From the meteoric rise of China’s first champion in the UFC to the PFL becoming the first major organization to crown a women’s lightweight champion, there was no shortage of memorable and exciting moments for MMA fans in 2019.
The growth and evolution of the sport over the past decade, specifically in the women’s scene, has been nothing short of astounding. Despite the promotion, female fighters have stolen the show on multiple occasions– whether it’s a Fight of the Night Performance or a devastating surprise finish, the women of MMA are here to stay.
Now, looking ahead to an exciting 2020, here are 20 fun and bold predictions for the new year.
- Bellator holds a Flyweight Title Grand Prix… After Ilima-Lei Macfarlane retained the flyweight title in December, Bellator President Scott Coker seemed more open than ever to the idea of hosting a Flyweight Championship Grand Prix. After Bellator 236, Coker said, “We’re not committing to the tournament yet, but it’s looking a little more attractive to me every time I speak to my team and think about it myself because we have so many potential stars in this weight class.”
- PFL’s Kayla Harrison attempts to make featherweight… Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison remained unbeaten in 2019, capturing the women’s lightweight championship and $1 million in the process. It’s no secret the lightweight division is ‘scarce’– in fact, several of the participants this past season moved up from 135 and 145 pounds. While Harrison is not a fan of cutting weight, she has not counted out the idea of competing at 145 pounds. She is signed with the PFL for the 2020 season, however, PFL CEO Peter Murray told ESPN that a decision has not been made as to whether the promotion will pursue a 145 or 155-pound women’s weight class in the future.
- Seo Hee Ham vs. Ayaka Hamasaki IV… Since 2010, the two best atomweights in the world have fought three times. Hamasaki is 2-1 against Ham, but it was Ham who got the last laugh when she defeated Hamasaki via split-decision in a championship bout at RIZIN 20. Between the two of them, they have fought and defeated the majority of atomweight fighters in the top ten– these two are destined to cross paths again.
- Gabi Garcia returns to MMA… After a year off from MMA competition, the RIZIN FF heavyweight has teased a return. Garcia, a highly accomplished BJJ practitioner, is 6-0 in MMA with six finishes. Destanie Yarbrough is also plotting a return to MMA– is a rematch with Garcia on the horizon?
- Claressa Shields begins MMA training… Headlines were made when undefeated boxing world champion Claressa Shields attended UFC 245, met with UFC President Dana White, and talked about her desire to face Nunes in boxing and MMA. Shields acknowledges that she would need time to train in MMA and take some fights before meeting the ‘Lioness’, however, the 24-year-old seems serious. In fact, she recently told TMZ that in February after UFC 247 she plans to do some training with UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones. She won’t be fighting Nunes in 2020, but footage of Shields training MMA will surface.
- UFC signs at least three Invicta FC champions… By no means should anyone find this prediction shocking as the UFC routinely recruits talent from Invicta. Some names to look out for that the UFC might be interested in? Flyweight Pearl Gonzalez, flyweight Mariya Agapova, strawweight Kanako Murata, and bantamweight Chelsea Chandler to name a few.
- UFC’s Maycee Barber will earn a flyweight title shot…This is not a prediction that Barber will defeat Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 246– whether she loses or wins against “The Happy Warrior” this prediction could stand true. After Valentina Shevchenko versus Katlyn Chookagian, there are no clear championship contenders at 125. Barber is talented, has a compelling story, a clear goal, and is good on the mic. The added bonus is that the UFC seems to be behind her in terms of marketing. Already ranked No. 10, 2020 can be a big year for the 21-year-old.
- Talks of Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko III will begin… Nunes is 2-0 against Shevchenko– one victory coming by way of a close unanimous decision and the other by a razor-thin split-decision. These two, currently fighting in different divisions, always seem to be linked together by there rivalry. If both champions continue to dominate their respective divisions, it is only a matter of time before they cross paths again to settle the score.
- UFC and Reebok part ways… 2020 is the final year of the UFC’s six-year sponsorship deal with Reebok. The “Athlete Outfitting” policy and pay have been a topic of much controversy during its tenure. While it is unlikely the UFC will go back to allowing athletes to dress themsleves and represent independent sponsors, the promotion, now backed by ESPN, may be open to exploring different options.
- Invicta FC hosts events at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas… The brand new UFC APEX hosted season three of Dana White’s Contender Series and proved to be a great venue for both the fighters and the audience. Back in August, Invicta President Shannon Knapp was spotted at the APEX. Dana White said, “Shannon wants to bring Invicta to Vegas and wants to do the fights here at the Apex. I told her we’ll figure it out.”
- Bellator will formally introduce a strawweight division… Bellator has dabbled into the strawweight division but has yet to make it a consistent thing. With boxing champ Ava Knight and kickboxing champ Keri Melendez on their roster, 2020 could see the formal introduction of the 115-pound weight class. Strawweight Title Grand Prix, anyone?
- Paige VanZant will test the free-agent market… Paige VanZant meets Amanda Ribas in a strawweight contest on March 14. Whether “12 Gauge” wins or loses that bout there is a good chance that she will test the free-agent market to measure her value. In August, on Ariel Hewlani’s MMA Show, PVZ said that she believes her value is ‘significantly higher’ than what she is currently contracted at. With Paige’s husband, undefeated Austin Vanderford, fighting for Bellator, one has got to believe that Scott Coker would be willing to pay a pretty penny to ink a deal with VanZant.
- Angela Lee vs. Jingnan Xiong III… ONE champions Angela Lee and Jingnan Xiong fought twice in 2019 and both battles were FOTY candidates. At 125-pounds, Xiong TKO’d Lee in the fifth round. At 115-pounds, Lee submitted Xiong in the fifth round. There is no question that there needs to be a rubber match– the question is instead at which weight will the trilogy fight be contested at? Catchweight?
- Diana “Pantera’ Avsaragova is a 2020 breakout star… Bellator’s most recent flyweight signing, Russian beauty Diana Avsaragova, has the potential to be a breakout star. The truth is, with only two pro fights, Asvaragova is untested in her MMA career, however, Bellator does a decent job of building fighters up slowly. If Avsaragova receives the marketing push that fellow Russian Anastasia Yankova received in 2016, she can begin to make a name for herself.
- Cris Cyborg boxes… Cyborg has been very open about her desire to try her hand at boxing. Sparring sessions with Claressa Shields show that the featherweight great has what it takes. Now signed to Bellator, the chances of her getting the opportunity to box are much greater than they were with the UFC.