I've been doing some variation of this "Fights to Watch" column for the past, oh, five years or so. Chances are pretty good you know exactly what to expect when you open this bad boy up each month; I give you 10 fights to watch in any upcoming month, without giving them any semblance of importance in relation to one another.
Well, as the old saying goes: Just when they think they have the answers, I change the questions. Today, instead of presenting you a jumble of fights, I'm going to rank them from No. 10 all the way down to No. 1! Innovation is my middle name.
I know you love rankings. Hell, you probably love rankings just as much as I do. So that's what we're doing here today. I'm going to give you my most anticipated fights of the month, and I'm going to tell you exactly how much I'm looking forward to them on a sliding scale that I'll make up as we go. And when we're done, I'm going to ask you to leave me your most anticipated fights for September 2013 and to tell my why you're looking forward to them.
Here we go. It's Friday, so let's knock this bad boy out.
Look, don't judge me for including this. I appreciate that World Series of Fighting knows exactly what it is. It's not trying to present itself as something that it isn't while also booking guys who have name value to headline its shows.
World Series of Fighting knows it's a minor league, and it has no problem telling you so. The organization isn't here to compete with the UFC, and therefore it can book Andrei Arlovski vs. Mike Kyle and you won't blink an eye. Or at least I won't.
I was bummed out when an injury forced Anthony Johnson out of this fight. For starters, I just want to see Johnson fight heavyweights. That's my idea of a good time. And there's also this little idea in the back of my head that someday, some way, Johnson will miss weight at heavyweight. And I want to be there to see it happen.
Anyway, what you see is what you get: two dudes who are going to punch each other hard, right in the face, until Arlovski goes unconscious.
C'mon, don't act like you expect anything else to happen.
Natal invents some dance moves.
Back when Tor Troeng was in The Ultimate Fighter house, many people assumed he was the "killer" Dana White kept referring to while promoting how it was the latest best season of the show of all time.
I remember this distinctly because my editor here at Bleacher Report, the esteemed Brian Oswald, predicted in a staff email chain that Troeng was the killer. It was just assumed that he was the man who terrified everyone else so greatly that they'd break into tears and perhaps wet themselves a little bit when they discovered they were fighting him.
That person did not end up being Troeng, and nobody wet themselves. It was Uriah Hall, and he ended up not being that much of a killer after all. But Troeng was included in the discussion for one reason and one reason only: His name is Tor Troeng.
If I'm honest, that's the only real reason I'm including him here today. I like his name. So sue me. But I also like the matchup with Rafael Natal, a talented fighter with just two losses in the UFC.
This one, folks, is what my good friend Jim Ross likes to call a "slobberknocker." Just watch and find out.
If you forced me to name a single title fight in the entire history of the UFC that I care about less than the interim bantamweight title fight between Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland, I'm not sure I could do so. Not even at gunpoint.
But still, it's a title fight, and I suppose it has to be included on any list of the biggest fights for any given month, even if it's a fight that only Barao and Wineland and their respective teams care about.
At this point, I just want Dominick Cruz to get back in the cage. The poor guy has had the worst luck of any fighter in recent MMA history, and I just want him to recover, return and fight Barao. I don't care about any other opponent Barao will face between now and then...unless Barao and Jose Aldo have a nasty breakup and decide that the only way to resolve it is by fighting each other—I'd care a lot about that one.
Anyway, this is a chance to watch Barao be awesome and do the stuff he does. Wineland doesn't have much of a chance, but that's OK. You're paying to watch Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson anyway.
Look, I want Glover Teixeira to fight his way into title contention just as much as the next guy. But a win over Ryan Bader? That shouldn't earn anyone a title shot.
Of course, Dana White and the UFC have given themselves an out by specifying that Teixeira must earn a "strong victory" over Bader to secure the title shot. I suspect the definition of the word "strong" could drastically change depending on the UFC's needs when it comes time to determine Jones' next opponent.
Here's what this fight is: a chance for Teixeira to prove he deserves that title shot by finishing Bader, because Bader was once finished by Tito Ortiz and thus should be an easy out for a talent like Teixeira.
