.After a very eventful 2015, the UFC will need to keep the high going as 2016 kicks off this weekend. UFC 195 will be the first event of the year and promises to keep the excitement going with a great set of main card fights. In terms of potential, the rest of 2016 could be great. Not only will Anderson Silva and Dominick Cruz make their returns, but the UFC will make their way to Madison Square Garden later in the year. Last but certainly not least, UFC 200 will be nothing short of a spectacle and it will unfold on July 2 in Las Vegas.
The UFC already has several great fights booked for 2016 and they should be a doozy. Including Robbie Lawler’s title defense against Carlos Condit tonight, the UFC has two more title fights booked in the coming four weeks. Within a month, TJ Dillashaw and Fabricio Werdum will be defending their bantamweight and heavyweight titles, respectively. Needless to say, 2016 looks incredibly promising for UFC fans despite an unforgettable second half in 2015.
The Big 10…So Far
10) Gegard Mousasi vs. Thales Leites – UFC Fight Pass London
For old school fans, Leites is a big name. He was one of the early Brazilians in the new era UFC and fought Silva for the UFC middleweight belt at UFC 97. His only losses are against top level talent and he has never been finished in the UFC. Mousasi was relatively in the same boat before losing to Uriah Hall via knockout last September. He had never been TKO/KO and was finished only once in the UFC by submission against Jacare Souza.
Both fighters are impeccable competitors and always bring a good fight. Ranked in the top 10 of the UFC middleweight divsion, both fighters are looking for a championship run before hanging them up. Their experience alone makes it an interesting bout and they both have the skill to finish in any fashion. If this goes to a decision, expect a close fight between Mousasi and Leites.
9) Johny Hendricks vs. Stephen Thompson – UFC 196
In the most stacked division in the UFC, Hendricks and Thompson will be looking to enter title contention with a win in February. Hendricks is coming off a win over Matt Brown after losing the title to Lawler. He was in three straight title fights before the loss and will be taking on a very good striker in Thompson.
‘Wonderboy’ is currently on a five fight win streak and another big win should shoot him up the welterweight ladder indefinitely. He has two Performance of the Night bonuses and looks more than ready for the division’s best. There are several fighters vying for a title shot in the welterweight division which should set up a great number one contender fight later in 2016.
With both fighters ready brawl, this should be a great co-main event for UFC 196.
8) Sage Northcutt vs. Andrew Holbrook – UFC on FOX 18 – Newark
Outside the big names and title fights, Northcutt is one of the most followed fighters in the UFC and continues to marvel fans both with his charm and abilities. While some believe his previous fights were against lower-end opponents, Holbrook will be his toughest test yet. He has a solid all-around game and is also undefeated at 11-0. He won his UFC debut via split decision against veteran Ramsey Nijem, a previous finalist on the Ultimate Fighter.
Despite Northcutt’s 2-0 UFC record, the UFC is clearly taking their time with the prized prospect and it could be a while before we seem him on a pay-per-view card. Nevertheless, the sky is the limit for Northcutt and a third straight win will make him the fighter to watch in 2016.
7) Donald Cerrone vs. Tim Means – UFC on FOX Sports 1
For true fight fans, there is incredible excitement surrounding this bout. Cerrone is a massive fan favorite and has decided to move up to the welterweight division after losing to Rafael Dos Anjos for the UFC lightweight title. The third ranked lightweight in the UFC will take on the unranked Means, another fighter who loves to bang and will not shy away from a stand up war. Means is coming off a Performance of the Night victory over John Howard and has only lost to Matt Brown in his last five fights.
In terms of title implications, there are none. In terms of excitement, it is headlining the UFC Fight Night Pittsburgh for good reason. Cerrone and Means have been knocked out a combined three times in 68 professional fights. They both land at an approximate average of four strikes per minute and should provide a memorable battle for MMA fans.
6) Stipe Miocic vs. Andrei Arlovski – UFC 195
Once the dust settles between Werdum and Cain Velasquez, the winner of this fight is most certainly in line for a title shot. At the top of the ladder, almost every fighter has had a chance at the belt, and these fresh faces are adding excitement to the heavyweight division once again.
