Somehow, we’ve reached the penultimate month of the year, and while that leaves me a little bewildered, it also brings excitement because the final two months of action inside the Octagon have historically been excellent, and this year should be no different.
Think about it: November means a pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which has always been outstanding and is poised to be amazing, and the UFC has always closed out the year with quality cards throughout December.
With solid events on either side of next weekend’s return to “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” this month should be a tasty appetizer to the main course that is the final month of the year.
Here’s a look at some of the key contests headed into the Octagon in November.
This is The 10.
UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Lemos (Saturday, November 5 — Las Vegas)
Grant Dawson vs. Mark O. Madsen
This is an absolutely outstanding fight built from the ashes of what was already going to be an excellent fight, and the added bonus is that it’s precisely the type of fight that each man needs at this moment.
Dawson is 6-0-1 in the UFC and riding a 10-fight unbeaten streak. After switching gyms prior to his last fight, he looked outstanding against Jared Gordon at the end of April, collecting a submission finish late in the third round. The 28-year-old grappler has been one of the top names to watch since arriving in the UFC via Dana White’s Contender Series and is looking to show that still holds true since he’s shifted from featherweight to lightweight.
It looked to be the case against Gordon and a win over Madsen would certainly confirm it.
As for the Danish wrestler, he’s 5-0 in the UFC, 12-0 overall, and moved his entire family to the United States following his UFC 273 win over Vinc Pichel in order to give himself the best opportunity to become the top lightweight in the world. He’s shown continued progression throughout his five UFC appearances, has the proven drive and work ethic needed to compete and thrive at a high level, and a victory over a young, talented fighter like Dawson would make it clear that he’s due a chance to show he can hang with the absolute best in the division.
The lightweight division feels like it’s in the midst of rebuilding on the fly, to steal a phrase from stick-and-ball sports: there are still a number of established, skilled veterans positioned throughout the Top 15, but there are a bunch of fresh names and intriguing talents working their way forward, as well.
Dawson and Madsen are included in that second group, and the winner of this one will take a big step forward heading into 2023.
Neil Magny vs. Daniel Rodriguez
On last week’s UFC broadcast, Anthony Smith waxed poetic about the welterweight clash between Max Griffin and Tim Means, explaining that sometimes you just want to see two skilled, experienced, tough veterans get in the Octagon and get after one another.
This is another one of those fights.
Magny remains one of the most active and durable fighters in the division, as he makes his third appearance of the year looking to rebound from a second-round submission loss to Shavkat Rakhmonov last time out. The Elevation Fight Team member may have fallen from the Top 10, but he’s still 5-2 over his last seven fights, which includes wins over Li Jingliang and Geoff Neal, which reiterates just how consistent and skilled the 35-year-old veteran remains.
Rodriguez is quite similar to Magny, save for how long he’s been in the UFC. He enters on a four-fight winning streak that includes wins over Mike Perry, Kevin Lee, and most recently Jingliang, and is 7-1 overall through his first eight UFC starts, all of which have come since the beginning of 2020. He’s fundamentally sound, tougher than a $3 steak, and game to crack with anyone, which makes him a perfect addition to the lower third of the Top 15.
This one has a slight “this town’s not big enough for the both of us” vibe to it, as Magny and Rodriguez are positioned beside each other in the rankings, so it should be an entertaining scrap as the veterans look to stake their claim to being the guy hopefuls need to face and beat if they want to climb the divisional ladder.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Lemos
Brazilian strawweight standouts Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Lemos meet in the first main event of the month, and it could have a significant impact on the title picture in the 115-pound weight class.
Rodriguez enters on a four-fight winning streak with a 6-1-1 record inside the Octagon thus far, with her lone loss coming by debated split decision to current champ Carla Esparza. After dispatching Amanda Ribas last January, she wrapped up her 2021 campaign with back-to-back main event victories over Michelle Waterson-Gomez and Mackenzie Dern, and then began her 2022 schedule by outworking Yan Xiaonan at UFC 272 in March.
RELATED: Top Knockouts | Strawweight
Lemos lost her promotional debut at bantamweight all the way back in the summer of 2017, and returned following a two-year suspension at the very end of 2019 as a bantamweight, earning a technical submission win over Miranda Granger. She had a breakout year in 2021, posting three victories, began 2022 with a submission loss to former champ Jessica Andrade, and rebounded in July with a submission win over Waterson-Gomez to land opposite her fellow Brazilian here.
