Male Fighters Who Need to Make UFC Returns in 2019

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Recently an article was posted on MMASucka about the female fighters that should make a return in 2019. In this article, the male UFC fighters that should make an octagon return are looked at.

Male Fighters We’ve Missed in 2019

Men’s Flyweight Division


With the future of this division unclear, all that should happen is flyweights being able to fight. With a number of the top contenders booked, it looks to be sticking around, for now. Although champion Henry Cejudo went up to bantamweight and won the belt there, it is unclear if he will return to 125 pounds and defend his title.

As one of MMASucka’s most underrated flyweights, it would be nice to see Kai Kara France back in action at the back end of the year. Last competing in February at UFC 234, France is riding a seven-fight win streak and looks like he could cause problems in the upper echelon of the division. With Joseph Benevidez‘s big win at UFC on ESPN 3, the flyweight division has a logical next title fight.

Men’s Bantamweight Division

Cody Garbrandt

Former champion Cody Garbrandt has been down on his luck recently. Having gone 0-3 since capturing the belt, ‘No Love’ has been knocked out in each of his last three fights. Garbrandt hasn’t been in action since his loss to top contender Pedro Munhoz and following this loss, MMASucka stated that Garbrandt had a lot to change. Arguably the hardest hitter in the bantamweight division, Garbrandt is still a threat. Who could be next for Cody? A potential match-up could be against either Ricky Simon (depending on how his fight with Garbrandt’s teammate Urijah Faber plays out) or Nathaniel Wood. Both of these men are top prospects and would provide an interesting clash of styles.

Dominick Cruz

Arguably the best bantamweight to grace the octagon has been out of action since losing to Garbrandt in 2016. Although he’s currently having a successful career as an analyst, Dominick Cruz does his best work inside the Octagon. Cruz has twice been scheduled against top contenders in Jimmie Rivera and John Lineker. If (and it is a big if) he returns to the Octagon, he will need a tune-up fight before returning to top fighters in the division. 

Men’s Featherweight Division

Yair Rodriguez

Yair Rodriguez was once touted as one of the hottest prospects in the 145 pound division. The UFC certainly pushed him and it’s clear to understand why. The TUF: Latin America winner has three performance of the night bonuses and three fight of the nights. He has also headlined three fight night shows. Most recently, he scored one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history, over Chan Sung Jung. This knockout also won MMASucka’s KO of the year for 2018. Hopefully he will be back in action fairly soon, having been injury free for a while now. Potential match-ups could see him against either Zabit Magomedsharipov or Brian Ortega. He could also face Jeremy Stephens, who doesn’t currently have a fight booked.

Kron Gracie

With one of the more impressive UFC debuts in recent memory, Kron Gracie is due for another fight. The grappling sensation was last in action in February, picking up a rear naked choke victory against Alex Caceres. At 5-0, Gracie is yet to be tested in his professional career. He needs to be matched up against someone who will force him to elevate his game. Looking up the rankings, he could be matched with a fighter of the calibre of Shane Young. Young has recently broken onto the UFC scene and brings an exciting style whenever he fights.

Men’s Lightweight Division

Leonardo Santos

Yes, Leonardo Santos recently fought at UFC Fight Night 153. On this occasion, he scored a performance of the night knockout over Stevie Ray. Prior to this, he’d been inactive since October 2016. Sitting at 17-3-1 (6-0-1 UFC), Santos is clearly a massive talent but needs to stay active to really make an impact in the division. At 39 years old, Santos is arguably past his prime, although his recent performances wouldn’t suggest this. A potential next fight for Santos would be one with Gilbert Burns. This fight would determine who really has what it takes to break into the top 15 of the division.

Gregor Gillespie

Gregor ‘The Gift’ Gillespie is one of the hottest prospects in MMA today. Sitting at an undefeated 13-0, the relentless wrestler has a style which no one has been able to deal with in the UFC. He was most recently in action at UFC on ESPN+ 1, dominating Yancy Medeiros before finishing him in the second. His record in the UFC is 6-0, with five finishes in a row. It is time that Gillespie has some respect put on his name. Ranked #12 in the 155 pound division, it is time that Gillespie has a big test next. Justin Gaethje or Al Iaquinta would provide this big test and would show us what Gillespie really has to offer.

