December might be my favorite month of the year.
While autumn is my favorite season, December lands as my favorite month for all the standard reasons people may like the final month of the year — the holidays, time with friends and family, Christmas parties, good food, a tasty beverage or two if that’s your thing — but it’s also because the end of the year also produces some of the most exciting matchups and entertaining bouts every year, without fail.
Last December, we had Francis Ngannou nearly decapitating Alistair Overeem, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje chucking knuckles, Brian Ortega finishing Cub Swanson, Marlon Moraes halting Aljamain Sterling, and it finished with Khabib Nurmagomedov mauling Edson Barboza and Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm going round-for-round for the featherweight title.
The year before, Ngannou learned a kimura in the dressing room and used it on Anthony Hamilton, Max Holloway stopped Anthony Pettis, Swanson and “The Korean Superboy” set Toronto ablaze while Lando Vanatta spin kicked and stopped John Makdessi before Cody Garbrandt styled on Dominick Cruz and Amanda Nunes defeated Ronda Rousey.
In 2015, Rose Namajunas beat Paige VanZant, Frankie Edgar lit up Chad Mendes, and Tony Ferguson went Tony Ferguson on Edson Barboza, plus Luke Rockhold won the middleweight title, Conor McGregor sparked Jose Aldo in 13 seconds and Nate Diaz gave a post-fight speech for the ages.
And you want me to not be pumped about the forthcoming events?
Here’s a look at the most interesting and entertaining fights on deck this month.
This is The 10.
UFC Fight Night: Dos Santos vs. Tuivasa — Saturday, December 1 (Adelaide, Australia)
Junior Dos Santos vs. Tai Tuivasa
You know it’s a good month when the only fight I have room for from the first event on the slate is the main event.
The landscape in the heavyweight division is wide open right now and this clash will have a major impact on how things look heading into 2019.
Tuivasa has gone 3-0 in the UFC and 10-0 overall to start his career and has the potential to collect his biggest win to date in his first main event assignment, at home in Australia no less. The Mark Hunt protégé is deceptively athletic and quick while carrying sledgehammers at the end of his arms, which makes him a menacing matchup for anyone and he’s still just getting started.
The former champion Dos Santos enters off an outstanding performance against Blagoy Ivanov in July, where he picked apart the Bulgarian newcomer with his swift, technical boxing while avoiding the prolonged exchanges and dangerous clinch situations that have proven problematic for him in the past. “Cigano” is a seasoned pro with all the skills to halt Tuivasa’s unbeaten climb up the rankings and send the fans in Adelaide home disappointed at the end of the night.
If it goes as expected with both men meeting in the middle to trade hands, this one could get real interesting, real fast.
UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega — Saturday, December 8 (Toronto, Ontario)
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the flyweight title
Former Muay Thai rivals meet in the Octagon for the first time with the vacant flyweight strap hanging in the balance.
After coming up short in her bid to claim the bantamweight belt last year in Edmonton, Shevchenko returns to Canada looking to secure the flyweight title in her sophomore appearance in the division. She thrashed Priscila Cachoeira in February in her divisional debut and was scheduled to face Nicco Montano for the belt at UFC 228, however Montano experienced difficulties during her weight cut, resulting in the bout being cancelled and her being stripped of the title.
Jedrzejczyk delivered a hard-fought effort to get back into the win column following her consecutive losses to Rose Namajunas back in the summer, getting the better of Tecia Torres in Calgary. Now the former strawweight titleholder is making the much-discussed move up in weight in hopes of capturing a second belt and earning a measure of revenge against Shevchenko, who beat her in all three of their Muay Thai matchups.
Two of the most well-rounded and active strikers on the roster, this has the potential to be an instant classic.
Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega for the featherweight title
Pushed back from July, this featherweight title clash is one of the best possible matchups in the UFC at the moment — a clash between an ultra-talented champion on a 12-fight winning streak and an unbeaten challenger who has earned six consecutive stoppage wins.
Holloway has endured a challenging year, having been forced out of three different bouts already in 2018 for various reasons. When he’s at his best, “Blessed” is a joy to watch compete — a pressure fighter who works slick combinations and level changes, while also operating with the kind of moxie and brashness that makes him impossible not to like.
