This year has been one of those years that feel like it has both flown by and taken forever, if that makes sense to anyone else.
On one hand, so much has happened since the 2019 campaign kicked off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York with Henry Cejudo successfully defending the flyweight title, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jorge Masvidal started his incredible year by knocking out Darren Till and serving up the infamous “three piece and a soda” backstage in London either.
Regardless of where you stand on how quickly the year has progressed, we’ve arrived at the final month of 2019 and the slate for December is absolutely stacked. The whole of this column could be comprised solely of the UFC 245 lineup, but the reality is that would mean overlooking a bunch of outstanding fights that will take place before and after the final pay-per-view of the year.
It’s been an outstanding year overall and December should produce a fantastic final chapter.
Here’s a look at the fights that pique my interest the most in the month ahead.
This is The 10.
Cody Stamann vs. Song Yadong
There have been a number of “are they ready for prime time” pairings this year and this bantamweight clash ranks amongst the best of the bunch, as Stamann is the kind of grimy, experienced, talented fighter who should push the ultra-talented upstart Song.
A knee injury kept the Chinese prospect sidelined until July, but Song showed no signs of rust in his return at UFC 239, needing just a touch over two minutes to ice Alejandro Perez and secure the biggest win of his career. He turns 22 a couple days before this event and a win over Stamann would cement him as one of the top young stars on the roster, if he’s not already.
Grand Valley State University alum Stamann is one of the more underappreciated talents in the 135-pound ranks, boasting an 18-2 record with wins over Perez, Bryan Caraway and Tom Duquesnoy. He’s a solid wrestler who plays to his strengths and usually finds a way to keep things close, so it will be interesting to see if he can shut down the dynamic, free-flowing offense of Song in this one.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Cynthia Calvillo
This is an outstanding fight that carries title chase implications in the strawweight division.
Rodriguez is one of the best kept secrets in the UFC — an undefeated Muay Thai stylist who has posted back-to-back wins over Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar after battling Randa Markos to a draw in her promotional debut. The 30-year-old Brazilian stepped up to replace the injured Claudia Gadelha in this one and could vault herself into the thick of the chase with a dominant showing here.
Two years ago, Calvillo was racing through her first year on the roster and climbing the rankings before she dropped a unanimous decision to former champ Carla Esparza. Since then, the Californian has bounced back with a pair of victories, showing continued development in her striking to compliment her already strong scrambling game.
Stationed at 9 and 10, respectively, in the rankings, the winner of this one should position herself for a prime time matchup to start their 2020 campaign.
Alistair Overeem vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Could we see a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division in Washington when the surging Rozenstruik steps in on short notice to take on Overeem, one of the most decorated fighters in the division?
It has already been an incredible year for the 31-year-old kickboxer from Suriname, as Rozenstruik has posted a trio of stoppage wins to establish himself as one of the top newcomers of 2019. His last two fights have lasted a combined 38 seconds and if “Bigi Boy” can push his unbeaten streak to double digits with a win in this one, there won’t be many people eager to share the Octagon with him next year.
Overeem has dialed back his activity in recent years, but he’s clearly still a threat as his consecutive first-round stoppage wins over Sergei Pavlovich and Aleksei Oleinik illustrate. The Dutch superstar currently resides just outside the Top 5, but stopping Rozenstruik’s impressive run of success could be just what he needs to return to that exclusive group and kick start one more run at the heavyweight title.
Petr Yan vs. Urijah Faber
This is a perfect fight for both guys, so kudos to the matchmakers for putting it together and props to both men for signing on the dotted line.
Yan has been as good as advertised since arriving in the UFC in the summer of 2018, winning five straight to climb into contention in the talent-rich bantamweight division. He outworked John Dodson in February and did the same to Jimmie Rivera at UFC 238 in Chicago, but doesn’t yet have the kind of marquee victory that is going to vault him to the front of the queue of contenders in such a loaded weight class.
Beating Faber would certainly do the trick, but that’s easier said than done, as the 40-year-old “California Kid” ended his 31-month retirement with a first-round stoppage win over Ricky Simon in July to put himself back into the mix in the 135-pound ranks. The proud new father has still only lost to elite competition and showed he’s still sharp by finishing Simon, so while Yan is running hot, he will need to be careful against the crafty veteran from Sacramento.
Marlon Moraes vs. Jose Aldo
Up until a couple months ago, this was one of those fights you could only make on EA Sports UFC 3. Now, it’s an ultra-compelling reality and one of several incredible fights slated for the UFC 245 main card.
Moraes cemented his place as the No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division with a first-round submission win over Raphael Assuncao in February, but came up short in his bid to claim the vacant title in June, losing to Henry Cejudo. The New Jersey-based Brazilian is a fast starter with punishing kicks and an opportunistic submission game, and after getting out to an early lead and then faltering at UFC 238, you can be sure Moraes has been chomping at the bit to get back to work and back into the win column.
Aldo picked up a stoppage win of his own on the same card where Moraes tapped Assuncao, but followed it up with a flat performance in a loss against Alexander Volkanovski three months later. While this move to bantamweight caught many by surprise, he’s looked to be in great shape in the lead-up to this bout, and if relocating lights a fire in the former featherweight titleholder, the 135-pound weight class could be even more exciting and intriguing in 2020.
Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie for the UFC women’s bantamweight title
Nunes heads into this one looking to continue her historic run of success, while the criminally underappreciated de Randamie looks to join her as only the second woman to hold UFC titles in two weight classes.
The defending champion has earned nine consecutive victories during her ascent to being recognized as the greatest female fighter of all-time, a run that includes back-to-back first-round finishes of Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm. Nunes has worked hard to shore up any previous shortcomings in her game and fights with a ferocity and power that is unmatched in the women’s ranks.
The challenger hasn’t lost since these two first met all the way back in November 2013. Since then, “The Iron Lady” has collected five straight victories, capped by her blistering stoppage win over Aspen Ladd in July. A decorated kickboxer, de Randamie has a slight height and reach advantage and might be the only competitor in either the bantamweight or featherweight division capable of going toe-to-toe with Nunes.
Expect these women to come out of the gate quickly and this one to be electric for as long as it lasts.
Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski for the UFC featherweight title
It wouldn’t be December in the UFC without an appearance from Holloway, who looks to extend his featherweight winning streak to 15 with his fourth successful title defense as he takes on the streaking Australian challenger Volkanovski in the UFC 245 co-main event.
“Blessed” has picked up a December victory each of the last four years, including winning the interim featherweight title, unifying the belts with a second victory over Jose Aldo and last year’s trouncing of Brian Ortega. After faltering in his bid to claim the interim lightweight title against Dustin Poirier in April, the Hawaiian standout returned to his natural weight class and crafted another dominant effort in July, turning back Frankie Edgar in Edmonton.
All Volkanovski has done since arriving in the UFC is post seven consecutive victories while continuously taking another step up in competition. After closing out last year with a second-round stoppage win over Chad Mendes, he outworked Aldo in Rio de Janeiro in May to cement his place as the top contender in the 145-pound weight class and now he gets the opportunity to try and halt Holloway’s six-year run of success within the division.
Will “The Blessed Era” continue or will Volkanovski bring a belt home to Australia?
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington for the UFC welterweight title
These two have been on a collision course for a couple years now and it will finally come to a head at T-Mobile Arena.
Usman has won 14 straight overall and is a perfect 10-0 inside the Octagon, pushing his winning streak to double digits with a masterful performance in his title-winning victory over Tyron Woodley in March. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has outstanding conditioning, suffocating top control and enough pop in his hands to keep you honest, though he’s far more comfortable breaking your spirit with his grappling than throwing hands.
You can dislike Covington’s approach and antics, but you can’t deny his talent, as the American Top Team representative has earned seven straight victories and 10 wins in 11 UFC appearances to date, usually by drowning his opponents with his volume and pace. Covington is relentless, moving forward at all times, forcing you to deal with constant pressure and short punches that just keep adding up while never affording opponents the chance to get settled and get off any offense of their own.
These guys are quite similar in terms of what they bring to the Octagon, so after running parallel for a couple years, it will be nice to finally get them in the cage to determine who is the better man once and for all.
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Aleksandar Rakic
It’s former title challenger versus rising star in the co-main event of the UFC’s return to South Korea this month as Oezdemir looks to halt Rakic’s rise up the light heavyweight ranks.
After dropping a questionable split decision to Dominick Reyes in March, Oezdemir ended a three-fight slide with a second-round stoppage win over Ilir Latifi in August. When he’s at his best, the Swiss standout is a deadly counter-striker with the kind of sudden power that ends fights in a hurry. While three straight losses looks ugly on paper, those losses came against Daniel Cormier, Anthony Smith and Reyes, who are a combined 17-2 with one No Contest in the UFC light heavyweight division.
Rakic had a mini breakout last year, closing out his 2018 campaign with a first-round stoppage win over Devin Clark at UFC 231, but he vaulted into contention by dropping Jimi Manuwa with a clean head kick just 42 seconds into their showdown in Stockholm this summer. Now riding a 12-fight winning streak overall, the 27-year-old Austrian has positioned himself as the potential heir to the “Next Big Thing at 205” mantle now that Reyes has officially been tabbed to challenge for the title next year.
Can the upstart continue rolling or will the veteran show that he needs a little more seasoning before taking the next step forward in his quest for championship gold?
Brian Ortega vs. Chan Sung Jung
There is no way this isn’t an outstanding fight, regardless of how it plays out or how long it lasts, as both of these guys are allergic to being in boring fights.
This marks Ortega’s first appearance since his failed attempt to wrest the featherweight title away from Holloway last December, so it will be interesting to see what kind of lasting impact, if any, that bout had on the talented Californian. Prior to that bout, Ortega was rolling, showcasing improved striking and a deft submission game mixed with toughness, heart and an ability to rise to the occasion.
Jung lost a heartbreaker late last year against Yair Rodriguez, getting felled at literally the last second in a wild back-and-forth bout that rightfully garnered Fight of the Year consideration. He rebounded with a blistering stoppage win over Renato Moicano in June, finishing the Brazilian in 58 seconds to re-affirm his standing as one of the top talents in the 145-pound weight class.
Both men are still very much in the championship mix and the winner will head into 2020 with a legitimate claim of being the top contender in the featherweight division.