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The 10: The Top Fights of January

 
Here’s how ridiculous the first month of 2015 is inside the Octagon: one event is already in the books – an event that boasted arguably the best fight of the month and a handful of additional quality matchups – and yet there are still enough standout contests left on the calendar to bring you this edition of The 10.

Over the next month, title challengers will be determined, grudges will be settled and the greatest of all-time will return to action against a mercurial talent also making his first appearance in quite some time – and that’s just the slate for UFC 183.

Check out what is still on deck for the month ahead.

(Note: fights are listed in order, not ranked.)

UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Siver (Sunday, January 18 in Boston, Massachusetts)
“Cowboy” rides again!

Fresh off his victory over Myles Jury at UFC 182 on Saturday, Cerrone is stepping up on less than two weeks’ notice to fill in for Eddie Alvarez opposite Henderson in the co-main event in Boston. A lot of people say, “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime,” but the surging Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter really does live by that mantra.

This is more than just a “Look at Cowboy stepping up” story though, as these two fought twice under the WEC banner and have always talked about crossing paths in the Octagon at some point. Their first bout in October 2009 was one of the best fights of that year, with Henderson earning a unanimous decision victory to claim the interim WEC lightweight title. While “Smooth” would win the second meeting six months later in under two minutes, the lightweight standouts meet for a third time headed in opposite directions.

While Cerrone enters on a six-fight winning streak, Henderson is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos and has slipped to No. 5 in the rankings. Not only is this a jolt of electricity that adds further intrigue to next week’s fight card, but it’s a pivotal contest that will go a long way in determining where these long-time rivals stand in the treacherous 155-pound ranks as 2015 gets underway.

Conor McGregor vs. Dennis Siver

After headlining one of the most electric fight cards of the year in Dublin and dispatching Dustin Poirier in the first round at UFC 178 (as he predicted he would), McGregor’s star continues to rise and returning to Boston and a main event assignment on Fox Sports 1 could propel “The Notorious” to even greater heights.

With Jose Aldo having successfully defended his title against Chad Mendes at the end of October and Frankie Edgar bringing Cub Swanson’s hot streak to a halt a month later, McGregor is likely a win away from fighting for the featherweight title. He’s captured the audience’s attention like no other in recent years and backed up his every word inside the cage, picking up three bonuses in four fights while climbing to No. 5 in the rankings.

Standing between McGregor and a championship showdown with Aldo is the veteran Siver, a former lightweight contender who has found comparable success since moving to featherweight five fights ago. Last time out, the man with a deadly arsenal of spinning attacks picked up Fight of the Night honors for his unanimous decision win over Charles Rosa and he’d like nothing more than to derail McGregor’s championship dreams in Boston.

UFC on FOX: Gustafsson vs. Johnson (Saturday, January 24 in Stockholm, Sweden)
Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader

People tend to forget that Davis has only lost twice in his career – once to Rashad Evans three years ago and last year to the returning Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, who you’ll hear more about in a couple paragraphs. But “Mr. Wonderful” is very much a contender in the light heavyweight division and he enters 2015 with a chance to solidify that standing here.

Bader returned to his wrestling roots in 2014 and picked up a pair of unanimous decision victories, the first against Rafael Cavalcante at UFC 174 in Vancouver, and then two months later opposite Ovince Saint Preux in Bangor, Maine. The former TUF winner has now won three straight to put himself within range of the Top 5 and a win over Davis would certainly help his case.

Things are starting to heat up in the 205-pound ranks and the winner of this one will very much be “in the mix” going forward.
Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi

If Eddie Alvarez thinks he’s had a tough go of things since joining the UFC ranks, he should give Gegard Mousasi a call.

Last year, the former Strikeforce titleholder shared the cage with Lyoto Machida, Mark Munoz and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Had it not been for a late opponent change in his debut, Mousasi would have kicked off his UFC career opposite Alexander Gustafsson, giving him quite the daunting quartet of challenges to start off with.

Things don’t get any easier either, as he welcomes Dan Henderson back to the middleweight ranks in an effort to rebound from his loss to Souza in September.

Henderson’s last appearance in the Octagon as a middleweight came all the way back at UFC 100, when he put Michael Bisping in the pre-main card montage set to The Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley.” With just a single win in his last five outings, the 44-year-old veteran is out to see if he can make one more run at the title before calling it a career. If he can turn back Mousasi, Henderson could become an interesting returning addition to the 185-pound weight class.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson
Stripped of all championship implications and “what comes next” pretenses, this is still a tremendous fight.

Gustafsson had a tough 2014. He picked up a win over Jimi Manuwa in March that was supposed to secure him a rematch with Jon Jones, but an injury opened the door for Daniel Cormier and “The Mauler” was left on the outside looking in. The rangy Swede showed in his UFC 165 classic with Jones that he’s an elite competitor, and with another crack at the title likely hanging in the balance here, Gustafsson could very well turn in a similar performance in this one.

In contrast to his opponent, Johnson had a great year last year, returning to the UFC and picking up a pair of impressive victories against Phil Davis and Rogerio Nogueira to establish himself as a legitimate title threat in the light heavyweight division. After years of struggling to make weight and only showing flashes of brilliance, “Rumble” is competing in the correct division and putting his complete – and completely scary – arsenal of skills on full display.

And now that Jon Jones has successfully defended the light heavyweight title, the stakes in this one are raised a little more as the winner of this is sure to be next in line to face “Bones” in hopes of claiming the belt he retained at UFC 182.

