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Top 5 MMA fights to watch in September

Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

With summer nearing an end, it’s time to gear up for the remaining four months 2017 has to offer. September has never traditionally been a month circled on any MMA fan’s calendar, but the ninth month of the year certainly has some firepower to offer.

There are several MMA events taking place over the 30 days of September, though four coming from UFC are expected to dominate the headlines.

Here, we take a look at the top five MMA fights to watch in September 2017.

5. Gokhan Saki vs. Luiz Henrique da Silva

Event: UFC Fight Night 117
Date: Sept. 23
Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

A fight between two relatively unknown members of the UFC roster; Gokhan Saki is the focus here.

Having fought just once in mixed martial arts, all the way back in 2004, Saki isn’t known for his dominance inside the cage. He has been fairly dominant inside the ring, though, serving as one of the most accomplished professional kickboxers in recent memory.

Bringing his talents to a depleted light heavyweight division, Saki is the latest pro kickboxer to make the transition into the mixed martial arts cage. Truthfully, not very many have had wildly successful careers upon said transition, making his UFC debut all the more tempting to watch.

4. Luke Rockhold vs. David Branch

Luke Rockhold prepares before facing Chris Weidman in a middleweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Event: UFC Fight Night 116
Date: Sept. 16
Location: PPG Arena; Pittsburgh

The former UFC middleweight champion is set to make his return to the Octagon after a 15-month layoff from fighting. That’s the good news.

The bad news? He’s competing on the exact same night as the second-most anticipated boxing match of the year, and quite possibly one of the most anticipated bouts ever: Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin. It’s true, the MMA and boxing communities don’t necessarily fall in line with one another, but there’s no doubting that some of Rockhold’s would-be viewers will be locked into the HBO pay-per-view broadcast for the highly anticipated boxing affair.

That’s a shame, too, considering Rockhold truly is one of the greatest middleweight fighters in MMA history. He faces David Branch, a former two-division champion under the WSOF banner, who is 1-0 in his second stint with the UFC.

Branch isn’t exactly an entertaining fighter by any means, but Rockhold’s presence alone should (on most other occasions, anyway) command your attention.

3. Claudia Gadelha vs. Jessica Andrade

Jessica Andrade stands in her corner before a women's strawweight bout at UFC 203 on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

(AP Photo/David Dermer)

Event: UFC Fight Night 117
Date: Sept. 23
Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

This bout, between former title contenders who’ve effectively proven incapable of defeating defending champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, serves as a potential match for the division’s silver medal. That shouldn’t make this contest any less enticing — Gadelha and Andrade are two of the best in the division… just not the best in the division.

The two have looked unstoppable against virtually everybody not named Jedrzejczyk, collectively cruising past top contenders in Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Angela Hill, Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood and Jessica Aguilar.

They also represent an interesting stylistic matchup, considering a great deal of Gadelha’s and Andrade’s successes stem from their potential to control the pace of the fight with their bulldozing grappling abilities. That might not be the case here, potentially paving the way for a stand-up affair.

2. Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg

CORRECTS NAME TO DEMETRIOUS FROM DEMETRIUS - Demetrious Johnson celebrates after defeating John Dodson during their flyweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 191, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Event: UFC 215
Date: Sept. 9
Location: Rogers Place; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

At long last, Demetrious Johnson has reached the finish line. Since becoming the UFC’s first-ever (and only) flyweight champion five years ago, the pound-for-pound great is now embarking upon a record-setting 11th straight title defense. He leapfrogs former middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, whose 10 consecutive title defenses once appeared to be an unreachable mark.

But that’s just how special Johnson is, at least relative to his flyweight contemporaries. Whether they were strikers, wrestlers, submission artists or anything in between, Johnson made them look amateur. He’s easily the greatest fighter the division has ever seen. Though sometimes that has been more of a concern than a compliment.

Johnson’s remarkable talents have prevented virtually all title contenders from looking the part as potential usurpers. Ray Borg, the man hoping to finally knock Johnson off his post at UFC 215, falls in line with the rest of his 125-pound counterparts. Crazier things have happened, but it really doesn’t seem like Johnson’s destined to lose at flyweight any time soon.

1. Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Amanda Nunes, left, is names winning of the UFC 196 women's bantamweight mixed martial arts match against Valentina Shevchenko, right, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Las Vegas. Amanda Nunes wins by unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

(AP Photo/Eric Jamison)

Event: UFC 215
Date: Sept. 9
Location: Rogers Place; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The co-main event of the evening, Nunes-Shevchenko takes the cake as the most compelling fight to watch at UFC 215. No, Nunes won’t be looking to make a record-setting title defense; but she will be facing somebody wholly capable of ripping the crown from her grasp.

The bout was scheduled for July, but a last-minute, morning-of problem forced Nunes out of the contest, Nunes vs. Shevchenko was also firmly placed in the top five fights of that remarkably stacked month (No. 3, behind only Romero vs. Whittaker and Cormier vs. Jones II).

The reason? Shevchenko represents arguably the toughest test for the champion, having already proven herself competent enough to give the bruising striker fits in a previous affair. The two first met at UFC 196 in March 2016, and while Nunes won that bout via unanimous decision,  Shevchenko’s strong third round had us locked in. This fight will be five rounds, providing Shevchenko the opportunity to expose what potential weaknesses the champion has in her arsenal beyond three rounds.

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