The UFC have announced an incredibly stacked schedule for the spring/summer period so with that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the very best.
Aspen Ladd vs. Sijara Eubanks – UFC Rochester – May 18
Jimi Manuwa vs. Alexander Rakic – UFC Stockholm – June 1
Cub Swanson vs. Shane Burgos – UFC Ottawa – May 4
Jared Cannonier vs. Anderson Silva – UFC 237 – May 11
Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Jessica Eye – UFC 238 – June 8
Jan Blachowicz vs. Luke Rockhold – UFC 239 – July 6
#15: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith – UFC Stockholm – June 1
Sure, both guys have been recently dispatched by the divisional champion but a loss to Jon Jones does very little damage tone’ses reputation. It is Jon Jones after all. If Bones does decide to chase after the heavyweight title later this year, this UFC Stockholm headliner should allow the 205lb division to crown a new top-contender, although it is unlikely that either man gets a shot at the belt this year if Jon holds onto the strap.
#14: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Kevin Lee – UFC Rochester – May 18
It’s easy to forget just how young Kevin Lee is. It has also been quite evident that he has been draining his body to make that 155lb-limit. If recent history is any indicator, athletes are slowly learning that forgoing the cut altogether can lead you to your best career-performances. In the former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, Lee has the perfect dance-partner to test the waters at 170lb.
#13: Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Holly Holm – UFC 239 – July 6
There was quite a bit of controversy when Holly Holm was given another shot at UFC gold despite her last win at 135lbs coming over Bethe Correia. The fact that she’s a recognizable name no doubt fed into the UFC’s plan to book this fight. If all goes to plan, Amanda Nunes should win this one comfortably but as we’ve seen so often, you can’t count out a fighter with the fight-ending capabilities that Holm has.
#12: Yoel Romero vs. Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza – UFC Florida – April 27
Their first fight might not have set the world alight but these days, whenever Yoel Romero signs to fight, you can be sure that there will be violence to follow. The fact that Jacare Souza has never once fought for a UFC title is quite frankly astonishing at this point but even with the interim-belt that will be contested at UFC 236 – one would have to assume the winner of this fight will be on course for a title-shot before long.
#11: John Lineker vs. Cory Sandhagen – UFC Florida – April 27
With three UFC fights, three finishes behind him and one of the craziest fighters on the UFC roster ahead of him, Cory Sandhagen has an opportunity to announce himself at bantamweight in a huge way by taking on the aptly-named ‘Hands Of Stone’ John Lineker at UFC Florida. Lineker is unmissable TV and is never in a boring fight, never slows down, and has never once been finished by strikes.
#10: Alex Oliveira vs. Mike Perry – UFC Florida – April 27
The last time Mike Perry fought a Cowboy it didn’t exactly go too well for him but in Alex Oliveira, he will face off against one of the UFC’s most violent customers. Both guys are still trying to find their momentum in this stacked welterweight division, but rankings aside, this matchup is one that all-but-guarantees a finish. Expect hard-shots to be exchanged before one man eventually falls.
#9: Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff – UFC 238 – June 8
You’d have to assume that this matchup of rising strawweight sensations will determine the next challenger to the divisional crown. Nina Ansaroff was able to establish herself within the divisional upper-echelons with an impressive victory over the former title-challenger Claudia Gadelha but in Tatiana Suarez, she may well be up against the finest prospect in women’s MMA today.
#8: Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler II – UFC Minneapolis – June 29
There are quite a lot of people who are disregarding this fight based on the circumstances behind its booking. Look, I get it. Woodley’s first-round KO of the then-champion Lawler was about as definitive as you can get. Welterweight is completely stacked right now and to be honest, both guys could have been given fresh matchups that would do more for their push towards regaining the belt but since we’re stuck with it, let’s not forget that the actual fight itself is a very interesting clash. Here we have two guys who will know that a loss could have a huge effect on their career’s trajectory.
#7: Rose Namajunas (c) vs. Jessica Andrade – UFC 237 – May 11
Rose Namajunas will fight someone not named Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the first time in over two years when she takes on the hard-hitting former 135lb powerhouse Jessica Andrade in Brazil. Andrade proved her lethal power for the division by pulling off one of the finest KO’s in the history of women’s MMA at UFC 228 – flattening Karolina Kowalkiewicz to earn her shot at the champ. If Namajunas can overcome the challenge presented on May 11, who knows how long she can rule the 115lb-rs for.
#6: Jon Jones (c) vs. Thiago Santos – UFC 239 – July 6
There’s no show like a Bones show! Love him or hate him, watching Jon Jones compete is a display of the highest level of mixed martial arts we have ever seen. In Thiago Santos, the UFC are giving the shot to a guy who certainly has the power to trouble the champ – although that’s a narrative we have heard before. This fight, at the very least, will allow us to further examine the near-perfect skillset of the greatest fighter to ever do it and who knows, we may well be in for the shock of a lifetime if Santos can spring the upset.
#5: Al Iaquinta vs. Donald Cerrone – UFC Ottawa – May 4
Two of the most electric veterans in the lightweight ranks are set to make a headlining appearance on May’s UFC Ottawa in a fight that should push the winner further into the title-discussion. Both guys have been in something of a resurgence of late and each comes into the octagon every time with a level of attitude to their fighting that should make this one an absolutely unmissable spectacle.
#4: José Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski – UFC 237 – May 11
Aldo plans to hang up his gloves and retire this year after two more fights. Coming off back-to-back TKO finishes of Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano – the stakes are tremendously high for the Brazilian coming into this one. If he can pull off the win over the rising talent that is Alexander Volkanovski, his final fight as a mixed martial artist could see him challenge for UFC gold one more time before retiring. That in itself makes this one compelling.
#3: Henry Cejudo (c) vs. Marlon Moraes – UFC 238 – June 8
Another fight that has been seen as baffling to some upon its announcement. Again, it’s important to forget about the politics and accept the fact that we’re going to see Cejudo and Moraes sharing an octagon this summer – something that will no doubt lead to a very interesting clash between two of the best in the business. Can Moraes finally fulfil his long-awaited potential? Or will Cejudo prove that he is an all-time great by following up wins over Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw with a bantamweight title-winning performance? Find out June 8.
#2: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya – UFC 236 – April 13
The first real test of Israel Adesanya’s championship-level aspirations at middleweight will come in his first shot at UFC gold. Kelvin Gastelum is a deserving top-contender to the throne having rediscovered himself upon forgoing his strenuous cut down to 170lbs. If Adesanya is in any way not ready for making his ascent into the big-time, Gastelum is the type of fighter who will run through him in brutal fashion. Both guys are young, both are hungry, and above all else, both are known for possessing incredibly dangerous power.
#1: Max Holloway (c) vs. Dustin Poirier II – UFC 236 – April 13
The featherweight champion finally makes his move to what should be his more natural weight-class, taking on ‘The Diamond’ Dustin Poirier in a rematch of their 2012 meeting. It’s a fight between two of the best fighters in the game, two action fighters, now competing without the strenuous cut that saw them make the 145lb limit for all of those year. Most all, though, the winner is all-but-guaranteed to welcome Khabib Nurmagomedov back to the octagon later this year. This has all of the signs of a classic-in-the-making.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena