Everybody loves a good grudge match! The intense competition and colorful personalities in the UFC have allowed for the emergence of several high-profile grudge matches for fans to look forward in the next year or so. Some are defined by a specific altercation that occurred in recent memory while others have been growing for years with the animosity only surging after every encounter. Today, we will touch on five of the most significant grudge matches slated to take place in the next year!
Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal:
Make no mistake. This grudge match is undoubtedly fueled by Jorge Masvidal. Usman handles himself well in the presence of fighters he does not particularly like. He did so with Colby Covington and there were no physical altercations or major difficulties associated with the leadup to their fight. Usman does like to jab at his opponents, but he does most of his talking in the Octagon. Masvidal, on the other hand is known for altercations and trash talk. Arguably the biggest star in MMA right now, Masvidal’s historic return to the UFC has recharged the Florida natives’ career and launched him into superstardom in the mma community. He has ploughed through Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz in a matter of nine months and earned himself a title shot against current champion Usman convincingly in the eyes of fans and UFC President Dana White.
This rivalry is not fueled by animosity, its fueled by competition. Masvidal is turning this into a grudge match simply because Usman has what he wants, a UFC title. Usman is on an 11-fight win streak with notable wins over Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington. He has outright dominated every opponent he has faced except for Covington. The match between Usman and Covington was extremely competitive and came down to the final round where Usman scored a TKO victory. Usman is an extremely well-rounded fighter who is averaging 4.20 significant strikes per minute, a 100% takedown defense rate and 3.96 takedowns per 15 minutes. He does everything well backed by a stellar wrestling game and premier athleticism.
Masvidal is the complete opposite. His entire career has been defined by utter excitement. His second-round knockout of Donald Cerrone in front of Cerrone’s home crowd? Epic. His dismantling of Nate Diaz at MSG? Incredible. Everything this man seems to touch of late turns into gold which is why a title shot makes sense. The build up to these two gentlemen meeting in the Octagon is going to be nothing short of insanity. Masvidal will try his best to get under Usman’s skin with mental warfare during their media days. Usman has shown he is thus far unsusceptible to the mind games and effectively remains cool and composed whenever his opponents have tried to do so. The reason this is such an anticipated grudge match is because Masvidal and Usman’s thirst for competition is so strong that it turns things personal. The two already had an altercation back in January when they were providing interviews to the press in Miami. When it comes to the ultimate grudge match too look forward to for the foreseeable future, this is it. Be prepared for an epic pre-fight build up.
Paulo Costa vs Israel Adesanya:
Of all the potential grudge matches to look forward, the UFC Middleweight Championship bout between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa may very well be the most competitive. Both have undoubtedly cemented themselves as the two-best middleweight in the UFC and their dislike for one another has consistently grown. Costa and Izzy started their climbs within one year of another and have since become elite UFC talent. Both are undefeated in the Octagon and continue to gain fans due to their exciting styles, likeable personalities, and obvious stardom. Costa is 5-0 in the UFC with four of those five wins coming by way of knockout. He has trampled his way towards the #1 contender spot of the division. The Brazilian tank is averaging 8.83 significant strikes per minute and 2.10 knockdown ratio per bout. Costa’s most competitive fight was no doubt his three-round war with Yoel Romeo back in August of 2019. He used consistent pressure and powerful combinations to constantly back Romeo up and score a unanimous decision win establishing himself as the clear number one contender.
Israel Adesanya is on fire. Yes, his title defense against Romero was underwhelming but that is Romero’s fault more than anyone else. A challenger is expected to take it to the champion and Romero did just the opposite. Adesanya is currently 8-0 in the UFC with most of his fights ending in utter domination. He unified the UFC Middleweight Championship by making quick work of former champion Robert Whittaker using his fantastic counterstriking and elite control of the distance to score a second-round knockout and officially establish himself as the king of the middleweights. The New Zealand native is on track to become the next big UFC star going into 2020 as he prepares to defend his title for a second time.
The fight between Adesanya and Costa will be nothing like Adesanya and Romero. Similar to what Marvin Vettori did against Izzy back in 2018, Costa will try to make this fight as uncomfortable as possible for the champion. Costa will consistently march forward with constant pressure to disrupt Adesanya’s game plan which relies heavily on counterstriking and distance control. Adesanya will have to deal with Costa’s relentless pace, constant pressure, and notoriously heavy punches for five straight rounds. He is at an obvious strength disadvantage and will find it difficult to avoid getting hit for the entirety of the bout. Adesanya’s key to victory is going to be the body and tiring out the stronger challenger. He will have to use his kicks and long punches to pummel away at Costa’s midsection steadily tiring out the stronger and more muscular Costa. This will be a highly competitive fight with the victor determinant on who is able to implement their game plan more effectively.
Tyron Woodley vs Colby Covington:
Anytime you hear a fighter talk about wanting to kill a potential opponent and feed them to the sharks, it is reasonable to assume there is some sort of animosity involved. The disdain between Woodley and Covington is on another level when it comes to a grudge match. This storm has been brewing for several years and it is amazing that this fight has not happened yet. 2020 is the year where we finally get to see Woodley get his hands on Covington or Covington prove to the world that he is better than Woodley as much as he says he is. Grudge match or not, these two are highly skilled mixed martial arts who have fought the best of the best in the division. Their common denominator is losing to current UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman. Covington performed exponentially better against Usman than Woodley did but that could be due to styles making fights. Whenever this fight happens, be prepared for a war of words and fists.