If Teixeira crushes Bader like a can, great. Give him the title shot. If not, make him wait around, fight someone who's actually in the Top Five and give the shot to Daniel Cormier.
Costa Philippou, in case you were not aware, is one bad dude. He's won five fights in a row and is nearing title contention. Oh, and he recently left the Team Serra Longo fight camp, likely in anticipation of a potential title fight with champion Chris Weidman.
Yes, you could say everything is turning up Costa. But Philippou's ray of hope might get snuffed out at UFC 165 by another equally bad dude in Francis Carmont, who is riding his own five-fight winning streak in the UFC. Carmont also has 10 consecutive wins, a fantastic feel for using his reach and powerful strikes.
I favor Philippou to win the fight but not by much. This one is much closer to a toss-up than anyone realizes.
Kid Yamamoto is 0-3 in the UFC. His best days are behind him. But there's still hope, way down deep inside my soul, that the fighter who so thrilled during his days in Shooto, K-1 and Dream will somehow return to form and begin terrorizing bantamweights across the world.
That's unlikely to happen. Ivan Menjivar is probably going to beat Yamamoto handily and send him packing from the UFC. But I still hope. I'll always hope.
In the meantime, that picture of Menjivar sure does make my heart warm. Such a happy lad.
You know what the major selling point is for UFC 165?
"Greatness within reach." As in, with Alexander Gustafsson, we finally have a challenger who can negate the enormous reach advantage of Jon Jones.
Sure, you can pretend that the UFC's marketing efforts are focusing on Jones breaking Tito Ortiz's record for most light heavyweight title defenses, but the outstretched arms of both Jones and his challenger on the official poster (see above) prove that isn't the case.
The UFC is talking about reach. Gustafsson has similar reach to Jones, right? He won't be at such a disadvantage.
Folks, Gustafsson has a mere half-inch advantage on Shogun Rua. He has 1.5 inches on Rashad Evans.
This is not a man with a similar reach advantage. Jones still has a significant reach advantage. And it isn't just the reach advantage but how skillfully Jones uses it in the cage.
This won't be a competitive fight. In fact, I'll tell you right now that you won't see Jones in another competitive fight until he fights Daniel Cormier or moves to heavyweight.
Pat Healy pulled off the biggest win of his career over Jim Miller at UFC 159 but then lost to marijuana. It was an unfortunate turn of events, once again involving one of the dumbest drug transgressions in all of sports.
But the UFC essentially treated Healy as though he kept the win, booking him against rising and undefeated devastating prospect Khabib Nurmagomedov in what should be considered the odds-on favorite for Fight of the Month and perhaps even Fight of the Year.
Quite honestly, folks, if you miss this fight, we cannot be friends anymore. Watch it.
You want some middleweight fireworks? Well, you might get them here.
Or you might not. It all depends on Okami, really, because Souza has proved that he tends to be an exciting fighter when paired with a good opponent. Okami is not that opponent, but he's also a very good fighter who could help elevate Souza into the UFC's middleweight elite.
Souza has long been considered one of the top 185-pounders in the world, but he rarely had the competition in Strikeforce to prove it. Now he does, and Okami could be his first stepping stone on the way to a title fight.
If you aren't excited by this superb and sublime flyweight fight, you and I are through. Kaput. We will not be friends.
Joseph Benavidez is the second-best flyweight in the world, even after losing to Demetrious Johnson a year ago. Since that loss, he's dominated Ian McCall and body-punched Darren Uyenoyama on the way to two victories. One more win, and he'll likely be back in the cage with Johnson.
Before that can happen, he'll face Jussier "Formiga" da Silva in a fight that I would've called a dream match three years ago. Formiga has long been one of the best flyweights in the world, but losing his UFC debut to John Dodson set him back a few notches. He beat Chris Cariaso to get back on the horse, but now he finds himself against a man who has been one of the best in the world at both 135 and 125 pounds.
This fight is awesome. If you don't think so, you're wrong. But that's OK, because we're all wrong from time to time. I'm wrong more often than just "time to time," but I'm not wrong about this one. Watch and enjoy.