The UFC has always done a great job of closing the year out with a bang, and this year is no different, as the collection of fights slated to hit the Octagon in the final month of 2022 is outstanding.
With a host of compelling and intriguing matchups, the three events on the schedule to wrap up December offer a buffet of options for fight fans to choose from as they fill their plates heading into the annual Christmas / New Year’s break.
Order UFC 282: Blachowicz vs Ankalaev
It’s a great slate, so let’s get into it — this is The 10 for December 2022.
Tracy Cortez prepares to fight Melissa Gatto of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Over the last several months, flyweight has made a strong case for being the best division on the women’s side of the roster, mirroring what is built in the men’s bantamweight ranks, and this fight illustrates that perfectly.
Cortez is 4-0 in the UFC and riding a 10-fight winning streak overall, which includes victories over Erin Blanchfield, Mariya Agapova, and Melissa Gatto. Ribas is making her second straight start in the 125-pound ranks, looking to rebound from a split decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian in the summer and build herself into a contender, as she had previously done at strawweight.
Neither of these two women are being talked about as title threats at the moment, but a dominant effort from either here will certainly go a long way towards changing that and put the victor in a position to challenge either one of the young, emerging stars of the division or an established contender.
Both have the skills to be Top 10 fixtures in the near future, and potentially contenders if everything breaks in their favor, so it will be interesting to see who takes another step forward here, and who is forced to regroup heading into next year.
Matt Schnell elbows Sumudaerji of China in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UBS Arena on July 16, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Flyweight is going to be in the spotlight over the next couple months, as Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno ready to conclude their rivalry, and this clash carries a great deal of divisional significance when it comes to determining the hierarchy of contenders in the 125-pound ranks.
Nicolau is 3-0 since returning to the UFC, 6-1 inside the Octagon across two tours of duty, and 18-3-1 overall. He has victories over a pair of former title challengers, a win over Manel Kape, and last time out, he battered talented Czech prospect David Dvorak. He’s stationed at No. 6 in the rankings, and another victory should carry him into a meeting with one of the top contenders in the division in 2023.
Schnell is allergic to being in a boring fight, and also might be part cyborg, as he showed in his come-from-behind, “How is he still standing?” win over Sumudaerji earlier this year. He’s 6-2 with one no contest since beginning his UFC tenure with consecutive losses and is working with a good crew under the watchful eye of Yves Edwards, which means we should continue to see more of the same from “Danger” in this one and beyond.
What’s most exciting about this fight is that Schnell is the ideal opponent for Nicolau at this time, as the Louisiana native is going to press forward and force the Brazilian to engage more than he has in recent outings. Nicolau can be too patient, too selective at times, but Schnell is a feisty barn cat looking for a tussle each time he hits the Octagon, so expect this to be an intense, action-packed scrap with legitimate divisional ramifications.
Any clash of Top 5 fighters is intriguing, but it gets even more appetizing when it’s a meeting between heavyweights because the knockout potential soars through the roof.
Tuivasa may have lost his last outing, but he didn’t lose any ground in the weight class. If anything, he further solidified that he’s a legitimate threat in the big boy division by battling Ciryl Gane tooth and nail for nearly three full rounds in Paris. Prior to that, “Bam Bam” had collected five straight stoppage wins, showing improved patience and decision-making to go along with his ever-present willingness to sling hands and have fun while doing so.
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Pavlovich was thrown into the deep end of the talent pool in his promotional debut, facing off with and losing to Alistair Overeem. Since then, the hulking Russian heavyweight has collected four straight stoppage victories, capped by a 55-second win over Derrick Lewis at UFC 277 in Dallas earlier this year. Standing six-foot-three with an 84-inch reach, the 30-year-old Pavlovich is the top emerging name in the heavyweight division at the moment, and can catapult himself into contention with a victory here.
