The Best Fights on the Upcoming UFC Schedule
For hardcore MMA fans, there will be little time to breathe between now and the dawn of 2018.
With the high from Nov. 4's UFC 217 still buzzing, the UFC landscape is battening down the hatches for somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 more individual fights happening before the end of 2017. While some of those fights will be great, others are sure to disappoint.
With so much already on the docket, how will you know what not to miss? How will you mark your calendars for the fights that are truly appointment viewing?
Glad you asked.
Bleacher Report's MMA staff put its heads together and came up with a list of the best fights right now on the UFC's schedule. Here are our picks for the absolute cream of the crop...
Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou
Mark Hunt is one of the most frightening fighters on the planet. As heavy of hand as he is of foot, he's walking violence, a nigh-indestructible force of nature.
He's been stopped on occasion, sure. When your pro fights number in the seventies, that's bound to happen. But despite the handful of stoppages, he's rarely looked helpless. That, of course, was pre-Alistair Overeem.
In March, an Overeem knee landed Hunt face down, unmoving on the mat and as defenseless as a mere babe. Watching him plummet was mesmerizing, his 280 pounds moving from vertical to horizontal in what felt like slow motion, with each millisecond an opportunity to consider man's fall from grace.
Alistair Overeem seems to have that effect on even the baddest men.
Hunt wasn't the first man to fall victim to his deadly knees. And, even though the Dutchman is 37, he isn't likely to be the last.
In just four years as a professional, Francis Ngannou has racked up 10 wins against a single loss. Each time he's had his hand raised, it's been after a finish, including five fights in the UFC. None of his last three opponents, including former champion Andrei Arlovski, has managed to last even two minutes with the monstrously powerful native of Cameroon.
The winner of this fight at UFC 218 on Dec. 2 is a likely contender for title gold. The loser? He'll have plenty of time to consider his mistakes. After all, they're likely to be broadcast over and over again in all their slow motion glory. Knockouts of the night tend to get that treatment, and this one isn't likely to end any other way.
-- Jonathan Snowden
Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
Few fans need to be sold on Robbie Lawler fights at this point. The man is damn near guaranteed excitement in the cage, and his journey back to title contention is one of the most interesting ongoing storylines in MMA.
Rafael dos Anjos is a bit of a harder sell, but putting him together with Lawler in a welterweight fight that will serve as the main event of UFC on Fox 26 on Dec. 16 will be tough for even the most apathetic viewer to turn down.
After five years as a ho-hum UFC lightweight, Dos Anjos turned a corner and converted wins over Henderson and Nate Diaz into an unlikely title opportunity. He made the most of it, too, by steamrolling Anthony Pettis to capture UFC gold, and he went on to defend the title once with a quick, clean KO of Donald Cerrone.
Things went off the rails from there, as he dropped the title to Eddie Alvarez and became an unwilling launchpad for Tony Ferguson's contender status. But while he seemed doomed to slide back into midcard purgatory for a brief time, a move to the welterweight division has breathed new life into his career.
His most recent fight saw him thrash a top-10 opponent in Neil Magny, and now, he has the chance to establish himself as an elite-caliber welterweight at the expense of Lawler.
This contest offers something to every kind of fan. These are two highly technical fighters that can lay a serious beating on an opponent, and they come together at a time when there is no apparent welterweight contender. If that doesn't have your mouth watering, MMA might not be the sport for you.
-- Steven Rondina
Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje
Good, old-fashioned, all-caps violence is what you're getting at UFC 218 on Dec. 2, when Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje collide in a lightweight bout.
Regardless of the squirminess and squeamishness felt by some when using the term to sell two men or women fist fighting in a steel cage, there is something entirely compelling about the way violence sells to an audience.
This isn't two goobers brawling in a McDonald's parking lot at 4 a.m. This is two finely tuned martial artists attempting to impose their will on one another for 15 minutes or less.
With Alvarez and Gaethje, it's going to be less.
