The 10 Best Fights Booked for the Second Half of 2017

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2017

The 10 Best Fights Booked for the Second Half of 2017

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    We have reached the halfway mark on the 2017 calendar, and there is no better time to see what's coming our way for the next six months on the UFC's docket.

    The complete slate is not full, but there is plenty of action already signed.

    UFC 213 and 214 are two marquee events just around the bend. Mixed in are some Fight Night events along with a The Ultimate Fighter finale. And that's just in the month of July alone. The UFC is working on filling out the cards beyond the next 30 days.

    Are you ready? 2017's shot in the arm is just around the corner.

    Some fights you may expect to be entertaining, while others could surprise. 

No. 10: Joanne Calderwood vs. Cynthia Calvillo

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    We'll kick things off the strawweight division with a fight not many are discussing. Joanne Calderwood and Cynthia Calvillo meet in a co-main event at UFC Fight Night 113.

    This fight could easily have been the headliner of what is a weak card, but instead it comes in the supporting role slot.

    The bout is a great clash of styles between a veteran and rising newcomer.

    Calderwood seemingly has eyes on the flyweight division, but she will have at least one more go around at 115. And it's no cakewalk. Calvillo has entered the UFC and made sure the division noticed her, with back-to-back submission performances.

    Calderwood is a high-output striker, while Calvillo is a grappling standout. There will be no stalling whether the fight is on the feet or the floor, which makes it a can't-miss bout. Add in the divisional implications for the winner, and it's one of the few meaningful fights on the card.

    Don't sleep on these two ladies. This could be a war.

No. 9: Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oezdemir

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    If you talked about this fight at the beginning of 2017 you would look weird for two reasons: knowing who Volkan Oezdemir was and suggesting he could compete with a UFC title contender.

    After Oezdemir's February UFC debut win over Ovince Saint Preux, people would have likely still thought you were a little kooky for suggesting the matchup. But after his 28-second knockout of Misha Cirkunov, everyone is buying in.

    Jimi Manuwa didn't get the title shot he coveted because of Jon Jones' return, but he'll get a title eliminator with a contender who came from nowhere. Oezdemir was an unknown just six months ago, and at UFC 214 he gets a chance to stamp his ticket to a UFC title shot.

    That alone makes the match exciting, but add in the fighting styles of both Manuwa and Oezdemir and we have TNT in the cage.

    Oezdemir is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant light heavyweight division, and a fight against Manuwa is truly one of the best pairings remaining in 2017.

No. 8: Randa Markos vs. Alexa Grasso

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    Checking in at No. 8 is another strawweight style clash.

    Alexa Grasso was seen as a blue-chip prospect entering the UFC, but a surging Felice Herrig took some of that shine off the star. Grasso returns at UFC Fight Night 114 to meet Randa Markos. It's a big fight for both to reestablish their spot in the division and look toward brighter things.

    Why is this slightly more valued than Calderwood and Calvillo (which has bigger stakes)? Grasso vs. Markos offers a little more octane.

    Markos can be an inconsistent performer, but she always comes forward. That'll mesh well with Grasso's tempo inside the cage. Grasso's unsuspecting power and Markos' underrated submission game will make this a tense outing.

No. 7: Michael Johnson vs. Justin Gaethje

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    The highly anticipated UFC debut of Justin Gaethje is set for The Ultimate Fighter finale 24 hours prior to UFC 213.

    Almost any fight with Justin Gaethje would make this list. He is, pound-for-pound, one of the most exciting fighters in the sport today. His World Series of Fighting career featured highlight after highlight. Now the world gets to see if he is UFC-caliber.

    And the promotion is tossing him to the wolves.

    Michael Johnson has teetered on title contention before, but after being dominated by Khabib Nurmagomedov, he's back to working himself up the ladder. A win over the highly touted Gaethje will put him right back in the mix. Also, stylistically it's a fight every fan should love.

    Don't expect 25 minutes of pure action. Someone is going to sleep. These two throw...hard. Very hard.

No. 6: Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia

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    At No. 6 we see our first title tilt. Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley meets Demian Maia at UFC 214.

    Maia's welterweight run has been nothing short of amazing. After seven straight victories he finally gets another shot at UFC gold in what is unquestionably his final chance to achieve ultimate greatness.

    This matchup is extremely intriguing for hardcore fans, but it isn't higher due to how both men can sometimes take their foot off the gas peddle. Each man fights smart and cautious—perhaps a little too cautious at times—and it leads to lulls in their fights.

    But at any moment a Woodley right hand or Maia submission is capable of ending the fight. It will be very interesting to see how each man approaches the bout. The mental aspect alone charts this fight as one of 2017's top remaining matchups.