Both fighters love to strike but Miocic wins the chin battle. In terms of power, both fighters can bang with the best. Arlovski is exactly what his nickname implies, a pit bull, and he proved that against Travis Browne. He went on to beat Frank Mir via unanimous decision last September which earned him a number one contender fight against Miocic.
With the hype surrounding both fighters, this bout has all the makings of a classic heavyweight battle and should set the tone for the division in 2016.
5) Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez – UFC Fight Night TSN 5
Co-headlining the Boston card, Pettis and Alvarez are both exciting fighters and have something to prove going into this fight. While Alvarez will be chasing a title shot against Dos Anjos, Pettis is hoping to get back to the top after losing his belt last March.
His absence was extended due to injury but Pettis will surely bring his unpredictable and exciting style to the octagon. Alvarez is coming off his first UFC win and arguably the biggest victory of his career. Beating Gilbert Melendez not only projected him into title contention but got him a number one contender fight against the previous champion. Expect both these fighters to bring the pain with the winner getting a well-deserved chance at Dos Anjos.
4) Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping – UFC Fight Pass London
With Europe at an all-time high of excitement after the Conor McGregor show, London will be welcoming Silva and Bisping after long hiatuses. Silva will be returning after a year away from the sport after testing positive for multiple substances after his fight against Nick Diaz. Bisping, on the other hand, is coming off two straight wins against CB Dollaway and Thales Leites after losing to current champion Luke Rockhold.
Bisping has a history of losing the important fights and should have fought Silva back in his prime. While Silva is now far from the best fighter in the sport, he and Bisping should provide a great striking battle which could make for an exciting knockout. Both fighters are huge fan favorites and the ‘unranked’ Silva will hope to get back to his winning ways against the 10th ranked UFC middleweight in Bisping.
3) Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez – UFC 196
When was the last time the heavyweight division felt this exciting? After Velasquez dominated Junior Dos Santos for two straight fights, the division looked pretty weak at the time. However, after going on a four fight win streak against some of the division’s best, Werdum earned himself a shot at the champ and fought Mark Hunt for the interim heavyweight title. Winning that fight in decisive fashion, Werdum went on to dominate Velasquez in Mexico to unify the UFC heavyweight belt.
As we approach the second fight, Velasquez looks determined to regain his title. He has only lost in championship fights and seems to come back with a vengeance. There were criticisms of the altitude change in the first bout but Velasquez will surely have the endurance to go five rounds in Las Vegas. With that said, second win for Werdum will certainly put a stamp on the UFC heavyweight division.
2) TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz – UFC Fight Night TSN 5
Where to start. Both fighters have been very open about their feelings towards each other and there is plenty of excitement heading into this fight. Dillashaw has been compared to Cruz on a number of occasions due their fighting styles. Cutting the angles with footwork and using unpredictable strikes was patented by the 20-1 fighter. However, Dillashaw feels differently and understandably so. He is the defending champion and has proven his abilities in the octagon. He is heading into his fourth title fight and it will be his toughest test yet as he looks for his third title defense in a row.
Given how close both fighters are in terms of style, the added drama leading up to the bout has made it one of the most anticipated fights in 2016. Not to mention, with Urijah Faber being Cruz’s biggest rival ever, there is an added touch of nostalgia for long time fight fans after the Dillashaw-Alpha Male saga.
Maybe the ‘California Kid’ could fight the winner? One can dream.
1) Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit – UFC 195
After Lawler’s last fight, there is no doubt he deserves the number one spot. Both fighters are elite strikers and have incredibly strong chins. In terms of gameplan, Condit has always had weak takedown defense against the top wrestlers and there is a chance Lawler takes this to the ground. On the other hand, Lawler has never shied away from a stand up battle and tonight should be no different. In fact, one could argue he excels at it given his recent success as a technical brawler.
Condit is coming off his first win since coming back from a knee injury and will be fighting for the undisputed championship for a second time. Losing his interim title to Georges St. Pierre, Condit will look to get back to the top of the UFC welterweight division. He has heart for days and is absolutely fearless in the octagon. With that said, this has all the makings of a five round war and should be the fight to beat for the rest of 2016.