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Top MMA fights to watch in November 2016: Part I

Luke Rockhold poses on the scale during the weigh-in for UFC 194, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Rockhold is scheduled to fight Chris Weidman in a middleweight championship bout Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

After a momentary lull that was MMA in the month of October, November is finally here.

Overflowing with the sort of matchups capable of reminding one why they’re a fan of the sport in the first place, November brings fight fans plenty of reasons to remain firmly planted on the couch as they enjoy some of the best mixed martial arts action of 2016.

Rather than limit our monthly series to a mere five fights to watch, November prompted us to extend this edition into a two-part series featuring the top 10 fights of the month. Even that was a bit of a challenge, however, especially when you consider names like Frankie Edgar, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Alexa Grasso and Miesha Tate didn’t even make the cut.

Here, we bring you fights No. 10-6 to watch in November.

Honorable mentions:

  • Frankie Edgar vs. Jeremy Stephens
  • Michael Johnson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Alexa Grasso vs. Heather Clark
  • Andrey Koreshkov vs. Douglas Lima
  • Miesha Tate vs. Raquel Pennington
  • Michael Page vs. Fernando Gonzalez

10. Derek Brunson vs. Robert Whittaker 

Robert Whittaker, left, hits Rafael Natal during a middleweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 197, Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Event: UFC Fight Night 101

Date: Nov. 27

Location: Rod Laver Arena; Melbourne, Australia

A contest with massive implications on the future of the middleweight division is also destined to be a can’t-miss clash between two of the more exciting strikers the 185-pound class has to offer in 2016.

Ranked eighth in the division, Brunson has had quite a run for himself since August 2014. The Jackson-Wink fighter has put together a five-fight winning streak. More importantly, he’s put together four consecutive first-round knockout or TKO victories. None of his opponent have made it past the three-minute mark since then, and that includes a TKO win over Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 94 in September.

Whittaker has also made a name for himself as a dangerous stand-up artist at 185 pounds, using his high-pressure, high-volume strikes to defeat Clint Hester, Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall and Rafael Natal in succession since June 2014. Not bad for a fighter that made it onto the UFC roster as a welterweight. One of few fighters in the sport’s history that’s been able to succeed when moving up in weight, the 25-year-old Aussie has a bright future for himself as one of the nation’s few high-caliber fighters.

With the world entirely focused on Chris Weidman vs. Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold vs. Ronaldo Souza when determining the next title challenger at 185, they’d be wise to at least keep Brunson and Whittaker in their peripherals. The winner won’t be too far off with a win this month.

9. Donald Cerrone vs. Kelvin Gastelum 

Donald Cerrone, left, punches Rick Story during their welterweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 202 on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas. Corrine won the bout. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Event: UFC 205

Date: Nov. 12

Location: Madison Square Garden; New York City

Where Donald Cerrone’s tenure at welterweight first started as nothing more than a break from the taxing cut to 155 pounds, “Cowboy” now finds himself one win away from being regarded as a genuine contender for the title. That’s what happens when you manage to submit Alex Oliveira and become the first man to ever stop Patrick Cote and Rick Story via strikes inside the cage. After enjoying a world of success fighting at 155 pounds (sans Rafael dos Anjos), “Cowboy” now finds himself ranked No. 6 in the class and taking on the No. 5 fighter.

He faces Kelvin Gastelum, who has a world to prove after picking up his latest victory against Johny Hendricks in July. While “Bigg Rigg” isn’t quite the fighter he once was anymore, the win for Gastelum proved he was deserving of another marquee matchup at 170 pounds. He’ll get that and then some against “Cowboy.”

8. Luke Rockhold vs. Ronaldo Souza 

Luke Rockhold, left, is attended to between rounds as he fights 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 101

Date: Nov. 27

Location: Rod Laver Arena; Melbourne, Australia

The second of two marquee middleweight matchups that may very well determine the next title challenger in the UFC’s 185-pound class, Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza lock horns for the second time since their Strikeforce championship showdown more than five years ago.

