Two events taking place on opposite sides of the world – one a Pay-Per-View from “The Fight Capital of the World” featuring two of the most compelling champions in the game today; the other a return to a burgeoning market with a Fight Night event featuring a handful of bouts with divisional implications.
This is The 10 for March 2016 inside the Octagon.
UFC 196: McGregor vs. Diaz (March 5 – Las Vegas, Nevada)
Diego Sanchez vs. Jim Miller
A pair of perpetually entertaining veterans square off in the featured bout on UFC FIGHT PASS, as both Sanchez and Miller look to reverse course on their recent results and show why they remain players in the loaded lightweight division.
Both fighters enter with one win in their last four and that victory coming by way of split decision – Miller in a close, “could go either way” fight with Danny Castillo; Sanchez in his debated hometown win over Ross Pearson in Albuquerque. While they’ve each faced elite talent throughout their careers and during their current period of struggles, this very much feels like a battle to see which grizzled veteran will keep fighting on in the Octagon.
Brandon Thatch vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
This one should be fireworks from the outset and may not last that long as both Thatch and Bahadurzada enter on two-fight losing streaks, hungry to get back into the win column and start rebuilding the momentum they’ve lost with those setbacks.
After rattling off 10-straight first-round stoppage wins, including his freshman and sophomore efforts in the Octagon, Thatch suffered back-to-back submission losses to Benson Henderson and Gunnar Nelson. After a little over two years away from the cage, Bahadurzada returns, looking to level his UFC record at 2-2 and hoping to regain the “potential contender” tag he carried with him upon arriving on the big stage.
Both prefer to trade and they should meet in the center of the cage, with Thatch having the more diverse arsenal and Bahadurzada the more sudden power of the two. Expect strikes to be flying fast and furious until one of these welterweights gets dropped.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
A battle of potential title contenders in the women’s bantamweight division kicks off the UFC 196 Pay-Per-View main card, as Nunes looks to extend her winning streak to three while Shevchenko hopes to build off her impressive short-notice win from December.
Nunes asserted herself as a legitimate threat in the division in 2015, collecting a pair of first-round stoppage wins – the first over veteran Shayna Baszler, the second over former title challenger Sara McMann. With serious power and an aggressive style, the 27-year-old Brazilian is a dangerous matchup for anyone in the 135-pound ranks.
Announcing her presence in the division with a split decision victory over perennial contender Sarah Kaufman as a late replacement last December, Shevchenko carries a five-fight winning streak and a serious Muay Thai pedigree into the Octagon. A win over Nunes, coupled with her impressive debut, would put the “Bullet” near the top of the list of title contenders as 2016 really starts rolling.
Corey Anderson vs. Tom Lawlor
A clash of emerging light heavyweights keeps this list rolling along as TUF 19 winner Anderson squares off with TUF 8 alum Lawlor in a bout that will carry the winner to the brink of the Top 10.
Following a loss to Gian Villante last April on FOX, Anderson has rebounded with a pair of clean, professional wins over Jan Blachowicz and Fabio Maldonado, where he used his superior grappling to grind out his veteran foes. After a two-year hiatus from competition, Lawlor returned to the Octagon in July, moving back up to the 205-pound ranks with a statement win over Villante.
In a division where emerging talents are needed, the victor should get the opportunity to face some of the more established names in the light heavyweight ranks later this year.
Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate for the UFC women’s bantamweight title
Less than four months removed from shocking the world with her stunning performance at UFC 193, Holm returns to defend her title for the first time, not in a rematch against the woman she defeated, Ronda Rousey, but instead opposite the former champion’s long-time rival Tate.
Holm’s performance in Melbourne was a thing of beauty; a master class in footwork, composure and counter-striking that instantly made observers rethink who the true dominant force in the women’s bantamweight division was. The new champion maintained all along that she wanted to stay active and preferred fighting before July, when many anticipated she would rematch Rousey at UFC 200, and now she gets the chance to defend her title for the first time against the top contender in the division.
RELATED CONTENT: On the Brink with Holly Holm | Miesha Tate: And new? | Holly Holm - Warrior Code
Up until Rousey went on Good Morning America to announce her fight with Holm, it was Tate that everyone expected to be challenging for the championship. The former Strikeforce titleholder and Rousey’s persistent foil has won four straight, taking things to a new level in 2015 with a gutsy victory over Sara McMann and a dominant effort opposite Jessica Eye on FOX in July.
This is a compelling contest, as Tate is a more well-rounded, patient fighter than Rousey and won’t charge forward carelessly, giving Holm not as many clean opportunities to stick and move as she had last time out. Defending the takedown will again be key for the champion, who carries a significant edge in terms of power and precision on the feet.
It’s the start of a new era in the women’s bantamweight ranks and it should get underway with a good one here.
Conor McGregor vs. Nathan Diaz
Originally scheduled to be McGregor challenging Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title and getting a chance to become the first fighter to hold two UFC belts, an injury to the Brazilian opened the door for Diaz and set the stage for one of the more intriguing non-title clashes in quite some time, especially given that the fight will take place at welterweight.
