As we close the book on 2015, the UFC is cramming as many fights as it can before the year ends. Starting Dec. 10, UFC will hold four fight cards in nine days, including the absolutely stacked card for UFC 194, which has two title fights.
With 41 total fights over nine days, it would be easy to overdose on all things UFC before you indulge in any actual libations on New Year’s Eve. So which fights should you absolutely make it a point to see before we enter 2016? Here’s a (not so) little primer for ya. Enjoy.
Rose Namajunas vs. Paige VanZant (UFC Fight Night – Dec. 10)
With the recent loss by Ronda Rousey, UFC is surely going to push its promotion of its other blonde bombshell, Paige VanZant, into overdrive in 2016. However, she should get her first true test in Rose Namajunas, who was being hyped as the “next” Rousey by Dana White when Namajunas competed on season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Namajunas’ run on the show ended abruptly and she’s mostly treaded water so far in UFC, but looked dominant in choking out Angela Hill in her last fight. If VanZant looks as impressive as she did against Kailin Curran, Felice Herrig and Alex Chambers, it’s likely she will receive a title shot in the new year. So if you have UFC Fight Pass, fire it up on Dec. 10 and see which hype train will keep chugging along.
Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham (The Ultimate Fighter Finale – Dec. 11)
You’re never going to get a boring fight from Joe Lauzon. You’re just not. The guy is a submission machine and is the record holder in UFC for post-fight bonuses with 13. He’s finished some of the toughest fighters out there, including Melvin Guillard, Mac Danzig, Takanori Gomi and Jeremy Stephens. He’s going to have a tough test against Evan Dunham, who’s on a two-fight winning streak.
But really, you should watch this fight to see what slick submission “J-Lau” will pull out next. I’m calling it right now: Peruvian necktie.
Edson Barboza vs. Tony Ferguson (The Ultimate Fight Finale – Dec. 11)
I personally cannot wait for this one. These are two guys who are on the fast track to a title shot in the lightweight division and if you enjoy exciting strikes and the potential for a violent finish, this is a fight you do not want to miss.
I’ve been a big fan of Ferguson’s since his emphatic submission win against Abel Trujillo at UFC 177 in 2014. I’m glad he’s finally facing a bonafide top-10 fighter in Barboza, who still owns probably the most memorable knockout in UFC history when his spinning heel kick against Terry Etim in 2012.
This fight could easily steal the show on this particular card. The winner should be seriously considered for a title shot.
Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes (The Ultimate Fighter Finale – Dec. 11)
These two share more in common than you might think. Both are unbelievably tough fighters. Both are wrestlers by trade. Both are incredibly short (sorry, couldn’t resist). But probably most important, they’re both hanging perilously close to the UFC featherweight title picture.
Mendes lost to Conor McGregor in an interim featherweight title fight in July. He was chosen to fill in for champion José Aldo over Edgar, who has an equal claim to a title shot. The winner of this fight will almost assuredly face the winner of Aldo/Conor the very next night. Implications aside, this will be a great fight to watch if you’re a fan of amateur wrestling, or just of plain ol’ hard-nosed fighting. Neither Edgar nor Mendes ever give an inch, and I wouldn’t expect them to start now.
Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson (UFC 194 – Dec. 12)
This fight is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner’s wet dream. Both of these guys are submission experts and are expected to put on a ground-based clinic that all aspiring MMA fighters should take notes on. I’m not as high on Nelson as some are, but there’s no doubt he looked impressive in his last victory over Brandon Thatch. Maia has been one of the most dangerous fighters in the welterweight division since he decided to drop to that weight class. This will be a thinking man’s MMA fight, and one you should definitely check out.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Yoel Romero (UFC 194 – Dec. 12)
The winner of this fight should also be guaranteed a title fight, at middleweight. Romero has won six fights in a row, five by knockout. Souza has won all five of his UFC fights – three by submission and one by TKO. These guys are the most dangerous fighters in the middleweight division and either one would be a terrific matchup for the winner of the middleweight title fight that’s happening on the same card. This fight should be exciting and action-packed as well, and also have the potential for a quick and potentially violent finish.
Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold (UFC 194 – Dec. 12)
This is fairly straight-forward for why you should watch this fight. Weidman is the middleweight champion and Rockhold has been absolutely dominant in his UFC career, having only lost to a juiced-up Vitor Belfort. These two are the elite at middleweight and among the pound-for-pound best in all of UFC. That’s enough for you to want to watch right there.
José Aldo vs. Conor McGregor (UFC 194 – Dec. 12)
Again, do I really need to explain why you should watch this fight? You guys already know the backstory with this and everything else involved. So let’s move on. But before I do, I basically listed every fight on the main card of UFC 194 as ones you should watch. So here’s the cliff notes – watch UFC 194. You’re welcome.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem (UFC on FOX 17 – Dec. 19)
These are two of the best heavyweights in the world and have been circling each other for seemingly the past few years. This will be JDS’ first fight since his victory over Stipe Miocic last year, and Overeem has rebounded nicely after an uneven start to his UFC career.
Dos Santos has taken an unbelievable amount of punishment in his last few fights, so it remains to be seen if it’s smart for him to just stand and trade with Overeem. But given the animosity between these two, it’s a safe bet that’s exactly what will happen.
Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 17 – Dec. 19)
It seems like Cerrone has already fought for the lightweight title once or twice, right? Actually, this is his first title fight in UFC. “Cowboy” has been around the block and is among the most popular fighters in all of MMA, for good reason. He brings an “everyman” and fun-loving mentality to MMA, and fights an exciting style that will contrast nicely against Dos Anjos’ more cerebral approach, which helped him pick apart Anthony Pettis to win the lightweight title earlier this year. Can Cerrone finally get over the hump and grab the brass ring, as well as the lightweight title?