The final fight of 2017 for the UFC will undoubtedly be a big one. Last year, we were treated to the return of Ronda Rousey against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207. But now, options are pretty slim, so who could be headlining UFC 219 this December?
The UFC usually puts together a top-notch card for the turn of the year. The best way to have a great card is with a great main event, something they have planned for the final few pay-per-views of 2017. Stacked cards for UFC 217 in November and UFC 218 early-December have taken more than a few of the promotion’s options, but we expect a premier title-fight for the UFC’s last PPV of the year.
They had a similar schedule last year, loading up their final PPV events of 2016. The result was some fun cards, and a slow-start to 2017 thanks to a lack of appealing main event options. It looks like that will be difficult to avoid once again in 2018, but we can worry about that then, if the world still even exists. For now, we have several stacked cards to enjoy, and UFC 219 fits the bill.
Even without a main event, the UFC’s final PPV of 2017 is another piece of evidence for the “Reasons we love Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby” file that we’ve been keeping. Their matchmaking has hit a hot-streak, and we can’t wait to reap the rewards.
Currently, a couple of former champions make long-awaited returns at UFC 219. Former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will be fighting Jimmie Rivera in what likely amounts to a number-one contender bout for a shot at the champion come 2018. The “Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit will also be returning at UFC 219, taking on Neil Magny after more than a year away from the Octagon.
There are other great bouts as well, featuring exciting names like Cynthia Calvillo and Gokhan Saki, but every great card needs a great main event. Generally speaking, great main events include having a title on the line, something the promotion has forced onto main event fights in recent years.
Whether or not this card has a title-fight in the main event, it needs to draw viewers. The buyrates throughout 2017 have lagged, especially compared to last year. With negotiations for the promotion’s televisions rights beginning shortly, showcasing a product with the ability to get people interested is a must. Luckily for the UFC, they have some pretty impressive fighters in their stable. But, which will they call upon for UFC 219?
Let’s rule out a few, or more than a few, title-options for the main event of UFC 219. From UFC 215 to UFC 218, the promotion has seven title-fights scheduled. That’s a lot. The numbers are a little skewed thanks to the three major bouts at MSG for UFC 217, but the effects will be felt throughout the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.
We can rule out the four belts on-the-line at both UFC 217 and 218, meaning we won’t be seeing Michael Bisping, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cody Garbrandt, Max Holloway and their currently slated opponents in Las Vegas to end the year. Barring an injury or late change, similar to Demetrious Johnson’s switch from UFC 215 to 216, we can rule those three out. While we’re at it, Mighty Mouse has said he’s done in 2017 after breaking Anderson Silva’s UFC title-defense record earlier this month.
It’s also unlikely women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will once again headline the year-end PPV for the promotion. Despite holding on to her belt this year, she’s doesn’t draw viewers without a high-profile opponent, and her performance against Valentina Shevchenko in September left plenty to be desired. The UFC needs a big buyrate from UFC 219, and Nunes probably isn’t the fighter they’re looking for. Plus, her likely next opponent Racquel Pennington, is still working toward getting back to 100% health.
Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier also seems unlikely to return to the Octagon by the end of the year, saying he expects to defend his belt against contender Volkan Oezdemir “the beginning of next year, sometime”. It’s understandable for Cormier, who’s had an up-and-down-and-up roller coaster ride this year.
Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley seems just as unlikely as Cormier, but for slightly different reasons. Fighting in four title-fights from late-July of 2016 to late-July of 2017, Woodley desrves a rest. Also, he’s apparently banged up and recovering from a labrum issue. Either way, the champ has time for the loaded 170-pound division to shake-out.
Oh, and interim middleweight champion Robert “will always be referred to as Bobby Knuckles no matter what” Whittaker is still out injured until sometime in 2018.
Okay, hear us out: UFC President Dana White might be telling the truth.
Since Tony Ferguson won the UFC interim lightweight title in impressive fashion earlier this month against Kevin Lee, White has been on the title-unification bandwagon. The reason? That wagon steers clear of a bigger cost-bill should current UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor want to fight the other, seemingly more likely opponent in Nate Diaz.
The trilogy fight we’ve been waiting for since the rematch ended will come, one day. But right now, the stars look like they’re aligning for McGregor to attempt to defend a title for the first time in his MMA career.
Apart from the promotion preferring a cheaper dance-partner for their premier superstar, they really need a solid buyrate out of their final PPV of the year. We mentioned previously about the importance of ending 2017 strong, and utilizing their ace in the hole would make sense.
Whether or not it’s all just public negotiation with the Diaz camp remains to be seen. For now, McGregor is interested, and we’re well aware of how Ferguson feels. Whoever the Irishman ends up choosing, the fight will be a big ocassion, and UFC 219 needs exactly that. The UFC will obviously have to pay-up in order to secure McGregor’s work for his first and only MMA bout of 2017, but having to pay Ferguson, rather than Diaz, on the B-side makes things a little bit easier.
Khabib Nurmagomedov also threw his hat into the ring, calling-out Tony Ferguson on The MMA Hour. He’d provide an even more affordable option to either McGregor or Diaz, and finally getting to see Ferguson-Nurmagomedov for the interim belt, nearly a year after yet another cancellation for the duo, might just be enough for a solid PPV buyrate. Certainly not that of McGregor-Diaz III, but potentially one of the better UFC buyrates of 2017.
The next biggest draw the promotion could try calling is women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg. Her next opponent seems already decided in Holly Holm, meaning all we would need is a date. With the impressive card already built for UFC 219, adding a bout featuring a current and former UFC champion doesn’t sound like the worst idea.
But, things seem to have hit a snag, as they tend to do when it comes to Cyborg. According to the Brazilian, the UFC offered her less for a bout with Holm than for her title-winning bout against Tony Evinger in July. The UFC needs a main event bout for their final PPV of the year, and if things with McGregor don’t work out, they could decide to go the cheaper route and utilize their next best option.
That leaves one champion with availability for UFC 219: heavyweight badass Stipe Miocic. Unfortunately, he’s lacking an opponent. The guy we’d all like to see return to the Octagon, Cain Velasquez, seems like more than a long-shot at this point. Even though we’re nearly a year removed from being denied Velasquez’s return, we’re still bummed.
Anything can happen in the heavyweight division, but Miocic needs a legitimate challenge. And again, the promotion needs a draw. As of now, the two most deserving alternatives to Velasquez are Francis Ngannou and Alistair Overeem, who will be fighting each other at UFC 218 in early-December. A turn-around that quick against a guy like Miocic spells disaster, and is filed safely under “unlikely”.
There’s the outside chance Fabricio Werdum could jump the line for a rematch with Miocic, should he defeat Marcin Tybura at UFC Sydney in mid-November. If we get to that point with the UFC 219 main event, things would have gone very poorly for MMA’s premier promotion over the final months of the year.
There aren’t a lot of top tier options for the UFC to call upon for the main event of UFC 219. Regardless of who headlines the last PPV event of the year, it’s shaping up to be one of the best cards of 2017. The promotion could use a big event, and a big buyrate, and one main event makes more sense than the rest since that’s the case. Welcome back, Conor.