Alvarez is a former UFC and Bellator world champion who could only be derailed by the force of nature that is Conor McGregor—most others who have met his fury have bowed in stirring, stunning fashion. He's a blue-collar warrior who never met a fight he didn't like or an opponent he didn't think he could break.
Gaethje is the counter to that, the irresistible force to Alvarez's immovable object who'll be damned if he isn't remembered as the most violent lightweight we've ever seen.
He was champion in World Series of Fighting for ages with nobody watching, and it took him precisely one UFC appearance to become everybody's new favorite fighter. In a sport where "I don't give a damn" is both battle cry and way of life, Gaethje is too busy putting his money where his mouth his to worry about much else.
It's the best fight left for the rest of the year. It's the best fight of 2017, period.
It's violence—technical, beautiful, chaotic, ugly—poetic in its execution when done by men so good at it.
Go ahead and say you won't watch. Say violence doesn't sell, that you don't want any part of it. Say you'll look away.
These boys will prove it.
-- Matthew Ryder
Michelle Waterson vs. Tecia Torres
Rose Namajunas' victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 helped to reinvigorate the strawweight division, meaning this UFC 218 matchup between Tecia Torres and Michelle Waterson now has even more juice.
Torres and Waterson are both fantastic strikers, and on the feet--where they both utilize a karate-based striking attack--this is a compelling matchup. When both women are firing on all cylinders, they bring a high-paced attack into the cage. If that happens in Detroit, fans are in for a treat. Although, neither woman is one dimensional.
Both have interesting grappling skills to utilize in this fight. Waterson is the more talented jiu-jitsu artist, but Torres has a wrestling and strength advantage. It could be an interesting and entertaining battle on the canvas.
Torres could be on the doorstep to a title shot. She is tied with Namajunas for most consecutive wins (2), and she has split the series with Namajunas in their two previous encounters. That history, and a third-straight win, makes her a top choice for a title shot in 2018. Meanwhile, Waterson is coming off a loss to Namajunas and a victory moves her right back into the hunt.
The implications and stylistic matchup makes this fight a can't miss battle which will open the UFC 218 main card on December 2.
-- Nathan McCarter
Anderson Silva vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Middleweight great Anderson Silva is back in the win column after February's unanimous decision over Derek Brunson at UFC 208. Prior to that, it had been a long drought for the former 185-pound champion. Since Silva's win over Nick Diaz at UFC 183 was officially overturned due to a failed steroid test, The Spider hadn't nabbed a victory since 2012.
Now the question is, can he keep the resurgence going?
Standing in his way is Kelvin Gastelum, the welterweight contender who has reinvented himself as a middleweight hopeful. Gastelum is fresh off a loss to Chris Weidman in July, but is still dangerous. When he and Silva meet Nov. 25 at UFC Fight Night 122 in Shanghai, China, a lot will be on the line for both guys.
Oh yeah, and it figures to be a fun fight, too.
Audiences are plenty familiar with what Silva brings to the table, with his next-gen striking, pin-point accuracy and devastating power. At age 42, he's certainly lost a step, but remains dangerous enough that he must be respected by everyone--including light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier during their bout back at UFC 200.
Gastelum, meanwhile, will be the younger, quicker and better rounded of the two fighters.
How does it shake out? Only subscribers to the UFC's digital streaming service will be able to watch and find out.
-- Chad Dundas
Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny
At first blush, Neil Magny may have seemed like a bit of a strange choice as an opponent for Carlos Condit's return fight.
Condit--the former welterweight WEC and interim UFC champion--had been out of action for more than a year on the heels of two straight losses. Conventional wisdom said if Condit was going to return, it would be for something big.
But Magny? On the undercard of the as-yet headliner-free UFC 219 on Dec. 30? That's not quite we we all expected.
Magny is one of those fighters who is tough enough to be a handful for anybody, but who hasn't quite been successful enough to crossover to elite status. He's gone 12-5 during his UFC career and is currently coming off a loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 215.
But a win over Condit would be the kind of thing that readjusts opinions of Magny in one feel swoop.
Meanwhile, Condit will be out to prove he's still got it.
