For many people, December is the busiest month of the year. They appear to be running non-stop from one event to the next, their calendar filled with holiday parties and yearly traditions.
The MMA calendar isn’t much different. Several organizations have saved some of their best events and biggest matchups for December. The month contains a plethora of events including four Ultimate Fighting Championship cards, three Bellator MMA cards, the finals of the Professional Fighters League playoffs, Rizin FF’s gigantic New Year’s Eve card and so much more.
With so many action-packed cards over the month, we are going to examine 10 fights that are must-watch scraps. We are going to focus on fights which may be flying under the radar. MMA fans don’t need to be told how they shouldn’t miss the two best featherweights in the world in Max Holloway and Brian Ortega finally going to battle. They don’t have to be told to watch the superfight between champions Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes. Lastly, the MMA world won’t need to be reminded to check out a rematch of one of the greatest fights in history which they have been waiting over five years to watch, when Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson do battle once again.
These are the fights they also shouldn’t miss.
Prior Lake, Minnesota
Legacy Fighting Alliance has long been considered the feeder system to the UFC, due to their top talent and champions constantly receiving the call to move up to the premier MMA organization.
Lightweights Hubbard and Mota are two more fighters who are likely to be on the UFC’s radar. They battle at LFA 56 for the vacant lightweight title in a possible audition for the UFC. Hubbard carries a 9-2 record into the contest, having won five out of his last six scraps. The former high school wrestler is known for his great athleticism and pace. He has been christened with the nickname “Thud” for the sound his thunderous leg and body kicks make.
The Brazilian Mota enters the fight with a perfect 11-0 record. The Kings Shark MMA product is an explosive striker with slick grappling. He has five KO/TKO wins and four submission victories. One of his submission wins came over UFC and Pride FC veteran, Pride Fighting Championships.
The winner of this bout could very well punch his ticket to the UFC.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Of every fight listed in this article, this scrap has the highest chance of ending with a spectacular knockout. Santos and Manuwa have combined for 28 knockouts, with 15 of them happening inside the UFC Octagon.
Santos is a Brazilian wrecking machine who likes to work from the outside range, where he overwhelms his adversaries with explosiveness. He tools include powerful kicks, looping hooks, and an aggressive clinch game. “Marreta” moved up to light heavyweight from middleweight back in September, where he punished Eryk Anders for the better part of 15 minutes.
Manuwa likes to work from the pocket, where he fires off bone-crushing combinations. The British slugger loves to test his opponent's jaw after first damaging their body.
The two were set to face off back in September in Brazil, but due to injury to Manuwa the bout was rescheduled to UFC 231. Brazil’s loss has become Toronto’s gain.
Brent Primus vs. Michael Chandler 2
Primus took the Bellator lightweight title from Chandler back in June of 2017. However, the fight was highly controversial. Chandler suffered an ankle injury in the opening round of the fight and was unable to continue. The former champion argued that the injury was simply a freak accident, while the new champion believes it occurred due to the damage he inflicted on Chandler.
The undefeated Primus has been unable to compete since the fight due to his own injuries. This has not sat well with Chandler, who has picked up decisive wins over Goiti Yamauchi and Brandon Girtz since his loss to Primus. The longtime Bellator veteran has taken every chance in interviews and social media to berate Primus.
Primus is a well-rounded fighter with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Chandler is a boxer/wrestler, who can find a path to victory on the feet or the canvas.
The time for talk will end on Dec. 14. Chandler will have the opportunity to show he is still the best 155-pound fighter under the Bellator banner, while Primus will get the chance to show the first fight wasn’t a fluke.
If you like a striking battle, the matchup between Barboza and Hooker might be up your alley. The lightweights are two of the best strikers in the division.
Barboza, who is currently ranked as the 8th best lightweight in the world by Sherdog, is one of the most dynamic fighters in MMA. He unloads arguably the most devastating leg kicks in the game. The Brazilian also holds some of the best knockouts in history by way of spinning wheel kick and a flying knee.
However, Barboza is on a two-fight losing streak, being brutalized with ground-and-pound in back-to back-fights with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee.
Hooker, on the other hand, has been red hot. The New Zealander has rallied off four straight wins in the UFC, winning them all by stoppage. The long and rangy fighter strikes with pinpoint accuracy with an abundance of power.
The matchup between these two is not the top-billed lightweight bout on the UFC on Fox 31 card -- Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta is -- but it very well might be the one that steals the show.
Jinh Yu Frey vs. Minna Grusander 2
Kansas City, Missouri
Frey and Grusander battled in the main event of Invicta FC 30 for the vacated atomweight title back in July. The fight was a back-and-forth battle with Frey winning a heavily debated decision. Though their first fight had large moments of dull action, these two competitors are regarded as some of the best atomweights in the world.
Frey is the better athlete of the two, who likes to work from the outside with her fierce counter-striking game. She also is very adequate at timing takedowns and firing off ground and pound. Grusander is a pressure fighter, who wants to make it an ugly fight. She does her best work in the clinch, where she can launch knees, elbows, and uppercuts at her opponent. The fighter from Finland also has a similar game to Frey on the mat, where she likes to get on top and throw hammers down on her adversary.
Perhaps one of these fighters makes the proper adjustments since their first fight and wins this time in definitive fashion.
Neiman Gracie vs. Ed Ruth
When Bellator brass announced the field for the welterweight Grand Prix, Gracie and Ruth might have been two surprising entries. It wasn’t because they aren’t talented; they have plenty of talent. It was because neither guy has faced the level of opposition the other Grand Prix contestants have.
