It’s finally here: the return of Conor McGregor. Welcomed back by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor’s return to the UFC is the talk of the town. Plenty is on the line at UFC 229’s main event, but several others have a lot to gain in Las Vegas this weekend.
The headline fight of UFC 229 will deservedly steal the spotlight. But the depth of the card is worth noting as well. A couple of former champions, several top ranked contenders, and some highly touted prospects have this weekend’s pay-per-view looking like one of the best of the year.
Leading up to the card at Madison Square Garden, and the final event of the year around New Year’s Eve, the UFC’s slate for the end of 2018 is shaping up nicely. It’s easy to focus on the high profile title fights, but there’s a lot more to enjoy with a glance at the rest of the currently scheduled bouts headed our way.
Whether you’re a title contender or an unranked fighter, every bout matters. But, fights at certain points in a fighter’s career can mean more than others, based on the circumstances. Great match-ups are always fun. With a little more on the line, those fights are even better for those of us at home.
With more than a few major names and ranked contenders, several fighters have a lot to gain at UFC 229. While that may be the case, a few fighters are facing matchups that could propel them to great starts, or even title fights, in 2019. These five fighters have more to gain than the rest this weekend in Las Vegas.
Fighting in the co-main event of the biggest card of the year, against a former champion who didn’t lose his belt in the Octagon, is about the best scenario former 155-pound title-holder Anthony Pettis could’ve hoped for, given his recent run. The 31-year-old has fought at both lightweight and featherweight in the last couple of years, having mixed results.
Since returning to lightweight last summer, Pettis seems to be finding a second wind in his already-impressive career. He’s won two out of his last three bouts. Most recently he earned a victory over Michael Chiesa in July, looking and performing better than he has since his title reign. Currently ranked the number eight 155er in the official UFC fighter rankings, a match-up with number two ranked title contender Tony Ferguson puts Pettis right in the thick of things.
He’ll likely need another top-tier win at lightweight to get near a title-shot in 2019. His most recent loss came at the hands of Dustin Poirier, who is firmly in the title picture as well. There’s also whatever Nate Diaz is doing. And GSP might even be an option.
With a win at UFC 229 this weekend, Pettis will at least leap-frog Ferguson. After that, there’s no telling what will happen. Things could clear up by the end of the year, but predicting what will happen at lightweight has been a fool’s task of late. But with back-to-back top-10 wins, don’t be surprised to see Pettis once again in the UFC lightweight title picture.
Brock Lesnar and Daniel Cormier have combined to drastically shift the landscape atop the heavyweight division. While some things may have changed, Alexander Volkov has continued to rack up victories. Winning his last six fights, and going 4-0 in his UFC career, the former Bellator (and M-1 Global) heavyweight champion has propelled himself into the top-five in the UFC rankings.
Volkov faces number-two ranked Derrick Lewis in Las Vegas this weekend. It’ll be Volkov’s first bout since March, when he dominated the now-suspended former title holder Fabricio Werdum. Despite being lower in the rankings, Volkov is the favorite going into UFC 229.
It usually doesn’t take such a long winning streak for a UFC heavyweight to earn a title-shot. Just ask Lesnar. While the title may be momentarily hung up, Volkov is already very much in the picture. Considering a win over Lewis would give Volkov five in a row, it’s hard to imagine a chance at the belt passing him by for much longer. Should he earn the victory at UFC 229, you can expect Volkov to be readying for a fight for the belt sometime next year.
The flyweight division is heading into new year with a non-Demetrious Johnson champion for the first time ever. That should give the likes of Sergio Pettis, Joseph Benavidez, and the rest of the top-tier at 125-pounds some renewed title hopes.
Champion Henry Cejudo is currently angling for a “super-fight” with bantamweight title-holder TJ Dillashaw. Should that fail to materialise, and Johnson to remain injured for the forseeable future, the contenders mentioned above are all in the race for the first shot at Cejudo.
Pettis is the highest ranked, number two, of the healthy flyweight title-contenders. At UFC 229 he’ll be fighting fifth-ranked Jussier Formiga. Formiga has been knocking on the door of a title shot for years, and could earn a huge win himself this weekend. But it’s Pettis who, with a victory, will put himself in pole-position for a crack at Cejduo’s belt, despite his loss to the current champ in December of 2017.
Being an undefeated prospect in the women’s bantamweight division is a great place to find yourself in the UFC right now. Just ask 6-0 23-year-old Aspen Ladd. Champion Amanda Nunes is focused on featherweight title-holder Cris Cyborg, while the rest of the 135-pound weight class builds itself some contenders. Ladd is certainly near the top of that list, behind number-two ranked Ketlen Vieira.
Ladd is ranked number nine in the official UFC women’s bantamweight rankings. Although she hasn’t fought in nearly a year, her opponent at UFC 229 has been on the shelf for even longer. Tonya Evinger is always game, which she showed in her loss to Cyborg in July of last year. She’ll undoubtedly be the toughest test of Ladd’s young career, with Evinger tallying 20 more career fights than Ladd.
Ladd earned a win over #12 ranked Lina Lansberg in her promotional debut last October. Before that, she defeated future UFC women’s flyweight title contender Sijara Eubanks at Invicta FC 21. If Ladd is victorious over Evinger in Las Vegas this weekend, women’s bantamweight will have another legit contender for the title picture in 2019, and she’ll earn another top tier opponent in her next bout.
Another undefeated prospect will get the toughest opponent of their career at UFC 229, doing so in the spotlight of the main card. Light heavyweight Dominick Reyes has impressed in his three-fight run in the UFC. So much so that the promotion is matching him up with perennial top-10 205-pound contender Ovince Saint Preux. Despite the gulf in experience between the two, Reyes is a sizable favorite ahead of the bout.
The 28-year-old in 9-0 in his less than five-year-old career. He’s earned first round finishes in eight of those bouts, including each of his three UFC fights. In his most recent bout in May, Reyes TKO’d Jared Cannonier in impressive fashion. After that win, he cracked the top-15 in the fighter rankings, giving the division a much needed fresh face.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division has been begging for new talent for a while now. It could definitely use more, but Reyes is currently the promotion’s brightest young prospect at 205-pounds. A win over OSP would boost his credentials even more. While a loss wouldn’t derail the growing expectations, another top-10 opponent would be on the way in 2019 with a victory, paving the way for his continued rise in a weight class that is prime for the taking.
The action at UFC 229 will have our full attention this weekend. While we’re excited for the main event, there’s plenty more to enjoy further down the card. Let us know which fighters you think have the most to gain at UFC 229, and which match-ups you’re looking forward to most! Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!