Huge upcoming fights
Buckle up, Fight Fans!
The UFC is set to embark on a 15-week sprint to the end of 2013 filled with 11 events, at least 6 championship bouts, and some of the biggest fights and most intriguing match-ups to hit the Octagon in years.
Rivalries will be renewed. Legacies will be defined. Dominant champions will be put to the test.
The next four months are going to be electric, and to get you primed for what’s in store, here’s a look at the 10 best fights on the calendar between now and New Year’s Day.
Daniel Cormier (12-0) vs. Roy Nelson (19-8)
UFC 166 – Saturday, October 19
Normally you wouldn’t expect to find a bout between an unbeaten rising star and a veteran coming off a one-sided loss on a list like this, but the tension between these two heavyweights and the potential impact the outcome will have in 2014 make its inclusion a must.
First and foremost, these two are eagerly counting down the days until they get to punch each other in the face. Nelson asked for this fight from the time Cormier arrived in the UFC, and despite being battered in his last outing, he gets his wish to face the unbeaten former Olympian.
The usually laissez-faire Louisiana native Cormier has taken exception to Nelson’s insistence that he (Cormier) turned down an early offer to fight him (Nelson), and is fixing to make a statement against “Big Country” in this one.
As much as a win for Cormier should position the undefeated standout at the head of the list to challenge for the heavyweight title, that might not be the case, depending on how things play out in the contest that follows this fight both on the UFC 166 fight card and on this list.
Should friend and teammate (and UFC heavyweight champion) Cain Velasquez retain his title, Cormier has expressed a desire to drop down in weight and compete in the light heavyweight division, where he would become an instant title contender, and a very intriguing addition to a weight class that is currently in a state of flux as far as contenders go.
For Nelson, this is the ultimate “Nothing to Lose” opportunity – a high profile fight against an unbeaten opponent that, if he wins, quickly returns him to the thick of the title chase. If he loses, he was “supposed” to lose, and it’s business as usual going forward for the man with the grizzly beard/mullet combo.
Cain Velasquez (12-1) vs. Junior dos Santos (16-2)
A third meeting for the heavyweight strap in a little more than two years for the top two fighters in the division – it doesn’t get better than that.
With their personal series even at one win apiece, Velasquez and dos Santos will meet for a third time in the UFC 166 main event, making it just the third championship trilogy bout in UFC history.
But this is about more than just the gold belt that will be awarded to the victor, as the winner of this contest will have every opportunity to establish himself as the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history.
To date, no one has been able to successfully defend the title more than twice – a mark shared by Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, and Brock Lesnar – but with these two having decimated everyone they’ve faced to date, including each other once, the door to a dominant reign will be wide open, and their greatest potential threat will have been set aside for an extended period of time.
And if you want to get really stripped down and basic, this is two big, strong, athletic human beings poised to punch each other in the face - repeatedly – and that is always exciting.
Michael Bisping (24-5) vs. Mark Munoz (13-3)
UFC Fight Night 30 – Saturday, October 26
Like it or not, Bisping is perpetually within arm’s reach of a title shot in the UFC middleweight division, and this showdown with “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” when the organization makes their return to Manchester could determine who is next in line to challenge for the strap in the 185-pound ranks.
After rebounding from his January loss to Vitor Belfort with a crisp, technical winning effort against Alan Belcher in April, “The Count” gets a homecoming meeting with another Top 10 contender in hopes of securing that ever-elusive title shot that has forever escaped his grasp. This will mark the first time since his victory over Denis Kang (UFC 105) that Bisping has fought in his hometown, and the first time he’s been back in the Octagon on British soil since his win over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 120.
Munoz will be looking to ruin Bisping’s return and build off what was arguably the best performance of his career at UFC 162, where he rag-dolled Tim Boetsch en route to a unanimous decision win. It was the culmination of a long year for Munoz, who battled depression after being sidelined by injuries following his July 2012 loss to Chris Weidman.
At the very least, the winner of this contest should move into a title eliminator fight with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza early in the New Year. With that kind of opportunity hanging in the balance – and Bisping presumably backed by a partisan British crowd – you can be sure these two polar opposite personalities will enter the cage with the same intensity and focus come fight night.
And here’s the thing: at some point, Bisping is going to run out of chances. He’s failed to clear the final hurdle to earn a title shot three times in the past, and a loss here could dash those championship dreams permanently.
That certainly ratchets up the intrigue surrounding this fight a couple notches.
Lyoto Machida (19-4) vs. Tim Kennedy (16-4)
UFC Fight for the Troops 3 – Wednesday, November 6
This one marks the start of “The Machida Era” at middleweight, as the former light heavyweight champion makes the move down the scale to square off with United States Army Ranger Tim Kennedy in the main event of the third UFC Fight for the Troops event.
Machida’s arrival in the division has the potential to shake up the middleweight landscape in 2014. While the Top 10 is full of established names and emerging contenders, “The Dragon” is a fresh name to add to the fray, and a nightmare match-up for anyone with championship aspirations in the 185-pound weight class. After a couple years of pondering a potential switch, this move could give the 35-year-old Brazilian a fresh start and a shorter path to fighting for championship gold.
Welcoming Machida to the middleweight division is a tremendous opportunity for the talented, but still somewhat unknown Kennedy, who defeated Roger Gracie by unanimous decision in his UFC debut back in July. He’s talked repeatedly about wanting to stay active and challenge himself against the best the weight class has to offer, and now he’s getting the chance to do both, and he needs to make the most of it.
