After a big 2015, the UFC kicks off 2016 with three events in the month of January. As the Octagon made more international appearances over the years, this month is special in the sense that all three events will take place on American soil. Kicking things off on January 2 will be UFC 195 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Following that will be UFC Fight Night 81 on January 17 in Boston, Massachusetts, and UFC On FOX 18 wraps things up for the month on January 30 in Newark, New Jersey. At this point, there are 37 bouts on the fight schedule for the month, so we are going to take a look at ten fights UFC fans should be on the look out for during a fun month of January.
Michael McDonald vs. Masanori Kanehara- UFC 195
Ben Saunders vs. Patrick Cote- UFC Fight Night 81
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Jake Ellenberger- UFC On FOX 18
10. Sage Northcutt vs. Andrew Holbrook- UFC On FOX 18- January 30
19-year-old rising prospect Sage Northcutt is taking the UFC by storm, garnering a lot of attention and being promoted heavily by the promotion. It may be unjust to some due to his age and inexperience, but there is a lot of marketability to the kid. He will be fighting for the second straight month, and the third time since making his UFC debut in October. This time he will be featured in primetime on the FOX network. He is being slowly built facing opponents near the bottom of the division, but he gets an undefeated opponent in his next fight in Andrew Holbrook. Holbrook is 11-0 and is coming off a win in his UFC debut, a split decision over Ramsey Nijem in July. This will be a test for Northcutt and also will show if coming back seven weeks after his last fight is too quick of a UFC turnaround.
9. Albert Tumenov vs. Lorenz Larkin- UFC 195- January 2
These men throw down with exciting fights and look to finish with every punch and kick they throw, and that is why the fight between Albert Tumenov and Lorenz Larkin is featured prominently on the main card of UFC 195, the first event of the month on Saturday. They are both finishers and both are strong on their feet. They have a chance to provide a lot of excitement and fireworks when they step inside the Octagon across from each other. Tumenov has won four straight fights while Larkin has won his past two since making the move down to welterweight. Unfortunately for them, they may not have the most exciting welterweight bout of the month, but the odds are pretty good they have a good shot at winning “Fight Of The Month”. This should be a barnburner.
8. Travis Browne vs. Matt Mitrione- UFC Fight Night 81- January 17
Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione are both at interesting points in their careers. Browne was thought to be a future title challenger in the heavyweight division, but has always seemed to take a step back when facing a top-five opponent. Mitrione was climbing up the rankings, but made a mental mistake that cost him his last fight against Ben Rothwell. Mitrione now comes into his fight against Browne on January 17 as an impending free agent, and he has been outspoken about a lot of issues in recent months. How will that affect him? Browne has also been in the news a lot, between charges of domestic abuse from his estranged wife and his new relationship with Ronda Rousey. How that all affects him remains to be seen as well. Inside the Octagon, both men throw heavy hands and in a heavyweight bout, a finish seems likely. Both men are at pivotal crossroads in their careers, and both have a lot to prove.
7. Dustin Poirier vs. Joseph Duffy- UFC 195- January 2
Originally scheduled to headline the UFC’s event in Dublin in October, a fight week injury to Joseph Duffy caused cancellation of his bout against Dustin Poirier. They were rebooked to fight at UFC 195 on Saturday, and they will be headlining the UFC Fight Pass preliminary card as the UFC makes a big push for their digital network in 2016. Duffy has gotten a lot of attention being the last man to defeat Conor McGregor, and he has scored two impressive UFC wins in his first two UFC bouts. A fight against Poirier is a big step up for Duffy, who fought Ivan Jorge and Jake Lindsey in his first two UFC bouts. Poirier was close to a title shot at 145 pounds, and he has two straight first-round finishes since moving up to lightweight. Both men are trying to break into the top ten in a crowded 155-pound division, and the winner will rocket up the rankings.