The results of those divergent aspirations should be fireworks.
-- Chad Dundas
Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree
For the most part, I'm a "steak" kind of fight fan. I want to see great fighters face off with other great fighters and put on great fights. I'm not above eating a tasty cheeseburger, though, and there's a whopper of a contest slated for UFC 219 on Dec. 30.
Khalil Rountree is capable of doing awful things to other human beings. He first appeared on fans' radars when he soccer kicked his way onto The Ultimate Fighter season 23 and while his official UFC career started with back-to-back losses, he has since cemented his place in the promotion with a pair of savage knockouts. He fights like a human tornado and when he's heading in your direction, it's best to just get out of the way.
Gokhan Saki is the same kind of fighter. While the former Glory Kickboxing champion's signing with the UFC raised an eyebrow with many pundits based on his lack of MMA experience, he proved that he's still an enormous threat in the cage by knocking out Henrique da Silva in his Octagon debut. He may not be an elite mixed martial artist, given his complete lack of grappling experience and his suspect cardio, but at the very least, he can still throw hands with the best.
It's impossible to truly declare a fight "guaranteed violence" but this is about as close as one can get. It might not have a title on the line, or a red panty night waiting on the wings, but this is two headhunters coming together, ready to drop bombs and I just can't wait to see which guy ends up coming out on top of it.
-- Steven Rondina
Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis
Kings are crowned to be slain. No one rules forever and no one escapes the eventual fate of a throne lost.
When Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis meet in a flyweight tilt at UFC 218 on Dec. 2, they’re likely battling for the right to try and slay the king. As two of the better young 125-pounders alive—already very talented, but still with room to grow—they are the last, best hopes in a division that has been overmatched by Demetrious Johnson since its inception.
Cejudo was always the man best equipped to handle Johnson, he was just pushed into their first meeting too soon.
An Olympic gold medallist wrestler with Golden Gloves boxing experience, his skills should trouble Johnson. Now, with a bizarre new karate style that has given him a new understanding of distance and timing, while simultaneously baffling opponents, he might be rounding into his final form.
Pettis felt like the heir apparent from the moment he was signed to the UFC at 20-years-old.
He has the look and the style to be great, and carried a family name to get UFC fans excited just for his showing up on fight night. A win over Cejudo will make it five straight as a flyweight, this one serving as the gold star to get him a crack at one of the best to ever do it.
The meeting with Cejudo is exciting on its face, but it’s the spectre of Johnson that truly gets the blood pumping. He casts a large shadow for a man of 5-feet-3-inches, and these two will compete beneath it at UFC 218.
A challenger to the throne will emerge, be it a new-old foe or a new-new foe; slay and capture it or be slain and become another man who tried and couldn’t.
Big stakes in the UFC’s littlest division.
It’s hard not to like that.
-- Matthew Ryder
Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega
Injuries took a toll on UFC Fight Night 123, going down Dec. 9 from Fresno, California. Luckily—and I'm pounding furiously on some wood right now—the main event is still intact. And that may be all viewers need to make this appointment viewing.
Most fight fans know Cub Swanson, the durable and gifted striker out of the Jackson-Wink camp in New Mexico. His career is littered with knockouts and brilliant brawls. In his last fight, he won a Fight of the Night over Conor McGregor training partner Artem Lobov. In the fight before that, he won a battle for the ages with Korean sensation Doo Ho Choi.
Oh, but this is far from a victory lap for Swanson. Brian Ortega may be the most under-the-radar action fighter on the UFC roster today. Ortega is not unlike a relief pitcher who always seems pitch himself into trouble before somehow getting out of the jam. He's well-rounded, but his game is fairly meat-and-potatoes. He doesn't always rack up a lot of style points, and I've never seen him dominate a UFC opponent, but when the chips are down he finds a way to do something special. His last four wins are by stoppage—and each and every one of them came in the third round.
In short, these are two savvy fighters with a nose for the finish and toughness for days. Even if you have to monitor a whole evening's worth of relative facelessness to get there, this main event is worth every second of the investment.
-- Scott Harris