Diaz looked phenomenal last time out, returning from a year off to style and snipe against Michael Johnson back in December. It was a vintage Diaz brother performance, full of posturing and taunts, but also clean boxing and good body work, producing a win that vaulted the former TUF winner back into title contention and allowed him to call out McGregor in an expletive-laced post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
Through unexpected circumstances, Diaz is getting his wish, but it might be more than he bargained for, as McGregor is coming off a 13-second finish of Jose Aldo to become the undisputed featherweight champion and a fighter who has made good on all his “Mystic Mac” predictions thus far.
The SBG Ireland product may talk a lot of trash and rub some people the wrong way, but he’s a marksman in the Octagon, cutting angles and connecting with clean shots, storming through the featherweight ranks with his sights now set on even bigger goals. Diaz now represents a test run at welterweight and a chance to see how McGregor does against someone bigger and with a greater reach.
There may not be a title on the line, but this one still carries all the big fight appeal and should be all kinds of fun.
UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Mir (March 20 – Brisbane, Australia)
Ross Pearson vs. Abel Trujillo
A pivotal lightweight pairing between two veterans looking to establish their footing in 2016 lands as the UFC FIGHT PASS feature on this card, as Trujillo looks to keep his success going, while Pearson hopes to maintain his current pattern through at least one more fight.
The former Ultimate Fighter winner has alternated losses and wins over his last seven bouts, dating back to his controversial split decision setback opposite Diego Sanchez, and is coming off a loss to Francisco Trinaldo in January. Trujillo, on the other hand, rebounded from a disputed result against Gleison Tibau last November with a quick submission win over Tony Sims.
Lightweight is so deep and talented that emerging victorious from fights like this is crucial, and while the loser will live to fight another day, they’ll slide further away from cracking the Top 15.
Ben Nguyen vs. Justin Scoggins
Fresh off a dominant decision win over Ray Borg at UFC Fight Night: Hendricks vs. Thompson, Scoggins jumps on a plane, heads to Brisbane and steps in against the emerging Nguyen, who has picked up consecutive first-round stoppage wins in his first two UFC appearances.
Given Demetrious Johnson’s dominant presence atop the flyweight division, a three-fight winning streak in the UFC could be enough to carry either of these fighters into a potential No. 1 contender bout later this year, perhaps more, so while it might not be the flashiest of fights in terms of the names involved, it carries a ton of significance.
Plus, both these guys bring it, so it should be fun.
Jake Matthews vs. Johnny Case
Matthews and Case have been chirping at each other on social media for some time now and they’ll finally step into the Octagon together to settle their differences.
One of the youngest fighters on the roster, Matthews rebounded from his first career loss with a gutsy, come-from-behind stoppage win over Akbarh Arreola at UFC 193. As for Case, he’s collected four straight victories since arriving in the UFC, running his winning streak to 12 and positioning himself on the list of young, emerging lightweights to watch.
Both are skilled on the ground and while Matthews is the superior athlete, Case is the more polished, experienced fighter, resulting in this being an ultra-close matchup that should entertain the Australian audience and those watching at home on UFC FIGHT PASS.
Neil Magny vs. Hector Lombard
Magny has been off for what has to feel like an eternity for him, having not fought since picking up a short notice win over Kelvin Gastelum last November in Monterrey, Mexico. The victory was his second straight and after a “lengthy” four-month layoff, the Elevation Fight Team member returns looking to take another step up the welterweight ladder.
By Magny’s standards, Lombard has been off for an eternity, returning for the first time in over a year after being suspended following a positive test stemming from his win over Josh Burkman at UFC 182. The former middleweight contender looks to get back in the win column and re-assert himself as a threat in the competitive and always entertaining 170-pound ranks.
This should be a “power vs. precision” fight, with Lombard bringing the thunder and Magny carrying the clean, technical arsenal. To the victor goes a place in the Top 10.
Mark Hunt vs. Frank Mir
A clash of veteran heavyweights looking to make headway in 2016 closes out this card and this month’s edition of The 10, as Hunt aims for a second straight win, while Mir hopes to rebound from a tepid performance against Andrei Arlovski that resulted in a unanimous decision loss.
Hunt’s resurgence following six consecutive defeats dating back to his PRIDE days remains an improbable and impressive feat, but he’s struggled to a 2-3-1 record over his last six. To his credit, the “Super Samoan” rebounded from a hellacious beating at the hands of Stipe Miocic to blister Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in a rematch of the December 2013 epic last time out.
Following a year off, Mir started 2015 with back-to-back first-round knockout wins over Silva and Todd Duffee to gather a little momentum, but he couldn’t pull the trigger and land enough against Arlovski last September to run his winning streak to three. If he hopes to regroup and climb the rankings once again, he’ll have to beat Hunt on his home turf in front of a raucous Australian audience.