Quite a bit’s changed since then. Rockhold went on to defend the title before enjoying a world of success in the UFC en route to becoming the champion last December. Impressive victories over Tim Boetsch, Michael Bisping Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman took Rockhold from a possible contender to champion of the world. Even after having lost the middleweight title to Bisping in June, the verdict is still out on whether Rockhold remains the best fighter the division has to offer.

But Souza underwent a bit of change as well. He’s no longer the one-dimensional grappler looking to take the fight to the canvas. While he’s not on the same level as Rockhold on the feet, he’s far more of a talented striker than he was when they first met in 2011. He’s a dangerous threat to any man in the division.

7. Rafael dos Anjos vs. Tony Ferguson

Rafael Dos Anjos fights Gleison Tibau during a UFC 139 Mixed Martial Arts lightweight bout in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Event: UFC Fight Night 88

Date: Nov. 5

Location: Mexico City Arena; Mexico City

Eager to bounce back from his championship loss to Eddie Alvarez back in July, Rafael dos Anjos steps into the Octagon to face one of the more dangerous contenders that nearly made his way to a title fight during his reign. The Brazilian fighter has several questions that demand answers, the most important of which will likely stem from his ability to make the steady climb back up the 155-pound ladder. After defeating Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone in one of the most impressive runs in recent memory, dos Anjos has to prove his loss to Alvarez was a mere bump in the road and not a sign of things to come.

Tony Ferguson, meanwhile, finally has his chance to prove his skill-set against one of the true elite fighters at 155 pounds. Riding an impressive eight-fight winning streak, it’s worth noting only one of those victories has come against a fighter within the top five (Edson Barboza). Having missed out on the chance to face No. 1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov on multiple occasions, “El Cucuy” gets the No. 2 man in the class, and it comes in the shape of the recently fallen former champion.

6. Michael Chandler vs. Ben Henderson

April 22, 2016: Andrey Koreshkov (red gloves) takes on Benson Henderson (blue gloves) for the Welterweight World Title as the Main event . The contest takes place in Bellator 153 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Andrey Koreshkov defeats Benson Henderson via Decision. (Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire)

(Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire)

Event: Bellator 165

Date: Nov. 19

Location: SAP Center; San Jose, California

Given the current circumstances, it’s hard to conceptualize a bigger fight for either Michael Chandler or Benson Henderson. On the one hand, this is the second and possibly final opportunity Henderson will have at obtaining Bellator gold. On the other, there is currently no greater, more noteworthy challenger to Chandler’s reign than the former WEC and UFC lightweight champion. From the moment Henderson signed and former champion Will Brooks was released, this immediately became the fight to make for Bellator MMA.

Beyond the prospects of winning the title, this is also an opportunity for Henderson to finally prove himself inside the Bellator cage. The former UFC standout got off to a rocky start with his new promoter after being immediately thrust into a championship contest at welterweight. Where many believed Henderson had the fundamental goods to do away with the size difference he shared against champion Andrey Koreshkov, both men proved us wrong. Koreshkov, based on both size and skill, was the better fighter. Things didn’t get much better for Henderson in his sophomore appearance against former Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Henderson spent the better part of seven minutes allowing Freire to dictate the pace, and likely win the rounds. Only Freire would suffer an unfortunate leg injury during the fight that prompted the fight to come to an immediate end.

Chandler also has some questions to answer. Though part of his woes are a product of the lack of talent Bellator houses at lightweight, Chandler hasn’t defeated an elite 155-pound fighter since 2011 when he defeated Eddie Alvarez via fourth-round submission. He’s dropped three fights against elite lightweights since then, giving up back-to-back split decisions to Alvarez and Brooks before suffering a devastating TKO defeat to Brooks in 2014. He’s since gone 3-0 against fighters who lack the quality belonging to those who call themselves the best in the world.

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