As for Ortega, all he’s done over his last four fights is finish Clay Guida, Renato Moicano, Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar, the latter of which came in the first round on a beautiful uppercut that took “The Answer” off his feet. The mellow Californian continues to make serious strides with his striking, and when coupled with his dynamic submission game, turns Ortega into one of the most dangerous fighters on the roster.
These two are so well matched, so on-point right now and so gifted that it wouldn’t be at all surprising if this one ended up being Fight of the Year.
UFC on FOX: Lee vs. Iaquinta II — Saturday, December 15 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Jim Miller vs. Charles Oliveira
These two first met eight years ago when they were in very different places in their respective careers.
Miller was in the midst of the best run of his UFC career, with his first-round submission win over Oliveira standing as the sixth straight victory in a streak that would reach seven before ending at the hands of future champ Benson Henderson. Meanwhile, Oliveira was an electric newcomer without a loss who had scored back-to-back submission wins to start his UFC run before getting thrown into the deep water against the New Jersey-based veteran.
The sequel comes while both are looking to build off strong performances, as “Do Bronx” picked up his record 11th submission win last time out and Miller halted a four-fight losing skid while becoming the first fighter to make 30 trips into the Octagon.
The lightweight division is always brimming with talent and these two are searching for a way to work their way back into the Top 15 as we head towards 2019.
Will Miller make it two-in-a-row with a second straight victory over the Brazilian or is Oliveira going to get his revenge and a third win this year to re-establish himself as someone to watch going forward?
Edson Barboza vs. Dan Hooker
After mustering a 3-3 record while competing at featherweight, Hooker made the decision to relocate to lightweight and the New Zealander has been lights out ever since. Following a pair of stoppage wins in 2017, “The Hangman” has collected first-round finishes of Miller and Gilbert Burns to push his winning streak to four and become a dangerous dark horse contender in the 155-pound ranks.
He asked for a step up in competition following his win over Burns in July and mentioned Barboza by name, so now it’s time to see if he’s going to regret the decision.
While he’s landed on the wrong side of things in each of his last two outings, no one would ever suggest that the Brazilian isn’t one of the top lightweights in the world. Having moved back to Florida and now training at American Top Team, Barboza is looking to halt Hooker’s impressive run and rediscover the form that carried him to wins over Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and Beneil Dariush prior to his last two fights.
A win for Hooker puts him in the thick of the crowded title picture, while a victory for Barboza solidifies his place in the division and gives him a fresh start heading into next year.
And regardless of who wins, this one should be fun from the jump.
Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta
These two met in Lee’s promotional debut nearly five years ago, when “The Motown Phenom” had just seven fights under his belt. Iaquinta won a hard-fought decision and Lee has been looking to get it back ever since and now he gets the opportunity.
The skilled and athletic 26-year-old bounced back from his interim title fight loss to Tony Ferguson with a win over Barboza in April that was both gutsy and dynamic, as Lee rallied back from getting staggered by a kick to the head to score a fifth-round stoppage victory.
Following nearly a year on the sidelines, Iaquinta made his return to the cage in April at UFC 223, shuffling from a bout against Paul Felder into a lightweight title fight opposite Khabib Nurmagomedov at the 11th hour. The former TUF finalist acquitted himself well under the circumstances, but came out on the wrong side of the scorecards and now looks to get back into the win column with a second victory over Lee.
Lee’s not the only one who has wanted to see this fight come together — I’ve been dying to see it too, as the Detroit native has improved by leaps and bounds since their first meeting, while Iaquinta remains a tough-as-nails, in-your-face nightmare for just about anyone in the division.
Expect a bunch of trash talk throughout the build-up to this one and fireworks once they get into the cage.
UFC 232: Jones vs. Gustafsson II — Saturday, December 29 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Cat Zingano vs. Megan Anderson
Zingano got back into the win column for the first time since UFC 178 this summer in Boise, securing a unanimous decision victory over Marion Reneau in a bout where she finally looked like herself again inside the Octagon. Now moving up to featherweight, the already powerful “Alpha” will have 10 fewer pounds to drop as she looks to pick up consecutive victories for the first time since she started her career with nine straight wins.
