Five championship fights. Several other top 10 clashes. Some high profile rematches. More than a dozen fights with former world champions.
The UFC has a summer of fighting lined up. After taking the next weekend off, the promotion wreaked havoc on July 11 in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, featuring a trio of title fights. This will be followed by three more fighting cards in the UAE over the course of the month, and then we will return to the United States for a race that, by the end of August, will include five additional events. With many fights. Big fights.
When I was asked to write about the five most anticipated fights of the summer, my initial thought was to put together a list of about a dozen and distribute it among the ESPN team to reach a consensus on those that most relate to the group.
"No," I was told, "this is your List."
Ah yes, fine then.
It makes sense to approach the exercise this way, actually, because all the fans watch the summer schedule and have different fights. We all have our own preferences. Some may point to these five title fights between now and Labor Day and finish their list. For me, title fights represent less than half of my top five list. I did include three rematches, however, while other fans can avoid this type of reservation, thinking, "I was there, I did it".
No matter what your taste, there is a fight for you. Several, in fact. Here are my choices:
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier 3
August 15 in Las Vegas
Let's start with the fight on my list that is farther away in the future. Because? Because the main event of UFC 252 is the fight of the summer – and I seriously doubt that you are alone in that feeling. The anxious expectation of finally seeing Miocic and Cormier completing their heavy championship trilogy will feed us in the days of sweaty dog ahead. What could be better? Cormier knocked out Miocic in the first round in July 2018 to become a two-division champion. In the rematch 13 months later, Stipe overcame a difficult start to regain his title with a technical knockout in the fourth round. Who will fall this time?
There are even more intrigues surrounding the third meeting. These two men started out on very cordial terms, but two years later their rivalry has an advantage. That's what happens when it's just you and another fighter spending a long time fighting for the throne that sits atop Heavyweight Mountain. There were head games, micro-aggressions amplified to the point where these companions seem to share this same feeling: I definitely cannot afford to lose to that face. With Cormier committed to retiring from MMA after tonight, the result here will be his enduring lasting memory as an active boxer. And for Miocic, who hasn't seen anyone but DC in front of him for two years? He wants to get this man out of his face as soon as possible.
Conclusion: If I were highlighting my most anticipated fight of the summer, it would be this one. If I were putting together a list of three unmissable episodes, I might have completed the trilogy, along with recorded replays of Miocic-Cormier 1 and 2. I can't wait.
July 25 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Robert Whittaker explains how a training session on Christmas Day made him feel exhausted, making him question whether he still wanted to fight and realized he needed a break.
Sometimes a champion is dropped from a throne and apparently falls off the face of the earth. It seems to have happened to Whittaker, who has watched the middleweight division move on since he dropped his belt to Israel Adesanya Last October. In some ways, Adesanya was already the star of the weight class, even while Whittaker still reigned, because of the stupendous talent of "The Last Stylebender" and also because of Whittaker's absence of injuries and muffled behavior. But here comes an opportunity for the former champion to return to the map. Or not.
What makes this game especially attractive to me is that it left the left field. Who could have predicted nine months ago to even share the cage with Whittaker or any other 185 pound weight? But then, in November, the long-standing average weight moved up a division and jumped straight to the bottom of the pool, taking on a highly ranked position. Kelvin Gastelum. Till's split decision victory made him an instant candidate. If he wins Whittaker, the sky is the limit.
July 16 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
There are fights for the championship and high-risk disputes that, looking at the big picture, mean more to the UFC and its various weight class hierarchies. But sometimes you just have to follow what excites you you. And I like some Frankie Edgar fights for me. Those of us who have followed man's career seemingly forever have always had to stick to many ups and downs – sometimes in the same fight, sometimes in the same round. As of this month, Edgar has been in this sport for 15 years, and not a second of it is boring. The past two years have not been so kind to this former champion. Edgar, who is switching to dwarf weight, has lost three out of four and appears to be relegated to a guardian role.
This brings me to Edgar's opponent. Munhoz suffered a loss of momentum to Aljamain Sterling over a year ago and hasn't fought since. But just a few months before that defeat, he defeated Cody Garbrandt and it was on a roll. Munhoz had established himself as a candidate for ever-increasing bantamweight, and a victory here could restore that status to his name.
July 12 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The first time these two shared the octagon, in December, Volkanovski put an impressive performance to become UFC featherweight champion. It was his 18th consecutive victory, so everyone already knew that the Australian was formidable. But who was prepared to see Holloway dethroned so decisively? Max won 14 of his 15 previous fights, the only defeat against Dustin Poirier in light weight. He had the appearance of a champion destined to reign for a long time.
This is Holloway's opportunity to regain the belt and mojo he lost. It's Volkanovski's chance to shut up who still doubts he's the best fighter, not just a guy who had a great night. That's what attracts me to this UFC 251 co-main event, even more than the fight for the welterweight title at the top of the marquee. Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns it will be an electrifying scrap, but the £ 145 rematch that will take place just before there are more personally consequential and overriding bets than a champion belt. It is a confrontation of two men who have already proven themselves and still need to remind us of what they are made of. It is the fight I most look forward to tonight.
July 12 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Here it is another rematch on that main UFC 251 card loaded, this one between two former strawweight champions. And yes, I am including this fight in two of the three title fights that night – Usman vs. Burns at welterweight and Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo for the vacant male rooster weight championship. I will watch them all, of course, but this one is particularly fascinating for me to contemplate because of how the first meeting took such an abrupt turn. Namajunas was riding Andrade until Andrade caught Namajunas. The blow that ended the fight was frighteningly cruel.
Namajunas has not fought since losing his belt that night in May 2019. Andrade has spent just 42 seconds in the octagon since then, leaving the title for Zhang Weili less than four months later. So, the two women are coming out of low points. Both essentially disappeared. And both, when they finally reappear, have something to prove, perhaps for themselves and the public. This rematch was originally scheduled for April, but the reserve has broken up. Here it is, finally. It is worth the wait.