UFC 183: Silva vs. Diaz (Saturday, January 31 in Las Vegas, Nevada)
Jordan Mein vs. Thiago Alves

Originally scheduled to take place back in August, the Canadian finisher and the Brazilian former title challenger will finally share the Octagon together at the end of the month in Las Vegas.

After more than two years on the sidelines that included multiple surgeries, Alves returned to action in April with a unanimous decision win over Seth Baczynski. He looked like the same fighter that picked up seven consecutive victories to position himself opposite Georges St-Pierre at UFC 100, chopping at the TUF alum with his patented powerful Muay Thai.

Unfortunately, another injury pushed him from the bout in August, but that didn’t seem to affect Mein, who ultimately ended up facing and finishing veteran Mike Pyle that night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just 25 years old, the Lethbridge, Alberta native already has 29 wins and 38 fights under his belt with just a pair of losses in the last four years – one to Matt Brown, the other to Tyron Woodley.

The welterweight division is in a state of flux with Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks trading the title in 2014, and the winner of this one will put themselves in a position to play a role in how things shake out in 2015.
Joe Lauzon vs. Al Iaquinta

Fresh off a second-round knockout win over Ross Pearson, Serra-Longo Fight Team member and former Ultimate Fighter finalist Iaquinta jumps right back into the Octagon for the next in what is sure to be a string of “biggest fight of his career” contests against the veteran Lauzon.

This is the right matchup at the right time for the Long Island native, who went 3-1 in 2014 and has shown major improvements in his striking over his last two outings. This is the type of fight Iaquinta needs to win in order to show he belongs in the Top 15 in the treacherous lightweight division.

For Lauzon, who enters off a second-round stoppage win over the man that beat Iaquinta in the TUF 15 Finale, Michael Chiesa, it’s an opportunity to halt the momentum of an up-and-coming talent and show that despite being one of the longest tenured members of the 155-pound ranks, he’s still got some new tricks up his sleeve and making a run of his own is at the top of his list of things to do in 2015.
Ian McCall vs. John Lineker

This was an anticipated flyweight contest when it was first booked as the co-main event of November’s UFC Fight Night event in Uberlandia, Brazil and the rivalry has become even more heated after McCall was forced out of that assignment at the 11th hour with a viral infection.

Following an 0-2-1 start to his UFC career, “Uncle Creepy” has looked strong in picking up back-to-back wins over Iliarde Santos and Brad Pickett, showcasing the in-and-out striking and slick takedown game that made him one of the top flyweights in the world when he was first signed.

Lineker had his four-fight winning streak snapped at the start of the year by Ali Bagautinov, but rebounded with a third-round finish of Alptekin Ozkilic in July. Perhaps more importantly, the heavy-handed Brazilian successfully made weight for the second consecutive contest, hopefully putting his issues with the scale behind him for good.

The winner of this one could very well be next in line to challenge for the flyweight title – champion Demetrious Johnson has dominated the competition so far and doesn’t have an opponent lined up for his next defense, so a strong showing from either party could put them on the short list of candidates to face “Mighty Mouse” later in the year.
Miesha Tate vs. Sara McMann

What’s not to like about a matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3-ranked fighters in the women’s bantamweight division?

Tate went 2-0 in 2014, picking up consecutive victories over Liz Carmouche and Rin Nikai to rebound from a 2013 campaign that saw her go 0-2 with losses to Cat Zingano and Ronda Rousey. Now based out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, “Cupcake” remains in the title hunt and would certainly like another shot at Rousey and the belt, but she’s not the only one in this fight with designs on a championship rematch.

After suffering the first loss of her career to Rousey in the main event of UFC 170, McMann got back into the win column with a hard-fought, gritty victory over former Invicta FC champ Lauren Murphy in August. The Olympic silver medalist admitted prior to the fight with Murphy that she’s a vengeful person and it appears that Tate could be all that stands between her and vengeance.

This is a tremendous contest, both stylistically and in terms of the championship picture, and it’s only the middle fight of the main card. 
Tyron Woodley vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Here’s Exhibit B in the “welterweight in a stake of flux” case presented earlier.

In less than two years, Gastelum has gone from being the slightly doughy second to last pick on Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter to having won the show and four subsequent bouts in the 170-pound weight class and then rocket into contention and stand as one of the best emerging talents in the UFC today. Fresh off a first-round submission win over Jake Ellenberger, the 23-year-old from Yuma, Arizona can earn himself a place in the Top 5 with a win here.

Woodley had an up and down (and up again) year in 2014, climbing into contention with a second-round TKO win over Carlos Condit at UFC 170 before locking up and failing to pull the trigger three months later against Rory MacDonald at UFC 174. But he closed out his year by sleeping Dong Hyun Kim in 61 seconds in August and he can get right back into the title conversation by handing Gastelum the first loss of his professional career.
Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz

This dream fight is finally going to be a reality.

Returning for the first time since losing to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158, Diaz gets the big fight he was looking for – a chance to test his skills against one of the best to ever do it in the sport. It’s just his third appearance in roughly three years, but there should be no concerns about Diaz’ condition or mindset as you can be sure that the Stockton, California native will be keyed up for this one.

There are, however, questions about Silva’s health, as UFC 183 marks his return from the leg injury that brought his rematch with Chris Weidman at UFC 168 to a screaming halt in December 2013. “The Spider” made it clear soon after the injury that he wanted to return and a meeting with Diaz is not only a dream booking come true for hardcore fans, but also a litmus test for the former middleweight champion as he looks to return to the win column.

Additionally, can you image how awesome it is going to be seeing one of the greatest showmen in the history of the sport share the cage with the most prolific trash talker to ever step into the Octagon? That back-and-forth alone will be worth the price of admission.


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