Those of us who cover mixed martial arts for a living know that there are easy days and then there are hard days.
The easy days tend to come along when we've got stretches of two weeks or more without a single major fight card. Those are few and far between, but they're much appreciated. Especially by my cohort Damon Martin, who somehow finds a way to publish breaking news stories within minutes of their announcement, no matter the time of day or night.
This isn't one of those easy-breezy weeks. We've got a pretty intriguing UFC on Fuel card coming from Brazil this Saturday night, and the UFC decided to add more work on top of the already existing fight card by announcing roughly 2,315 new fights during Tuesday's edition of UFC Tonight.
If you missed the avalanche of new fight bookings last night, don't despair; I'm here to tell you about nine of the best ones. And hell, while we're at it, I'm going to rank them from the one I'm least excited about all the way down to the one I simply cannot wait to see.
Administrative note: All of the fights included on this list are scheduled between July 27's UFC on Fox 8 card and UFC 164 on August 31.
Without any further ado, let's get started. Official UFC rankings are included in parentheses next to each fighter's name.
9. Amanda Nunes (7) vs. Sheila Gaff (10), UFC 163
Gaff makes her return to the Octagon after being absolutely throttled by Olympian Sara McMann at UFC 159 in April. She has a much easier opponent this time out, which is not to say that Nunes is a pushover. Not by any means; Nunes has career victories over Ediane Gomes and Julia Budd, who have both competed with the best female fighters in the sport.
There's just a difference between facing McMann, with her incredible wrestling game and strength, and Nunes. I expect a close fight from this one and not a one-sided beating, and I also expect it to compete for fight of the night honors.
8. Bubba McDaniel (NR) vs. Brad Tavares (NR), UFC on Fox Sports 1 2
I'll use this space to lodge my official complaint about the stupid numbering system we're apparently going to use for Fox Sports 1 shows going forward. There has to be a better way, because I feel silly even writing "UFC on Fox Sports 1 2."
Bubba McDaniel was the big heel on the last season of The Ultimate Fighter, but he's actually a well-rounded fighter with a lot of veteran experience. Unfortunately for him, that veteran experience came against a host of unknown fighters; the most well-known name wins on his resume came over Kyacey Uscola and Kala Hose, and they're only recognizable to the hardest of hardcore fans.
I say all of this to stress that Tavares is the toughest opponent of McDaniel's career, and the Greg Jackson product will have a difficult time handling Tavares.
7. Urijah Faber (2) vs. Yuri Alcantara (NR), UFC on Fox Sports 1 1
See what I mean about that numbering system? It's just...dumb.
Urijah Faber returns for his third fight since January and fourth since last July, when he lost to Renan Barao in an interim title fight. Since that loss, Faber has defeated (and finished) Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgensen to claw his way back into title contention yet again.
Faber's fighting Alcantara, a tough Brazilian who made his debut in the WEC before moving over to UFC territory. His only career loss since 2009 came against Hacran Dias last summer, and he owns victories over Ricardo Lamas and Michihiro Omigawa.
Don't sleep on Alcantara here. Faber will rightly be the favorite, but he'll need to take Alcantara seriously and be at his absolute best.
6. Chael Sonnen (NR) vs. Shogun Rua (7), UFC on Fox Sports 1 1
This probably wasn't the main event Dana White had in mind when he promised a mind-blowing main event to cap off the launch of the UFC's new home on Fox Sports 1. It certainly isn't the fight I thought we'd see; I fully expected to see Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, so long as Jones' wrecked toe was given medical clearance.
Is Sonnen vs. Rua a good Fox Sports 1 main event?
Perhaps the medical clearance never came, or perhaps Sonnen is just a flat-out expert in the art of securing marquee fights after losing them. Either way, this is what we're stuck with, and while I won't tell you I'm thrilled about the fact that it's the main event, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little bit intrigued to see what happens when the bell rings.
