At the back end of 2018, it was announced that the UFC had signed a new five-year deal with ESPN for the exclusive rights to air all UFC live events. I wasn’t exactly sure how this would play out, but luckily it was the best thing for the sport.
On audience growth alone it brought the promotion to a whole other level, with most cards being exclusively on ESPN+ and several being aired on ESPN’s cable network.
The first event of the ESPN era was UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw back on January 18th and it did not disappoint. This card was sneaky good. We saw KO/TKO wins from Cowboy Cerrone, Gregor Gillespie and of course Henry Cejudo taking out a blood-doping T.J. Dillashaw in the first minute of the fight to defend the Flyweight title.
After that, it was off and running. There would be 39 more UFC events between then and now, most of which being free with an ESPN+ subscription.
Some highlights were the nine-week stretch of consecutive live events that took place from February 2nd to March 30th. Probably my favorite stretch of fights this year. Till vs. Masvidal, Barboza vs. Gaethje, Adesanya vs. Silva and Thompson vs. Pettis. An insanely good string of mains events.
This stretch is what really brought Israel Adesanya, Jorge Masvidal and Justin Gaethje into the spotlight and propelled them to the point they’re at now. Adesanya is the Middleweight champ, Masvidal is a clear next in line for a shot at the Welterweight belt and Gaethje in my opinion, is next for the Lightweight after Khabib Nurmagamedov and Tony Ferguson go at it.
Back in July, we had UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos, which was the international fight week card, traditionally the UFC’s premier card for the year. Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos for the Light Heavyweight title, Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm for the Women’s Bantamweight title, and of course Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren.
For those of you living under a rock, let me remind you how that one went.
The man with the fastest KO in @UFC history returns tonight 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 2, 2019
Five seconds was all it took to take out the then, 19-0 Askren and seal the fastest knockout in UFC history. Just like that Gamebred made himself a household name. He most recently headlined UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden with Nate Diaz when they fought for the “Baddest Motherfucker Title” to cap off his 3-0 2019.
By the way that’s 3-0 with three stoppages.
39 fight cards after that first fight night on ESPN+, we find ourselves less than a week away from UFC 245.
The card is being headlined by Kamara Usman vs. Colby Covington fighting for the Welterweight title, which is going to either be a wrestler’s dream or a brawl between two guys that really just hate each other. Enough said.
The co-main event is Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski for the Featherweight title. Volkanovski is 7-0 in the UFC and has been tearing through the division. Max Holloway is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest featherweight of all-time.
You have to go back to August of 2013 for his last featherweight loss. That loss was to none other than Conor McGregor. Since then, Holloway went on a 13 fight win streak before losing to Dustin Poirier in an interim-lightweight title fight.
This has the makings of a bout that could come and steal fight of the year. Holloway’s output is unmatched in the featherweight division, not to mention he’s a tough MF’er.
Volkanovski, on the other hand, is a killer. In his 20 pro wins he has 14 stoppages (11 KO). I just can’t wait for this one.
But wait there’s more…
ANOTHER TITLE FIGHT! Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie 2 for the Women’s Bantamweight title. Nunes is without a doubt the GOAT of women’s MMA. She holds wins over Ronda Rousey, Meisha Tate, Holly Holm, Valentina Shevchenko, Racquel Pennington and of course Cris Cyborg.
The first women’s double champ (bantamweight/featherweight), six title fight wins, 16 stoppages in 18 fights. Undoubtedly the GOAT.
Germaine de Randamie is no slouch. She also holds wins over Pennington and Holm and has finished four of her nine fights. Unfortunately, I just don’t think she has what it takes to beat Nunes. In their first meeting, Nunes won via first-round TKO. I don’t know if it’ll happen in the first round again, but I expect the result to be the same. de Randamie has definitely improved since 2013, but so has Nunes.
This card also features Jose Aldo’s debut at bantamweight against fellow-Brazilian Marlon Moraes and Peter Yan vs. Urijah Faber. It’s always good when the California Kid is on a card and we get to watch him make the walk to “California Love”.
This is exactly what fight fans need to help wrap up an insane year of live events. So buckle up and enjoy it.