Ever since Zuffa folded the WEC into the UFC there have been plenty of changes to the way things are done within the largest mixed-martial arts organization in the world. More fighters means more fights, and one less organization means more cards for the main company. It also allowed the UFC to add the support Scott Shelby to the role of matchmaker, in addition to longtime UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.
These two have been exceptionally busy in recent weeks, as the company has been rolling out fight announcements at a blistering pace. With fights being posted faster than blog editors can post them, I decided to sit down and take a look at several upcoming UFC events to see which fights I was most excited for. These may not be the fights with the biggest stakes (even though there are three title fights on the list) but they are the ones that have the majority of my interest.
Getting a list such as this down to ten picks is pretty tough, considering the next 100 days will feature five PPV events and three cable broadcasts. Some of these cards aren’t complete, and of course there’s always the ever-looming threat of an injury killing some awesome fight, but for now these are the fights that I feel are most worth our time and attention in the coming months. If there are any particular bouts you feel I’ve overlooked then by all means feel free to call me on them in the comment box.
10. Jake Shields vs. Jake Ellenberger (UFC Fight Night: Battle On The Bayou) – The two Jakes are at completely different points in their career, and the main event of the next (last?) Fight Night event on Spike should be an interesting stylistic match-up. Shields is obviously still trying to win over the UFC faithful after a dismal win over Martin Kampmann and a less-than-impressive (if I’m being nice) showing against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129. Ellenberger has been nothing short of impressive in each of his five octagon appearances, with his only loss coming via split decision to potential title contender Carlos Condit. If Shields can’t get this to the ground he’ll have his chin repeatedly tested against Ellenberger, but of course the balance swings considerably towards Shields if this fight goes horizontal.
9. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin (UFC 134) – Both men’s careers have had ups and downs in equal share since that first meeting at UFC 76. Each man has won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and both of them have been on the wrong end of a severe clowning in the cage. Rua is rebounding from said clowning; a vicious mauling at the hands, elbows, and feet of Jon Jones. Griffin has already erased some of the memories of his “fight” with Anderson Silva (I use quotation marks because anyone who saw it knows that only one of them was actually fighting) with decision wins over former champs Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans. Griffin is picking up steam and has the advantage of holding the win from their first meeting, but Rua will have the most support of any Brazilian fighter on the UFC 134 card. I expect this one to be the most electric fight at the UFC’s return to Brazil.
8. Charles Oliveira vs. Donald Cerrone (UFC on Versus 5) – It’s almost become cliché to award “Fight of the Night” to a bout before it’s even happened, but even still I expect Dana White to save himself some trouble and make out a couple of bonus checks to these two men on the morning of August 14th. Cerrone has already gone 2-0 since coming over from the WEC, where he was a part of five FOTN winners during his tenure. Oliveira has picked up two “Submission of the Night” bonus checks during his first year in the UFC, and he looked fantastic for the majority of his most recent bout with Nik Lentz. While I don’t expect either man to come away from the fight knocking on the door to contendership, I do expect an outstanding battle in all areas of MMA from two young athletes on the rise in the lightweight division.
7. Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson (UFC on Versus 6) – I don’t care if it’s simply a move to boost ratings before they go into contract negotiations, I cannot wait for this title fight on free TV (well it’s not really free, but you know what I mean). “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is almost certainly going to light up the flyweight division if/when the UFC ever implements it, but for now he’s doing pretty well for himself at 135 lbs. anyways. I don’t know if his unmatched speed in the cage will be able to nullify the fancy footwork of the UFC Bantamweight Champion, as he was clearly at the top of his game against a tough Urijah Faber earlier this month at UFC 132. Cruz seems all but unbeatable at this point in his career but I’ll be more than happy to watch Johnson try and take the gold on October 1st.
6. BJ Penn vs. Carlos Condit (UFC 137) – The only person who’s not looking forward to this fight is Jon Fitch. Fitch may have wanted a rematch with Penn following their draw earlier this year, but he’s not ready to go and these two fighters are. Condit is within a hair of battling for the UFC Welterweight Championship and is coming off of back-to-back “Knockout of the Night” honors, but that’s an award Penn has won pretty recently too. You never know which BJ will show up on any given night, but he will need to bring his best if he’s going to stop the surging “Natural Born Killer.” Winner of this fight gets next at the champion, so there’s more at stake than just pride when the cage door closes.
