Alexander Gustafsson with the biggest of ease a few weeks again. He celebrated by going to Santa Monica, the yuppiest place on earth. This can be a promising signal. Jones and his household somewhat than Jones and his jones. Perhaps he actually has turned issues round. Perhaps he’s actually going to buckle down and (re)set up himself as the GOAT in MMA. Perhaps all these issues that have occurred have actually been a part of God’s plan, and he’s now 12 inches taller than the remainder of us from having discovered some classes.
However till he exhibits a sustained means to take action, the path does appear daunting for him. He has his subsequent struggle lined up towards Anthony Smith, and I really like that little bit of matchmaking — it’s a brand new challenger for Jones, a man who reminds him of his gravity and his bullseye, a man who can take all of it away at the first signal of complacency. Realistically, it’s a man Jones ought to beat. Which is okay, too. A part of Jones’ attraction is that he’s presupposed to crush no matter delusional idiot the UFC dredges up. It might be the similar if he have been preventing Luke Rockhold. Or Jan Blachowicz or Corey Anderson.
And even Daniel Cormier.
Everyone knows it’s not the opponent that threatens Jones at this level. It’s USADA, and the NAC, and get together favors, and quick automobiles, and all the spoils of being a wealthy man on prime of the world. It’s enablers and handlers, the sure individuals, the ones who know nicely his weak spot for a throwaway night time of enjoyable. Jones admits he nonetheless drinks. He says he puffs a little bit of the Michoacán, too, Shaun, which is all nice and good. Loads of fighters do. Writers too. However Jones has a trunk the place he retains his sins, and it’s all the time shaking the floorboards, calling for him to open it.
I’m rooting for Jones, however given every part that’s occurred, it’ll be a tough road till it isn’t. If one other man doesn’t beat Jones, there’s all the time the risk that he’ll beat himself. He has work to do. Hopefully in the yr 2020, all this can be hindsight.
1) Daniel Cormier
Esther Lin, MMA Preventing
I do know what you’re considering, Shaun — Daniel Cormier, the Fighter of the Yr in 2018? America’s deadliest dad? The man who pulls up his sweatpants as much as his nipples after which dominates everyone (not named Jon Jones) with relative aplomb? That Daniel Cormier goes to wrestle in 2019? And I’m right here to inform you, sure, heavy seas lie ahead for our former twin champion who now holds the heavyweight crown.
Right here’s why: The man in parenthesis above.
I simply don’t consider that Cormier goes to skip off into retirement with the Jones’ rivalry left undone. That might be like a tidy individual with OCD leaving house together with his mattress unmade. As a competitor, it will drive him loopy to see Jones operating round with the mild heavyweight title — and ultimately even the heavyweight title — with out ever having provided that man a trouncing. I do know Cormier says he doesn’t want Jon Jones. However look shut…it’s in that smile of his. He’s mendacity. He hates Jones. Greater than that, he hates that he hasn’t crushed Jones. His greatness is essentially intact, apart from that one minor element.
When he sees Jones, Cormier can’t assist however see a shortcoming.
So he’ll attempt once more, both at mild heavyweight or heavyweight. My guess is it occurs at heavyweight, as a result of at 251 kilos, Cormier in all probability doesn’t need to begin one other salad routine. Will probably be Jones arising and chasing Cormier for the heavyweight title, and the uncommon probability to show an extended thriving falsehood. Specifically, that regardless of there being an enormous cash trilogy and all that dangerous blood, there isn’t a rivalry. That he, Jon Jones, was by no means examined by Cormier. By no means. That he was all the time a league aside from the second biggest that ever was in that exact weight neighborhood. In different phrases, to shrug off Cormier utterly and ceaselessly.
I understand that Cormier has maintained that he’s going to retire when he turns 40, which happens on March 20. However that, too, is a bit fib. With no Brock Lesnar materializing on the speedy horizon, and Jones now slated to defend the mild heavyweight crown at UFC 235 in March, there will probably be a date round Worldwide Struggle Week in July simply screaming for that trilogy. In the event that they do battle a 3rd time, it has the makings of a tragic finish.
Plus, right here’s the different factor: If Cormier finally ends up defending towards Stipe Miocic, that’s an entire separate minefield. Miocic is hell-bent on that rematch. In both case, it’s a troublesome road ahead for DC.
Which UFC champion has the toughest road in 2019?
163 votes complete
In previous editions of The Great Divide, Shaun Al-Shatti and Chuck Mindenhall debated UFC 230’s fundamental occasion, Tyron Woodley’s UFC 228 dilemma, Daniel Cormier’s potential retirement struggle, the winner of the DJ-for-Askren commerce, the ill-fated Bellator 214 vs. UFC 233 duel, and the possibilities for a serious UFC 232 upset. Be a part of into the debate in the feedback under!