January, July and December often offer numerous exciting events each year, with April, October and May sneaking in with a quality collection of fight cards from time-to-time as well. But this month feels even bigger.
When you survey the five fight cards scheduled to hit the cage, starting with the TUF 27 Finale on Friday and culminating with the UFC’s long-awaited return to Calgary, there are enough compelling, competitive and straight up entertaining pairings on the calendar to necessitate a double serving of this column.
Simply put, this month is stacked, and whittling this month’s offering down to the 10 fights that intrigue me the most has been challenging. There are great fights I had to leave out, including a bunch of contests from the stacked debut in Boise, Idaho that only ends up getting one fight on this list because of how good the other four fight cards are.
If there is a fight that you’re looking forward to that didn’t make the list, believe me when I tell you that I’m looking forward to it too; it’s just this series is called “The 10” and sometimes, great fights have to get left off.
Here’s a look at the fights I’m most looking forward to in the month ahead.
The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale – Friday, July 6 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Brad Tavares vs. Israel Adesanya
This is a perfect fight for where both guys are in their respective careers, and stationing it as the Friday main event during International Fight Week ensures that it will get the attention that it deserves.
Adesanya has been surrounded by hype since arriving in the UFC in February and styling on Rob Wilkinson. Though he had a tougher time with Marvin Vettori in his sophomore outing, the talented kickboxer still came away with a victory to push his record to 13-0 and keep him moving forward in the middleweight division.
That same evening in Glendale, Arizona, Tavares picked up his fourth straight win by dropping Krzysztof Jotko midway through the third round of their preliminary card pairing. A fixture in the Top 15 for the last several years, the Hawaiian Ultimate Fighter alum has put together an outstanding 12-4 record in the Octagon without much fanfare, but now he gets a main event assignment with a chance to halt Adesanya’s rapid ascent.
This fight works on all fronts and should be a spirited affair from the outset, with the winner taking another step forward in the division and the loser remaining a formidable threat to those looking to climb the ladder.
UFC 226: Miocic vs. Cormier – Saturday, July 7 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font
With TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt set to renew acquaintances next month and Marlon Moraes having already stated his case for title consideration, Assuncao gets the opportunity to do the same in this dangerous pairing with Font.
The Brazilian veteran has amassed a 10-1 record since moving to bantamweight, which includes splitting a pair of bouts with Dillashaw and defeating Moraes in his promotional debut. He’s faced a non-stop collection of tough outs and turned almost all of them back, and if he can do the same to Font on Saturday, Assuncao will have a pretty solid case for a title shot as well.
Meanwhile, Font rolls into this one with zero pressure on his shoulders and a massive opportunity in front of him, as a victory might not vault him to the top of the list of contenders, but it will get him pretty close, and following up his second-round finish of Thomas Almeida with a strong outing against Assuncao would be an impressive double to begin his 2018 campaign.
Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis
Do I really need to explain this one? Two massive heavyweight knockout artists are going to collide in the center of the Octagon and throw haymakers until one of them is laid out on the mat.
What’s not to love?
But there is more to this fight though than just the strong likelihood that someone gets sent flying like Red when he asked Deebo about the beach cruiser he let him borrow a couple weeks ago.
Ngannou is returning for the first time since coming up well short in his January title fight with Stipe Miocic, and it will be interesting to see what new wrinkles he brings to the table this time around, while Lewis has proven himself to be one of the most durable and dangerous fighters in the division, and he could put himself in line for a title shot with a victory on Saturday.
Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega for the UFC featherweight championship
This is one of the most intriguing, competitive fights the UFC could make at the moment.
Holloway has been rolling for four years and counting, racking up 12 straight victories to cement himself as the new king of the featherweight division. He’s beaten a collection of the top talents in the division and stopped Jose Aldo on back-to-back occasions, displaying his dynamic offensive arsenal and iron will in both fights, while continuing to showcase the quirky brand of charisma that makes “Blessed” such a popular figure with fight fans.
Though he’s not yet reached the top of the mountain, Ortega has made a similar climb as the champion, earning six straight stoppage wins on the way to challenging for the title this weekend. After securing opportunistic third-round finishes of Diego Brandao, Clay Guida and Renato Moicano, “T-City” added a second-round submission of Cub Swanson and a first-round knockout win over Frankie Edgar to his resume, making it crystal clear that he is the top contender in the division.
This is a clash between two ascendant young talents at the peak of their powers and just entering their athletic prime. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Saturday’s co-main event was the first in a series of matchups between the two and even if that’s not how things play out, this Saturday’s penultimate contest should be something special.
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier for the UFC heavyweight title
We’ve seen the featherweight champion move up to challenge for the lightweight belt and the lightweight champion venture to welterweight to fight for the title, but never has the light heavyweight kingpin stepped into the cage with the ruler of the heavyweight ranks… until now.
As much as the “Champion vs. Champion” billing is a major draw for a lot of people, what really excites me about this contest is that Miocic and Cormier are two of the most complete and talented fighters on the roster and that DC has went 13-0 as a heavyweight before leaving the division because his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez occupied the throne.
Additionally, this fight could end up being the precursor to a couple other potentially massive fights down the line, regardless of who wins, which only ups the anticipation and intriguing surrounding this fight even more.
Lastly – and this goes for the Holloway-Ortega fight too – it’s awesome to see two eagerly awaited fights where it has nothing to do with trash talk and bad blood and verbal salvos being lobbed on social media. Instead, it’s a collection of elite talents that earned their way to the top of the their respective divisions by stacking victories and are now reaping the rewards.
UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos vs. Ivanov – Saturday, July 14 (Boise, Idaho)
Junior Dos Santos vs. Blagoy Ivanov
There are a gang of great fights lined up for this event, but because of the overall awesomeness on tap this month, the heavyweight main event is the only one that make its way onto this list.
Competing for the first time since losing in his bid to dethrone Miocic and reclaim the heavyweight title at UFC 211, Dos Santos is looking to get back into the win column and find some consistency after alternating wins and losses dating back to his successful title defense against Frank Mir at UFC 146 more than six years ago.
In order to do so, he’ll have to get through Ivanov, an exciting new addition to the heavyweight ranks who carries a five-fight winning streak and 16-1 record (with one no contest) into the Octagon for his promotional debut. The former World Series of Fighting heavyweight champ is an International Master of Sport in Sambo and his no contest result came in a bout against Ilir Latifi where the ring broke.
That has no real impact on this fight at all, but it’s another amazing anecdote to add to the Latifi file and it was too good not to share here.
While a title shot might not be next for the winner of this one, whoever emerges victorious will be in the thick of the chase and should end up battling another top contender later in the year.
UFC Fight Night: Volkan vs. Shogun – Saturday, July 22 (Hamburg, Germany)
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Shogun Rua
Because he’s only fought one time over each of the last three years, it’s easy to forget that Rua has put together a three-fight winning streak to remain in the hunt in the light heavyweight division. But after beating fellow Brazilian legend Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, edging out Corey Anderson and toppling Gian Villante in a game of Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Rua now steps up to face a recent title challenger bent on getting back into the win column and starting another climb towards the top of the heap.
A trio of 2017 victories carried Oezdemir into a championship showdown with Cormier earlier this year in Boston, where “DC” dominated the Swiss standout, eventually earning a second-round stoppage win. Now “No Time” gets a chance to show what he’s learned since sharing the cage with the current titleholder and try to remind everyone that he is one of the top contenders in the 205-pound ranks.
Rua isn’t the same fighter as he was during his heyday in PRIDE or even when he ascended to the top of the UFC light heavyweight division, but he’s tough as nails and game as hell. Will Oezdemir be able to rebound from his UFC 220 setback in impressive fashion or will the beloved Brazilian veteran trip him up in Hamburg?
UFC on FOX: Alvarez vs. Poirier II – Saturday, July 29 (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Tecia Torres
This is such a compelling fight because after a 30-month reign atop the strawweight division, “Joanna Champion” is now “Joanna Former Champion,” entering this one on a two-fight losing streak and facing a ton of questions about the future of her career.
Will she remain at strawweight and make another run at the title? Is a move to flyweight on the horizon? After previously talking about her desire to start a family, how much longer does she envision herself competing in the Octagon? These were all questions that hovered around her during her championship reign, but they’re even more prominent and pressing now.
As for Torres, this represents an opportunity to get right back into the thick of the title chase after coming out on the wrong side of the results against former title challenger Jessica Andrade earlier this year. The “Tiny Tornado” had won three straight before that and had some good moments in that FOX fight with the aggressive Brazilian, but couldn’t string together enough consistent offense to swing the scores in her favor.
If she can do so here against Jedrzejczyk, however, it will once again set her up for a marquee assignment in the coming months and send another shockwave through the division.
Jose Aldo vs. Jeremy Stephens
Just a few weeks after the first undisputed featherweight title fight without Aldo’s involvement, the former champion competes in his first non-title affair since June 7, 2009, when “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas topped Billboard’s Hot 100 and The Hangover was No. 1 at the box office.
After an incredible 15-fight winning streak between the WEC and UFC (and winning 18 straight overall), Aldo is now just 1-3 over his last four fights and in dire need of a bounce-back effort to prove he’s still got something left in the tank.
On the flip side, Stephens has really come into his own lately and enters on a three-fight winning streak. One of the most experienced fighters on the roster, despite being just 32, the Alliance MMA representative has harnessed his blistering power and aggressive approach and shown a more patient, calculating approach that has produced back-to-back blistering finishes of Dooho Choi and Josh Emmett.
With the UFC 226 title fight between Holloway and Ortega signaling a changing of the guard at the top of the division, Stephens has a chance to extend that further by extending Aldo’s losing streak to three, while the Brazilian legend will be out to show that despite his recent struggles, he remains one of the top talents in the division.
Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier, Part II
Sequels are rarely as good as the original, but after the first encounter between these two ended in a no contest result, there is reason to be optimistic that this one will be “The Godfather, Part II” of lightweight battles – even better than the original, even though the original was really, really good.
Following their initial clash, Alvarez did a tour of duty on The Ultimate Fighter leading into a clash with fellow coach Justin Gaethje at UFC 218. One of the top fights of 2017, Alvarez emerged victorious, handing “The Highlight” his first career loss and re-affirming his standing as one of the most entertaining and dangerous fighters in the division.
When an immediate rematch with Alvarez didn’t materialize, Poirier switched gears and jumped into the cage with Anthony Pettis, earning a third-round stoppage win over the former titleholder before getting his own chance to share the Octagon with Gaethje. After three back-and-forth rounds where Poirier’s improved patience and maturity as a fighter was on full display, “The Diamond” handed the former World Series of Fighting champion his second consecutive setback, setting the stage for this rematch.
Even though the title picture in the lightweight division is a little murky at the moment, the winner of this one will undeniably be on the short list of possible contenders once things start to clear up.
As for right now, it might be the fight I’m most looking forward to this month and that’s saying something given the outstanding collection of contests on tap in July.
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