Things at the top of the heavyweight division remain complicated and unsettled, but hopefully that will start to get sorted out soon. This is a tremendous matchup to help clarify where each of these competitors stand within the divisional hierarchy, and should be an outstanding lead-in to the first main event of the month.
Welterweights at very different stages of their careers, but each needing to answer some lingering questions, meet in the December 3rd main event in Orlando.
Thompson returns for the first time in a year, aiming to shake out of a two-fight skid that has seen him corralled and wrestled by Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad in consecutive outings. The 39-year-old former title challenger is 3-4 since his twin championship bouts against Tyron Woodley, and while he still holds down a place in the Top 10, it feels like his lease is coming up and no one is sure if he’s going to renew or not.
Holland is back in familiar territory after getting shuffled into a short notice clash with Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279. Much like during his 2020 run of success at middleweight, “Trailblazer” began his welterweight stint with a pair of solid victories but stumbled when faced with a step up in competition. Now, it was a massive step up in competition and on short notice no less, so he gets a bit of a pass, but he needs to prove he’s capable of beating Top 15 competition in order to start making his way into the rankings.
Stylistically, this should be a stand-up battle, where Thompson will be able to deploy his traditional darting style and Holland will look to utilize his reach and off-tempo approach. Each of these men need this victory for different reasons, and it should bring out the best in both of them when they stand across from one another.
This speaks to the power of Till’s gravitational pull because despite the fact that he hasn’t won a fight in two years and has one victory in four years, I’m still completely captivated by this matchup with Du Plessis.
The former welterweight title challenger enters on a two-fight slide and sporting a 1-4 record over his last five bouts, which extends all the way back to his welterweight title fight with Tyron Woodley. Till has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and yet doesn’t turn 30 until Christmas Eve, which is why so many still hold out hope that the rugged Scouser can get healthy, remain active, and perform to the best of his abilities going forward.
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Du Plessis has won each of his first three UFC assignments, most recently outlasting veteran Brad Tavares at UFC 276 to push his overall winning streak to five and his record to 12-2. The South African has good power, a willingness to trade, and could position himself as a dark horse contender in the shifting middleweight ranks with a dominant effort against Till at UFC 282.
With the changing of the guard atop the middleweight division, there will be a demand for fresh matchups and competitive battles to establish a pecking order behind new champion Alex Pereira, and the winner of this one should factor into those conversations in a major way.
Sounds the klaxons — we’ve got ourselves a banger alert!
Mitchell returns for the first time since out-hustling Edson Barboza at UFC 272 in March, shuffling forward to a fight with Topuria after a main event matchup with Movsar Evloev was scuttled when the Russian was forced to withdraw. The talented Arkansas-based grappler has won all six of his UFC appearances after coming off Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, and will look to continue that impressive march towards the top of the featherweight rankings by taking out Topuria at UFC 282.
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While he’s lost a little momentum after announcing his presence on the UFC stage with two wins in three months at the end of 2020, Topuria remains one of the top emerging talents in the 145-pound weight class. After dispatching Ryan Hall in his lone appearance of 2021, the Georgian prospect jumped up to lightweight in March and defeated Jai Herbert in London, pushing his record to 12-0, with all but one of those wins coming inside the distance.
If there is one dark cloud hovering over this bout it’s that Topuria missed weight for a January assignment against Charles Jourdain prior to bumping up a division, so how things go the day before the event will surely impact the overall anticipation for this contest. Should everything remain intact and both parties hit the mark, this has the potential to determine the top up-and-coming name in a division that feels primed for some major turnover in 2023.
I’ve got chicken skin just thinking about this one.
Pimblett has been a jolt of electricity since arriving in the UFC towards the tail end of 2021, registering three straight stoppage victories to push his overall winning streak to five while establishing himself as one of the most popular fighters on the roster. But those three wins have come against inexperienced or overmatched competition, leaving many to wonder how “The Baddy” would handle himself against a more seasoned, more polished opponent.
