The year 2017 has seen its highs and lows for the UFC. We had new stars born when Max Holloway defeated Jose Aldo to become the undisputed featherweight champion and Robert Whittaker who defeated Yoel Romero to become interim middleweight champion. Stipe Miocic and Joanna Jerdrzejczyk continued to dominate in their respective divisions. Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson failed to deliver an exciting fight in their welterweight title rematch after the first bout ended in a draw. We also saw the retirement of Anthony Johnson after being dominated by Daniel Cormier for a second time.
A recurring issue surfaced again in 2017 with several big fights having to be cancelled for various reasons including Amanda Nunes pulling out the UFC 213 main event at the last possible moment, and just recently Ray Borg pulled out of his fight with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
Then there was the lowest point of the year for all of MMA. Just weeks after Jon Jones defeated Daniel Cormier for a second time to regain the light heavyweight title, we learned that he once again tested positive for a banned substance. This is a huge black eye for the UFC as one of their most well known and biggest PPV draws will now likely be suspended for a handful of years and may never return to the octagon. With that being said the UFC has a chance to end the last quarter of 2017 strong with some great fights. Here are ten fights you do not want to miss to close out 2017.
10. Curtis Blaydes vs Aleksi Oleinik UFC 217, November 4
This is an interesting fight between a young fighter in Blaydes against a veteran of over 66 fights in Oleinik. This should be a good measurement, win or lose to see where Blaydes fits in the heavyweight division. Oleinik is as tough as they come and has an excellent submission game with 45 career wins via tap out.
9. Donald Cerrone vs Darren Till UFC Fight Night 118, October 21
Cerrone is one the most active and exciting fighters in the UFC. His fights are always can’t miss. Even though he is coming off back to back losses, Cerrone is still one of the ten to twelve best welterweights in the world. England native Till is undefeated but has not faced a fighter any where near on Cerrone’s level. The 24 year old Till has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this fight. Expect some fireworks in this one.
8. Lyoto Machida vs Derek Brunson UFC Fight Night 119, October 28
It’s been two years since we have seen Machida inside a UFC octagon and this could be one of the last times we see him. The 39 year old’s career appears to be winding down after losing three out of his last four. The former light heavyweight champion has not had the same success at middleweight, but I suspect he will have something to prove in this fight. Brunson is still trying to prove he belongs in the top tier of the middleweight division. He recently scored a KO victory over Dan Kelly but suffered two straight losses before that, one to current interim champion Robert Whittaker and another in a controversial decision to living legend Anderson Silva. Brunson could use an impressive win here against Machida to get back in the title hunt.
7. Anderson Silva vs Kelvin Gastelum UFC Fight 122, November 25
Speaking of the legendary Anderson Silva this could also be one of the last times we see him in the UFC as well. The 42 year old former champion is not the dominant fighter he used to be but he is still a top attraction in the sport and a can’t miss fight. The year 2017 has been a rough year for Gastelum. His March victory over Vitor Belfort was over turned due to a failed drug test, then he suffered a tough loss in July by third round submission to Chris Weidman. He will look to rebound and end the year well with the biggest win of his career.
6. Matt Brown vs Diego Sanchz UFC Fight Night 120, November 11
What better way for Matt Brown to end his MMA career then with another potential fight of the night award. Brown announced on his Instagram account that his showdown with Diego Sanchez will be his last fight. I fully expect this to be an all out brawl. Both men are as tough as they come and love to go right at their opponent. Neither man is in the prime of their career but they never seem to let the crowd down and I don’t think that will happen on November 11.
5. Tony Ferguson vs Kevin Lee UFC 216, October 7
This fight will be for the interim lightweight title while Conor McGregor is away from the octagon. Ferguson is on a nine fight win streak with notable wins over Edson Barboza and former champion Rafael dos Anjos. Lee is riding a winning streak of his own with five straight wins; just not against the same top level competition as Ferguson. Lee will most likely come into this fight with a chip on his shoulder as some think he skipped a few people to get this chance. Ferguson is considered one of the toughest challengers for McGregor if he does return to the UFC lightweight division. Both men will be wanting to get a dominant victory.
4. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas UFC 217, November 4
Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been the UFC strawweight champion for over 900 days now. Namajunas will be looking to be the one to end this lengthy reign. Joanna Jedrzejczyk has outclassed all of her opponents with her superior striking. Namjunas will be looking to avoid that and get the fight to the ground. This should be one of Jedrzejczyk’s toughest tests to date.
3. Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg UFC 216, October 7
This fight was scheduled to be the main event of UFC 215 but Borg pulled out of the fight due to illness. I really thought that Borg had missed his chance at Johnson and the UFC would move on to the next opponent. However, Borg will get his chance to dethrone the long time champion. For Johnson this fight is all about legacy. He will be looking to break the tie with Anderson Silva and become the fighter with the most consective title defenses in UFC history.
2. Cody Garbrandt vs T.J. Dillashaw UFC 217, November 4
Former teammates and friends Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw will face off in a grudge match for the bantamweight title. I’m still curious just how good Garbrandt really is even after his victory over Dominick Cruz. The 26 year old appears to have all the tools for a long title reign, but it will be interesting to see if he can control his emotions against Dillashaw. Considered one of the most well-rounded fighters in all of MMA, Dillashaw will be looking to regain the bantamweight title for a second time. We had an up close and personal look at this feud on the Ultimate Fighter series earlier this year and I suspect we will be getting more of the same tension we saw from that leading up to, and during the fight.
1. Georges St. Pierre vs Michael Bisping UFC 217, November 4
UFC 217 is going to be the biggest card of the year with three title fights, including the main event for the middleweight title between the champion Michael Bisping and the returning Georges St. Pierre. After a four year layoff St. Pierre will be stepping back into the octagon but in a new weight class. I’m not sure what to expect out of St. Pierre at this point in his career. Will he be anywhere near the same fighter he was four years ago? How will he handle moving up in weight? Bisping is at the highest point of his career and will be looking to add a win over another legend. He wasn’t overly impressive against Dan Henderson in October of last year and I’m curious to see if the long lay off will play a factor in this fight. This fight has so many intriguing story lines which is why it is my number 1 must see fight to close out 2017.
NOW CHECK OUT HARRIS’S PREVIOUS TAKE: The Return of Luke Rockhold and why the middleweight division better be on notice