Another month is in the books and another is set to begin with a bang as the UFC hits the top of the stretch for 2018.
August may have only featured two cards, but they delivered a ton of excitement, including a new flyweight champion, a definitive end to a bantamweight rivalry and a reminder of why Justin Gaethje was included in our rundown of the most consistently exciting, all-action fighters in UFC history.
Now here comes September, with three cards on three continents and a cornucopia of contests ranging from championship showdowns and intriguing returns to old-fashioned donnybrooks and crucial divisional pairings.
With a lot to discuss, let’s not waste any more time setting things up.
Here are the fights I’m most looking forward to this month.
This is The 10.
UFC 228: Woodley vs. Till – Saturday, September 8 (Dallas, Texas)
"I would greatly like to slap the guy in his face." The beef will finally be settled in Dallas when @FunkMaster_UFC meets @CodyStamann on Sept 8 at UFC 228. pic.twitter.com/CQN4a3iVnp
— UFC News (@UFCNews) July 18, 2018
An interesting bantamweight clash that sees Sterling reprising his role as the established figure in the division charged with taking on the promising upstart Stamann, who has gone 3-0 in the UFC and is looking to move closer to contention to close out the year.
Sterling looked very good last time out against Brett Johns, handing the Welsh prospect the first loss of his career while getting back into the win column after his loss to Marlon Moraes. “The Funkmaster” has been a fixture in the Top 10 for the last couple years and has his own designs on a run to the top of the division but, for now, he’s satisfied picking off prospects and polishing up his skills.
After besting Terrion Ware in his promotional debut, Stamann has turned in consecutive impressive performances, toppling Tom Duquesnoy and Bryan Caraway in back-to-back split decision wins to climb into the Top 15. The Michigan Top Team product has won 10 straight overall and can cement his standing as the top emerging talent to watch in the division going forward with a victory in this one.
Honestly, this might be the fight that interests me the most this month. As much as I’m looking forward to everything on the main card in Dallas and what’s on tap in Moscow and Sao Paulo later in the month, these are the types of fights that really get me excited.
While Esparza is just 3-2 since losing the strawweight title to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the very same building where she will fight next weekend, both of those setbacks came by way of split decision and you could make a case for her winning both contests pretty easily. Regardless of her results, the Team Oyama staple remains a very strong grappler with continually improving hands and a wealth of experience, which makes her a tough assignment for anyone in the division.
Suarez has been unstoppable in the Octagon thus far, rolling through the competition to win the strawweight tournament on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter before adding dominant wins over Viviane Pereira and Alexa Grasso. Now the former Olympic hopeful and cancer survivor takes a considerable step up in competition in hopes of establishing herself as a title contender heading into next year.
This one could have championship implications as the winner might end up being next in line to challenge Rose Namajunas for the strawweight title, but even without any “title eliminator” tags officially affixed to this pairing, this one is sure to be terrific.
Andrade has been dynamite since moving down to the 115-pound weight class, bringing the grit, toughness and power that allowed her to overachieve while fighting two divisions higher for the first four years of her career. She’s gone 5-1 since moving down, only losing to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and has shown she’s able to maintain her punishing pace and high volume approach in recent wins over Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres.
In just under three years with the UFC, Kowalkiewicz has established herself as a Top 5 fixture in the division and stands as the last person to get the better of the current champion inside the Octagon. After consecutive wins over Jodie Esquibel and Felice Herrig, the quiet Polish standout is finally sharing the cage with Andrade to settle their differences and see who stakes their claim to be the top contender in the strawweight ranks heading into 2019.
In case you haven't heard or seen. I'll be fighting Zabit next weekend in Dallas. Get your popcorn ready!#KillerB #UFC #UFC228 #MMA pic.twitter.com/bzyPfq5zSJ
— Brandon Davis (@BrandonDavisUFC) August 29, 2018
Like everyone else, I’m bummed that Yair Rodriguez was forced out of this matchup with Magomedsharipov, but getting to watch one of the top prospects in the sport compete is never a bad thing and Davis is an aggressive, durable fighter with nothing to lose, so we should end up with an entertaining clash in the middle of the Pay-Per-View main card.
Davis has gone the distance in fun fights with Kyle Bochniak, Steven Peterson and Enrique Barzola since taking part in the best fight of the first season of the Contender Series. The Alan Belcher protégé is at his best when he’s coming forward, initiating offense, and he has the toughness to give the surging Dagestani upstart a run for his money in Dallas.
Three straight UFC victories and 11 consecutive wins overall have carried Zabit into the Top 15 in the featherweight division, and now he gets another chance to show why everyone is so enamored with his talent and potential. This profiles similarly to his fight with Bochniak at UFC 223 in April, and though he won, it was tougher than most anticipated.
Given the attention he’s received thus far and the lofty expectations people have for him, don’t be surprised if Magomedsharipov uses this opportunity to make a real statement and wrap up his first year on the UFC roster in style.
Everyone has been anticipating this bout since Montano etched her name in the history books by claiming the flyweight title last December and after battling illness and injuries, the champion is finally ready to take on the talented top contender.