With Esparza set to defend her title for the first time later in the month (more on that shortly), it’s possible that Rodriguez and Lemos are battling to determine the No. 1 contender in the strawweight division. Even if that isn’t the case, the winner of this one will be on the short list of possible title challengers to start 2023, and if they aren’t fighting for gold, they’ll be facing someone that has held it in the past for the opportunity to do so.
UFC 281 (Saturday, November 12 — New York City)
Erin Blanchfield vs. Molly McCann
Trust me when I tell you that this might be the fight I’m most looking forward to this month.
Blanchfield is one of the absolute best prospects in the UFC right now — a 23-year-old Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt with three wins in as many appearances inside the Octagon, six consecutive victories overall, and a 9-1 record through her first 10 professional fights. After showing out against Miranda Maverick at UFC 269 to close out 2021, Blanchfield showed her upside against JJ Aldrich in June, snatching up a finish midway through the second round of a fight where she was struggling.
Most prospects wouldn’t have found a finish; they’d have taken their lumps, called it a learning experience, and moved on, but Blanchfield stayed locked in and capitalized on the one opportunity she had, and it was mighty impressive.
PHOTO GALLERY: "Meatball" Prepares For UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira
All McCann has done this year is go from being a beloved figure at home to a burgeoning star worldwide thanks to a pair of nasty finishes in London. In March, “Meatball” sent the crowd at The 02 Arena into hysterics with a third-round spinning back elbow knockout of Luana Carolina that is still in line for a podium finish in the Knockout of the Year race. Four months later, she hit Hannah Goldy with something comparable in the late stages of the opening stanza to push her winning streak to three and break into the rankings.
This is an outstanding pairing in a number of ways and will have an immediate impact on the landscape of the flyweight division. There are a number of tremendous fights on the UFC 281 fight card, but do not overlook this one.
Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann
This is a really intriguing matchup that should tell us a great deal about these two light heavyweights, while also carrying explosive potential.
Reyes returns for the first time in well over a year, looking to halt a three-fight slide that started on the night where he arguably beat Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. Stoppage losses to Jan Blachowicz (for the vacant title) and current champ Jiri Prochazka followed, and now the two-time title challenger needs to not only get back into the win column, but once again show he can hang with some of the best light heavyweights on the planet.
Spann has stumbled in a couple opportunities to really push towards the top of the rankings, suffering first-round stoppage losses to Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. Outside of those contests, however, the DWCS grad and Fortis MMA representative has gone 6-0 with five finishes and looked like he turned a bit of a corner last time out against Ion Cutelaba.
Each of these men is looking to show they’ve put past issues behind them and take a step forward in the wide open 205-pound ranks. They both carry fight-ending power and high finishing rates, so a quick, explosive contest could be in the offing.
Dan Hooker vs. Claudio Puelles
Highlight: Claudio Puelles Locks Up Third-Round Kneebar Submission | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo
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Highlight: Claudio Puelles Locks Up Third-Round Kneebar Submission | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo
While not the most high-profile lightweight fight on the UFC 281 main card, this one might teach us more about the parties involved than the clash that follows it in this list.
Hooker returns to the 155-pound ranks after fighting back down at featherweight in March when he got run over by Arnold Allen in London. Although positive results have been hard to come by recently for Hooker, he’s fought an outstanding slate of competition, occasionally on short notice, and remains one of the more dangerous, attacking fighters in the division, as well as a major step up in competition for his dance partner in New York City.
It’s strange to be talking about a fighter with a go-to submission in 2022, but Puelles has won each of his last two fights and three of his last five fights by kneebar, and so here we are. The former TUF Latin America 3 finalist has grown into his body and found a way to play to his strengths on the ground, which makes him an intriguing 26-year-old to track in the lightweight division.
If he goes out and submits Hooker — or simply beats him — Puelles will find himself fighting someone with a number next to their name next time out. Conversely, it only takes one strong effort for the City Kickboxing representative Hooker to remind everyone why he was a Top 15 fixture for several years before bouncing to ’45 for a second earlier this year.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Top 5 lightweights that seem to have a genuine dislike for one another stepping into the Octagon at MSG?
Sign. Me. Up.