A dominant performance from either man will put them on the short list of potential title challengers heading into 2014.
Vitor Belfort (23-10) vs. Dan Henderson (29-10)
UFC Fight Night 32 – Saturday, November 9
Seven years and change after their first meeting at Pride 32, these two veterans of the sport will renew acquaintances in Brazil this winter with plenty at stake for both men.
Henderson is looking to avoid the first three-fight losing streak of his illustrious (and under-appreciated) career, and prove that he still has what it takes to compete with the best in the business on the biggest stage in the sport. But Father Time is closing in on him, and he faded down the stretch of each of his three fights since returning to the UFC, becoming increasingly one-dimensional in his attack.
If he’s unable to defeat Belfort and get back into the win column, this could be the end of the line for one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
TRT controversy and accusations aside, Belfort has looked sensational in earning a pair of first-round knockout finishes already in 2013, most recently turning Luke Rockhold’s UFC debut into a nightmare moment the former Strikeforce champion will never be able to erase from his memory.
Outside of his championship loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 126, “The Phenom” has looked phenomenal fighting at 185-pounds, and with Chris Weidman currently standing atop the division, his chances of securing another shot at the championship strap have improved.
The problem for Belfort – and what ups the interest in this fight – is that you can’t just set aside his TRT usage and the swirling cloud of mystery and uncertainty that comes with it. Fair or not, he has become the poster child for the treatment in the UFC, and the intense debate about testosterone-replacement therapy isn’t going to die down any time soon.
While another thrilling victory will bring him one step close to once again fighting for the middleweight title, it would also bring increased scrutiny and discussion of TRT, and as much as that is something beneficial to the sport as a whole, being the one under the microscope is an uncomfortable position to be in for anyone, Belfort included.
Georges St-Pierre (24-2) vs. Johny Hendricks (15-1)
UFC 167 – Saturday, November 16
GSP is undeniably the greatest welterweight in the history of the sport, and one of the top competitors to ever grace the cage, but the firmness of his footing in the pantheon of all-time greats could get shakier should the heavy-handed challenger come away as the new UFC welterweight champion.
This fight has the potential to have a significant impact on St-Pierre’s legacy… or no impact at all should he dispatch Hendricks the same way he’s turned back the last 11 fighters to stand across from him inside the Octagon.
And just like the other championship contests before it on this list, this is a ridiculously close fight on paper, with Hendricks posing the most significant threat to the French-Canadian champion in the last five years.
The bearded country boy with the big left hand has quite literally punched his ticket to this fight by winning six-straight, including first-round knockout wins over Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann.
A four-time All-American and two-time National Champion wrestler at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks should – theoretically – have the ability to keep this fight standing, something many of St-Pierre’s opponents have been unable to do in the past.
While the champion is a flawless technician on the feet, he is a volume striker, inflicting damage over time behind arguably the best jab in MMA. Hendircks, on the other hand, the kind of one-punch power that can turn a fight on its ear in a flash, and therein lies the captivating beauty of this match-up.
Can the challenger land the shot that turns him into the champion? Will the champion turn back yet another “toughest test to date” to retain his title? Thankfully we don’t have to wait too long to get answers to these questions.
Ronda Rousey (7-0) vs. Miesha Tate (13-4)
UFC 168 – Saturday, December 28
Interest in this fight is only going to continue to escalate as these two bitter rivals get after each other week in and week out as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter.
Simply put, Rousey has the potential to be the biggest star the UFC has ever produced. She’s gone from Olympic bronze medalist and MMA neophyte to UFC champion and mainstream attraction in the span of two years, with film roles and offers rolling in, and speculation about when she’ll exit the sport already begun.
For now, she’s a fighter, and a damn good one at that. Unbeaten and continuing to show improvements each time we see her in the cage, Rousey has the skills and mental make-up to be one of the most dominant forces this sport has ever seen, should she decide to stick around.
Tate is no slouch either, having entered her first encounter with Rousey as the reigning Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion. She’s the first fighter to get a second chance to share the cage with the UFC women’s champion, and that could be something that works in her favor.
Even without their involvement with TUF 18, this was a must-see rematch that fans longed to see. Now that we’re getting to see the tension and animosity between the two play out every Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1, the anticipation for this championship showdown is only going to continue to escalate.
Chris Weidman (10-0) vs. Anderson Silva (33-5)
What a fitting way to end the year.
Back in July, Weidman did what no UFC opponent before him could do, defeating Silva to claim the middleweight title, and set up what is arguably the most anticipated rematch in UFC history.
Despite earning a knockout victory at UFC 162, questions continue to surround this match-up, as Silva’s hubris – and a left hook from Weidman – brought his lengthy reign to an end in a fashion that left many wondering if it was a fluke or the start of a new era in the 185-pound ranks?
Not only is the UFC middleweight title on the line here, but legacies are at stake as well.
Until July, no one in the UFC had beaten Silva, a man universally recognized as the greatest of all-time. With a win here, Weidman could accomplish the feat twice in six months; not a bad way to start a championship reign.
While Silva’s place amongst the legends remains intact, a second consecutive defeat would raise questions about his future in the sport, questions that until July seemed pointless to ask.
And if the title were to switch hands again, we’d head into 2014 looking forward to a tremendous trilogy bout between these two elite competitors.
There is a lot at stake over the next four months, and there is no better way to end 2013 in the UFC than with the biggest fight of the year.