The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns this week to deliver 30-plus fights spread out over three jam-packed events, an extravaganza that will feature titleholders, crafty veterans, blossoming superstars and more. The Aquarian Weekly will be on hand to cover the monolithic pay-per-view event on Saturday, Dec. 12, and will be providing blow-by-blow updates live at theaquarian.com.
Here’s a look at what’s in store for the next few days:
UFC Fight Night: Namajunas vs. VanZant
Thursday, Dec. 10
6:45 p.m. Prelims/10:00 p.m. Main Card (UFC Fight Pass)
With the exception of Ronda Rousey, there hasn’t been a young female fighter to generate more headlines than Paige VanZant. The 115-pound 21-year-old has already shown flashes of brilliance inside the Octagon with her speed, versatility and toughness, and under the tutelage of Urijah Faber & Co. at Team Alpha Male, “12 Gauge” Paige VanZant has quickly turned into a megastar. Tonight, she’ll be squaring off with someone of similar style in Rose Namajunas, a devious 23-year-old who can win a fight wherever it goes. With swift footwork and arguably the most lethal submission skill set in all of women’s MMA, Namajunas will be VanZant’s toughest opponent to date, and the winner of this five-round battle may very well be granted an opportunity to take on Polish champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Another matchup to look forward to here takes place in the lightweight division, where “Super” Sage Northcutt gets inside the cage for the second time in three months against Cody “The Fist” Pfister, a 25-year-old with 17 professional bouts under his belt (12-4-1). One of the fastest kids in the sport, 19-year-old Northcutt is, like PVZ, an up-and-coming star, and his recent dismantling of Francisco Trevino in just 57 seconds only fueled the hype train. While Pfister has the experience and reach advantage to make things difficult for the promotion’s youngest fighter, Sage is more than a 10-to-1 favorite, and he already has his sights set on breaking Jon Jones’ record of becoming the youngest UFC champion (23).
Other notable fights: (14) Jim Miller vs. Michael Chiesa; Elias Theodorou vs. Thiago Santos; Tim Means vs. John Howard; (5) Aljamin Sterling vs. Johnny Eduardo.
The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber
Friday, Dec. 11
TBA Prelims/10:00 p.m. Main Card (Fox Sports 1)
For a free card airing on Fox Sports 1, it doesn’t get much better than this. Headlined with a possible title eliminator bout between former lightweight champion and #2 featherweight Frankie Edgar and #3 featherweight Chad Mendes, this has Fight of the Year written all over it. Known for his all-around skills, granite chin and never-give-up mentality, New Jersey’s Frankie “The Answer” Edgar is one of the sport’s most decorated fighters. Edgar has stormed past his last four opponents, including an impressive win over Urijah Faber in May, and he’ll certainly get another crack at the title with a win over Mendes, who suffered his first non-Jose Aldo loss when he stepped in on short notice against Conor McGregor in July. With a full camp leading into this fight, it’ll be interesting to see how “Money” Mendes’ cardio is, as he was visibly gassed in the second round against McGregor before getting KO’d. Both men are former NCAA Division I All-American wrestlers, so this may stay standing given their superior takedown defense skills, and Edgar should have the slight striking advantage, along with loads of experience in the championship rounds. However, Mendes has improved his standup game significantly over the past three years, so this fight could easily go either way.
In addition to the headliner, this card also features a pure striker vs. grappler contest between (6) Edson Barboza and (7) Tony Ferguson, the always exciting Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham, (13) Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Jason Knight, and the lightweight tournament finale of season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter, which will feature the winner of Saul Rogers vs. Marcin Wrzosek against Artem Lobov or Julian Erosa (TUF 22 semifinals air Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 10 p.m. on Fox Sports 1).
Saturday, Dec. 12
7:00 p.m. Prelims (UFC Fight Pass and Fox Sports 1)/10:00 p.m. Main Card (Pay-Per-View)
It’s tough to remember a card being so stacked from top to bottom, but UFC 194 has remained mostly injury-free (at press time, at least), and it’s an event set to become one for the ages. After a rib injury forced longtime featherweight champion and number one pound-for-pound fighter Jose Aldo to withdraw, Ireland’s Conor McGregor took on Chad Mendes, and as previously noted, knocked him out in the second round, thus earning the interim championship. But after a year of trash talk, world tours and buildup for this fight, it looks like we’re finally going to have these two juggernauts—as well as a highly-anticipated title bout between middleweight champion Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold—meet inside the Octagon (again, fingers crossed there are no significant injuries).
Jose Aldo is essentially the 145-pound version of former bantamweight champion Renan Barao; not only are they teammates at Nova Uniao, but like Barao, Aldo has gone a decade without losing, clearing out the division many times over in the process. He frequently chops his enemies down with vicious leg kicks, defends more than 90 percent of his opponents’ takedown attempts, and has arguably the most underrated ground game in all of mixed martial arts. But “The Notorious” Conor McGregor is unimpressed; the brash 27-year-old Irishman has been hurling insults at the champ every which way for the past year, going as far as throwing darts at a picture of Aldo’s face, traveling to Aldo’s hometown on a media tour and proclaiming he’s the “king of Rio de Janeiro,” and more. McGregor has impenetrable confidence and simply isn’t fazed on the outside by the 25-1 pound-for-pound king.
So, on Dec. 12 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, these two will finally step inside the cage and show their might. The most important aspect of this fight, I feel, will be each fighter’s conditioning; McGregor generally finishes his opponents so quickly that he’s only been to the third round once in his career (Max Holloway, Aug. 2013), while Aldo hasn’t fought since Oct. 2014. Aldo should have the advantage in this regard, but after a long layoff, there are no certainties. It’ll also be interesting to see how Aldo deals with the height/reach advantage of McGregor, who uses his size, strength and reach better than everyone not named Jon Jones. “The Notorious” possesses a flashy, strike-heavy skill set that can knock anyone out instantaneously, be it with his powerful hands or looping, hard kicks. Aldo, however, generally focuses on short combinations, brilliantly closing the gap with his opponents and throwing two quick punches before exiting with a sharp kick to the thigh. This fight should stay standing, and with Aldo having 14 career knockouts, and McGregor owning 16 KOs out of his 18 career wins, expect fireworks.
In the co-main event, undefeated 185-pound champion Chris Weidman seeks his fourth title defense against Luke Rockhold, a 14-2 kickboxer with deadly submissions. When Weidman first came into the UFC in 2011, he relied primarily on his wrestling, as he was a two-time Division I All-American at Hofstra. But he’s been striking with the best of them in his last few bouts, most notably knocking out then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva in 2013 and Vitor Belfort this May. Rockhold, on the other hand, is a more well-rounded fighter, as he has arguably the perfect blend of striking and grappling. His style is calculated yet wild, kicks heavy yet fast, and he figures to be Weidman’s toughest opponent since Silva clowned around and lost the belt.
Other notable fights: (2) Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. (3) Yoel Romero; (6) Demian Maia vs. (12) Gunnar Nelson; (5) Max Holloway vs. (8) Jeremy Stephens; (4) Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Saenz; Joe Proctor vs. Magomed Mustafaev; Court McGee vs. Marcio Alexandre.
For additional information on the fights, visit ufc.com, and follow along live for UFC 194 at theaquarian.com, where live, round-by-round updates will be posted.