MMA’s September storylines
August was the equivalent of a smorgasbord for mixed martial arts fans. No matter what type of action you were looking for — major league or minor league, North American or Japanese, name brand or unknown — August delivered and left most fans fully satisfied.
This month doesn’t deliver the same double-digit collection of events and marquee names that made August stream by so quickly as September in the MMA is very similar to what it taking place for all the kids heading back to school.
Rekindling that animus relationship with your archenemy, finding your place on the sports team of your liking, and asserting your place in the popularity pecking order all begin that first month of the school year, and those same topics extend to the days ahead in MMA.
Antonio McKee’s retirement promise at MFC 26 — Sept. 10
The reigning lightweight champion of Edmonton-based Maximum Fighting Championships, McKee has come under increasing fire for being a “boring” fighter reliant on his dominant top game to grind out victories. The 40-year-old hasn’t lost in seven years, with 12 of his 14 fights going to the cards.
With his title and reputation on the line against Luis Azevedo, McKee has stated that if he doesn’t deliver an impressive finish that satisfies his critics, he’ll hang up his 4-ounce gloves. While retirement promises and returns from brief stints out of the sporting eye have become the norm, McKee’s history of riding out wins makes his promise an intriguing story to follow at the start of the month.
Shine Fights lets fans pick fights — Sept. 10
McKee and the MFC aren’t the only event taking place on the second Friday of the month as Shine Fights returns with their first event since the failed Ricardo Mayorga-Din Thomas program in May.
While many organization heads talk about making fights the fans want to see, Shine Fights is taking it to the next level, giving fans the chance to pair the eight competitors set to compete in their lightweight grand prix.
This is a tremendous stroke of marketing genius for the growing regional promotion, especially coming off the aforementioned fiasco in May that saw an entire card get wiped out in two days. There are some talented veterans to pick from among the eight competitors, and the interactive nature of the process instantly builds a bigger connection between organization and observers.
We’ve never see the UFC open up their match-making duties to fans across the country, but for Shine Fights and other regional promotions working to find their niche in the business, this is brilliant.
Big tests for Bader, Dunham at UFC 119 — Sept. 25
My brother’s 33rd birthday will also be the day that MMA fans potentially find out where the ceiling sits for rising UFC stars Ryan Bader and Evan Dunham. That night in Indianapolis, the pair will face the stiffest tests of their careers and estimates of how far they can go hang in the balance.
Bader, the light heavyweight winner of Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter", steps in with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira — “Lil Nog” — in the co-main event of the evening. While Jon Jones garners all the attention at 205 pounds, Bader has impressed as well, most recently finishing Keith Jardine at UFC 110 in Australia.
Dunham will fight Sean Sherk earlier in the night, another tough test for the Xtreme Couture product that has been acing his Octagon exams since earning a first round knockout of Per Eklund in his debut at UFC 95. Sherk has become the high-level gatekeeper of the division, a former champion with formidable talents who holds the key to contendership in the lightweight division.
Both Bader and Dunham have shown championship potential to this point, but dominating savvy veterans like Nogueira and Sherk will be a tougher task than they have faced before. Victories put them “in the mix” to use a popular Dana White-ism, while losses leave critics offering up explanations for why we were all wrong for considering them contenders in the first place.
Varner vs. Cerrone 2 Finally Happens — Sept. 30
In January 2009, then-WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner and Donald Cerrone engaged in an epic clash. The fight ended in controversy: a downed Varner was flattened by a Cerrone knee, forcing the fight to the scorecards when the champion could no longer continue. The champion retained his belt and fans picked their sides, with bad blood and a war of words existing between the two competitors ever since.
The two will finally met again at WEC 51 in Broomfield, Colo., and while there is no title at stake this time around, these two don’t need any more reason than sheer animosity to step into the cage and put it all on the line once again.
While Varner foiled Cerrone’s first advances on the lightweight title in their initial encounter, the roles can be reversed this time around. The former champion is angle for another opportunity to face current champion Ben Henderson, and Cerrone, who has twice been beaten by the 155-pound title holder, stands in his way.
Couple their obvious dislike of each other with the obvious title implication and you have the makings of another memorable meeting.
Is Jose Aldo the Best Fighter in MMA? — Sept. 30
After Varner and Cerrone renew hostilities, the WEC featherweight champion will look to run his winning streak to eleven against TUF 5 finalist Manvel “The Anvil” Gamburyan. With each passing Aldo experience, the questions of whether the Brazilian buzzsaw is the best in the business grow louder and harder to answer.
Aldo has routed his seven opponents in the WEC, including former champions Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber. His dynamic striking has been more than anyone could handle, and we have still yet to see the ground skills that accompany a Nova Uniao black belt into the cage.
As the top fighters in the sport either embark on extended layoffs (Georges St-Pierre) or snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (Anderson Silva), Aldo keeps steamrolling opponents at each turn, leading many to wonder if the 17-1 champion who will turn 24 before this bout isn’t the best all-around fighter the sport today.
Another will certainly make it harder to argue against.