The dust from Sunday’s UFC Fight Night event in Las Vegas, capped by Cody Garbrandt’s first-round steamrolling of Thomas Almeida, has yet to settle, but it’s already time to start looking forward to the next month of action in the Octagon and you don’t even have to wait a week for the festivities to kick off.
While June is a light month compared to most, with just two events, it’s heavy on intriguing matchups and should serve as a tasty appetizer to the smorgasbord of events that follow in July.
Here’s a look at what’s in store in the month ahead.
This is The 10.
UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping II (Saturday, June 4 – Inglewood, California)
Things kick off on UFC FIGHT PASS with a great matchup between two emerging welterweights looking to take the next step forward.
Strickland, a local product fighting out of the Millennia MMA camp, dropped his welterweight debut after rattling off 15 consecutive victories at middleweight to begin his career, including a pair in the UFC. He’s since rebounded with a pair of victories, most recently stopping Alex Garcia in the third round of an entertaining scrap in Pittsburgh.
Across the cage stands Breese, an unbeaten prospect from Birmingham, England that has spent the last several years stationed at the Tristar Gym in Montreal. After collecting first-round stoppage wins in his first two Octagon appearances, the 24-year-old earned a hard fought unanimous decision win over Keita Nakamura last time out in his return to the United Kingdom.
The winner takes a big step up in the deep 170-pound ranks, drawing closer to the Top 15 and setting himself up for greater opportunities in the second half of 2016.
A month before Joanna Jerdrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha renew acquaintances, one of the fighters that has shared the cage with the reigning strawweight champion returns, welcoming a veteran bantamweight to the division for the first time.
This will be Penne’s first appearance since her championship clash with “Joanna Champion” last summer in Berlin, Germany, a contest that started badly for her and continued to get worse the longer it went. But Penne showed a ton of heart in that contest and remains one of the most skilled, seasoned competitors in the weight class.
After compiling a 4-3 record in seven appearances in the bantamweight division, the undersized Andrade finally makes the move down to strawweight, where her aggressive, powerhouse style makes her an intriguing addition to the still maturing division.
If you’re looking for evidence of how deep and talented the lightweight division is, the fact that neither Poirier nor Green is currently ranked in the Top 15 should be Exhibit A.
“The Diamond” has been a wrecking machine since moving back to the 155-pound weight class, collecting back-to-back first-round stoppage wins before dismantling Joseph Duffy to kick off the year at UFC 195. Quick and powerful with an improved, more patient approach, Poirier has the look of a guy that could make some waves in the deep end of the division in the second half of the year if he can get through Green on Saturday.
Out of action since losing to Edson Barboza in November 2014, Green had rattled off eight straight victories before that contest in Austin, Texas, using his movement and “pick-and-pop” striking approach to earn victories over James Krause, Pat Healy and Josh Thomson. Finally healthy, the 29-year-old veteran and No. 13-ranked fighter can make up for lost time by halting Poirier’s ascension in this one.
Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas
With featherweight champ Conor McGregor otherwise occupied (and currently on the sidelines) and the top two contenders in the division set to lock horns for the interim title at UFC 200, the only thing that made sense for Holloway and Lamas was a showdown with each other and that’s a major win for fight fans.
Holloway is one of the top Under-25 talents in the sport – riding an eight-fight winning streak with 13 Octagon appearances already under his belt despite the fact that he won’t turn 25 until December. The proud Hawaiian has posted wins over Andre Fili, Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens during his current run of success, and he aims to maintain his place in the pecking order by adding a former title challenger to his collection of defeated foes.
Lamas is 7-2 in the UFC with his setbacks coming in a championship bout with Jose Aldo at UFC 169 and a matchup with perennial contender Chad Mendes three fights later. He’s since rebounded from that loss with a unanimous decision win over Diego Sanchez and is the kind of powerful, experienced grinder that could certainly step into the cage and slow Holloway’s roll in a heartbeat.
A fight more than four years in the making finally comes together as Cruz and Faber will jump back into the cage together for a third time to determine a winner in their rivalry, with the victor walking out of the cage with the UFC bantamweight title around his waist – or over his shoulder, whatever he prefers.
Back in January, Cruz returned for the first time since UFC 178 and just the second time since October 2011 to reclaim the title he never lost in the cage, earning a split decision victory over TJ Dillashaw to once again stand atop the 135-pound weight class. Cruz didn’t look like a fighter that had been on the shelf for an extended amount of time and now, for the first time in five years, he’s got some momentum carrying him into the cage.
In Cruz’ stead, Faber has continued to be a contender in the bantamweight ranks, winning eight times since his second encounter with “The Dominator,” with three losses, two in championship bouts against Renan Barao and once more against Frankie Edgar at featherweight. “The California Kid” has been waiting for this opportunity since that close encounter at UFC 132 and despite it being five years since that fight, this rivalry might be even more contentious than ever.
Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping – for the UFC middleweight title
Originally scheduled as a rematch between Rockhold and former champion Chris Weidman, “The Count” gets the championship opportunity he has long coveted, stepping in for the injured Weidman on a couple weeks’ notice in hopes of avenging his previous loss to the Californian and claiming UFC gold in one fell swoop.
You have to give Bisping credit – he’s earned the wins to be in a position to replace Weidman here and is unwavering in his confidence, sure as day will always follow night that he’s going to walk into the Octagon and stop Rockhold’s championship reign before it really got rolling.
Rockhold, of course, finds this hilarious and has every intention of beating Bisping even worse than he did in their first encounter. The word he used during the UFC 199 media call was “humiliation,” and it was said with the kind of conviction that leads you to believe the new champion isn’t just saying stuff for the sake of promoting this fight.
UFC Fight Night: MacDonald vs. Thompson (Saturday, June 18 – Ottawa, Ontario)
Light heavyweight is relatively thin on young, emerging talent, so a contest between the surging Latvian-Canadian and the debuting Cutelaba is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Cirkunov has earned stoppage wins in each of his first two UFC appearances, extending his winning streak to six while showing flashes of elite potential. A skilled judoka and strong top position grappler, the 29-year-old Cirkunov is a tremendous athlete still putting the pieces of his MMA game together, which is why he’s viewed as such an intriguing prospect.
Just 22 years old and riding a seven-fight winning streak made up of nothing but first-round finishes into his promotional debut, Cutelaba is the first fighter from the Republic of Moldova to compete in the Octagon. He’s taking this contest in enemy territory and the bout represents a significant step up in competition, but Cutelaba is a bundle of raw skills and upside that could eventually make noise in the shallow 205-pound ranks.
Just like UFC 199, the debut show in Ottawa and the first Canadian event of the year also features a fighter turned aside by “Joanna Champion” returning to action and sharing the cage with another talented strawweight in a special flyweight attraction.
Letourneau went the distance with Jedrzejczyk in their championship clash at UFC 193 last November, having her moments and showing a tremendous amount of moxie in a fight where she was counted out from the time it was announced. The Canadian pioneer had won four straight before that, and competing at 125 pounds should bring out the best in her, as getting to the strawweight limit is a huge test for “Trouble.”
The same goes for Calderwood, who looks to build off her hometown victory over Cortney Casey last summer in Glasgow. While she’s never missed weight or looked as depleted as Letourneau on the scales, “JoJo” admitted she usually needs a 12-week camp to get down to 115 pounds, and with the condensed prep time for this fight, meeting at flyweight made a lot more sense.
G’head and try to pretend you’re not excited to see the gunslinger from Albuquerque go toe-to-toe with the resurgent French-Canadian with an iron chin.
Cerrone made his UFC welterweight debut with a first-round submission win over Alex Oliveira in February and has maintained his “whoever, whenever, wherever” approach to things by jumping in with Cote in the co-main event of this fight card in the Canadian capital. His only losses over the last three years have come to Rafael dos Anjos, and without the rigorous weight cut, “Cowboy” seems to hit the cage in better shape while remaining as ornery as ever.
The 36-year-old Cote has picked up three straight victories and is 5-1 since moving to welterweight, with his lone loss coming against one of the men in this card’s main event, Stephen Thompson. As durable a fighter as you’ll find on the UFC roster, Cote has used his ability to take the best his opponents have to offer and return fire successfully in each of his last two outings, earning finishes of Joshua Burkman and Ben Saunders in heated exchanges where both parties were unloading in close quarters.
There is no way this one isn’t fun.
Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson
Not only is this a helluva scrap from a stylistic perspective, but there are serious stakes on the line here too.
MacDonald returns for the first time since his instant classic with Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title last summer at UFC 189, looking to affirm his place as the top contender in the division. One of the most complete fighters in the sport, “The Red King” can put himself right back in the title conversation by shutting down Thompson’s momentum in his second headlining assignment in his home country.
“Wonderboy” has won six straight since dropping his sophomore UFC appearance to Matt Brown and has dramatically improved as a mixed martial artist over that time. After earning a first-round knockout of Jake Ellenberger last summer, the Simpsonville, South Carolina resident became the first man to stop former champion Johny Hendricks, putting it on him and stopping him just 3:31 into the opening round of the main event engagement in February.
Things are heating up in the welterweight division, but the winner of this one will have a very strong claim to the next title and will surely be keeping an eye on how things play out between Lawler and Tyron Woodley at UFC 201.
But that’s a fight for next month.