MMA fans were spoiled in the fourth quarter of 2018. UFC 231 and 232 featured four marquee title fights, KSW 46 wowed fans with non-stop action and the end of an era with promotional staple Mamed Khalidov retiring after his main event rematch with light heavyweight champ Tomasz Narkun. RIZIN continued to dominate the Japanese scene culminating with an exhibition boxing match in the main event of RIZIN 14 featuring undefeated Floyd Mayweather (50-0 boxing) taking on homegrown star, 20-year old Tenshin Nasukawa (4-0 MMA, 28-0 kickboxing)
With the New Year upon us, fans may be wondering what to expect from January onward. A hangover of sorts? More star-studded cards? Luckily for everyone involved, early 2019 is sure to deliver.
January only features one card apiece from the UFC and Bellator, each spread out by a week. Originally, the duo had booked identical dates with venues 35 miles apart on Jan. 26; however, the UFC chose to top-load its debut on ESPN Jan. 19 and reschedule the UFC 233 event entirely.
UFC on ESPN+ 1 / Jan. 19 / Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
When the promotion chose to scrap UFC 233 in December, it caught many by surprise. But ultimately, fans stand to gain the most from the decision based on the level of talent featured on the latest card. A transplanted main event has found its way to Brooklyn, with flyweight champ Henry Cejudo (13-2) set to make his first title defense against bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw (16-3) in yet another champ-champ pairing. The card’s co-main features Greg Hardy (3-0) making his UFC debut against Allen Crowder (9-3, 1 NC), a contest that made waves on social media considering Hardy’s past. Fan favourites Donald Cerrone (34-11, 1 NC) and John Lineker (31-8) will also be featured in bouts as the promotion looks to make a splash in their network debut.
Bellator 214 / Jan. 26 / The Forum in Inglewood, California
Scott Coker said it best in a media scrum following Bellator 213, noting the UFC’s decision to pack up and leave California on Jan. 26 was because they “ran out of bullets”. At the time, Bellator offered two title fights to the UFC’s one, and had their venue booked far advance. Since; however, the co-main event was called off due to an injury sustained by middleweight champ Gegard Mousasi (45-6-2) who was scheduled to face BJJ stand-out Rafael Lovato Jr. (9-0). Light heavyweight champ Ryan Bader (26-5) meets Fedor Emelianenko (38-5, 1 NC) in the main event which will determine the winner of the promotion’s Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Former WWE star “Jack Swagger” a.k.a Jake Hager will also be making his MMA debut against JW Kiser (1-1), the latter also boasting 19 amateur fights with a record of 11-8.
NEF 37: Sub Zero / Feb. 1 / Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, ME
Fight Night Picks will be live in Bangor for NEF’s first card in 2019! So far the promotion has included two title fights, including featherweight gold up for grabs in the main event with Josh Harvey (5-0-1) taking on Bill Jones (13-11). Harvey is coming off his first career draw, which occurred in November at Cage Titans 41 against TUF season 27 competitor Joe Giannetti (6-1-1). Jones has seen action with plenty of promotions including WSOF, Cage Titans as well as NEF and has fought the likes of UFC talent in Brian Kelleher and Matt Bessette.
The first of the two title fights includes NEF “Rookie of the Year” Zac Richard (3-0) taking on the promotion’s former amateur bantamweight champ Fred Lear (6-2) for the featherweight title. Richard made his debut in 2018, finishing all three of his bouts in the first round, while his opponent Lear has remained inactive since winning the title in July of 2017.
Major Cards in February 2019
Along with bookings from ONE Championship and the newly formed ACA (formerly ACB) February features a total of 11 major cards along with eight split evenly between the UFC and Bellator. Main events include Marlon Moraes (21-5-1) taking on Raphael Assunção (27-5), Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (20-8) against Ryan Scope (11-1), Matt Mitrione (13-6) and Sergei Kharitonov (28-6, 1 NC) and Francis N’Gannou (12-3) taking on former UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez (14-2) to name a few.
Early 2019 may start out slow, but with ONE Championship announcing dates and bookings for their Grand Prix tournaments, and major North American promotions offering premiere match-ups to kick off a the season, fans have plenty to look forward to in terms of MMA!