The Best Fights the UFC Can Book for Rest of 2017
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The UFC has already supplied great action in 2017, and the leader of mixed martial arts shows no signs of slowing down.
UFC 211 is a stacked card with two title fights with many other compelling fights booked beyond that. The UFC is looking at marquee summer events, but there are still many slots available. And that just covers the first half of the year.
What comes after that? What are the best fights available?
Sometimes the best fights are all about the storyline and not the in-cage action. Sometimes it’s all about the high-level technique put on display. There are plenty of both to go around in this crazy sport. Big names, big games.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the best fights the UFC can book in the remainder of 2017.
Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne
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Esther Lin/Invicta FC
If you missed their 2013 fight for the Invicta FC atomweight championship you are probably questioning this fight on the list. If you saw that fight you’ve probably already left the house to buy popcorn.
Michelle Waterson was a significant underdog, as high as plus-413 courtesy of BestFightOdds.com, against Jessica Penne. Instead of a dominant victory for Penne as the odds showed what we got was a Fight of the Year candidate.
The fight was absolutely thrilling. Waterson showcased sensational ground skills against one of the best in the division, and Penne showed her resilience. Eventually, Waterson submitted the grappler with an armbar in the fourth round.
Now they are both in the UFC and at strawweight. Given Waterson’s recent loss to Jessica Penne, there’s no better time to make this re-match. The unfortunate side is that it is unlikely to be five rounds, but just seeing these two go toe-to-toe once more would be exciting.
If you don’t think this fight belongs then you should watch the first fight as soon as possible. Waterson vs. Penne is one of the best fights available.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Cody Garbrandt/TJ Dillashaw
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In the wake of Demetrious Johnson’s tenth consecutive title defense the talk of a superfight against Cody Garbrandt has been growing. But TJ Dillashaw may have something to say about that as he meets Garbrandt later this year.
Regardless of who the champion is following their meeting the winner should fight Johnson.
The most tantalizing aspect of the potential fight is that Johnson will have some steep obstacles to claim. Something we are not seeing at flyweight as he dominates the division with relative ease. Johnson’s two career losses both come at bantamweight (Dominick Cruz, Brad Pickett).
Whether Garbrandt or Dillashaw stands opposite Johnson, they should be seen as the betting favorite. We have not seen that for some time in a “Mighty Mouse” fight. Just putting Johnson at a seeming disadvantage makes for an interesting fight.
The bantamweight championship also offers MMA fans a storyline of a fight going after history. Johnson can join the ranks of two-division champions, and get a big career-defining signature victory. There’s little reason not to make this fight later in 2017.
Robert Whittaker vs. Gegard Mousasi
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If you are a fan of technical striking then you probably want to see Robert Whittaker and Gegard Mousasi fight.
Mousasi’s striking is understated a majority of the time, but the crispness of his jab alone is a thing of perfection. Enter Whittaker, who just dusted Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and we have high-level fisticuffs ready to happen.
The bout also has major implications in the middleweight division. Both men are contenders waiting for a spot to open up, and a victory for either man puts them in position for a well-earned title shot.
Even if a title shot is not up for grabs, which may be the case thanks to Georges St-Pierre holding up the division, Mousasi vs. Whittaker offers fans some of the most elite action available. Both men keep a high pace and empty the clip in their fights. Tactics, technique and divisional importance all make this fight a must-see.
Nate Diaz vs. Tony Ferguson
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You just got goosebumps didn’t you?
Of almost all the possibilities at 155 pounds this matchup tops the list. Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson simply bring it in the Octagon, and pitting them against one another makes for a fan-friendly affair.
The proposition alone of this being a 25-minute fight should have fans beating down the UFC’s door to make the fight. More so than any Khabib Nurmagomedov fight. Diaz vs. Ferguson is everything fans want in a fight.
Ferguson and Diaz are exactly what each other look for in opponents as well. Neither man backs down or plays it safe. They put on a show. A Diaz-Ferguson fight is what the UFC should be eyeing for their next interim lightweight clash should Conor McGregor not be ready to defend his title.
Make this fight, give the winner some fake gold and prepare the marketing machine for their meeting with McGregor.
Dooho Choi vs. Chan Sung Jung
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This particular matchup may be the least likely to be made of any on the list, but it earns its spot thanks to the violence it brings to the table.
Dooho Choi put on one of the best fights in recent memory with Cub Swanson, and Chan Sung Jung returned with a stellar knockout over Dennis Bermudez. Pitting them against one another brings the Korean MMA scene to the forefront.
Jung is a contender here and now while Choi is one of the brightest prospects. That’s the only real pause in booking the fight from the UFC’s perspective. Oh, and Choi coming off a loss. But projecting through towards the end of the year there is time to make it happen.
