As tends to be the norm in our monthly “Fights to Watch” pieces, only one of the fights previously featured makes an appearance for the month of December.
Thanks to back-to-back-to-back main event first-round finishes from Frankie Edgar, Conor McGregor or Rafael dos Anjos their respective bouts with Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will not be featured on this list But, like most months, that can only mean there were four better candidates — matchups that relieved our seats of their duties and placed added stress on our feet and knees.
Here are the top five bouts from the month of December:
5. Urijah Faber vs. Frankie Saenz
It’s hard to imagine that too many people outside of Trident Performance Training were rooting for Frankie Saenz in this one. With a potential grudge match looming with his former Team Alpha Male protege, Urijah Faber was just one victory away from making it happen.
And that’s why so many folks found concern in Saenz’s performance at UFC 194, as the Phoenix fighter fought through adverse circumstances heading into the final round. Battered and rocked early, Saenz seemed to be on his last legs as “The California Kid” pushed forward. But as a durable Saenz would show, nothing Faber could offer that night would put him away. The 35-year-old Saenz even fought back to earn a round on at least two scorecards — a feat rare in quantity after suffering such a one-sided beating.
4. Michael Chiesa vs. Jim Miller
Michael Chiesa deserves to compete opposite a top-15 UFC lightweight. He proved himself worthy in an exciting back-and-forth outing against 155-pound division staple Jim Miller at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale. We already knew the TUF 15 winner was an elite grappler; his rear-naked choke over Miller — a fellow grappling savant — only served as a reminder.
3. Michael Johnson vs. Nate Diaz
While this may be the least competitive contest on the list, you’d be hard-pressed to deny it of its well-earned entertainment value. Michael Johnson came in the more active fighter, having competed more often while Diaz accepted just his second fight since 2013.
Diaz went on to prove himself immune to any ring rust, however, shaking off the 12-month layoff in what ways only a Diaz brother could. His jab and “Stockton Slap” in full effect, Diaz peppered Johnson from the opening bell onward. Not only that, but the Stockton native provided his expected ridicule during the bout, laughing at Johnson, whose reach disadvantage prevented him from landing any damaging blows throughout the three-round affair.
A matchup with Conor McGregor may not be in Diaz’s immediate future, but that only means we’ll be hearing about “ninja sh-t” until the fight become reality.
2. Tony Ferguson vs. Edson Barboza
Fans may have found reason to frown once Tony Ferguson’s original opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov, pulled out of their TUF 22 Finale contest. But from its ashes rose a bout that many of us looked upon as a can’t-miss affair between two of the most exciting lightweight fighters the sport has to offer.
Edson Barboza, an elite-level Muay Thai practitioner would take on a crafty, often unorthodox fighter in “El Cucuy” in what, as predicted, turned into quite the contest. Ferguson walked away the winner after securing one of his damn-near patented D’arce chokes in Round 2, securing his standing as a wild card title contender at 155 pounds.
1. Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold
A fight between two of the very best middleweight fighters the sport has ever seen, Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold made sure they deserved every ounce of hype given to them. While the fight came to an end in dominant fashion on behalf of the challenger turned champion, there were several moments throughout the UFC 194 co-headliner that showcased how closely matched the two fighters really were.
Body kicks landed, takedowns were secured and smiles ensued. Like the co-main event in Conor McGregor’s previous pay-per-view outing, Weidman vs. Rockhold at UFC 194 — while not providing the most memorable moment — largely provided a more competitive, back-and-forth affair. It was the sort of contest that provides hope for the future of the middleweight division, seeing as this will likely not be the last time we see these 185-pound monsters paired up inside the Octagon.