UFC on ESPN 52
Date and venue: December 2, Austin (USA)
Notable fights: Beneil Dariush vs. Arman Tsarukyan
The next weekly UFC tournament will be crowned by a landmark lightweight duel. Until a few months ago, Beneil Dariush was considered almost kryptonite for Islam Makhachev, but after his meeting with Charles Oliveira, such talk came to an end. The American lost by knockout in the first round and recalled that in his career he practically did not defeat top opponents.
So far, the same can be said about Arman Tsarukyan. He has been in the top ten in his division for a long time and challenges the champions, but he cannot break into the top league. The first attempt was missed in the matchmaking with Mateusz Gamrot, and the battle with Dariusz will be the second. And if the Russian seriously expects to compete for the trophy in the near future, then he needs to get the better of the American.
Date and venue: December 8, Ufa (Russia)
Important fights: Muslim Magomedov (h) - Adlan Ibragimov (light heavyweight title), Mehdi Baydulaev - Akhmed Musakayev (Bantamweight Grand Prix)
As in the previous month, the ACA will hold two tournaments in December, and the first of them will be historic. The Chechen promotion will visit Ufa for the first time and will delight local fans with a couple of extremely interesting fights at once. As part of one of them, Muslim Magomedov will defend his 93 kg belt for the fourth time, and Adlan Ibragimov will oppose him. And although a single hit can decide everything in the heavyweight divisions, the chances of a contender for success seem illusory. After all, in the last five fights, he won only three victories, and this is despite the fact that there were no real stars among the opponents. And he got the opportunity to compete for the trophy largely thanks to Oleg Olenichev, with whom he failed to fight in September. Had he not lost by knockout to Anderson Gonçalves, he would certainly have become the first number in the category and deserved a rematch with the champion.
At the same show, the last semi-finalist of the Grand Prix (61.2 kg) will be determined. Mehdi Baydulaev and Ahmed Musakayev will fight for the right to measure their strength with Makharbek Karginov, who are on impressive streaks of nine and five victories, respectively. At the same time, the league will try to organize their meeting for the fourth time. Initially, they were planned to be brought together in a cage back in December 2022, and then twice between July and October. But every time something got in the way.
Date and venue: December 15, Las Vegas (USA)
Important fights: Lucas Fernando (h) - Azamat Bekoev (middleweight title), Natalia Kuzyutina - Giovanna Canuto (interim strawweight title).
At the same time, the number of Russian champions in the American leagues may be replenished in December. And although LFA cannot be called one of the largest in the country, many of its alumni subsequently successfully performed in eminent promotions. UFC stars Brandon Moreno, Ryan Spann and Bellator welterweight title holder Jason Jackson, who knocked out Ukrainian Yaroslav Amosov, come to mind.
At the same time, Azamat Bekoev already owns a belt, albeit a temporary one. In June, he defeated Dylan Budka by split decision, and now he will try to combine the trophies. However, for this, the ex-ACA fighter will need to cope with the current champion Lucas Fernando. In the LFA, he won four times in a row and entered Dana White's Contender Series, but after a fiasco in a duel with Cesar Almeida, he came back.
In turn, Natalia Kuzyutina will try to repeat the path of Bekoev, who will fight for the interim title with Giovanna Canuto. And this battle is extremely interesting, because the bronze medalist of the Rio Olympics in judo and the undefeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, who won three out of four victories by submission, will meet in the cage. However, it is unlikely that she will be able to surprise the Russian with her skills in the referee's position, because she also repeatedly forced her rivals to give up. And each time I caught them on the crown lever of my elbow.
Date and venue: December 16, Las Vegas (USA)
Important fights: Leon Edwards (h) - Colby Covington (welterweight title), Alexander Pantozha (h) - Brandon Royval (flyweight title), Shavkat Rakhmonov - Stephen Thompson, Tony Ferguson - Paddy Pimblett, Tagir Ulanbekov - Cody Darden, Muslim Salikhov - Randy Brown, Shamil Gaziev - Martin Buday.
The last UFC show in 2023 also promises to be large-scale. He will be crowned by two fights for the belt at once, and Russian fans will be able to watch the performances of three compatriots at once. Shamil Gaziyev, who currently represents Bahrain, will try to make a successful debut in the largest MMA promotion on the planet and win the 12th victory in his career. But he shouldn't expect an easy walk. Martin Budaj not only has an equally impressive record (13-1), but also performs more than successfully in the championship. He won the first four fights, and caught Josh Parisian on a kimura in the first round.
It will not be easy for Muslim Salikhov and Tagir Ulanbekov. The former will try to rehabilitate himself for the defeat from Nicholas Dalby, but Randy Brown is ready to provide decent competition. Over the past three and a half years, the Jamaican has lost only two battles out of seven, and to very strong opponents - Vicente Luca and Jack Della Maddalena. A serious threat is also posed by the American, who has prevailed over the last four opponents.
No less expected are the fights with the participation of two MMA veterans. Tony Ferguson will try to spoil the reputation of the star Paddy Pimblett and interrupt a series of six defeats, and Stephen Thompson will stop Shavkat Rakhmonov's ascent to the top. In March, he knocked out Jeff Neal in a spectacular manner, and in September he could have entered the short list of contenders for the 77.1 kg trophy. And now he will have to measure his strength with one of the most skillful strikers in the history of mixed martial arts, Stephen Thompson. And if the American does not play it safe again, then this fight can become one of the brightest of the year.
For sure, the duels for the title will also be dramatic. At the same time, much more is expected from the confrontation between Edwards and Covington, where emotions will surely run high. Colby can get into the head of absolutely any opponent and will surely try to do the same trick with Leon, but his strengths do not end there. Unlike Kamaru Usman, he is unlikely to exchange with the Briton in the standing position for a long time and will try to move him to the referee's position as often as possible. And on the ground, the champion can have serious problems. Suffice it to recall how the American "covered" such a strong drummer as Jorge Masvidal.
Date and venue: December 24, Moscow (Russia)
Important fights: Ustarmagomed Gadzhidaudov (h) - Albert Tumenov (welterweight title), Islam Omarov - Alexei Polpudnikov (featherweight title), Mikhail Mokhnatkin - Faridun Odilov (Grand Prix in light heavyweight), Ali Bagov - Artyom Reznikov (Grand Prix in lightweight).
The last ACA show of the year promises to be significant. Like a year ago, it will be held in Moscow, and will be headed by a bright confrontation of 77.1 kg, in which not only a trophy, but also a ticket to the Grand Prix final will be at stake. The only question is whether Albert Tumenov will be able to avoid the fate of another bright striker - Vitaly Slipenko and not allow Ustarmagomed Gadzhidaudov to drag him into the fight. After all, it will be extremely difficult for him to oppose something to the reigning champion in the referee's position
Islam Omarov will also make his first defense of the belt, also in the semifinals of the Grand Prix. And although in terms of popularity, Alexei Polpudnikov is noticeably inferior to the ex-UFC fighter Tumenov, he has a good chance to present a sensation. In 2021, he miraculously resuscitated his career and made him forget about a series of four failures with five victories. And now he intends to spoil the perfect record for a native of Dagestan.
Among other things, the tournament in Moscow will host two more Grand Prix fights in various categories. And the lightweight duel looks the most interesting. It could have taken place in the semifinals of last year's championship, but it failed due to the scandal that occurred in the battle between Ali Bagov and Rashid Magomedov. Then the management of the league considered it to be fixed and suspended both athletes from participation. Now Bagov and Reznikov will finally have a chance to identify the strongest and demonstrate a master class in wrestling at the same time.