For a hot minute following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, Poirier felt like the uncrowned king of the 155-pound weight class; he’d won eight of 10 fights, with his lone loss coming to Khabib, and understandably opted to try and settle his rivalry with Conor McGregor before challenging for championship gold once again. With his twin McGregor fights behind him, “The Diamond” made a second bid to claim the lightweight strap at the end of last year, but it ended up much like his bout with Nurmagomedov did, with Poirier tapping out to a rear-naked choke in the third round.
Chandler kicked in the door in his UFC debut, knocking out Hooker in exactly half-a-round at UFC 257 to land opposite Charles Oliveira in a battle for the vacant belt at UFC 262. For a moment, it looked like he was going to claim the strap, but instead, Oliveira survived and sparked him out seconds into the second round.
A brawl with Justin Gaethje on last year’s MSG card followed before Chandler rebounded with a second-round knockout win over Tony Ferguson earlier this year, leaving him 2-2 in the UFC heading into this one.
These guys just don’t seem to like each other all that much and now they’re going to get a maximum of 15 minutes to sort things out inside the cage, though they might not need that long. It got testy between them at an event earlier in the year, and now there won’t be anyone looking to keep them separated, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the hostilities.
Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
Esparza became the second woman to win the strawweight title on multiple occasions when she upset Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 earlier this year. Now, the newly minted two-time champ will look to keep Zhang Weili from joining the club as the two meet in the UFC 281 co-main event.
Esparza has won six straight overall — a run that stretches back to the start of 2019 — and looked good in a couple of those contests, most notably her second-round stoppage win over Yan Xiaonan. Her fight with Namajunas in May was one of the strangest championship fights in UFC history, as the women combined to land 67 significant strikes over the five-round fight, spending the majority of the time feinting and circling each other in space.
After suffering consecutive losses to Namajunas in 2021 to drop the title and fail to reclaim it, Zhang got back into the win column in an explosive way in June, knocking out Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a spinning backfist midway through their rematch at UFC 275. Now, she once again tries to reclaim the strawweight title while halting Esparza’s run of success.
What makes this fight so incredibly fascinating (at least to me) is that we’ve seen Zhang be taken down and have limited options off her back in the past, and Esparza is one of the best wrestlers in the division. Now, getting inside and getting the fight to the canvas is going to be a challenge for the champion, but it will be captivating to see how that clash of styles and clearly understood plan of attack plays out inside the Octagon.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
This was the fight everyone was hoping we would get from the moment Pereira signed with the UFC and now it’s here.
Adesanya has bounced back from his failed bid to claim the light heavyweight title with a tetra-pack of convincing victories over top contenders Marvin Vettori, Robert Whittaker, and Jared Cannonier to further cement his standing as the best middleweight in the world. Critics are starting to pick at his approach, which is a sure sign of dominance, but something tells me that “The Last Stylebender” will offer something a little more to their liking this time around.
A year after doing away with Andreas Michailidis in his promotional debut at MSG, Pereira now fights for UFC gold. Since then, he’s added a unanimous decision win over Bruno Silva and a first-round knockout of Sean Strickland to his resume, confirming that he has nasty power in his hands and stands as the most tantalizing challenger Adesanya has faced in some time.
Much is being made about Pereira’s two victories over the middleweight titleholder during their kickboxing days, which Adesanya has basically brushed aside as having happened years ago in a completely different sport. He’s right, of course, but it’s still an incredible hook because if it happened then, could it possibly happen again here?
UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Spivac (November 19 — Las Vegas)
Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac
Heavyweights trending in opposite directions collide in the third and final main event of November, as Derrick Lewis looks to get right against Serghei Spivac, who aims to earn the biggest win of his career in his first headlining assignment in the UFC.
A Top 10 fixture for the last several years, Lewis is 1-3 over his last four fights following a four-fight winning streak that landed him an interim title opportunity at UFC 265 in his hometown of Houston. He lost there to Ciryl Gane, rebounded with a win over Chris Daukaus last December, and has since dropped back-to-back contests to Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich, though the last one felt like it was stopped a little bit prematurely.
Spivac has quietly put together five wins in his last six outings, with his lone setback coming against British standout Tom Aspinall. He’s collected back-to-back stoppage wins over Greg Hardy and Augusto Sakai, and he seems to be really settling into himself as a fighter since shifting his training to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
Which trend is going to continue: will Lewis slip down the rankings while Spivac adds another win to his run of success or can “The Black Beast” bounce back and show he’s still got plenty to offer by turning back “The Polar Bear” in the final UFC bout in November?
UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs Lemos took place live from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 5, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!