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While “Flash” doesn’t have a number next to his name, he is the quintessential veteran litmus test in the lightweight division and the exact right kind of fighter to face Pimblett at this moment. Entering off a win over Leo Santos at UFC 278 and sporting a 4-1 mark over his last five, the 34-year-old Gordon is battle-tested, strong on the ground, and the kind of durable, rugged competitor you don’t get by unless you’re legitimately talented.
This is the kind of fight everyone has been wanting to see for Pimblett since his arrival, and now it’s here. Will the popular Scouser pass the test or will Gordon turn him aside?
Initially slated to be a title eliminator, a serious injury to Jiri Prochazka prompted the Czech champion to relinquish the title, turning the UFC 282 co-main event into a matchup for the vacant light heavyweight title.
Blachowicz lost the title to Glover Teixeira on Halloween 2021 in Abu Dhabi, but got right back into the win column six months later, earning a second-round TKO win over Aleksandar Rakic when the Austrian contender suffered a knee injury. The man with “legendary Polish power” is 6-1 in his last seven and 10-2 over his last dozen fights, stringing together strong winning streaks after each setback.
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Over the last two years, the 30-year-old Russian has turned a five-fight winning streak into a nine-fight run of success by dispatching Nikita Krylov, Volkan Oezdemir, Thiago Santos, and Anthony Smith. If he does the same to Blachowicz to get to 10 consecutive victories, he’ll claim UFC gold.
While the circumstances around this fight being elevated to championship status are unfortunate, it’s difficult to argue against these two men garnering this opportunity. Blachowicz has been champion before and looked sharp in his return, while Ankalaev is on the longest winning streak in the division, so while this is certainly not how anyone would have liked for it to happen, this is an outstanding championship clash between deserving contenders.
As the guy that is always writing about Fighters on the Rise, trust me when I tell you that you’re going to want to pay close attention to this fight because the winner is going to be heard from in the lightweight division in 2023.
Tsarukyan dropped a unanimous decision to Mateusz Gamrot in June in a technical, competitive clash that reminded everyone of why he’s considered one of the top up-and-coming names in the 155-pound weight class. Many believe he did enough to merit the victory in that bout, but a 5-2 record inside the Octagon bookended by losses to Gamrot and current champ Islam Makhachev still illustrates the level of skill the 26-year-old carries with him into battle.
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The 31-year-old Ismagulov has won an astounding 19 straight fights, including each of his first five UFC assignments. As I’ve said many times, you don’t win that many fights in a row — in the UFC or anywhere — if you’re not extremely talented, especially not when you’re facing the level of competition Ismagulov has shared the cage with as of late.
Each of these men rightfully enter with a number next to their names, and the victor should feature prominently when it comes time to map things out in the lightweight division in 2023.
Middleweights meet in the final UFC bout of the year, as Cannonier and Strickland look to close out 2022 by getting back into the win column.
Last time out, Cannonier came up short in his bid to knock Israel Adesanya from his perch atop the division, dropping a unanimous decision to “The Last Stylebender” at UFC 276 in July. In seven fights since relocating to the 185-pound weight class, the 38-year-old MMA Lab representative has gone 5-2 with four stoppage wins, with his losses coming against Adesanya and former champ Robert Whittaker.
While Cannonier lost to the champ at UFC 276, Strickland was knocked out by the man that would go on to challenge and defeat Adesanya last month at MSG, Alex Pereira. The 31-year-old had gone 5-0 since returning from a two-year hiatus and was unbeaten in the middleweight division heading into that fight with Pereira, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he gets right back into the win column and re-establishes himself as a contender with a big win here.
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The changing of the guard at the top of the division could be a jolt of electricity through the division, so closing out the year on a positive note has to be something both Cannonier and Strickland are desperate for heading into the final UFC bout of the year.
UFC 282: Błachowicz vs Ankalaev took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 10, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses – and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!
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