With a slew of new fights being announced for the new year, it’s time to countdown the contests we’re most looking forward to in 2018.
5. UFC 220 – Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Daniel Cormier’s return to royalty will once again take place if he can successfully dispatch the threat of Volkan Oezdemir this month. After being ‘haunted’ by the loss to Jon Jones in mid-2017, Cormier will be looking to put his demons to rest by once again asserting his will against the top brass at 205. With many notable title wins already under his belt, Cormier doesn’t need to do much else to solidify himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Taking out Volkan Oezdemir in dominating fashion will be the exact win he needs to push him over as one of the best. Oezdemir is still very much an unknown quantity given the little amount of time he’s actually spent in the octagon. Cormier’s iron chin will be sure to take more ‘time’ to break down that Oezdemir is used to. The unknown quantities heading into this bout are making this one a must-watch fight that will be sure to stay lively.
4. ONE: Iron Will – Martin Nguyen vs. Bibiano Fernandes
Martin Nguyen has the chance to make history yet again as he gets set to take on Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight World Championship in March. After shocking the world twice over in 2017, “The Situ-Asian” is looking to make it a hat-trick as he gets set for his next test. In both of his title wins, Martin Nguyen has put all the pieces together to land devastating right hands that have put his opponents out cold. For this matchup against the seemingly smaller opponent, the game plan will be much of the same as he prepares for another highlight finish.
Bibiano Fernandes, on the other hand, has no intentions to be finished. The Brazilian veteran has made a career of overcoming the odds and rising to the occasion when it’s needed. This match-up against one of the highest rising fighters in ONE Championship will once again beckon the best of his skill-set as he gets set to defend his belt. Either way, the burden of becoming a triple World Champion will only be bestowed on the fighter who earns that right, and the possibilities are endless for two fighters that don’t know what it’s like to be second best.
3. Bellator 192 – Douglas Lima vs. Rory MacDonald
Douglas Lima has quietly been legitimizing himself as a real threat at 170 lbs with the looming shadow of ‘The Red King’ in his wake. After a thunderous knockout victory over a once unbeatable Koreshkov, Lima looked poised to make a statement for any incoming UFC talent thinking they could take the challenge. His subsequent win over Lorenz Larkin was an exclamation to his previous point of dominance under the Bellator banner. At Bellator 192, Lima will look to make it business as usual against the Canadian phenom.
Rory MacDonald was at one point en route to be the next greatest welterweight to become champion at Tristar. After a streak of unfortunate losses, UFC’s unwanted commodity became Bellator’s most legitimate attraction as Scott Coker was able to come to terms with Rory MacDonald for a blockbuster signing.
With his debut win over Paul Daley leaving little doubt over his physical and mental ability after a losing streak. The stars aligned for an eventual title shot against a legitimate champion in Lima. Douglas Lima possesses the characteristics of toughness and devastating punching power that have caused havoc for Rory MacDonald before. Is Rory MacDonald ready to realize his potential and make the push for a championship?Or will the experience and toughness of Douglas Lima prevail?
2. UFC 220 – Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou
This fight should have its own movie trailer. In fact, it probably will once Godzilla vs. King Kong comes out. The battle to decide the best heavyweight of the modern era is underway this month as Miocic and Ngannou get set to do battle. In the words of the great Joey Diaz, this fight highlights the ‘immigrant mentality’ of both fighters and only the most savage of contenders will survive the aftermath.
Stipe Miocic seems to be in the eye of the storm given his recent press conference interaction with Ngannou this past weekend. While Ngannou did his best to poke and prod at the demeanor of Miocic with his time on the mic, Miocic offered no response and kept to his M.O. of being unphased by any opposition.
But Francis Ngannou isn’t just any opposition. Ngannou has proved himself as one of the most potent strikers in heavyweight history. After his latest win over a veteran like Overeem, there is no doubting the potential of the French hitman. This bout against Miocic will determine his ceiling as an MMA fighter, if there is one. Miocic will surely have his hands full dealing with the speed and tenacity of Ngannou’s striking, but Miocic is no novice to the game of boxing and his own ability to knock opponents out cold with precise punches has been the difference maker his last three times out. Needless to say, when these two forces collide, the chance of them fighting the full 25 minutes is slim to none. Don’t blink during this fight.
1. UFC 221 – Robert Whittaker vs. Luke Rockhold
Since dispatching a potent Yoel Romero over the course of 25 minutes on one leg, Robert Whittaker has become a fan favorite for hardcore and casual UFC fans alike. There’s something about a humble down to earth assassin that brings people to the table anytime ‘Bobby Knuckles’ steps in the cage.
In his return to fighting in Australia, Robert Whittaker has a chance to set the record straight on what has been a turbulent two years of title fights in the middleweight division. With the older breed of fighters not being able to cling on to that high level of competition at middleweight. This bout is a welcomed ushering in of new breed talent that has long been overdue.
On the other hand, Luke Rockhold has been trending upwards since his shock loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 199. It took a while for Rockhold to return to the octagon, but when he did, it seemed like he hadn’t lost a step as he handled David Branch with relative ease. With Rockhold on a slight resurgence after losing some of his luster, time will tell if he can realize his goals and take over the division once again as the most complete middleweight in the division.