How was your summer?
Did you enjoy that nice little break in August where there was just one live event and plenty of weekends to bask in the sunshine, do some grilling and catch up with friends and family? Good, good… but you’re ready to get back to watching fights every weekend again, right?
I thought so. I am too.
Here’s a look at the most compelling, competitive and important fights set to hit the cage in the month ahead.
This is The 10.
UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve – Saturday, September 2 (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Lightweight is arguably the most competitive division in the UFC and there are times when quality battles in the 155-pound ranks fly under the radar.
This is one of those times.
After suffering back-to-back losses to fall out of the Top 15, Khabilov rebounded with four wins in 2016 to remind everyone that he’s a potential force in the stacked weight class, using his superior grappling acumen to collect decision victories over Norman Parke, Chris Wade, Leandro Silva and Jason Saggo.
Meanwhile, Green made his promotional debut at UFC 210 in Buffalo, collecting a hard-fought split decision win over the previously unbeaten Josh Emmett to establish himself as someone to watch going forward. Now he gets a chance to quickly climb the divisional ladder in his sophomore appearance, where the first-time jitters and pressures of fighting at home in front of friends and family are no longer weighing on him.
A battle of European giants, this fight also has the potential to propel the winner to the fringes of contention in the wide-open heavyweight division.
Volkov has gone 2-0 since arriving in the UFC, edging out Timothy Johnson in his debut before sweeping the scorecards against Roy Nelson in his second Octagon appearance. Like the Russian, Struve also enters on a two-fight winning streak, having earned back-to-back impressive stoppages in 2016 to re-establish himself as one of the most consistently entertaining fighters in the division.
In a division filled with fighters who are closer to 40 than they are 20, Volkov and Struve are two experienced competitors that have yet to celebrate their 30th birthdays and could inject some new blood into the title chase starting with their clash in Rotterdam this weekend.
UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg – Saturday, September 9, 2017 (Edmonton, Alberta)
The final preliminary card fight of this month’s Pay-Per-View debut in the “City of Champions,” this bout carries serious divisional significance.
McMann has won three straight and looked particularly impressive in her last two appearances, submission wins over Alexis Davis and Gina Mazany. After getting rushed into the deep end of the talent pool, the former Olympic silver medalist finally seems to be putting it all together in the Octagon, and her recent shift to Team Alpha Male in Sacramento could unlock further upside and make McMann even more dangerous.
Wins in each of her first two UFC appearances have pushed Vieira’s record to a perfect 8-0, good enough for her to land at No. 13 in the rankings and merit a chance to shake things up in the women’s bantamweight ranks by upending the former title challenger. Durable and improving with each appearance, halting McMann’s hot streak would establish the Brazilian upstart as a legitimate contender heading into the final quarter of 2017.
The light heavyweight division has experienced an influx of new talent in the last 18 months, with Pedro quickly establishing himself as one of the most exciting and intriguing new names to come into the weight class.
In his first two outings, the 25-year-old Aussie has earned first-round stoppage victories over Khalil Rountree and Paul Craig to push his record to 6-0, and this meeting with Latifi is all about getting a better read on where the unbeaten talent fits within the 205-pound ranks.
Sweden’s Latifi is a perfect opponent for Pedro at this juncture – a seasoned vet with serious power and a significant edge in experience; the type of guy promising newcomer must defeat in order to ascend to the next level of competition. While he’s been out of action for roughly a year, the 34-year-old cult hero has made the walk to the Octagon eight times and should be a stern test for Pedro in Edmonton.
Following the unfortunate last-minute cancellation of their rematch at UFC 213 this summer, Nunes and Shevchenko will finally run it back in Edmonton with the women’s bantamweight title hanging in the balance.
The rivals squared off at UFC 196 in March 2016 prior to Nunes ascending to the throne, with the Brazilian earning a unanimous decision victory in a fight that was closer and more compelling than the final scores indicate. Nunes controlled the action over the opening two rounds and busted up Shevchenko, but when her gas tank emptied in the third, “Bullet” roared back, finishing strong and leaving many questioning how the outcome might have changed had it been a five-round fight.
