Has there ever been a better time to be an MMA fan than right now?
UFC 218 was nothing short of amazing, and that’s a lofty statement after UFC 217 quickly came to be considered the greatest night of fights of all time.
We have been spoiled as combat-sport fans. That’s OK, because we deserve it. The UFC has three more events to close out the year. UFC 219 is the year-end show that is usually held to high standards, and it’s preceded by this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 123 and the UFC on Fox 26 card on Dec. 16. It should be a strong way to close out the year.
Looking ahead to 2018, the UFC has no plans of slowing down. The combat-sports leader is hosting an impressive seven events in the first two months of the new year. Two pay-per-view events and two big Fox cards will comprise four of the seven events, while the other three shows air on Fox Sports 1.
It can be futile to anticipate fights — injuries and other circumstances can derail the scheduled bout long before the fighters take to the cage — but it’s also a favorite pastime. There are a number of highly anticipated fights slated for early 2018, and three in particular jump out. If these combatants stay healthy (knock on wood), we are in for a treat.
The very first event of the new year takes place on Jan. 14. The 124th edition of Fight Night brings us an early front-runner for “Fight of the Year.”
The fight between Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi has all the makings of an instant classic. Both guys have an iron chin and a willingness to engage in fan-friendly fights. Stephens has never looked better, and it will be interesting to see how he can handle a younger challenger. Choi is a dynamic striker who looks to finish in a hurry. As this fight nears, there will no doubt be more buzz. This fight will live up to the hype, too.
The second intriguing fight of the new year pits Calvin Kattar against Shane Burgos.
Not many people expected Kattar to take care of Andre Fili in the manner he did en route to a unanimous decision. Kattar is still a bit of an unknown, but if his UFC debut was any indication, he will be a handful for any featherweight. At 10-0, Burgos is starting to generate some buzz as well. He is a three-fight UFC veteran and has looked better with each performance. Burgos might just shake things up for the 145-pounders.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the tentative heavyweight title fight between Francis Ngannou and current champion Stipe Miocic. This bout will be the most important fight in the history of the heavyweight division.
Ngannou has the broad shoulders the UFC desperately needs as the face of the promotion. “The Predator” has already relocated to Las Vegas and essentially lives at the UFC training center. He is the handpicked fighter to lead the UFC in the post-Jon Jones era.
We all got to witness the unbelievable power behind Ngannou’s punches last weekend when he separated Alistair Overeem from consciousness (and almost separated the kickboxer’s head from his body). With one off-balance uppercut, ‘Ngannou has made the big guys a big deal again.
Miocic, the reigning and defending heavyweight champion, might have something to say about crowning Ngannou the next big thing too soon. It looks like we might see this fight on the UFC 220 card on Jan. 20 in Boston, assuming Miocic and the UFC figure out his contract.
The UFC is closing out 2017 on a high, but UFC 218 is looking just as good. Now, back to anxiously waiting for these fights.