Dana White (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)UFC Fighters to Monitor in the Years to Come The MMA Corner Staff May 12, 2020 News Did UFC start a trend that will be followed by the vast majority of other sports leagues? It’s certainly possible. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown life as we know it into a tailspin. No aspect of day-to-day activity is unchanged as a result. That includes live sports. In fact, they have been hit harder than many other industries. Never mind that fans are not allowed at live events for the foreseeable future. Most leagues are shut down entirely. But UFC is now among the scant few exceptions. They reopened their doors by holding UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida. No fans were present, as was expected, but the event has largely been considered a success. The television ratings in particular were through the roof. Plenty of people tuned in to watch Justin Gaethje win by TKO over Tony Ferguson in the battle for the Lightweight Interim Title. Social media was even aflutter during the heavyweight bout between Yorgan De Castro and Greg Hardy (who eventually won). This is good news for the UFC and its fans. It doesn’t say anything of the risks involved with reopening for business, but the success of UFC 249 does mean we’ll get to see a fuller docket of fights moving forward. And with the UFC’s future now secure—or at least as secure as can be—here are a few competitors, from any of the 12 major weight classes, to keep an eye on as we look ahead to the bigger picture. Conor McGregor Conor McGregor is one of UFC’s most recognizable faces of all time. And yet, he’s mostly lived in the shadows for the past couple of years, fading from the public eye after his brief boxing dalliance with Floyd Mayweather and as he transitioned from UFC’s lightweight to welterweight division. That’s all about to change now. It already has changed. After a 15-month break following a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, McGregor picked up a critical win over Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. That victory not only improved his career record to 22-4, but it puts him in line for another title shot. As long as the UFC remains open, you better believe McGregor is going to get it. Whether he’ll win—or successfully defend the belt after potentially grabbing it— is a different story. Though McGregor isn’t ancient, he’s also not that young. He will turn 32 in July, and there were already questions about his training regime and stamina before this. His win against Cerrone earned him a little benefit of the doubt, but not a lot of it. He still has a ton to prove in the months and years to come. Khabib Nurmagomedov Khabib Nurmagomedov is presently one of the few undefeated fighters in the world, in addition to the UFC’s Lightweight champion. He picked up that belt with a win by decision over Al Laquinta at UFC 223 and then successfully defended it at UFC 229, where he forced Conor McGregor into a loss by submission. Nurmagomedov was supposed to put his title back on the line against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249, but he was forced off the card because of travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Justin Gaethje has his absence to thank for his crack at Ferguson. All of which means Nurmagomedov is now officially overdue for a title defense. When and where it will come, we don’t yet know. But both Gaethje and McGregor will be frothing at the mouth for a title shot. There’s a chance Nurmagomedov will have to go through them both over the next year. Daniel Cormier After fighting in the light heavyweight division between 2014 and 2018, Daniel Cormier has since moved to the outright heavyweight division. His transition has been, shall we say, pretty seamless. In a relatively short amount of time, he is already one of UFC’s top heavyweight fighters. He has just two losses to his name for his career and is one of just four fighters to simultaneously hold the light heavyweight and heavyweight championships. What makes his immediate future so interesting, though, is that he’s currently without a title. He needed to relinquish the light heavyweight championship before moving to the heavyweight division, and while he then staked his claim to that title, he lost to Stipe Miocic at UFC 241. Since then, Cormier has said that his next fight will be his last, and that he wants said fight to be a title shot. The smart money is him getting a chance to challenge for the heavyweight belt again. And if he wins that match, it’ll be interesting to see whether he actually walks away from the octagon, or if he decides to stage one or more additional title defenses. Maycee Barber We’re going the lesser-known route with Maycee Barber. The 5’5” 21-year-old is relatively new to the UFC’s circuit. She has just nine MMA fights and four UFC bouts to her name. Only, here’s the thing: They’re almost all wins. Barber sports a 3-1 record at the UFC level, most recently suffering a loss to Roxanne Modafferi by decision. This letdown was unexpected, but not unforgivable. Barber is still someone to watch in the Flyweight division not just now, but for the next decade Her finishing rate is almost 100 percent (seriously), and she’s flashed the offensive power to end matches quickly. She defeated Gillian Robertson, another first-rate UFC prospect, by TKO before her loss at UFC 246. Though the date of her next fight is unknown, the start of her career suggests she’s on the championship track.