Montano was an underdog on The Ultimate Fighter and faced more hurdles heading into her title fight, only to deliver a dominant performance against Roxanne Modafferi to become the inaugural flyweight champion. The gutsy Albuquerque-based titleholder is largely being counted out heading into this contest, but if her journey to the top of the division has proven anything, it’s that overlooking Montano and dismissing her chances is a big mistake.
After falling one round on one scorecard shy of claiming the bantamweight title last September in her rematch with Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko debuted in the flyweight division in February, running through Priscila Cachoeira to instantly establish herself as the top contender in the newly minted weight class. A decorated striker with solid grappling abilities and a wealth of experience, “Bullet” gets a second chance to claim her first UFC title, entering the contest as a considerable favorite despite being the challenger.
For all the grief Woodley gets online, you have to hand it to the reigning, defending, undisputed welterweight champion: he steps into the cage against top competition every time out and this time is no different.
Finally ready to return following shoulder surgery and a lengthy rehab, “The Chosen One” looks to extend his reign and add a fourth successful title defense to his resume while handing Till the first loss of his career. Woodley pitched a shutout against Demian Maia in his last appearance, but will need to break out more offensive firepower in this one if he wants to turn back the hard-charging Scouser.
Unbeaten through the first 18 fights of his career, Till edged out Stephen Thompson at home in Liverpool in May, solidifying his standing as one of the top contenders in the division. He missed weight for that contest and needs to hit 170 pounds on the nose to be able to win the title, but while his ability to make championship weight has been hotly debated, his talent cannot be questioned.
This is a truly compelling contest that will have a significant impact on the direction of the welterweight division, regardless of whom emerges victorious in Dallas.
UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Oleinik – Saturday, September 15 (Moscow, Russia)
The first of two exciting light heavyweight battles to make the list this month, the penultimate bout from the UFC’s premiere in Moscow pits the surging Blachowicz against the returning Krylov in a contest that will have an impact on the title chase heading into 2019.
A 1-4 stretch following his debut win dropped Blachowicz down the rankings, but the Polish veteran has been on a roll over the last year, rattling off three straight wins, capped by a unanimous decision victory over Jimi Manuwa back in March. The former KSW star has finally settled in and started putting things together with consistency inside the UFC cage and transformed himself into a legitimate contender in the 205-pound ranks.
After a four-fight stint outside the organization, the man MMA Twitter knows as “Nicky Thrills” is back in the Octagon, looking to push his winning streak to five while inserting himself into the title conversation at the outset of his second tour with the UFC. Still just 26, Krylov has won nine of his last 10 overall, all by way of stoppage, and if he can continue that trend in this one, he’ll set himself up for another Top 5 opponent next time out.
Moscow’s heavyweight headliners are a combined 95 years old and between them, they’ve had one MMA fight for every year they’ve walked the Earth. Hunt and Oleinik may be two of the elder statesmen of the sport, but both remain competitive members of the heavyweight ranks and this contest should be interesting.
Hunt remains one of the tougher outs in the big boy ranks – a veteran with frightening knockout power who has been around the block a time or two and can give anyone and everyone in the division a tough fight – while Oleinik is a submission specialist who has won five of his seven UFC appearances with two of his last three victories coming by way of Ezekiel choke.
This collision between divisional stalwarts is a serious clash of styles, and who dictates the terms of engagement will determine who comes out victorious. If Hunt can keep it standing, he should find a home for the thunder he carries in his mitts, while Oleinik has the clear and obvious advantage if this one goes to the ground.
I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
UFC Fight Night: Manuwa vs. Santos – Saturday, September 22 (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
While no one wants to see a fight card undergo a number of changes in the final few weeks before the event, the shifts in Sao Paulo should allow this welterweight contest that would otherwise fly under the radar to get the attention it deserves.
The 31-year-old dos Santos dropped a split decision to Nicolas Dalby in his promotional debut and hasn’t looked back since, rattling off five straight victories, capped by a spinning wheel kick knockout of Sean Strickland at UFC 224 in May. He’s earned a trio of Fight of the Night bonuses and is one of the most underrated members of the 170-pound weight class.
Joining him on that list is Muhammad, who has quietly put together a four-fight winning streak after beginning his UFC tenure with a 1-2 mark. The Roufusport product holds wins over Randy Brown, Jordan Mein and Tim Means and if he continues stacking up victories, fans will have no choice but to (slowly removes sunglasses like David Caruso on CSI: Miami)… remember the name.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Thiago Santos
Originally scheduled as a battle between divisional fixtures Manuwa and Glover Teixeira, the latter’s injury created an opportunity for added intrigue as Santos makes the move up from middleweight to step in with the British finisher in this one.
Manuwa rolled into UFC 214 last summer on the cusp of contention, brimming with confidence. But consecutive losses to Volkan Oezdemir and Jan Blachowicz have “Poster Boy” looking to regroup and hoping to ignite a winning streak on the road in Sao Paulo.
Just seven weeks after dispatching Kevin Holland at UFC 227, “Marreta” makes his debut in the light heavyweight division with a chance to make an instant impression. The hulking former Brazilian paratrooper was always massive for middleweight, and if his speed and power accompany him on this move to the 205-pound ranks, Santos could kick off the final four months of the year by becoming a dark horse contender in the light heavyweight division.
Both men are aggressive finishers who don’t throw anything lightly, so this one should be explosive from start to finish, no matter if it takes 15 seconds or 15 minutes.