The year’s biggest MMA event is now behind us but over the course of the next three months, we have some absolutely scintillating matchups to look forward to.
UFC 229, by all accounts, was a massive success. Of course, the PPV figures that estimated it bringing it as many as 2.5 million buys are one thing but in terms of the action on the night, there were many moments that will live long in the memory.
Thankfully, it looks as though 2018 is set to build on that momentum before its close, with both the UFC and Bellator boasting some unmissable fight-cards during the winter months.
We rank the ten fights that look set to thrill as we move deeper into October.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Kamaru Usman
Curtis Blaydes vs. Francis Ngannou II
Brent Primus vs. Michael Chandler II
Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta II
Neiman Gracie vs. Ed Ruth
Carlos Condit vs. Michael Chiesa
#10 – Derek Brunson vs. Israel Adesanya at UFC 230 – November 3
The ceiling has not yet been established for kickboxer-turned-MMA phenom Israel Adesanya. When he was booked to take on the veteran Brad Tavares earlier this year, many expressed their fear that the UFC were rushing him. It became pretty evident early on that this guy is the real deal. Whether he can continue his ascent by defeating the always-dangerous Derek Brunson remains to be seen.
#9 – Renato Moicano vs. Chad Mendes at UFC 231 – December 8
Chad ‘Money’ Mendes returned in stunning form earlier this year after a lengthy suspension, knocking out Myles Jury in the very first round to announce to the 145lb division that he was very much still in the running. Renato Moicano has been incredible since breaking into the top-10 and with a win over the former title challenger Mendes, his claim to a shot at the belt would be undeniable. Cracking fight.
#8 – Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman II at UFC 230 – November 3
A lot has changed for these two former champions since they first met inside the octagon back at UFC 194 in 2015. Rockhold was, of course, a dominant victor in that bout but later lost his title in brutal fashion to Michael Bisping. Both he and Weidman have been Yoel Romero’d in the time since and in this fight, a lot will come down to who exactly has another push at the belt left in them. Neither man is done by any stretch of the imagination but we’ve seen both of them finished brutally in recent times which is slightly worrying. A fantastic bout nonetheless.
#7 – Frankie Edgar vs. Chan Sung Jung at UFC Denver – November 10
The year’s most underappreciated fight is happening in about three weeks and no-one is talking about it. Two featherweight legends collide in Denver as the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung and Frankie Edgar finally get their opportunity to throw down. Jung finished his mandatory military service and returned to knock out Dennis Bermudez after three-and-a-half years out and in a matchup with Edgar, there’s every chance we’ll see the next 145lb title-contender emerge.
#6 – Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 – December 8
A former 115lb champion fighting a former 135lb title-challenger for the 125lb title? It’s a pretty rare sight to see and while one would have to imagine that size will play a factor, this remains a compelling matchup nonetheless. Valentina has beaten Joanna before on the muay-thai circuit but with both women looking to make a new home of the 125lb weight-class, this fight is easily the most important in the division’s short history.
#5 – Daniel Cormier (c) vs. Derrick Lewis at UFC 230 – November 3
Many are looking at this one as a foregone conclusion, but let’s not be too quick to rule out the power that Derrick Lewis possesses. He might not bring much to the table in the way of solid cardio or sound technique but he can crack and he has shown his ability to retain his punching-power deep into the fight. Daniel Cormier is one of the UFC’s most popular fighters and while he will no doubt have his eye on a lucrative matchup with either Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones before his retirement, a defeat here would potentially see him lose both.
#4 – Donald Cerrone vs. Mike Perry at UFC Denver – November 10
A fun fight between two of the most violent customers in the UFC today became infinitely more compelling after Cerrone’s ugly split from JacksonWink MMA – a split that Mike Perry was right in the middle of. There’s still respect to be found between these two guys but make no mistake, when the octagon doors close, expect hands, knees, elbows and kicks to fly as these two welterweights look to take each other’s head off.
#3 – Cristiane Justino (c) vs. Amanda Nunes (c) at UFC 232 – December 29
It’s a super-fight between the two most dominant fighters in women’s MMA today. Amanda Nunes has spent the last two years establishing herself atop the 135lb division but despite her impressive run, facing a monster like Cyborg is another challenge altogether. With that being said, however, the featherweight queen has never once faced a fighter who can rival her power and while Nunes isn’t quite there, she will certainly come into this one with an x-factor that Justino doesn’t often have to deal with.
#2 – Max Holloway (c) vs. Brian Ortega at UFC 231 – December 8
If these two guys make it to the octagon on December 8, we are well and truly in for a treat. This fight is a phenomenal stylistic clash. On one hand you have the tried and tested champion Holloway, a man who seems to improve upon himself each and every time we see him compete and on the other, there’s Ortega, an unpredictable finisher who has perhaps the best killer instinct in the game today. This fight is a dangerous one for both men and one that features two of the brightest young stars on the roster.
#1 – Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson II at UFC 232 – December 29
Was it ever going to be anything else? The first pairing of Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson was one of the greatest fights in the history of mixed martial arts and in the time since, so much has happened for both of these guys. The most compelling thing about this fight isn’t necessarily what we know about the contrast between their skillsets, but instead, it’s about the unknowns and questions we have going into this one. It’ll be hard to top their first meeting but on paper this just screams Fight of the Year.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena