The Ultimate Fighter
How do you follow up an excellent month that featured four quality events that produced three successful title defenses, a handful of critical victories for championship contenders and a number of breakout efforts and impressive finishes?
You roll out for more events on three continents featuring three title fights, a collection of pivotal pairings for championship hopefuls and a smattering of bouts starring emerging “you’ve got to keep your eye on this person” competitors who could very well be in the thick of the title chase by this time next year.
The flight plan is Newark to Montevideo to Anaheim to Shenzhen and at all four stops, the action is sure to be electric.
Here’s a look at the matchups that really pique my interest this month.
This is The 10.
UFC Newark: Covington vs. Lawler — Saturday, August 3
Colby Covington vs. Robbie Lawler
UFC Newark: Covington vs Lawler Preview
UFC Newark: Covington vs Lawler Preview
Even in a vacuum, this would be a great fight, but what makes it truly compelling is that there are so many layers to it.
For starters, Covington has a chance to put himself at the top of the list of contenders in the welterweight division if he can extend his winning streak to seven by beating the former undisputed champion. Current champ Kamaru Usman has talked about wanting to fight Covington and if “Chaos” can secure the victory, it could very well come together.
Secondly, these two used to train together at American Top Team and to no one’s surprise, Covington has had plenty to say about it. Lawler hasn’t responded because that’s not his style, but you can be sure that after Covington barks at him throughout fight week, Lawler will be looking to deliver an emphatic response inside the Octagon this weekend.
Lastly, this is just an outstanding clash of styles between one of the better grinders in the game today and a veteran striker who has always had tremendous takedown defense. As simple as it always sounds, this one is going to hinge on Covington’s ability to neutralize Lawler’s striking by taking him down or at least stalling him along the fence for long stretches and avoiding the hellfire missiles that will be coming his way whenever they’re in space.
The welterweight division is loaded at the moment and the outcome of this one will go a long way towards helping clear things up at the top of the 170-pound weight class.
UFC Uruguay: Shevchenko vs. Carmouche 2 — Saturday, August 10
Vicente Luque vs. Mike Perry
Exhibit B in the “welterweight is loaded at the moment” presentation is this gem stationed as the co-main event of the UFC’s first journey to Uruguay.
Luque has taken up the role as the most underrated, unheralded impending contender in the division, replacing Leon Edwards, whom, incidentally, is the only man to beat the Brazilian finisher in his last 10 outings. The 27-year-old has won five straight, all by stoppage, and has gone 9-1 — still all stoppages — since losing his promotional debut, including victories over Belal Muhammad, Niko Price and Bryan Barberena.
As for Perry, the Florida-based fan favorite got back into the win column earlier this year with a hometown victory over Alex Oliveira where he showed greater patience and Fight IQ. Still just 2-3 over his last five, “Platinum” is the kind of popular figure who could vault into the title mix with the right win, and beating Luque could very well be that kind of victory.
Given their collective approaches and track records, there is a very real chance this one ends inside the distance.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Liz Carmouche for the UFC women’s flyweight title
This one came together rather quickly, but makes a great deal of sense and fits as a fantastic main event for the company’s debut in Uruguay.
Carmouche was the first fighter to defeat Shevchenko, ending her seven-fight winning streak to begin her career with a technical knockout victory due to a doctor’s stoppage in September 2010. The first woman to ever challenge for UFC gold, the 35-year-old veteran rebounded from a split decision loss in her divisional debut to grind out a pair of unanimous decision wins to put herself in a position to answer the call to challenge for championship gold once again.
But it was Shevchenko’s rapid win over Jessica Eye at UFC 238 that made this fight possible, as “Bullet” ended things 26-seconds into the second round and emerged unscathed, ready to get right back in the cage. Fluent in Spanish and with South American ties, it made sense to give her a chance to avenge the first loss of her career and make a major splash in a new market by closing out the show with a compelling championship clash.
UFC 241: Cormier vs. Miocic 2 — Saturday, August 17
Raphael Assuncao vs. Cory Sandhagen
Here’s how good the bantamweight division is right now: Sandhagen has gone 4-0 with three finishes and is coming off a decision win over former contender John Lineker and is stationed at No. 9 in the rankings.
He’s won six straight overall, has proven himself to be a madman inside the Octagon and yet there are still eight fighters ahead of him in the championship queue, all of them deservingly, I might add.
One of the guys higher up in the divisional hierarchy than him is Assuncao, who has an 11-2 mark since moving to the 135-pound ranks, but enters off a first-round submission loss to Marlon Moraes in their rematch earlier this year. The Georgia-based veteran has been a perennial bridesmaid at bantamweight over the last three or four years, always getting mentioned as one of the top talents, but never getting a shot to challenge for gold.
While each man would probably need one more quality win after this one in order to get the opportunity to fight for the title — seriously, that’s how stacked this division is right now — a big effort from either one here will certainly shake things up at the top of the rankings.
Derek Brunson vs. Ian Heinisch
Heinisch earned his UFC contract 366 days ago on July 31, 2018.
Since then, the Contender Series grad has posted a short-notice win over Cezar Ferreira and halted the five-fight winning streak of submission ace Antonio Carlos Junior. The Factory X Muay Thai product has displayed excellent conditioning and a well-rounded skill set in working his way through a pair of more experienced, savvy veterans on his way to breaking into the Top 15.
Now he’s paired off with Brunson, a divisional stalwart who has only lost to elite competition and is coming into the fight off a victory over Elias Theodorou. A powerful striker with a herky-jerky style and quality wrestling chops in his back pocket just in case he needs them, the North Carolina native has settled into a role as the UFC equivalent of the doorman outside the VIP section — if you want to establish yourself as a contender, you’ve got to get through him.
One of two scintillating middleweight contests on this card, this one doesn’t carry the potential championship implications of the other bout, but will undeniably have an impact on the Top 10 heading into the 2019 home stretch.
Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa
First discussed as a potential addition to the lineup at UFC 230 last November in New York City, Romero and Costa will finally get the opportunity to settle their differences inside the Octagon in the middle of the UFC 241 pay-per-view main card.
Romero hasn’t fought since his second meeting with current champ Robert Whittaker, as the injuries he suffered in that contest have taken longer to heal than anticipated. “The Reaper” remains the only person to defeat the Cuban superman inside the Octagon and despite being 42 years old, Romero has never shown any signs of his age impeding his abilities inside the cage, though it will be interesting to see how a year away impacts that, if at all.
Costa has been out for just over a year as well, having last fought at UFC 226, where he scored a second-round stoppage win over Uriah Hall. The hulking Brazilian still hasn’t been beaten through a dozen starts and still hasn’t seen the third round, with his fight against Hall being the longest of his career.
There is a bunch happening at the top of the middleweight division right now, but this fight will absolutely have an impact on how things line up for the elite talents in the 185-pound weight class at the tail end of this year and into 2020.
Anthony Pettis vs. Nathan Diaz
You know this one is going to be fun.
I know I don’t need to sell you on this fight, but how boring would this piece be if I just listed the coolest, most exciting fights and simply said, “You get it” and left it at that?
Something has changed in Pettis over his last three outings — he’s back being the flowing, unconventional fighter he was during his rise to the top of the lightweight division and while the results haven’t always gone his way, he’s back to being one of the most exciting, unpredictable fighters on the roster. Last time out, he was stationed on the wrong end of things against Stephen Thompson right up until he clocked “Wonderboy” with a beautiful Superman punch that closed the show and gave him a win in his UFC welterweight debut.
Now he’ll welcome Diaz back from his three-year sabbatical in a grudge match that could go so many different ways that it’s impossible to list them all.
The younger half of the Diaz Brothers hasn’t competed since landing on the wrong side of a majority decision in his rematch with Conor McGregor, but he remains one of the most popular competitors in the sport. At his best, Diaz is a pressure fighter who drowns you with volume and makes you pay for trying to roll with him on the ground, but he’s also been prone to periods of disinterest where his best is nowhere to be found.
These two aren’t particularly fond of each other and there should be major opportunities on the horizon for the winner, so expect to see the best version of both men when this one hits the cage inside the Honda Center midway through the month.
Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title
UFC 241: Cormier vs Miocic 2 - A Historic Rematch
UFC 241: Cormier vs Miocic 2 - A Historic Rematch
The second they put a microphone in front of Miocic following his loss to Cormier during International Fight Week last year, the dethroned heavyweight champion plainly stated his desire for a rematch and his willingness to sit out until it came together. Now, 406 days after their first meeting, Miocic will get his chance to reclaim the title he successfully defended more times than any other man in UFC history.
For Cormier, this is his first bout since defeating Derrick Lewis last November at UFC 230 and a chance to further cement his legacy as one of the greatest fighters of all-time. Undefeated in his career at heavyweight, “DC” has made it clear that he’s not sticking around much longer and adding a second victory over Miocic would put him in the mix as one of the best heavyweights in MMA history.
The appeal of this one is obvious — if you’re Team Miocic, you’re suggesting that Cormier “got lucky” and things will be different the second time around, and if you’re Team Cormier, it’s all about proving the results won’t change in the rematch — and regardless of how it plays out, there should be some pretty exciting matchups on tap for the heavyweight elites towards the end of the year.
UFC Shenzhen: Andrade vs. Zhang — Saturday, August 24
Li Jingliang vs. Elizeu Dos Santos
Every month, I add at least one fight that might not make the cut if someone else were penning this piece, yet stands out to me as a can’t-miss contest.
This is that fight for August.
If Vicente Luque weren’t around to inherit the title as the most underrated, unheralded emerging contender in the welterweight division from Leon Edwards, “Capoeira” could have just as easily stepped up and taken the crown because the Brazilian enters this one on a seven-fight winning streak. The last three have all been finishes, including two highlight reel attacks and a submission win over Curtis Millender, a guy plenty of people were talking up ahead of that contest.
In order to secure his eighth straight victory, he’s going on the road to take on Jingliang in his home country.
It has taken some time, but “The Leech” has started to morph into the dangerous potential contender many forecasted him to become when he first arrived in the UFC five years ago. He’s won six of his last seven and enters this one off a blistering finish of David Zawada last time out. If he’s able to halt Dos Santos’ run of success, Jingliang could find himself in the Top 15 heading into September.
Jessica Andrade vs. Weili Zhang for the UFC women’s strawweight title
Just as getting Shevchenko and Carmouche to headline Montevideo was a bit of fortuitous timing, so too was the opportunity to pair Andrade and Zhang together in a battle for the strawweight title as the company makes its debut in Shenhzen.
Andrade won the belt in dramatic fashion back in the spring, elevating Rose Namajunas into the air and slamming her to the canvas with a thud to instantly halt their headlining bout at UFC 237. It was another reminder of the unique brand of power “Bate Estaca” brings to the division and lifted her record to 7-1 since moving down from bantamweight.
Zhang has won 19 straight overall, including all three of her Octagon appearances to date. After submitting Jessica Aguilar last November, the surging challenger made a hasty return to the cage and outworked divisional stalwart Tecia Torres in March, establishing herself as one to watch in the 115-pound ranks.
But when top contender Tatiana Suarez came out of her last fight dealing with some injuries, Zhang quickly emerged as the top available contender and an intriguing challenger for the newly-minted champion, who follows Namajunas’ lead and will defend her title on the road after getting a home game of her own last time out.