The Best MMA Fights Booked for the 2nd Half of 2019

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJune 14, 2019

The Best MMA Fights Booked for the 2nd Half of 2019

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    Junior dos Santos
    Junior dos SantosJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    In June, it becomes natural for adherents to the Gregorian calendar to observe a halfway point in the year. It is equally natural to spend this time looking toward the second half of the year and what it may hold.

    Interestingly, it is possible to live into both these phenomena simultaneously. Perhaps the most famous means of doing this is to seek out and identify the most compelling MMA fights scheduled on the calendar. If I may, it is a ritual as old as time itself.

    Without further ado, let us renew this tradition. The fights are ranked based on the matchup and the stakes. As you'll see, a fight need not be in the UFC to qualify, it only need be on the calendar as of June 13.  

Honorable Mentions

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    Gegard Mousasi
    Gegard MousasiJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Listed in chronological order:

    - Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie (Bellator 222, June 14)

    - Gegard Mousasi vs. Rafael Lovato (Bellator London, June 22)

    - Demian Maia vs. Anthony Rocco Martin (UFC on ESPN 3, June 29)

    - Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren (UFC 239, July 6)

    - Kayla Harrison vs. Morgan Frier (PFL 15, July 11)

    - Lance Palmer vs. Luis Rafael Laurentino (PFL 16, July 25)

5. Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar

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    Max Holloway
    Max HollowayMichael Zarrilli/Associated Press

    Date: July 27
    Event: UFC 240
    Weight class: Featherweight

    Max Holloway (20-4) is fresh off of a Fight of the Year candidate with Dustin Poirier. Holloway couldn't add the interim lightweight belt to his showcase, but he's still as masterful a featherweight champ as anyone has seen.

    Most people were expecting his return to 145 pounds to be accompanied by a date with Alex Volkanovski, who is the clear-cut top contender following a 17-fight win streak that has only gotten more impressive as it's gone on.

    Instead, the shot went to Frankie Edgar (23-6-1), the former lightweight champ who has previously been passed over for title shots even when he had a good case on paper. 

    Edgar is aging, but he may still have the tools and resilience to give the division's kingpin a run for his money. 

4. Jon Lineker vs. Rob Font

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    John Lineker
    John LinekerMike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Date: June 22
    Event: UFC Fight Night 154
    Weight class: Bantamweight

    John Lineker (31-9) might be the most predictable fighter in the UFC. Predictable in the greatest possible way.

    Predictable in the way Yanks reliever Mariano Rivera was. You knew what pitch was coming, but hitting it was another matter entirely.

    Flip that on its ear and you have Lineker; with him, the hard part is avoiding the hit.

    Cory Sandhagen did that masterfully when he controlled range to keep Lineker away. This will be Lineker's first bout since that decision loss in April, but he'll face a similar challenge: he'll always be undersized at 135 pounds.

    The 5'3" Lineker has a 67" reach. Compare that to Rob Font (16-4), who is 5'8" with a 72" reach. Font's a bit of a honey badger himself, having amassed seven knockouts and some pretty memorable scraps over the years. There's no reason to think this won't be among them.

    Lineker also has less than a month to prepare, having stepped into the slot following an injury withdrawal. 

    Bottom line: If you're expecting a return to form for the world's most dangerous hobbit, you may want to keep the lighter clear of the cigar for now.

3. Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos

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    Jon Jones (right)
    Jon Jones (right)John Locher/Associated Press

    Date: July 6
    Event: UFC 239
    Weight class: Light heavyweight

    If you'll allow me to mix some idioms, anytime the GOAT is on the docket, you pull the trigger.

    Jon Jones (24-1-1) didn't exactly set the world aflame with his workmanlike win over Anthony Smith (32-14) in March, but it nevertheless established that a) Jones is still at the top of the mountain and b) the mountaintop is starting to resemble a plateau.

    Jones remains appointment viewing until further notice, and Thiago Santos (21-6) could be a fun foil. A violent headhunter, Santos has smeared all three of his opponents since moving up to 205 pounds. All three of those wins were knockouts, and all three earned performance bonuses. 

    Put it this way: if Santos is going down, he's going down swinging.

2. Junior Dos Santos vs. Francis Ngannou

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    Francis Ngannou (left) and Junior dos Santos (right)
    Francis Ngannou (left) and Junior dos Santos (right)Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Date: June 29
    Event: UFC on ESPN 3
    Weight class: Heavyweight

    You're gonna want to batten down the hatches for this one.

    The Junior dos Santos (21-5) comeback tour continues. The well-loved El Cigano is going for his fourth straight win against the acutely dangerous Francis Ngannou (13-3).

    Although only three years separate these veterans in age—Dos Santos is 35, Ngannou 32—Ngannou has far fewer clicks on the experiential odometer. Add in perhaps the most destructive fists on the UFC roster and there's your nutshell argument for Ngannou—one that has him a comfortable -225 betting favorite, according to Oddschecker (bet $100 to win $44.44).

    Even so, Dos Santos should be the fan favorite when the event goes off from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His power boxing remains potent, his chin and cardio remain solid, and his fight IQ is higher than ever.

    Ngannou is a talented opponent who might just lower the boom on Dos Santos, but Dos Santos doesn't appear ready for a graceful transition to the legends tour.

1. Darrion Caldwell vs. Kyoji Horiguchi

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    Darrion Caldwell
    Darrion CaldwellEtsuo Hara/Getty Images

    Date: June 14
    Event: Bellator 222
    Weight class: Bantamweight

    I realize it's short notice, but Bellator 222 is well worth an investment, as the promotion has pulled out all the stops for New York's Madison Square Garden.

    For hardcore fight fans—granted, I'm talking really hardcore here—this scrap alone might justify yet another (I know, I know) streaming service.

    This one is a rematch between two of the best bantamweights in Bellator or anywhere else. And it's a rematch to boot! On New Year's Eve, Kyoji Horiguchi submitted Darrion Caldwell to take the inaugural bantamweight belt in Japan's much-loved Rizin FF promotion, with which Bellator is affiliated. 

    However, Caldwell remains the 135-pound champ under the Bellator banner. So the stakes are high, with a new sort of champ-champ ascending the throne.

    Will Caldwell protect his house or will Horiguchi fly home with two straps? Caldwell is a national champion wrestler from NC State; Horiguchi is revered for his high-voltage, knockout-seeking style. You really shouldn't miss this.


    Scott Harris covers MMA and other things for Bleacher Report and CNN.