Men’s Welterweight Division

Nate Diaz

Before anyone says anything, yes. Nate Diaz is booked to face Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 in Anaheim, California. As fans should know, however, just because Diaz is booked in a fight, it doesn’t mean it’ll come to fruition. Diaz was scheduled to face current interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier at UFC 230, but this fight was cancelled. Fans haven’t seen Diaz in action since his controversial loss to Conor McGregor in their rematch at UFC 202 in August 2016. If Diaz’s fight with Pettis goes ahead, it will be almost three years since he last stepped in the Octagon. As such an exciting fighter, as well as being a big draw, Diaz is valuable to the UFC. Hopefully his upcoming fight materialises and fans can see him back in the Octagon in August.

Santiago Ponzinibbio

Santiago Ponzinibbio is certainly a hot prospect within the 170 pound division. Ponzinibbio has a 9-2 record in the UFC, including an impressive five finishes. He has also headlined two cards, picking up finish victories in both. Ranked #9 in the welterweight division, it is likely the Argentinian striking expert will headline UFC on ESPN+14 in Uruguay. It is rumoured that a number of high-level fighters have turned down this fight, including Leon Edwards. Ponzinibbio will certainly be looking to fight an opponent who will help him climb the ranks. A fight against Steven Thompson would provide a brilliant match-up of world-class strikers. Thompson has however stated that he isn’t looking to return until later in the year.

Men’s Middleweight Division

Robert Whittaker

The UFC’s middleweight king Robert Whittaker hasn’t fought since UFC 225 in July of last year. Before this, he was out of action for a year due to injury. Whittaker is easily one of the best fighters on the planet but has been plagued with injuries. Scheduled to face Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234, Whittaker was pulled from the fight after weigh-ins due to injury. It has been announced that the 185 pound champion will return at UFC 243 in Australia in October. His opponent will be interim champion Isreal Adesanya in an all Oceanic affair. Let’s hope that Whittaker can make the walk this time!

Brad Tavares

Hawaii’s own, Brad Tavares last competed in the Octagon in July 2018. On this occasion, he fell victim to Adesanya’s rise. Prior to this, however, Tavares was riding a four-fight winning streak. At 17-5, with 17 fights in the UFC and a stint on TUF, Tavares is one of the more experienced men on the roster. He currently sits at #11 in the middleweight rankings and will likely fight a lower ranked opponent next. A good match-up for him would be against Derek Brunson. Following two losses on the spin, Brunson broke his duck with a win at UFC on ESPN+9.

Men’s Light Heavyweight Division

Khalil Rountree Jr

Although Khalil Rountree Jr recently fought at UFC 236, he put on such a good performance that it’s time to see him again. Rountree has had a sketchy life in the UFC with a record of 4-3-1. His performance against Eryk Anders was his best inside the Octagon. He completely changed his style and came out with a Muay Thai based style. Knocking Anders down four times throughout the bout, he won 30-26 on all scorecards. A perfect next opponent for Rountree would be Ryan Spann. Spann is coming off a first-round TKO victory at UFC 237.

Corey Anderson

There are few more deserving of a title shot than Corey Anderson. Anderson is riding a three-fight win streak against some of the best names in the sport. The improvements since his losses to Jimi Manuwa and Ovince St Preux have been impressive. He has barely dropped a round in his last three bouts. With a solid wrestling base, his hands are quickly improving, meaning that he can be a real threat at 205. Anderson’s next fight should be a title eliminator against either Dominck Reyes or Jan Blachowicz.

Men’s Heavyweight Division

Alexander Volkov

‘Drago’ Alexander Volkov has been out of action since his shock loss to Derrick Lewis. Despite dominating the fight, Volkov was knocked out in the last 15 seconds of the bout. Volkov was undefeated in the UFC up to this point, finishing both Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum in main event fights. Who could Volkov face next? If Cain Velasquez remains active this year, that could be a possible match up. He could also be matched against Alistair Overeem. Volkov and Overeem were scheduled to fight at UFC on ESPN+7 but Volkov had to pull out due to injury.

Sergey Pavlovich

Former Fight Nights Global champion Sergey Pavlovich was fed to the wolves in his UFC debut, facing Alistair Overeem. He was finished in the first round. His second outing was much more successful, however. He scored a first-round knockout victory, earning him performance of the night honours. Despite a Greco-Roman wrestling background, the hard-hitting Russian has 10 KO/TKO victories in his 13 wins. Who should he face next? Pavlovich should look to set up a fight with someone ranked above him. He could either face Augusto Sakai, who recently broke into the top 15. The other option could be to face Marcin Tybura, if the UFC wants to rush him.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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