Now we’ll get the answer in a championship fight that has picked up even more significance as the champion and challenger exchanged heated words in the lead-up to their scuttled clash this summer with the animosity between the two getting ratcheted up even more when the fight fell apart in July.
Both men enter looking to make history – Johnson as he attempts to establish a new record for consecutive successful title defenses; Borg seeking to be the first man to defeat “Mighty Mouse” at flyweight – and the process of finding out who will be successful in their quest should be exhilarating.
Johnson is the most complete and dominant fighter on the planet today; an athlete with no discernable holes in his game, the ability to make adjustments on the fly and win in any number of fashions. He’s lorded over the 125-pound division since its inception and has shown no interest in relinquishing his position as champion.
The 24-year-old challenger has earned a pair of impressive victories since shifting his training to the Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in his native Albuquerque, scoring decision wins over Louis Smolka and Jussier Formiga to arrive opposite Johnson. Quick in scrambles and boasting a strong foundation, Borg is the type of young, talented, confident fighter who won’t be shaken by the champion’s presence and he believes wholeheartedly that he’ll be the man to end his reign.
UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Branch – Saturday, September 16, 2017 (Pittsburgh, PA)
True story: Usman and Moraes are a combined 11-1-1 in the UFC and unbeaten in the welterweight ranks, the former sporting a perfect 5-0 mark, while the latter has gone 6-0-1 since dropping his promotional debut at middleweight.
When you’ve got two fighters with those results jockeying for position in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport, it deserves a place on this list.
Usman has used his outstanding grappling skills to out-work a series of fellow upstarts and position himself as one of the top new names in the 170-pound weight class, while the crafty veteran Moraes has quietly amassed a seven-fight unbeaten streak that includes a win over Neil Magny and he’s done it all with smile on his face and not a care in his world.
I know Sam Alvey has a trademark on the smiling gimmick, but there may not be a happier man on the UFC roster than the 35-year-old Brazilian.
Welterweight is flush with talent and the winner of this one should be in line for a Top 15 assignment next time out with a spot in the title conversation within reach given their current form.
Middleweight might be the most interesting division in the UFC right now and this fight certainly adds to the intrigue within the 185-pound ranks.
Rockhold returns for the first time since losing the middleweight strap to Michael Bisping at UFC 199, eager to get back into the win column and make a quick return to title contention. In order to do that, he’ll need to get through Branch, who returned to the UFC in May and extended his winning streak to 11 with a split decision victory over Krzysztof Jotko at UFC 211.
These two got chippy with each other over social media once the fight was officially announced, and with a lot at stake for both parties, you can be sure that animosity and competitive drive to prove their superiority will produce a memorable main event clash in Pittsburgh.
UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Saint Preux 2 – Saturday, September 23 (Saitama, Japan)
Outside of the championship clashes atop the fight card in Edmonton, this might be the best matchup on the calendar for September.
Andrade smashed Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood and Angela Hill to earn a shot at strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 211, turning in a gutsy effort in defeat, while Gadelha has rebounded from her second setback to the Polish champion with dominant efforts opposite Cortney Casey and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Eager to earn another shot at “Joanna Champion,” expect this scrap between these elite Brazilian contenders to be exhilarating from start to finish.
Shogun Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux
The first time these two met, Saint Preux scored a surprising first-round knockout win, catching Rua with a beautiful short left hand as the former light heavyweight champion aggressively charged forward.
Shogun hasn’t lost since, collecting a trio of victories, including a third-round stoppage win over Gian Villante last time out. This contest also marks Rua’s return to Japan, where he established himself as one of the light heavyweights in the sport during his incredible 12-1 run under the PRIDE banner.
For Saint Preux, it’s a chance to build upon his victory over Marcos Rogerio de Lima and re-establish himself as a contender in a deepening 205-pound weight class. Prior to picking up his second win by Von Flue choke in April, the University of Tennessee alum had dropped four of his previous five fights, all of which came against elite competition.
There is a lot on the line for both men in this one and they should deliver a thrilling conclusion to the UFC’s return to Saitama Super Arena.