Last month might have been the best month in UFC history.
Starting with International Fight Week, successful championship defenses by Ronda Rousey and Chris Weidman and BJ Penn’s retirement, moving on to Cowboy Cerrone’s second-round finish of Jim Miller and Conor McGregor capping off an incredible night in Dublin, and wrapping up with a tremendous collection of fights on FOX, July 2014 has to go down as one of the absolute best collections of performances and events ever.
Given how exceptional the 31 days between June and August were, it’s natural to anticipate a bit of a letdown in the month ahead; after all, the bar has been set really high. While it’s going to be tough to match the impact created in the last month, don’t sleep on the action primed to hit the cage over the next four weeks and change.
Here’s a look ahead at the best scraps scheduled for the Octagon in August.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT: BADER VS. SAINT PREUX (AUGUST 16 – BANGOR, MAINE)
Sara McMann vs. Lauren Murphy
Returning for the first time since her championship loss to Ronda Rousey, McMann is fired up to get back in the win column and start working her way to a rematch with her fellow former Olympian. She’s had two appearances in the Octagon at opposite ends of the spectrum, and her third trip into the cage will determine where she fits in the pecking order of the women’s bantamweight division.
Murphy will be making her UFC debut, entering with a perfect 8-0 record and most recently winning the bantamweight title in Invicta FC back in December. Just four years into her career, the 30-year-old Alaska native holds wins over veterans Kaitlin Young and Sarah D’Alelio and kickboxing standout Miriam Nakamoto.
Zach Makovsky vs. Jussier Formiga
With Demetrious Johnson quickly racing through the competition (more on that later) in the flyweight division, this one sets up as a bout that could propel the winner into a title shot or – at the very least – a No. 1 contender match next time out.
Makovsky has earned back-to-back decision wins since arriving in the UFC, most recently defeating Josh Sampo at UFC 170, and has won four straight overall. Conversely, Formiga is coming off a first-round stoppage win over Scott Jorgensen, but has yet to find consistency inside the Octagon. That said, putting up a victory over Makovsky would steady him in the pecking order, while a win for Makovsky would cement his place on the short list of possible title challengers going forward.
Ryan Bader vs. Ovince Saint Preux
The first main event of the month is a matchup of two Top 10 light heavyweights looking to make the jump into the next level of contenders in the 205-pound ranks.
Both Bader and Saint Preux picked up wins at UFC 174 in Vancouver earlier this summer – the former grinding out a unanimous decision over former Strikeforce champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante and the latter scoring a second-round submission win over Ryan Jimmo. Over the last three years, Bader’s only setbacks have come against former title challengers Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira, while “OSP” has picked up five straight victories dating back to his Strikeforce days.
Bottom line: something’s gotta give when these two get into the cage in later this month in Bangor, Maine.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT: BISPING VS. LE (AUGUST 23 – MACAO, CHINA)
Tyron Woodley vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Coming off his disappointing performance opposite Rory MacDonald at UFC 174, Woodley jumped at the chance to replace his teammate Hector Lombard when he was forced out of this one, climbing into the vacancy opposite Kim in the co-main event of this show.
Despite entering off a loss, Woodley remains one of the top welterweights in the sport – a suffocating wrestler with powerful hands, but he’s had trouble consistently putting it together in the Octagon. And he’s precisely the type of fighter that Kim needs to be facing at this point in his career.
“Stun Gun” has won four straight, the last two in spectacular fashion, to race up the rankings. Now 10-2 in the UFC, the South Korean standout has beaten a litany of middle tier welterweights, but is lacking a signature victory over a Top 10 competitor. This is his opportunity and it should be outstanding.
Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le
You have to give “The Count” credit here, jumping back into the cage coming off a loss to Tim Kennedy against one of the most electric strikers in the sport.
Bisping has alternated wins and losses dating back to his win over Jason “Mayhem” Miller at the TUF 14 Finale, and he returned in April after a 12-month hiatus, coming out on the wrong side of the cards against Kennedy in Quebec City. At 35, the former Ultimate Fighter winner is still a Top 10 middleweight and one of the biggest names in the organization.
Le hasn’t fought since knocking out Rich Franklin in the main event of the UFC’s initial fight card in Macao nearly two years ago, but as much as his time off might make you want to write him off, the former Strikeforce middleweight champ still has obvious knockout power. One mistake and Bisping could be left looking up at the lights.
