Five UFC Fighters Who Could Make a Big Impact in 2020
By Jack Maher
Now that the final UFC event of the year, and also the decade is in the record books, focus has now fully moved to next year’s MMA schedule, with more fights for the new year being announced practically every day.
With a new year comes a need for new stars and fresher talent to step up and take the place of the companies ageing fighters. ‘Making an impact’ could be anything from climbing the rankings, becoming a regular headliner or fighting for a world championship, so here are five UFC fighters who could make a big impact in 2020
Geoff Neal had a brilliant 2019, and going in the new year it looks like the only way is up for “Handz of Steel”
The 29 year-old welterweight went 3-0, and is 5-0 in the UFC, with four stoppages. Neal has entered the rankings and now sits at #11 in the division positioning himself to take on the big names, and his wins over solid contenders like Mike Perry and Niko Price should serve as proof he belongs with the very best.
Neal is an exciting fighter to watch, and finds himself going in to 2020 ranked in an ageing division. Nine of the top-10 at 170lbs are over the age of 30, and all of them have had more than 10 UFC fights, so really there is no reason for the UFC to be against pushing fresh blood in the division.
If Neal keeps active, stays in the win column and carry’s on winning fights in the fashion he’s being doing it, then Neal will make serious waves in the division and possibly even position himself for a title shot.
The second welterweight on this list, take most of what I said about Neal, and apply it to Jingliang, with a small asterisk. Jingliang is an up-and-coming, exciting fighter in a division that will soon be needing fresh faces.
He has also found himself recently ranked, joining the rankings at #15. Jingliang’s current win streak is shorter than Neal’s, currently riding a three-fight win streak, and he’s probably a bit more irresponsible defensively, but one advantage ‘The Leech’ has is his nationality.
Jingliang is from China, a market the UFC has recently entered, holding three events in the country in the past 3 years, and with so much money to be made in the region, you’d expect at least one UFC China card this year.
Jingliang has fought on every UFC card in the region so far, so it’s clear he’s been earmarked as a potential moneymaker in his home country. Jingliang has his first fight for 2020 already booked, scheduled to face long-term contender Neil Magny at UFC 248 in March, and if he can beat the veteran he will be even closer towards the top-10 and will presumably enter the mainevent picture, particularly for any cards in China.
Heavyweight fighters who can hit hard, are capable on the ground and are actually fit enough to go a full three rounds comfortably are hard to find, but we might have found that in Cyril Gane.
While early comparisons to Francis Ngannou are flattering, they don’t tell the full story, as Gane has so far shown a more well-rounded game than Ngannou, although he has hasn’t faced the best opposition.
Gane is being moved slowly by the UFC, understandable given that when he debuted in the company earlier this year he was only 3-0, and I have no problem with this, but the heavyweight division is so thin that anyone with some sort of momentum will be on the radar of the UFC matchmakers, and you’ve got to think that big things are in store for Gane in 2020.
If the French heavyweight can maintain his good performances against the best fighters in the weight class next year, then the other competitors in the division will have a real problem on their hands, and there’ll be no reason not to think of Gane as one of the best at his weight.
Yet another welterweight, Burns is probably the most surprising entrant on this list when you consider that in June of 2020 it will be six years since Burns debuted in the UFC, but next year could be the year the Brazilian finally realises his potential. A black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, Burns also carries very decent knockout power for someone who’s main strength is grappling.
Burns has a lot of ability, but inconsistencies in the cage along with a struggle to make weight at 155lbs has hindered him. Now sitting comfortable up at 170, Burns is on a four-fight win streak, and his willingness to seemingly fight anyone anywhere will surely have him in the promotions good books.
Burns had a good 2019, returning to welterweight to hand 20-fight veteran Alexey Kunchenko his first professional loss, before stepping in on short notice to face Gunnar Nelson, picking up the biggest win of his MMA career by decision.
His willingness to take fights others won’t will bring him unique opportunities, and fighting closer to his natural weight should make ‘Durinho’ feel healthier inside the cage. Don’t be surprised to see Burns taking on a big name next year, whether that’s because he’s earned that fight through consistent strong performances, or he’s stepped in to face them on short notice.
Some fighters just have that ability to make people talk about them more than others, regardless of ability, and it seems like at just 21 years old Maycee Barber has the attention of the fans along with a lot of ability.
The undefeated flyweight is the most talked about woman in the division not named Valentina Shevchenko or Paige Vanzant, and her relentless pursuit of the latter is one of the reasons Barber has got the fans talking. 7-0 overall, with six finishes, Barber certainly has the ability, and the UFC are clearly aware of Barber’s potential star power.
There’s even rumblings of her becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, although toppling the flyweight Queen Shevchenko would be a tall order.
Barber is booked to fight on the McGregor-Cerrone undercard next month, clearly a tactical move by the UFC, putting one of their brightest young stars on what could end up being the biggest card of the year.
The women’s 125lb division is thin and short of top contenders, and if Barber wins impressively next month and shines on the mic afterwards on such a big event, she will go from potential star to current star. If it all goes to plan for Barber on January 18th, then you can expect her being positioned to fight for UFC gold before the year is over.