Rather than continue to lament the cancellation of UFC 151 and the fact that I no longer have an excuse for avoiding dinner with my mother-in-law this weekend, I’ve decided to take a glass half-full approach to it all.
Yes, being without an event this weekend isn’t good, but in addition to getting an excellent meal out of the deal – instead of the usual fight night assortment of chips and dips and cheeses shoveled in without breaking eye contact with the television – the anticipation for September’s two events later in the month just got cranked up another notch.
The spotlight on UFC 152 in Toronto has gotten brighter, and while not much has changed for the UFC’s debut in Nottingham a week later, there is now extra time to realize the FUEL TV offering is made up of some intriguing fights that are deserving of greater attention.
Here’s a look at what UFC fight fans have to look forward to in the month of September.
JON JONES VS. VITOR BELFORT
Despite being a bout that was cobbled together amidst the chaos of last week, the brand new UFC 152 headliner is a compelling contest that sees the original “Phenom” of the UFC get an unexpected opportunity to once again challenge for the light heavyweight championship.
With a 3-1 record since returning to the UFC and coming off consecutive first-round finishes, it’s clear that Belfort is still an elite competitor capable of ending a fight quickly. Whether or not he’ll be able to duplicate that success against the embattled Jones is the question we’ll all be waiting to have answered.
Coming off a summer of turmoil, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Jones we see at UFC 152 is the most focused and ferocious version of the light heavyweight champion we’ve seen to date. Regardless of everything going on around him, there has been no one more dominant inside the cage over the last two years than “Bones,” and you can be sure the 25-year-old champion will be looking to remind people of that – and perhaps send a message to a certain talkative Oregonian – when he steps into the Octagon with Belfort on September 22 in Toronto.
JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ VS. DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON
History will be made at the Air Canada Centre when these two former bantamweight title challengers square off to determine who will become the inaugural UFC flyweight champion.
After beating everyone he’s faced in the 135-pound ranks not named Dominick Cruz, Benavidez showed how dangerous he will be in the UFC’s newest weight class with a second-round knockout win over Yasuhiro Urushitani back in March. The Team Alpha Male standout has now won four straight, and is ready to establish himself as one of the top pound-for-pound competitors in the sport with a win over “Mighty Mouse.”
Following the scoring error that resulted in his first meeting with Ian McCall being ruled a draw, Johnson went back to work with Matt Hume at AMC Pankration, and made sure to leave little doubt in the minds of the judges who was the better man when the two tangled for a second time back in June. The 26-year-old newlywed controlled “Uncle Creepy” from the outset, earning a unanimous decision win to set up what should be a Fight of the Year caliber showdown with Benavidez that crowns the first flyweight champion in UFC history.
MICHAEL BISPING VS. BRIAN STANN
Let’s be honest: the build-up to any and every Michael Bisping fight is entertaining. The former Ultimate Fighter winner always speaks his mind, always courts controversy, and always draws a crowd, and that will be no different in the weeks leading up to his UFC 152 bout with Brian Stann.
This one should help clear up the title picture in the middleweight division, where Chris Weidman patiently waits for an opportunity, while Tim Boetsch recovers from a broken foot, and these two lock horns in the Great White North.
Both men have lost to Chael Sonnen in the last year, though Stann has since rebounded with a dominant first-round victory over Alessio Sakara in Sweden. “The All-American” is 4-1 since moving to middleweight and has the knockout power to potentially reproduce the result that occurred the last time “The Count” stepped into the cage with a heavy-handed American in a potential title eliminator.
CHARLES OLIVEIRA VS. CUB SWANSON
The UFC 152 main card will kick off with a featherweight contest that is sure to be contested at 100 miles per hour.
After losing his UFC debut to Ricardo Lamas last November, Southern California’s Swanson has earned back-to-back second round stoppages over George Roop and Ross Pearson to put himself into the title conversation in the 145-pound weight class. It’s never been a question of talent with Swanson, but now the well-rounded Team Jackson-Winkeljohn trainee is starting to put it all together in the cage, and looks to continue his push towards a title shot here.
First he’ll have to get through Oliveira, who has returned to his impressive ways since dropping down to featherweight after going winless over his final three appearances at lightweight. “Do Bronx” debuted in his new weight class with a first-round reverse calf slicer submission over Eric Wisely – which still remains in the running for Submission of the Year – before following it up with a second-round victory over Jonathan Brookins back in June.
Both men are comfortable on their feet and on the ground, and they charge forward looking to finish every time out, which should produce an electric start to the UFC 152 pay-per-view.
STEFAN STRUVE VS. STIPE MIOCIC
Miocic entered the UFC as one of the most hyped heavyweight prospects in recent memory, and so far, the Strong Style Fight Team member has lived up to his advanced billing.
The unbeaten heavyweight has looked better in each of his three appearances inside the Octagon, following up his debut win over Joey Beltran with a Knockout of the Night-winning effort against Phil De Fries four months later. Back in May, the Cleveland State alum secured his third consecutive UFC win (and ninth straight overall) with a second-round TKO stoppage of previously unbeaten Shane del Rosario.
Despite being six years younger than his opponent, Struve is the more veteran fighter of the two, as this will be the 11th time the 24-year-old Dutchman has entered the Octagon. Having won his last three outings while earning a pair of Submission of the Night bonuses, Struve appears to finally be starting to fight to his full potential and take advantage of the multitude of skills he’s displayed since breaking into the UFC in February 2009.
While it may not determine the next title challenge, this one has serious career implications for both men. The winner moves up the ladder into the upper echelon of the big boy division, while the loser loses all momentum and remains in the second tier of the heavyweight ranks heading into 2013.
PAUL SASS VS. MATT WIMAN
Ronda Rousey isn’t the only undefeated, prolific submission artist on the Zuffa payroll.
Paul Sass is a perfect 13-for-13 in his career, with 12 of those victories coming by way of submission, nine by way of his signature “Sassangle” triangle choke. Thus far, the 24-year-old Team Kaobon trainee has earned a trio of first-round submission wins in the UFC, most recently halting Jacob Volkmann’s winning streak in less than two minutes at UFC 146.
Standing as the much-needed step up in competition for Sass is TUF 5 alum “Handsome” Matt Wiman. The 14-6 lightweight (8-4 in the UFC) has won four of last five fights, the only blemish coming by way of a questionable decision against Dennis Siver at UFC 132. A durable grinder with four Fight of the Night awards on his mantle, Wiman has the experience and savvy to test Sass and serve as a litmus test for the talented Liverpool native.
JOHN MAGUIRE VS. JOHN HATHAWAY
The UFC welterweight division is only big enough for one talented Brit named John – or at least that’s one way to sell this clash of talented 170-pound countrymen.
Gypsy Jiu-Jitsu practitioner Maguire has used consecutive victories in the UFC to run his winning streak to seven. After earning a hard fought victory over Justin Edwards in his debut last November, “The One” collected the Submission of the Night bonus during the UFC’s debut show in Sweden by forcing DaMarques Johnson to tap to a slick armbar in April.
With wins over Rick Story and Diego Sanchez, Hathaway has already established himself as one of the top up-and-comers in the welterweight division. He rebounded from the first loss of his career with a win over former TUF finalist Kris McCray before missing more than a year due to various nagging injuries. Upon his return, Hathaway picked up right where he left off, controlling Pascal Krauss to push his record to 16-1.
This should be an entertaining back-and-forth bout, as Hathaway has surprisingly strong wrestling and Maguire is an aggressive grappler, and both are more than capable of making the other take a funny step when they connect with their hands.
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