Power Ranking the 12 Can't-Miss MMA Fights Left in 2014

Brian Oswald@@briancoswaldMMA Editor June 25, 2014

Power Ranking the 12 Can't-Miss MMA Fights Left in 2014

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    When Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson was booked in September 2013, nobody thought the Swede stood much of a chance against the light heavyweight champion, whom many were already calling the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

    But the two went toe-to-toe for 25 back-and-forth minutes in what ended up being one of the best scraps in the history of the sport. In hindsight, it was a can't-miss fight.

    Thankfully, the two will rematch later this year at UFC 178, in what is one of the 12 can't-miss fights left in 2014. But where does it rank? And what are the other 11 fights you want to make sure you see live?

    Keep in mind, the UFC is far from done booking fights to fill out the 2014 lineup, and this is a ranking based on what is currently on the books.

Honorable Mentions

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    There are more than 12 compelling fights left on the 2014 calendar, but not all of them are necessarily worthy of their own slide. But they are certainly worth a nod.

    Cub Swanson vs. Jeremy Stephens: These two strikers are set to square off on June 28 at UFC Fight Night 44. San Antonio will be treated to fireworks, as these two featherweights love to throw leather. Swanson is the more technical of the two, but Stephens can end a fight in with one punch. The winner will be close to a title shot, which makes things more interesting, although it could cause them to fight more conservatively.

    Ronda Rousey vs. Alexis Davis: If Rousey were fighting Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino at UFC 175, then it might top the entire list. But instead she is facing off against a scrappy but relatively unknown fighter in Davis. She could put up a fight, but it's more likely she will succumb to an armbar. That said, Rousey is still early in her UFC career, so it's worth tuning in to see her do her thing.

    Benson Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos: Benson Henderson is still one of the best fighters who is not wearing UFC gold. Dos Anjos is one of the toughest outs in the sport. The two will collide at UFC Fight Night 49 when the UFC travels to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the first time. A win by Bendo will keep him at the top of the lightweight heap, although he will need at least one more win before thinking about another title shot. 

    Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tyron Woodley: This fight was more exciting when Hector Lombard was in it. But he pulled out due to injury, and Woodley, who is looking to rebound after getting trounced by Rory MacDonald, will fill in. When you combine Kim's reckless, go-for-broke style with Woodley's athleticism and lethal striking, it is hard to see this fight booked for UFC Fight Night 48 in Macau, China, going the distance. 

    Michael Johnson vs. Josh Thomson: Johnson is on a hot streak right now, and some think he is a potential title contender. If he can get by Thomson, then he just might be. Johnson will need to be aggressive and push the pace if he wants the win. He has had no problem doing that in his last few fights, but Thomson will be the best fighter he has faced to date.

12. Justin Gaethje vs. Nick Newell

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    When and where: WSOF 11, July 5, on NBC 

    Oftentimes, fights outside of the UFC get overlooked, usually with good reason. But this is a fight worth watching.

    Nick Newell is a true feel-good story in the sport. Due to congenital amputation, he does not have a left hand. Despite that, he had a successful high school and collegiate wrestling career. He boasts a perfect 11-0 MMA record with 10 of his wins via finish.

    But his opponent—WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethjeis the real deal. Some consider him a bona fide top-15 lightweight in the world. If Newell were to somehow get by Gaethje, which not many are counting on, it would continue his Cinderella run.

11. Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao

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    When and where: UFC Fight Night 46, July 19, on UFC Fight Pass 

    Conor McGregor has only had two fights in the UFC, but you'd think he was closing in a title shot with the attention he is getting. But he has a way with words; more specifically, he runs his mouth a lot, and it has gotten him more airtime as a UFC newcomer than anyone since Brock Lesnar

    Normally, a fighter who is unranked in the Top 10 of his division would not make this list, but it will be fun to see if McGregor can walk the walk. He should be able to get by a tough-but-fades-after-the-first-round Diego Brandao...so we won't get to see what the Irishman is truly made of until he starts fighting more foreboding featherweights.

10. Gegard Mousasi vs. Ronaldo Souza II

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    When and where: UFC 176, August 2, on pay-per-view

    This fight is actually a rematch. The first fight took place in Japan for DREAM, where Mousasi got the better of Souza by landing a vicious upkick that put Souza out. Now, the stakes are higher.

    The winner remains in the upper echelon of the middleweight division. A win for Souza likely earns him a title shot, although he may need to take one more fight since the division is in a state of flux right now.

    Will he exact his revenge on Mousasi? Or does Mousasi have his number?

9. Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn III

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    When and where: The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale, July 6, on Fox Sports 1

    Some fans may not consider this a can't-miss fight since Frankie Edgar is up 2-0 in the series, and most believe it will be more of the same in the third bout. For the record, this writer thought Penn won the first fight by taking the first three rounds with his counterstriking. 

    For others, any fight featuring BJ Penn is can't be missed. Edgar has taken some beatings since their last fight, while Penn has had plenty of time to rest and sharpen the sword, with his last fight being a year-and-a-half ago. If Edgar has slowed and Penn is fleet-footed at featherweight, it could be interesting.

8. Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson

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    When and where: UFC Fight Night 52, September 20, on TBD

    We all know why this fight made the list.

    These two guys are anti=six-pack, preferring a little extra cushion around the midsection. They will most likely throw caution to the wind and swing at each other's head until one of them gets knocked off.

    Since neither one has a proclivity toward getting knocked out, we may see them beating the ever-living you-know-what out of each other until the final bell rings.

7. Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum

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    When and where: UFC 180, November 15, on PPV 

    The majority of fans were not predicting Fabricio Werdum would even be here. Instead, they thought it would be the much taller and heavily bearded Travis Browne. But Werdum worked over Browne at UFC on Fox 11, proving he is a complete mixed martial artist and not just one of the best grapplers in the sport.

    Cain Velasquez looked pretty much unbeatable after his second one-sided win over Junior dos Santos. But Velasquez has been on the shelf since last October due to a shoulder injury. If he is rusty in any way and Werdum is firing on all cylinders, this could be a close fight. 

    If you are looking for a technical fight and interesting stylistic matchup, Velasquez vs. Werdum easily ranks over Hunt vs. Nelson. But if you'd rather see two big-bellied brawlers with knockout power foaming at the mouth, then bump the previous fight over this one.

6. Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes II

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    When and where: UFC 176, August 2, on PPV

    These two fought once before. It didn't go so well for Chad Mendes. He ate a knee to take the first and only loss of his career. "Money" has rattled off five wins in a row since that loss, though, dealing Clay Guida his first knockout loss ever in the process. 

    And as you can see from the above photo via his Instagram page, Mendes is looking more yoked than ever. He will force Aldo's hand in the cage; the champ will need to be equally aggressive or risk suffering his first loss since 2005 and coughing up his featherweight belt.

5. Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller

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    When and where: UFC Fight Night 45, July 16, on Fox Sports 1

    In terms of strictly fighting, this one could easily make the case for No. 1.

    If it plays out how it should, this could end up being Fight of the Year. Cerrone and Miller have six Fight of the Night awards and five Submission of the Night awards combined. Cerrone also has three Knockout of the Night awards. His 2009 fight with Benson Henderson is considered by most as the 2009 Fight of the Year.

    Anything short of an all-out war would be disappointing, and something tells me these two won't disappoint.

4. Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown

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    When and where: UFC on Fox 12, July 26, on Fox

    If you looked up the word "violence" in the dictionary, you might find a picture of both of these dudes smiling back at you with a menacing glean in their eyes. Matt Brown will put his seven-fight winning streak up against the best version of Robbie Lawler we have ever seen.

    The winner of this fight gets a title shot against Johny Hendricks. While that often causes fighters to fight more conservatively, don't expect that to happen here. Brown will come at Lawler like a zombie, looking to eat his soul. Lawler won't back down, and he carries with him the heavier hands, but Brown won't drop easily.

    Neither will Lawler. It's hard to see this one going to the judges, but if it does, expect something akin to the first fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, where everything and then some will be left in the cage.

3. Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez

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    When and where: UFC 182, December 27, on PPV

    This fight features the current UFC champion in Pettis against the former WEC champion in Melendez. Many thought Melendez did enough to beat Benson Henderson in their title fight last year, but Bendo got the judges on his side.

    Melendez will finally get his second crack at UFC gold here, and he will face a champion who will have not fought in almost a year-and-a-half.

    Can the grinding Melendez wear down the flashy Pettis over the course of five rounds? Or is Pettis just too talented and too diverse—can he be the first fighter to finish Melendez?

    With a finish, it would be hard to argue Pettis isn't the most impressive lightweight in MMA history.

2. Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida

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    When and where: UFC 175, July 5, on PPV

    Despite the fact that Weidman finished the great Anderson Silva not once but twice, he does not get taken as seriously as he should. A win over a former light heavyweight champ in Lyoto Machida should silence the critics. And past Machida, Weidman could be set up to go on a long run, which could end up establishing him as one of the great champs ever.

    But Machida is in his way, and he represents a massive hurdle. There is a lot on the line for his legacy, too. If he captures the middleweight belt from Weidman, he would join Randy Couture and BJ Penn as the only fighters to hold belts in two different weight classes. It would no doubt cement his legacy in the sport.

    Beyond the huge implications, this fight is all kinds of interesting stylistically.

1. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

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    When and where: UFC 178, September 27, on PPV

    Could there have been another No. 1? Sure. We have likely already seen the best we are going to get from these two. Their first fight will be hard to top.

    But maybe it does top it. Or maybe Jones gets the finish this time, having figured out Gustafsson. Maybe Gus gave us all he had and then some last time.

    Or maybe Gus is the one who figured out Jones. He mashed up the champ in the first bout, and if his combination of wrestling and striking has gotten better, Jones could be in trouble.

    This is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport putting it all on the line against his toughest foe to date, someone who has become his nemesis. Gus has taken his trash talking to another level in the lead-up to this fight getting booked, guaranteeing a finish. Jones says he is looking to dominate the challenger.

    It is the biggest fight of 2014, and you are not going to want to miss it.