After well over a year on the shelf, Anderson finally made her promotional debut this summer at UFC 225 in Chicago, landing on the wrong side of a decision against Holly Holm. The former Invicta FC champion, who had won four straight prior to that loss, has now shaken off the rust and gotten her first foray into the UFC cage out of the way; now it’s about getting that ever-important first UFC win.
This will be an interesting clash of style and battle for space as Zingano will look to close the distance and grind it out, while Anderson’s best opportunities exist at range, where her length, power and size work to her advantage. Whoever is able to dictate the terms of engagement should come away victorious.
Chad Mendes vs. Alexander Volkanovski
This is such a compelling fight.
Mendes returned from a two-year suspension in the summer and immediately re-established himself as one of the top featherweights in the world, putting away Myles Jury in less than three minutes. The two-time title challenger has been a fixture in the Top 5 since coming over from the WEC and showed he has no interest in ceding that position by blistering Jury, and a second straight victory to close out 2018 would send him into next year in line for a date with another established contender.
Because so many fighters from “down under” have been making waves this year — Tuivasa, Hooker, Israel Adesanya — Volkanovski’s rise up the ranks in the 145-pound weight class has flown under the radar a little, but make no mistake about it — the former rugby man is a force to be reckoned with.
After handing Jeremy Kennedy his first career loss in February, Volkanovski dominated Darren Elkins on that same Boise card that featured Zingano and Mendes picking up victories as well, and he did it all with a couple popped ribs.
Either the veteran stalwart will turn back the emerging newcomer or the surging Australian will continue his impressive winning streak by picking up the biggest victory of his career.
Do not miss this one.
Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes for the featherweight title
This is without a question the best fight the UFC could possibly put together on the female side of the roster and arguably the biggest women’s fight in UFC history.
Cyborg is unbeaten in her last 21 fights and has won five straight in the UFC, most recently making quick work of Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 223. She is one of the most dominant talents to ever grace the cage regardless of gender and carries a little bit of a chip on her shoulder into this one as she’s accused Nunes of ducking her and has taken shots at her history of switching camps.
As for Nunes, she rose to the top of the bantamweight division a couple months after Cyborg made her Octagon debut and has remained there ever since. This summer, she picked up her third consecutive successful title defense, earning a fifth-round stoppage win over Raquel Pennington at UFC 224.
Beyond their impressive resumes and lengthy winning streaks, what makes this bout so interesting is that Nunes won six straight at featherweight after losing her professional debut, including victories over Vanessa Porto, Ediane Gomes and Julia Budd before shifting to bantamweight.
No one has been able to match Cyborg’s size and power in the cage as of yet, but Nunes is arguably the best suited of anyone she’s faced in the last several years.
Will we see our first female “Double Champ” crowned or will Cyborg continue her incredible run of success?
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson for the light heavyweight title
Their first meeting at UFC 165 turned into an instant classic, with Gustafsson pushing Jones like no one else had to that point and no one has since, forcing the light heavyweight superstar to dig deep and rally to retain his title. A rematch was always expected and was scheduled to take place before an injury forced Gustafsson to the sidelines and opened the door for Jones’ rivalry with Daniel Cormier to take over.
Gustafsson has always maintained that he won the first bout, while Jones has pointed out that he earned the victory even though he didn’t train seriously and was carrying on outside the cage throughout the build up to the September 2013 meeting in Toronto.
Now they’re going to do it again.
The Swedish standout enters on a two-fight winning streak, but hasn’t fought since knocking out Glover Teixeira in May 2017, while Jones has logged just three appearances since their iconic first meeting and returns to the Octagon for the first time since his second fight with Cormier at UFC 214.
Can Gustafsson replicate his performance from UFC 165 and find a way to shift the results in his favor or will Jones once again march back into the cage and pick up where he left off, reclaiming the title he never lost in competition and re-establishing himself as the best fighter in the sport?