Gracie and Ruth are both regarded as two intriguing prospects. However, instead of a slow climb up in the level of competition, they suddenly find themselves swimming among the sharks of the Bellator welterweight division, including decorated veterans such as Douglas Lima, Jon Fitch and current champion Rory MacDonald. The two undefeated young guns were matched up against each other in the opening round of the tournament.
Gracie is a fourth-generation member of the illustrious Gracie family. As his family members before him, Gracie is a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt. He has won all six of his fights in the Bellator cage with five coming by way of submission. Ruth is a three-time NCAA Division I champion in wrestling who also sports a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The Penn State graduate has had all six of his fights under the Bellator banner.
This is an interesting stylistic matchup. Gracie is going to want to take this fight to the canvas to work his trade, however, it will be a tough task to take down such a decorated amateur wrestler. Ruth, on the other hand, is a little bit more polished on the feet but might be tempted to go for a takedown, which could give Gracie the chance to snatch up a submission.
This fight might be the most fascinating matchup in the opening round of the Grand Prix.
Las Vegas, Nevada
While MMA fans and media are clamoring for the two title fights at UFC 232, the featherweight clash between Mendes and Volkanovski shouldn’t be overlooked.
Three-time UFC title challenger Mendes has long been a staple near the top of the featherweight rankings. The self-proclaimed “Mike Tyson of the featherweight division” is a hard-hitting slugger who has given stars Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo Jr everything they could handle.
Besides knocking his opponents out cold, Mendes is a fantastic wrestler. The former NCAA Division I national runner-up takes his foes down at will while being almost impossible to take down himself. He displayed no ring rust in his return to the Octagon after two and a half years out of competition due to a USADA violation. He faced Myles Jury in his return bout and dispatched him in under three minutes.
Volkanovski is looking to follow in the footsteps of Robert Whittaker by becoming an Australian UFC champion. The 30-year-old former Rugby player holds an impressive 18-1 record and has won all five of his UFC bouts. Volkanovski is a pressure fighter who throws caution to the wind by either stepping into the pocket and throwing calculated power shots or getting his opponents down with relentless takedown attempts.
The Australian is coming off the biggest win of his career, a one-sided drubbing of Darren Elkins back in July. He called for a fight with Mendes during the post-fight in the Octagon interview and got his wish.
It’s not often two major MMA promotions agree to have one of their best fighters face off against the other organizations best, but that is exactly what MMA fans are getting. Bellator has agreed to send their bantamweight champion, Darrion Caldwell over to Japan to challenge Rizin’s hometown hero, Kyoji Horiguchi. The fight will be for Rizin’s bantamweight strap.
Horiguchi holds an impressive 25-2 record. A former flyweight, he is most known for challenging then-champion Demetrious Johnson for his UFC title back in April of 2015. Since the loss, Horiguchi has rattled off 10 straight wins including winning the Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix. The Japanese star is an extremely well-rounded fighter. He is both a powerful striker and a slick grappler.
Caldwell is a massive bantamweight, who stands eight inches taller than Horiguchi with another eight inches in reach. He is a former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion with a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Caldwell holds a 12-1 professional record and has avenged his only career loss. He has won four fights in a row and captured the Bellator title during the stretch.
Caldwell is going into enemy territory but could find himself heading into 2018 as the bantamweight champion of two major MMA organizations.
New York City, New York
When the PFL announced the 12 fighters who would comprise their 2018 season welterweight field, Jake Shields was the betting favorite. Unfortunately for Shields, he was matched up with Cooper, the son of one of his early career victims. “Bradda Boy” entered the bout as a massive underdog but defied the odds when he knocked out Shields in the second round.
Cooper showed it wasn’t a fluke by winning his next three bouts with three first-round TKO/KOs including another devastating knockout of Shields and the avenging of a previous loss to Handesson Ferreira. The wins propelled Copper to the season finals with a chance to win the $1 million prize. Regardless of whether he wins on New Year’s Eve, Cooper has turned from a relatively Unknown Fighter to one of the rising stars of the sport.
Magomedkerimov shouldn’t be overlooke,d though. The Russian fighter is riding a six-fight winning streak and has won all four of his bouts in the PFL, including beating UFC veteran Bojan Velickovic twice. Magomedkerimov might be the most well-rounded welterweight in PFL. On the feet, he fires off powerful strikes and hard chopping leg kicks. He can also grind out a decision with takedowns and strong top control.
Getting takedowns might be Magomedkerimov’s path to depositing $1 million into his bank account.
New York City, New York
Calling the PFL lightweight field loaded might have been an understatement. Showcased by former Bellator champion and UFC veteran Will Brooks, it also included UFC veterans Chris Wade, Thiago Tavares, Johnny Case, Ramsey Nijem, Efrain Escudero, Jason High and Rashid Magomedov. Pride FC veteran Luiz Firmino and former LFA champion Robert Watley rounded out the division.
With all the names in the field, there weren't many people predicting Natan Schulte to win the whole thing. Besides the high level of competition, Schulte headed into the season coming off a loss to Islam Mamedov, who was also in the field. However, the Brazilian fighter went 2-0 in the regular season to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. He would then get past Case and Wade to reach the finals.
His opponent will be Magomedov. The Russian fighter entered the PFL season as a late replacement. He defeated Firmino in the regular season to secure a spot in the playoffs. He would then advance past Brooks and Tavares to reach the finals.
The winner of this bout will not only be $1 million richer, but will also have successfully navigated the most talent-filled division in the promotion.