Plus, this one will jump off in the early morning on the East Coast (and earlier in the West) and who doesn’t like fisticuffs with the coffee and eggs on Saturday morning?
UFC FIGHT NIGHT: HENDERSON VS. DOS ANJOS (AUGUST 23 – TULSA, OKLAHOMA)
Max Holloway vs. Mirsad Bektic
This is our sneaky, “do not sleep on this fight” addition to this list – a pairing of two emerging talents looking to take the next step forward in the deep and dangerous featherweight ranks.
A product of American Top Team, Bektic has started his career with eight straight wins, picking up a majority decision over Chas Skelly in his debut back in April. In that bout, the 23-year-old newcomer absorbed a nasty illegal knee mid-fight, but still managed to shake the cobwebs and rally to earn the victory.
Even though he’s just 22 years old, this will already be Holloway’s ninth appearance in the Octagon. The Hawaiian is 5-3 so far, but those setbacks have come against a trio of elite fighters – Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor.
They may not be the biggest names in the division, but they’re on the rise, and the winner will be in prime position for a marquee matchup next time out.
Jordan Mein vs. Brandon Thatch
If you’re not excited about this one, someone might need to check your pulse because you could be dead.
Mein returned off a 364-day layoff to pick up a split decision win over Hernani Perpetuo back in April. Just 24 years old, the Lethbridge, Alberta native already has 37 fights under his belt and a 10-2 record over his last 12 fights, losing to only Tyron Woodley and Matt Brown.
Across the cage, Thatch has picked up 10 consecutive first-round stoppage victories, the last two coming against Justin Edwards and Paulo Thiago inside the Octagon. “Rukus” is one of the most dangerous strikers to enter the welterweight division in quite some time – a product of Trevor Wittman’s Grudge Training Center that should race across the cage looking to bring the fight to the Canadian from the outset.
Seriously, if thinking about this fight hasn’t gotten you pumped up, something might be wrong with you.
Benson Henderson vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
This is just a fantastic fight – a meeting of two of the top lightweights in the world; a tandem that has gone a combined 12-2 over the last two years.
Henderson sits as the No. 1 contender in the 155-pound ranks, fresh off a fourth-round submission win over Rustam Khabilov back in June. Over the last seven years, “Smooth” has only been beaten by one man, Anthony Pettis, earning a pair of wins against Donald Cerrone and Frankie Edgar, plus victories over the likes of Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez along the way.
After suffering a loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in April, Dos Anjos bounced back with a second-round win over Jason High in June. After beginning his UFC career with two straight losses, the Brazilian has gone 10-3 and currently holds down the No. 6 spot in the lightweight rankings.
Whoever wins this one could find themselves in a title eliminator bout later this year.
UFC 177 (AUGUST 30 – SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA)
Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso for the UFC Flyweight Title
Cariaso has quietly gone 7-3 in the UFC, splitting his time between the bantamweight and flyweight ranks. The California-based veteran has collected three straight wins heading into his championship opportunity, posting victories over Iliarde Santos, Danny Martinez and Louis Smolka.
Is he a big underdog? Absolutely, but don’t sleep on “Kamikaze” giving the champion a run for his money.
What more needs to be said about Johnson? “Mighty Mouse” has won six straight, the last four of which have been title defenses. After battling back to beat John Dodson, the Kirkland, Washington product has turned in standout efforts against John Moraga, Joseph Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov to give himself wins over each of the Top 5 contenders in the division.
Johnson is getting into that “so damn good you have to watch” zone and he’s continuing to get better each time out.
TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao for the UFC Bantamweight Title
Some have questioned whether this rematch was needed this quick, but think about it this way:
Barao went a little over nine years without a loss – nine years – before hitting the Octagon and dropping the bantamweight title to Dillashaw. If you think he’s not fired up to the nth degree to jump into the cage and exact some revenge, you’re kidding yourself.
And Dillashaw is out to prove that UFC 173 wasn’t a fluke.
The Team Alpha Male standout delivered a nearly flawless performance on Memorial Day weekend, taking the fight to Barao from the outset and refusing to let off the gas. He could have backed off and cruised to a decision in the fifth, but instead, the TUF 14 finalist kept pressing and earned the stoppage.
Now they’re going to run it back at the end of the month and it’s going to be awesome.