Top 5 MMA fights to watch in December

Ronda Rousey enters the arena for her UFC 170 mixed martial arts women's bantamweight title fight against Sara McMann on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The final month of the year is here. After undergoing 11 months of massive upsets, historic victories and record-breaking events in MMA, 2016 is down to 31 days.

Packed to the brim with 12 shows from major promotions like the UFC, Bellator MMA, World Series of Fighting and RIZIN FF, it’s the Octagon that plays host to a majority of the most anticipated contests of the holiday month.

Here we bring you the top five MMA fights to watch in December.


5. Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson

Paige VanZant celebrates after defeating Alex Chambers in their women’s straw weight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 191 on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Event: UFC on FOX 22

Date: Dec. 17

Location: Golden 1 Center; Sacramento, California

Excitement for this fight has as much to do with Paige VanZant’s consistent improvement inside the cage as much as it does Michelle Waterson’s return to the Octagon. Two of the more promising names in a division that is quickly running dry on names with promise, VanZant and Waterson square off to inch closer to the crown.

Last we saw her, VanZant landed a highlight-reel head kick against Bec Rawlings to pick up the first knockout victory of her pro career. It did much to silence most of her critics, many of whom believed a glamor-filled life outside the UFC was taking a toll on her fighting career. While memories of a one-sided defeat to Rose Namajunas won’t soon be forgotten, VanZant showed enough progression in her game to keep us hopeful.

She takes on Waterson, who hasn’t stepped into the Octagon since July 2015. Injuries have taken a massive toll on her career of late, but “The Karate Hottie” retains much of the hype she brought with her as she transitioned to the UFC’s strawweight division last year. An elite, but undersized striker at 115 pounds, Waterson has a wealth of potential in the UFC.

4. T.J. Dillashaw vs. John Lineker 

TJ Dillashaw celebrates after defeating Renan Barao during their bantamweight mixed martial arts title bout during UFC Chicago on Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Chicago. Dillashaw won in the fourth round.(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

Event: UFC 207

Date: Dec. 30

Location: T-Mobile Arena; Las Vegas

In many ways, this fight has many of the same characteristics of Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt. While T.J. Dillashaw isn’t quite as elusive as the champion, he’s capable of resembling Cruz enough to potentially outwit John Lineker at UFC 207. He’d better, anyway, because we’ve seen time and time again that welcoming a firefight with “Hands of Stone” is the equivalent of courting a trip to the ER.

Dillashaw quickly made a name for himself as one of the best stand-up artists in the division shortly after teaming up with Duane Ludwig. While it didn’t really show in a failed title defense against Cruz, it will likely show up here. He’ll need to move around a bit if he has any hope of cementing himself as the No. 1 contender in the class.

Lineker looks to earn the same honor. Beyond that, he’ll look to prove that his style of fighting won’t be completely hindered by an opponent who won’t be as willing to lock horns (like the champion).

3. Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis 

Max Holloway warms up before fighting Jeremy Stephens in a featherweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Event: UFC 206

Date: Dec. 10

Location: Air Canada Centre; Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interim title, shminterim title. This fight would have landed high on our list regardless of whether a paper-weight interim championship was added to try to generate an extra 10,000 pay-per-view buys. Alas, these two are fighting for a “guaranteed” shot at now-undisputed UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. That’s something we can certainly get excited about, right?

Max Holloway enters this contest riding a wave of success; he just doesn’t have any of the hype to show for it. Nine in a row, and not a single one of those victories netted him a championship opportunity (not even this one — we can thank circumstance for this one). Looking to make it 10 straight before he can finally say he’s made it to the big dance, he’ll need to take out former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.

Yes, the same Anthony Pettis who is just 1-3 in his last four fights. The same one who is only one victory into his featherweight career and already taking on the most deserving title challenger in the division. The same one who looks to be a tremendous addition to the 145-pound class. The same one who could definitely come in and put a damper on Holloway’s extended rise to the throne.

2. Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt

Dominick Cruz celebrates with the title belt after his win against TJ Dillashaw in their mixed martial arts title bout at UFC Fight Night 81, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Boston. Cruz won via split decision and is the new UFC Bantamweight Champion. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Event: UFC 207

Date: Dec. 30

Location: T-Mobile Arena; Las Vegas

As Cody Garbrandt’s proven time and time again, it only takes one solid punch to the chin to permanently change the dynamic of a fight. One punch to force a fighter from Plan A to Plan X. But the biggest question on everybody’s mind, maybe even Garbrandt’s: Can “No Love” even hit Dominick Cruz?

As elusive of a fighter as we’ve ever seen compete inside the Octagon, Cruz has mastered the art of defense. His impeccable footwork and timing coincide to create MMA’s version of Floyd Mayweather’s shoulder roll. He dances around his opponents, bobbing in and out of danger just in time to land a shot of his own, but never quite long enough to expose himself to the threats of his opponent.

Should somebody step into a lab and create the perfect foil to Garbrandt’s aggressive offense, it would be Cruz. He moves well, doesn’t get tired and issues just enough offense to frustrate his opponents beyond tactical recognition.

All that said, the threat of the one punch will keep us on our toes for 25 minutes.

1. Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey gets ready to fight Cat Zingano in a UFC 184 mixed martial arts bantamweight title bout, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. Rousey won after Zingano tapped out 14 seconds into the first round. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Event: UFC 207

Date: Dec. 30

Location: T-Mobile Arena; Las Vegas

The fighter the world has impatiently been waiting for is finally here. After spending more than a year on the sideline mending the wounds of a devastating loss in front of a record-setting live audience, Ronda Rousey makes her return to the Octagon with one goal in mind: reclaiming the throne she was forced off of last November.

Much was made of Rousey’s seeming invincibility through her dominant run as Strikeforce and UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Time after time the UFC threw top contender at Rousey, only for the champion to prove her dominance within minutes — or even seconds — into the first round. Most challengers knew the armbar was coming, but had nothing but a 30-second gameplan to try to prevent the inevitable from taking place.

Then came Holly Holm, and the division would, perhaps only momentarily, be flipped on its head. Holm beat Rousey, Miesha Tate beat Holm, and Amanda Nunes beat Tate. All in successive championship bouts.

In the eyes of many, this is do or die for Ronda Rousey and her professional MMA career. With the end all but near, there’s no reason to not tune in.

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