Ultimate Fighting Championshis (UFC) is kicking off 2019 with a solid mixed martial arts (MMA) offering. Despite the uncertain future that UFC on ESPN holds for fight fans, the new era is being ushered in properly. UFC Fight Night 143 features a “super” fight atop an undercard that is sure to satiate fight fans during the first month of 2019. With Henry Cejudo versus T.J. Dillashaw as clearly most important fight on the card, I think we need to talk about a few scheduled bits of violence that are flying under the radar.
Read on if you prefer the written word or click the video above to learn about my top three hidden gems.
#3. Gregor ‘The Gift’ Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros
Gillespie is a somewhat new name in UFC, but he has already made his presence known. In five trips to the Octagon he has allotted four finishes and three post-fight bonuses. He has a background in amateur wrestling, but he isn’t your typical grinder (think Kamaru Usman). When “The Gift” gets the fight to the canvas he is always looking to improve his position, rain down pounding ground strikes, and looks for opportunistic submissions. I have a feeling he will be in title contention in the near future.
Medeiros — while coming in as a massive underdog — has been competing against a higher level of opposition than Gillespie has come across prior to this bout. One thing I love about Medeiros is that he doesn’t have the best striking defense, but he does have an incredible amount of heart and toughness. The combination has resulted in some extremely thrilling battles, like his 2017 “Fight of the Year” against Alex Oliveira. If you’re a fan of violence and fighters with oodles of potential, this fight is for you.
#2. John ‘Hands of Stone’ Lineker vs. Cory Sandhagen
I’m fairly certain that I jinxed this bout by putting it in this list too far in advance to fight night. Lineker was pulled from the event because of a rib injury just over a week before fight night (details). Nonetheless, I want you to keep Lineker and Sandhagen on your minds. Lineker throws gigantic looping bungalow fists for as long as his fights last, plus he lacks defense, and Sandhagen is a budding prospect who has put on remarkable performances in his two trips to the octagon. Whoever each guy ends up fighting next, you’ll want to be paying attention.
#1. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone vs. Alexander Hernandez
It might be the “Prelims” undercard, but I think UFC is giving this fight the most ideal spot on the card for the promotion’s first card of its new television deal. In my opinion this is absolutely the right move, because a fight like this is certain to convince a few casual fans to turn their attention to the main card on ESPN+ after Cerrone and/or Hernandez dazzle viewers with magnificent technique and violence.
“Cowboy” is one of the sports most well known characters. In fact, he might just be the most popular fighter on the roster to have never won a championship fight in UFC. He has the most wins, the most finishes, and he is sitting second to Nate Diaz for most post-fight bonuses in Zuffa/UFC history. There have been times when he has looked like an unstoppable force in the striking department and he has also shocked plenty of foes with how quickly he can lasso a submission. If you don’t like watching Cerrone do his thing ... I feel bad for you.
Hernandez entered UFC on short notice and flat-lined Beneil Dariush in less than one minute. As a result he has now been on this list twice. The previous time was a fight against Olivier Aubin-Mercier, which resulted in Hernandez outclassing the highly regarded Canadian. He has a wealth of finishes on his resume, a Yoel Romero-esqe physique, a fistful of potential, and confidence that will propel him to the limelight if successful against Cerrone.
A household name versus a promising youngster that guarantees a memorable outcome in the perfect spot on the bout order unequivocally deserves the top spot on this list.
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Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 143 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.