“The Korean Zombie” and “The Korean Superboy” make for pure fun. If the UFC heads off to South Korea in the near future this fight should be primed for the main event. But if they hold off there is a decent chance they could make it for the title as neither man is too far off from reaching that glory.
Yair Rodriguez vs. Max Holloway
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Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Speaking of elite featherweights.
Want an amazing fight? Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez is everything you need and desire.
This fight has a very real shot of being made in 2017, and it could be for the UFC featherweight championship. Holloway meets Jose Aldo later this year and a win would make him the undisputed champion of the division with Rodriguez meeting Frankie Edgar in May in a big contender’s bout.
If both win, one could almost expect that fight to be made. If they lose, the fight should be made as well.
Holloway’s unrelenting pressure against Rodriguez’s creativity is a matchup made in MMA heaven.
There may not be a better pure fight that could be made this year. Fingers crossed.
Stipe Miocic/Junior Dos Santos vs. Francis Ngannou
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Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Stipe Miocic, the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, will take on Junior dos Santos at UFC 211. The winner will have challengers lined up, but there is none more enticing than Francis Ngannou.
Ngannou is still relatively green, but even so he is the most interesting fight for whomever the champion may be exiting Dallas. Ngannou is simply a terrifying individual. I mean just look at this video from his Instagram of him hitting pads with his coach. It’s scary.
Even with inexperience the possible title fight is one of the best fights to make because Miocic and JDS are strikers at heart. They aren’t going to go into a fight with Ngannou with a wrestling-heavy gameplan, and even if they should want to grapple Ngannou has shown improvements with his defense.
On the feet, Ngannou vs. Miocic or JDS is the heavyweight fight we are all craving. Towering, hard-hitting, finish-seeking heavyweights going all out for the ultimate glory. That’s what we want and that’s what this matchup provides.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Robbie Lawler
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There are no titles on the line in this one. It’s just an amazing fight to make.
If you don’t want to see Robbie Lawler vs. Jorge Masvidal then I don’t think we can be friends. I’m not even sure if you’re a fan of the sport if you don’t want to see it happen. You may not even be a fan of fun in general.
Lawler and Masvidal are former teammates at American Top Team, but Lawler has exited the camp. Teammates no longer. Their familiarity only adds to the intrigue of the fight. They are aggressive fighters in nature, but the familiarity between them adds an extra layer into this recipe for excitement.
Even with their aggression both men are calculated on the feet, and have a reputable ground game.
Masvidal is slated to fight Demian Maia at UFC 211, and win or lose he should fight Lawler. Forget about the title. Let’s see this. Let’s see well orchestrated violence. Masvidal vs. Lawler is the peak of what MMA can be, and what it will be when we see the fight occur.
Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold
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I’ve spoken about one elite middleweight matchup already, and here’s another. Truthfully, you could mix and match these four contenders and come up with stellar fights. Still, this is the one that truly belongs at the top of the wishlist.
Bisping and GSP are holding things up, and in the meantime we can have a true title eliminator.
Luke Rockhold hasn’t been seen since losing to Bisping, but he remains one of the best talents in the entire sport. Yoel Romero has been staking his claim as one of the best middleweights for some time and after putting Chris Weidman down with a flying knee he put a stamp on being the true top contender.
Any questions about who deserves the fight with the middleweight champion will be answered with this fight.
Romero’s sensational athleticism will face its toughest task to date against Rockhold. The winner could make a claim to being the best middleweight even without holding the UFC strap. It’s a magnificent matchup with massive implications.
There’s only one better fight to make.
Tyron Woodley vs. Conor McGregor
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The top fight the UFC can make is Conor McGregor vs. Tyron Woodley. It’s a harsh truth for anyone who dislikes the bombastic Irishman, or who favors divisional matchups between top contenders.
It’s where compelling storylines and outspoken characters steal the day. They make it interesting, and no one in the UFC today makes things more interesting than McGregor.
Remove the names off of this fight and it looks questionable at best. A lightweight with massive grappling deficiencies against a huge welterweight who specializes in the grind. That’s not going to get your blood pumping. But once you attach the names suddenly it makes a lot of sense and holds a special place in your heart.
This all started before UFC 205. McGregor and Woodley exchanged words backstage (h/t ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto). There’s some history between the two that only adds to the selling point of the fight. Add in that if McGregor wins this bout he becomes the first three-division champ in UFC history and now you’re really cooking.
And it’s not at all far fetched. McGregor is a sizable foe with good power. He can clip Woodley. The possibility alone adds tension to the fight. And Woodley packs even more power in his hands. Dislike McGregor and want to see him flattened? Here may be your chance.
Longtime MMA reporter Jeremy Botter tweeted that there are rumors of this fight circulating. But they are just that — rumors. Dear UFC, let’s turn those rumors into reality. Let’s give McGregor the opportunity to claim a third belt. It’s the story that needs to be told so we can put it all to rest.
It’s the best fight to make for 2017.