This is a winnable fight for Sonnen as long as he's able to execute his smothering top game. Rua is good at getting off his back—where Sonnen will want to keep him—so The American Gangster will need to keep up the pressure. He'll need to be relentless, but he should come out on top.
5. Robert Drysdale (NR) vs. Ednaldo Oliveira (NR), UFC 163
Apologies to Oliveira, who is a perfectly serviceable Brazilian fighter with a career record padded by beating mostly subpar talent on the Salvador, Brazil local scene.
There's one reason we're tuning in to this fight and one reason it's a fight you should be excited about: the long-awaited UFC debut of brilliant jiu-jitsu ace Robert Drysdale.
If you've never heard of Drysdale, you need to go jump on YouTube and start getting well-versed in the BJJ stylings of one of the best submission grapplers in the world. He's a three-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion and an Abu Dhabi open weight champion who holds a host of other titles from the submission world.
Since making his MMA debut in 2010, Drysdale has six first-round submissions. The longest an opponent has lasted with Drysdale is 2:54.
In short, this man is one of the most brilliant submission artists we've ever seen, and we're going to get a chance to see him compete on the big stage. And I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely salivating over the potential of Drysdale and Roger Gracie doing a rematch of their 2007 World Jiu-Jitsu championship, except this time in a cage.
4. Robbie Lawler (9) vs. Siyar Bahazurdada (NR), UFC on Fox 8
This fight was originally Lawler taking on former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine, but Saffiedine was forced to withdraw due to an injury suffered in training camp. He was replaced by Siyar Bahazurdada, and I can't help but think that the fight is an improvement as a result.
Who wins this fight?
Bahazurdada and Lawler are of the same mold, which is to say that they both love to stand and punch and kick dudes in the face. And that's almost always a recipe for a fight of the night performance; in fact, I'd be surprised if this one doesn't take home the $65,000 (or whatever Bryan Caraway says the bonuses are) at the end of the night.
If you like violence, well, this one should tickle your fancy.
3. Michael McDonald (3) vs. Brad Pickett (5), UFC on Fox Sports 1 1
Holy quick and technical bantamweight boxing, Batman!
That was a terrible sentence, but you catch my drift. Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett is a sublime bit of matchmaking from Sean Shelby, who is proving in his work with the women and lower male weight classes that he's every bit the matchmaker as his counterpart, Joe Silva.
It doesn't matter that Pickett is coming off a win and McDonald a loss. What matters here is that both fighters are close in the UFC's rankings and that it's a fantastic stylistic matchup. I rarely make knockout predictions when it comes to bantamweights, but this one likely won't go the distance.
2. Sarah Kaufman (2) vs. Sara McMann (4), UFC on Fox Sports 1 2
So much for bringing Sara McMann along slowly by giving her lower-ranked opponents. No, McMann is being thrown right into the fire against former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman, who has faced just about every top female fighter in the world at one point or another.
If McMann wins, it'll be hard to find another opponent for her outside of the winner of the December bout between TUF coaches Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate. And for Kaufman, a win brings her one step closer to a rematch with Rousey.
This is the perfect fight for both women at this point in their careers. It's another bit of great matchmaking from Sean Shelby.
1. Benson Henderson (Champion) vs. T.J. Grant (3), UFC 164
And finally, my most anticipated bout of the summer: the lightweight title fight between the ultra-busy Benson Henderson and T.J. Grant, who vaulted out of virtual obscurity to become the next title challenger when he knocked out heavily favored Gray Maynard at UFC 160.
This is an outstanding fight, and I think it's a close one. Henderson has scraped by, winning controversial decisions in all but one of his three UFC title fights, but he's still the champion for a reason, and he's a very capable fighter.
He was also the Bleacher Report Fighter of the Year for 2012, so there's that.
Grant is a legitimate threat to Henderson's reign. Nobody's ever manhandled Maynard the way Grant did, and he packs enormous power in his hands and has a fantastic submission game on the mat. In short, he's the toughest opponent Henderson has ever faced, and it'll be interesting to see how the champion reacts.