Covington was riding a seven-fight win streak prior to losing to Usman in their December 2019 title bout. He effectively cleaned out a list of notable UFC welterweights and did so in convincing fashion. The American Top Team standout is currently averaging 3.90 significant strikes per minute and an impressive 5.69 takedowns per 15 minutes. Covington feeds off pressuring his opponents with volume striking and constantly threatening the takedown. What is even more impressive is his stellar cardio that allows him to continuously fight at a high pace and implement his game plan for the entirety of a bout. Covington is likely one fight away from getting another title match due to his closely contested bout with Usman and brash personality that has fans tuning in whether they love him or hate him.
Tyron Woodley will be the first to admit that his title defense against Kamaru Usman did not go as planned and was certainly one of his poorer performances. Woodley was scheduled to return to the Octagon against Leon Edwards for a bout that may have determined who the next title shot would go too in March of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that fight has been cancelled and is likely to remain off the table for the foreseeable future. Now, Woodley has been linked to fighting his longtime rival Covington in a match that could determine who gets to challenge the winner of Usman and Masvidal after their title bout. Woodley was unbeaten since 2014 and defended his belt four times prior to losing to Usman back in March 2019. The Missouri native is eager to get back into the win column and once again challenge for the UFC Welterweight title.
The bout between Covington and Woodley is going to be extremely exciting due to the long-standing feud between these elite UFC welterweights. Covington already has a blueprint for defeating Woodley and that is doing exactly what Usman did to Woodley back in March of 2019. Pressure and volume will lead Covington to a unanimous decision win setting him up for another title shot. For Woodley to have any chance against the younger and better conditioned Covington, he will need to keep the fight at distance to set up powerful shots and knock Covington out. Whatever happens, the long-awaited clash between these two will surely live up to the hype!
Henry Cejudo vs Anyone:
It would be unfair to pick just a single name. Henry Cejudo has clearly made himself the enemy of the entire UFC Bantamweight division due to his questionable antics and cringeworthy social media posts. Aljamain Sterling, Dominick Cruz and Petr Yan are all top bantamweight names that have been gunning to get their hands on “Triple C” and end his reign. Cejudo was supposed to defend his belt against longtime UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo in May of 2020. That bout is no longer happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a rather stunning move, all signs from media and the UFC are pointing to Dominick Cruz being the next man up to get his chance at Cejudo. Recall that Cruz has not fought since December of 2016 where he lost his title to former UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt. The man who is more deserving of the shot is clearly Aljamain Sterling. Since his loss to Marlon Moraes back in December of 2017, Sterling has run through a list of UFC Bantamweight contenders which include Brett Johns, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera, and Pedro Munhoz. Sterling is on a four-fight win streak and currently sitting at #2 in the UFC Bantamweight rankings. Whomever Cejudo fights next, be prepared for some ridiculous social media posts, lengthy back and forth trash talk and a fight that will feature elite UFC Bantamweight talent!
Chan Sung Jung vs Brian Ortega:
How this became a grudge match is beyond me. Ortega and Jung are unlikely candidates when it comes to getting involved in a grudge match but in 2020 anything is possible. The beef between these two apparently came to fruition at UFC 248 where Ortega slapped Jung’s translator and friend Jay Park. He apparently did so while Jung stepped away to use to the washroom and since then there has been a wide array of accusations, social media posts and building tension. On top of that, Ortega and Jung were scheduled to face each other in December of 2019 but the fight was scrapped due to Ortega suffering a knee injury. Frankie Edgar went on to replace Ortega and was knocked out in the first round. Jung has been nothing short of impressive since his return to the Octagon back in 2017. He has gone 3-1 and finished all his opponents in the first round. His only loss came to Yair Rodriguez in what was one of the most bizarre last minutes knockouts in UFC history. Jung was comfortably winning the fight until suffering a crushing elbow strike from Rodriguez at 4:59 of the fifth round. He went to knockout Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar in 2019 and establish himself as a top five featherweight contender.
Ortega has not competed since December 8, 2018 where he was unable to capture the UFC Featherweight Championship from Max Holloway. The bout was truly epic and ended in between the fourth and fifth rounds via doctor stoppage. Ortega and Holloway met in the center of Octagon and exchanged heavy blows for four straight rounds. Ortega took considerable damage and was deemed unable to continue by the doctor. Still, the #2 ranked UFC featherweight showed incredible heart and proved to fans he should absolutely be considered one of the best featherweights on planet earth.
By the time these two actually fight, its unlikely there will be any real animosity left. However, it helps sell an already significant bout for the division between two elite featherweights. Look for Jung to try and keep the fight on the feet as he usually does and go head hunting. Ortega has proven to be very durable and is able to dish out some power of his own. Ortega would be smart to use his improved striking to get this fight to the ground and do what he does best. Jung is not someone many featherweights should be willing to trade blows with. Many who have tried have utterly failed and woken up to a doctor helping them to a stool. Either way, this bout will be a big one for the division with the winner likely being next in line for a number one contender bout or possible title shot.
Andrew is a lifelong follower of combat sports. His passion began as a child and has only grown as an adult. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and a master’s from Texas A & M University. Outside of combat sports, Andrew currently works as a program manager for an aerospace manufacturing company. He has trained Muay Thai for seven years and continues to spar and train on the weekends when time permits.