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Rare extended UFC lull serves as calm before the storm

An overall, general view of the Octagon at the Prudential Center at UFC 159 in Newark, NJ, Saturday, April 27,2013. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

There’s no doubt that die-hard UFC enthusiasts will likely be suffering from serious withdrawal by the time the organization serves up its next offering. However, the down time will prove to be the definitive calm before what looms as a major year-end storm. The promotion is currently in a rare extended lull until business resumes next month with the TUF Latin America 3 Finale from Mexico City.

Fans were deprived of the opportunity to take in some action from the Philippines this weekend after the plug was pulled on the Fight Night 97 event when former two-division titlist B.J. Penn was forced to withdraw from his main event assignment against Ricardo Lamas due to a rib injury. It’s yet another false start when it comes to the UFC Hall of Famer’s latest comeback bid.

As a result, what was slated to be a two-week hiatus has been extended to a three-week absence on the competition front. However, when you examine the lineup that has been set in place for the rest of the year, this current respite will be more than made up for.

The organization delivered eight consecutive action-packed weekends that were bookended by the hugely successful UFC 202 event that featured the highly anticipated rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz and the most recent revenge middleweight title clash between Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson at UFC 204. Those eight cards featured stops along the way on U.S., Canadian, German, Brazilian and U.K. soil. When the organization does resume with Octagon business, it’ll kick start a mad dash to the finish line culminating in what looms as a huge year-end show on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.

The final two months of the year will feature a number of possible Fight of the Year candidates. The lightweight division’s hottest contender, Tony Ferguson, will collide with former titlist Rafael dos Anjos in the main event clash on Nov. 5 in Mexico. “El Cucuy” has established himself as one of the most exciting competitors in the 155-pound ranks and the matchup against RDA has tremendous potential.

Ferguson is amongst a list of contenders who’ve done everything asked of them lately, but have yet to receive a title opportunity. He’ll be searching for his ninth straight victory against the dangerous Brazilian.

Not surprisingly, the organization has put its best foot forward in helping to ensure that their first foray into New York produces a memorable event on Nov. 12. There’s a rare six-fight main card that includes a trio of superb title clashes. The one that undoubtedly will garner the most attention is the champion vs. champion showdown involving featherweight kingpin Conor McGregor and lightweight titlist Eddie Alvarez.

“The Notorious” has established himself as the promotion’s No. 1 draw and is definitely one of the most polarizing figures in the game. There’s no one better in the trash-talking department. And more often than not, the bombastic Dublin native backs up that bravado. McGregor is getting the opportunity to become the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold two belts at the same time if he can knock off the always game and highly-skilled Alvarez.

The other two title bouts at MSG are compelling in their own right. Tyron Woodley makes the first defense of his welterweight belt against Stephen Thompson. “The Chosen One” captured 170-gold with a devastating knockout of the traditionally durable Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 while “Wonderboy” got the deserved call as the result of an impressive seven-fight win streak.

The women will get their just due with Joanna Jedrzejczyk battling Karolina Kowalkiewicz in an all-Polish strawweight title clash. Jedrzejczyk continues to make a name for herself as one of the most dangerous female fighters in the sport with her pre-fight mental warfare, aggressive style and excellent striking skills. She’s no stranger to the big stage, having been featured as the co-main event back at UFC 193 in a massive stadium show in Australia where she defeated Valerie Letourneau. Jedrzejczyk’s star power has been on the rise and the date at MSG on one of the best cards that the promotion has ever assembled could take her popularity to another level.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, of Poland, celebrates defeating Carla Esparza in a women's strawweight UFC 185 mixed martial arts title bout, Saturday, March 14, 2015, in Dallas. Jedrzejczyk won by TKO in two rounds. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The remainder of the month will have an international flavor with top-15 welterweights Dong Hyun Kim and Gunnar Nelson headlining an event in Belfast. On that same Nov. 19 date, Ryan Bader and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will engage in a key light heavyweight rematch as the main event for a show in Brazil. Fans will be treated to an entire day of action and will need some serious stamina if they intend to witness the 24 fights that will be offered on those two cards.

An outstanding contest is set for Melbourne the following week at Fight Night 101 when former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold squares off against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Both men will be looking to make their case to face Bisping next for the 185-pound strap. Rockhold defeated Souza via decision in their compelling first encounter to capture the Strikeforce title back in 2011.

While November is undoubtedly one to remember, the menu for December is equally appetizing.

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson will continue his assault on the all-time record for most successful title defenses when he puts his flyweight championship on the line on Dec. 3 at the TUF Finale against the Season 24 winner of The Ultimate Fighter. A highly anticipated light heavyweight title rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson will be an intriguing matchup for UFC 206 in Toronto.

“DC” had to survive some rocky moments in the opening round of their UFC 187 clash for the vacant 205-pound strap, before wearing down Johnson and submitting him in the third-round. Johnson is coming off a devastating 13-second KO win over Glover Teixeira and remains one of the most intimidating competitors in the division.

There had been plenty of speculation that former two-time welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre would return after a lengthy absence for that Canadian event but recent comments from President Dana White make that look like a long-shot.

Some of the organization’s younger talent will be on full display at UFC on FOX 22 in Sacramento on Dec. 17. Paige VanZant will continue her push up the 115-pound ladder when she tangles with Michelle Waterson in what stacks up as an attractive main event. That card will also feature Sage Northcutt tangling with C.M. Punk destroyer Mickey Gall in a battle of rising prospects.

The UFC has seemingly saved its best for last with the return of ex-women’s bantamweight titlist Ronda Rousey. “Rowdy” will seek redemption in her long-awaited comeback fight against current 135-pound champion Amanda Nunes. That Dec. 30 event in Las Vegas should make for a major pay-per-view bonanza in what has already been a stellar year on that front.

Rousey looking to regain her spot atop the division is one of the most compelling storylines of the year. She may have been out of sight since losing her belt to Holly Holm last November, but she’s seemingly always been involved in any discussion regarding the division’s future because of her immense star power and impressive body of work. She made six successful title defenses before being victimized by one of the biggest upsets in UFC championship history.

Rousey had clearly established herself as a major PPV draw and her return will undoubtedly do huge numbers, even though her previous aura of invincibility vanished after the knockout loss against “The Preacher’s Daughter”. This contest will also provide Nunes with the opportunity to solidify her title reign and escape from under the massive Rousey shadow.

As if Rousey’s return won’t generate a big enough buzz for that event, the rumor of a Dominick Cruz bantamweight title defense and the heavyweight rematch between former champions Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum will only add further sizzle. Having both Rousey and McGregor appearing in the last two months of 2016 is a win-win for the organization and fans alike.

While UFC enthusiasts will undoubtedly be a little antsy in having their viewing habits altered for these next three weekends, the encouraging news is there’s indeed light at the end of the tunnel. The upcoming impressive slate of events and matchups will definitely allow the organization to cap off the year with a bang.

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