No. 5: Georges St-Pierre vs. Woodley/Maia Winner

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    Is this cheating? It feels like cheating. But starting the top five is a fight that isn't actually booked yet. Georges St-Pierre's return to action.

    UFC President Dana White confirmed to Mike Bohn and John Morgan of that GSP would get the winner of Woodley vs. Maia.

    GSP against anyone would likely end up on this list. The 36-year-old was one of the sport's biggest stars before walking away, and now he is set on returning to action. That's big. Fighting the champion, whoever he may be, is even bigger.

    The matchup itself, against either man, doesn't scream total excitement. But sometimes fights aren't about the actual action. See: Mayweather, Floyd. It's about the technique and art of fighting, which can sometimes be less than thrilling to the casual fan.

    GSP's return will chart on this list no matter if it's Woodley, Maia or anyone else. We're all waiting to see what the two-time welterweight champion brings to the cage in 2017.

No. 4: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

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    This may be a contentious pick because we've already seen this fight before. There may be a strong contingent of fans out there saying, "We know how this fight goes, and it's not that exciting."

    I'm sorry, but this is MMA and one of its biggest rivalries. It's everything we love about this sport.

    Heated exchanges at press conferences, legitimate dislike with intent to harm and two men at the top of their game all make this a must-see affair. They won't just "throw down" in the center of the cage; Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones use high-level technique and strategy.

    The rematch is compelling precisely because we have seen them fight before. What changes can Cormier make? How does Jones look after another lengthy absence from the Octagon? Will their emotions come into play and cause a mistake?

    There are many questions that can be asked, and they can only be answered inside the cage.

    Cormier vs. Jones II is still one of the best fights in this sport regardless of the one-sided first encounter.

No. 3: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

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    Another rematch in the top five. Bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and top challenger Valentina Shevchenko are ready for their second meeting.

    Their first encounter was in 2016. Nunes edged out Shevchenko thanks to an early lead, and it propelled her to a UFC 200 title shot that she won. Since then, both women have been on a tear through the division to lead into the rematch.

    This fight is extremely interesting due to how the first encounter went down. In a three-round contest, Nunes took the early part of the fight, with Shevchenko coming on strong at the end. However, this will be a five-round bout.

    Can Nunes get Shevchenko out of there in just one round? Two? Will she begin to fade? Or will she pace herself knowing it's a 25-minute tilt instead of just 15? The strategy of this fight will go a long way in determining who walks out of UFC 213 holding UFC gold.

    This is another great bantamweight title clash, but without Ronda Rousey attached to the marquee, it's not getting the love that it deserves. Be sure that you don't miss it.

No. 2: Junior dos Santos vs. Francis Ngannou

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    This heavyweight hellstorm should be tickling your fancy right now. Junior dos Santos vs. Francis Ngannou takes place at UFC 215.

    Sure, there's no title on the line. That's fine. Titles don't make fights. This is a heavyweight bout that is worthy of all the attention.

    Dos Santos failed to get his title back, but a win over Ngannou would put him right back in the mix. On the flip side, victory for Ngannou should net the rising heavyweight a shot at the gold. There are high stakes, but that's not a focus of anyone who's ready to see these two behemoths throw serious leather.

    Additionally, the fight is an exciting proposition to see where exactly Ngannou stands in the division. The Cameroon native is still relatively green, but he's improving at a high rate. Ngannou's power has been able to hide some of his deficiencies, but that likely won't be possible against JDS. He'll need to show off all of his strides to prove he's a rightful contender.

    This is the type of heavyweight fight we have been waiting for.

No. 1: Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker

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    I get all jittery just thinking about Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker. Who needs Michael Bisping?

    The interim middleweight title bout at UFC 213 is going to be fire. Pure fire. White-hot fire. Any other fire you can think of, that's this fight.

    Romero knows the clock is ticking in his fourth decade on this planet, but his physical gifts haven't left him just yet. He understands his chance at UFC gold is likely just this one fight. Standing opposite him is a young buck who has been a human highlight reel since moving up to 185.

    Whittaker's boxing and unrelenting nature are going to be so incredibly interesting to watch against Romero's athleticism and wrestling. They are two of the hardest hitters in the division but also two of the better athletes. Who imposes their will and sets the tempo?

    No one should ever count out Bisping, but this fight feels like a fight for the real middleweight championship and the start of a new era.

    UFC 213's co-main event is the best fight on the docket right now, and it could end up being a Fight of the Year candidate. Thankfully it's just around the bend, on July 8.