Impressive lineup leaves quality fights off the list
We have just over a quarter of the year left.
I know. I can’t tell you where the first eight months of 2011 went, either. Somehow, next week is the final week of August, a.k.a. the last week of summer. I don’t remember summer beginning, yet alone reaching the time where elementary school kids are preparing their “what I did on my summer vacation” speeches.
If there is one saving grace in all this — one ray of light that makes it all okay — it’s that we have a kick-ass UFC fight calendar ahead of us. Between now and the time a bunch of drunken party goers sing Auld Lang Syne once more, all seven UFC titles will be defended and a handful of other intriguing and (hopefully) entertaining fights find their way into the Octagon.
Here are my picks for the top 10 UFC fights remaining in 2011.
10. George Roop vs. Hatsu Hioki – UFC 139
This fight may not have the name brand appeal of some of the bouts left off this list — Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann, Pat Barry vs. Stefan Struve — but it has been a fight I’ve been counting down to since it was announced.
For the longest time, Hioki was the top featherweight fighting outside of the Zuffa-run organizations. When he signed with the UFC at the end of June, he became an instant title contender. Boasting a pair of wins over former title challenger Mark Hominick and victories over Bellator featherweight tournament participants Ronnie Mann and Marlon Sandro, Hioki has the pedigree to excel in the Octagon.
Roop is a solid challenge for the incoming Japanese star. His length is problematic, and he’s finished both Chan Sung Jung and Josh Grispi in the last calendar year. If Hioki is able to get by the former Ultimate Fighter contestant, he’ll be on a very short list of challengers for the winner of the UFC 136 featherweight title fight that makes an appearance a little later on in this list.
9. Michael Bisping vs. Jason “Mayhem” Miller – TUF 14 Finale
With an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter to build to this fight, there is no question that it will become of the most anticipated bout of the last quarter of 2011.
Bisping always seems to be on the verge of becoming a full fledged contender, and win over Miller could push him into that designation for the first time in his career at middleweight. He’s won three straight since losing a close decision to Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 and a high profile win over “Mayhem” could set him up for a future title shot.
What makes this bout all the more compelling is that Miller is a wild card inside and outside the cage. During the upcoming season of TUF, you can be sure he’ll entertain and attempt to get under the skin of his British counterpart. In the cage, he has the abilities to handle Bisping, especially on the ground.
Of all the fights on this list, this is the one that has the greatest potential to climb the rankings in regards to level of anticipation.
8. BJ Penn vs. Carlos Condit – UFC 139
You know you have a great upcoming calendar of fights when this is only the eighth best remaining match-up on the UFC schedule.
As I said heading into his bout with Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 132, Condit is one of those guys you just have to watch. He’s always exciting, always looks to finish, and is on the cusp on contention. A win over Penn earns him a title shot, no doubt about it.
And what really needs to be said about “The Prodigy?” He faded in the final round of his UFC 127 draw with Jon Fitch, but proved in the opening two frames that he can hang with the very best the welterweight division has to offer. Knowing that a title shot could certainly be at stake, expect to see the best Penn we’ve seen since he pulverized Diego Sanchez at UFC 107.
7. Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian – UFC 136
We’ve only got title fights from here on out, and this one ranks lowest on the list because of a combination of reasons.
First, Aldo has been so damn dominant since bursting on the scene in the WEC that he starting to fall into that “is anybody going to beat him?” category. You try to come up with ways that someone will take the belt from him, and nothing seems all that plausible.
Second — and I mean this with all due respect to the challenger — I can’t get too jacked up for Florian in a big time fight. He’s 0-2 with the title on the line, and came up well short against Gray Maynard in their lightweight title eliminator. He looked good against Diego Nunes in his featherweight debut, but not “this guy could give Aldo fits” good.
Third – this isn’t even the best fight on the UFC 136 card.