6. Josh Barnett vs. Ben Rothwell- UFC On FOX 18- January 30
Ben Rothwell has been looking for a fight for a long time, and it looks like he finally will get one at the end of January. He was supposed to fight Stipe Miocic in October, but Miocic pulled out due to injury. Rothwell tried to get many fights in the meantime, but nothing was materializing. He became even more upset when Miocic was quickly rebooked against Andrei Arlovski, who Rothwell tried to get booked with. In steps Josh Barnett, who will be looking to capitalize following a dominant win over Roy Nelson in September. It is interesting that Barnett took the fight as he talked about taking time away from the sport, again, following the Nelson win. He looked really good in that win, and Rothwell has looked sharp during his three-fight win streak. The winner will move one step closer towards a title shot.
5. Stipe Miocic vs. Andrei Arlovski- UFC 195- January 2
Speaking of title shots in the heavyweight division, the aforementioned Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski square off in the first co-main event of 2016 with a title shot hanging in the balance. Miocic is coming off a dominant win over Mark Hunt and is 4-1 in his last five fights. Arlovski has enjoyed a career resurgence, winning his last six fights, including four straight since returning to the UFC. He was in one of 2015’s most exciting bouts against Travis Browne, but his last win, over Frank Mir, was a disappointment. It set him up for a title eliminator against Miocic, who looks to make a statement and earn that title shot that has loomed him. With many big heavyweight bouts in January, this one will have the most importance on future title challengers.
4. Anthony Johnson vs. Ryan Bader- UFC On FOX 18- January 30
Light heavyweights will close out the month of January as Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader will meet in the main event of the FOX event on January 30 in Newark. Johnson is looking to get back into a title fight after a second-round knockout win over Jimi Manuwa at UFC 191 in January. Bader can make a strong argument that he deserves a title shot as he has won five straight fights, something that has been very hard to do in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He is coming off a convincing win over Johnson’s teammate, Rashad Evans, at UFC 192 in October. Unfortunately for both men, current champion Daniel Cormier is going to be occupied by former champion Jon Jones for a while as Jones makes his return. The winner of this bout is almost guaranteed to be next in line, so this is a pivotal bout for both.
3. Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez- UFC Fight Night 81- January 17
Former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon for the first time since losing the title to Rafael Dos Anjos, and his road back to a title shot begins with a bout against former Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez is looking for his second straight win over a former champion after defeating Gilbert Melendez in June and will be looking to make his case for a title shot. This fight has the potential to be a great clash as we have two top-five lightweights going at it with a potential title shot on the line. Pettis has long been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport and Alvarez is no slouch himself. In a month crowded with potential title eliminator bouts, this one has the best shot at being the best fight of the bunch.
2. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit- UFC 195- January 2
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The first main event of 2016 has excitement written all over it. UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler is coming off his first title defense over Rory MacDonald in 2015’s “Fight Of The Year”. It is the second straight year that Lawler has been involved in the “Fight Of The Year”, and him and former Interim UFC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit are looking to get a jump start on potentially winning that honor for 2016. It is one of the most interesting and compelling match-ups on the horizon for the UFC as it features two welterweights involved in some of the best fights in 170-pound division history. Both men are strong finishers, and both are equally as tough to finish. This one could be an all-time classic.
1. T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz- UFC Fight Night 81- January 17
The man who never lost the UFC Bantamweight Championship inside the Octagon will finally get his chance to get that championship back in our top fight to watch for the month. Dominick Cruz was forced to relinquish the championship after knee injuries kept him out of action for nearly two years. He returned in September 2014 and quickly finished Takeya Mizugaki, showing he hadn’t lost a step. However, another knee injury forced him out of action for all of 2015, but he finally comes back with a chance to win the belt he never lost. That championship is now held by T.J. Dillashaw, who is coming off his second title defense after a dominant win over the man he beat for the championship, Renan Barao, in July. Dillashaw has been in the news more recently for his ugly split with teammate Urijah Faber, who happens to be a big rival of Cruz. Faber is waiting in the wings for the winner, but Dillashaw and Cruz have their work ahead of them first. Their match-up on January 17 in Boston has the chance to be one of the best fights in the history of the bantamweight division, and the winner will be the rightful champion.