5. Takanori Gomi vs. Nate Diaz (UFC 135) – Like most MMA fans I have a special spot in my heart for the classic encounter between Takanori Gomi and Nick Diaz. As MMA fights go that one had just about everything, and even the tainted finish can’t soil my enjoyment whenever I watch it. While I don’t expect this fight between Gomi and the younger Diaz brother to be a repeat of the PRIDE 33 bout, I do think we’ve got all the makings of a new classic. Gomi isn’t the same fighter that he was during the heyday of PRIDE, but his KO of Tyson Griffin should be fresh enough in people’s minds to remind everyone that “The Fireball Kid” still packs some power. Diaz will almost certainly be willing to stand and trade with Gomi, and frankly I’ll be surprised if either fighter tries to take this one to the ground (despite Diaz’s BJJ credentials and Gomi’s long-forgotten wrestling acumen).
4. Anthony Pettis vs. Jeremy Stephens (UFC 136) – Pettis may have blown his chance at UFC gold in his debut fight for the company, but we can’t throw him under the bus just yet. You haven’t forgotten about that kick, have you? On the other side of the cage we’ve got “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens, who is just as likely to hurt you whether he wins or loses the fight. Both fighters are modern day mixed-martial artists and as such they are well-versed in all aspects of the fight game. Both fighters are also proficient strikers with a number of stoppage victories on their win column. The UFC’s lightweight division is in shambles at the moment with a number of good-to-great fighters mixing it up and very few clear-cut contenders. Neither man can afford a loss in a division that’s this competitive, so you can expect a war when these two hook up.
3. Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz (UFC 137) – It’s pretty easy to hate on GSP these days given the fact that he hasn’t won via strikes or submission in over three years. Some would say that he hasn’t been challenged enough, and that’s a fair point in my eyes. The UFC has had to create challengers and storylines to make main event match-ups that can be compelling, but even then we’re still left with one-sided five round affairs that more and more fans are turning on. Fortunately we won’t have to worry about St. Pierre’s next opponent challenging him, as many expect Diaz to be St. Pierre’s most aggressive challenger to the UFC Welterweight Championship. If GSP wants to stand and trade then I’m sure Diaz will be happy to oblige him, but if St. Pierre relies on his ground skills he’ll be dealing with a BJJ black belt. I’m still not sure how I think this one will go down, and as a result this is the most excited I’ve been in a while for a St. Pierre title defense.
2. Jim Miller vs. Ben Henderson (UFC on Versus 5) – I was hardly surprised when I realized that half of the fights on this list are taking place in the lightweight division. Being 155 lbs. in the UFC means being in the most competitive division in the world. For Miller this fight means that he can earn a chance to avenge one of the two losses on his record and fight for a UFC championship. For Henderson it’s a chance to prove to that he really was the best lightweight in the WEC and he deserves a spot amongst the elite in UFC as well. With all due respect to Chris Lytle and Dan Hardy, this is the most important fight on Versus next month.
1. Frank Edgar vs. Gray Maynard (UFC 136) – What a long strange trip this has been. Maynard wins the first meeting, then later on he gets passed over for a title shot in favor of Edgar. Edgar wins the belt, then beats BJ a second time just to be sure. Edgar and Maynard meet a second time and Gray comes within a second or two of winning the belt, only to have Edgar come roaring back and take the fight right to the challenger. After the draw a third meeting is scheduled, and then rescheduled. It feels like it’s taken forever, but we’ll finally be able to see the next chapter in what has become one of the all-time great UFC rivalries. If Maynard wins he’ll maintain his undefeated record and go 2-0 against one of the best lightweight fighters of all time. If Edgar wins he’ll have evened the score and avenged his only career loss, and maybe then he can finally find a new challenger for his UFC Lightweight Championship. It’s one of the most anticipated UFC title fights of the year, and it’s the fight I’m most excited for in the next 100 days.
Alan Belcher vs. Jason MacDonald (UFC Fight Night: Battle On The Bayou)
Anthony Johnson vs. Charlie Brenneman (UFC on Versus 6)
Johny Hendricks vs. Mike Pierce (UFC 133)