MMA stars like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Rashad Evans may all be sidelined until early 2011, but that doesn’t mean 2010 won’t close with a bang. There’s plenty of good fights to focus on down the stretch this year. Which fights will produce the most fireworks before and during the fight?
1. Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck-- UFC 124, Dec. 11
Nothing can match the hype produced by months of reality television. You may think the trash talk on Season 12 of "The Ultimate Fighter" will be one-sided. But all of it won't be from Koscheck. GSP will get in his little digs. He’s a confident guy bordering on cocky and the show should be able showcase that a bit. That said, on fight night Koscheck will be battling 21,000-plus angry Canadians in Montreal and 95 percent of the audience watching will be rooting against him.
Fans really should embrace Koscheck in this fight, because for those of you who are tiring of GSP’s wrestling dominance, Kos should be able to make this into a stand-up war. That should bring the best out of St. Pierre, who’s gone away from his dynamic striking game. A devastating knockout win from GSP should only strengthen his spot as MMA’s best pound-for-pound.
2. Nick Diaz vs. K.J. Noons-- Strikeforce, Oct. 9
This has all the makings of a mega-fight. Unfortunately, outside of MMA websites and hardcore fans it won’t get much attention. Clearly Diaz, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, should take this one to the ground against the self-proclaimed jiu-jitsu white belt Noons, but he won’t. Noons is primarily a boxer who took out Diaz in 2007. Diaz, who’s volume-style of striking has been devastating opponents, will want to brawl with Noons.
Noons will be a big underdog, but he’s got a good shot at winning. Diaz is great, but you have to question the competition during his recent seven-fight win streak, Diaz is also willing to take a few shots to deliver his own. Will he survive if Diaz cracks him with a clean shot on the chin?
If Diaz chooses to participate in media functions next week, the fight could also possess the best trash talk of the fall.
3. Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez-- UFC 121, Oct. 23
After watching the first round of his fight against Shane Carwin, all the talk of Lesnar being unbeatable has gone out the window. Is Carwin just that good or does Lesnar have huge holes in his game? We’ll find out a lot about the UFC’s heavyweight champ against a thoroughbred like Velasquez. If Velasquez can stay out of the monster’s clutches and be mobile, he could tear apart Lesnar on the feet. Lesnar has switched up his training camp by adding smaller heavyweights who can strike. Does he have enough time to fix the issues that allowed Carwin to tee off at UFC 116?
Velasquez has been touted by many as a beast and the future of the division. We’ll find out if a 240-pounder can compete with the guys at the top of the class who cut weight to get to 265.
4. Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit-- UFC 120, Oct. 16
Condit’s time in the UFC might be a bit of a disappointment from a win/loss standpoint, but his three fights have been fight of the night quality each time out. That’s good and bad. Great for the fans but too often Condit brawls instead of fighting to his strengths. You know Hardy will unload verbally on Condit over the next few weeks. The former WEC welterweight champ should respond by taking him down at will and pounding the Brit on the ground but he won’t. This will be a stand-up war and we’ll find out quickly if Condit has a chin.
5. Scott Smith vs. Paul Daley-- Strikeforce, Dec. 4
If you appreciate wrestling and have a thirst for high-level jiu-jitsu turn off your televisions when this one comes on. Daley will deliver some solid lines before the fight and then test Smith’s chin from the get-go. But don’t forget, Smith (pictured, on right) is coming down from middleweight where he’s taken punches from some big hitters over the year. This could be the nastiest stand-up fight of the year or it could end in 30 seconds.
6. Lyoto Machida vs. Quinton Jackson-- UFC 123, Nov. 20
This is a counter-striker dream. Machida should be even more cautious now that he was steamrolled by Rua. That should leave an opening for Jackson to close space and get back to his bread and butter, the takedowns. But can Jackson execute that kind of game anymore? Does he still possess the athleticism to pull off the big slams?
He’s only 32 years old, but you think he was 45 by some of the talk following his close loss to Evans at UFC 114. On the flip side, if Machida can land his big shots on the feet, does he have the power to take out Jackson? In 38 fights, "Rampage" has only gone down for the count against in the Wanderlei Silva and Rua fights.
7. Eddie Alvarez vs. Roger Huerta-- Bellator 33, Oct. 21
Huerta dropped a fight since his exit from UFC, but he still carries the promotion’s name into this one against a guy that many consider a top-five lightweight in the world. Alvarez (pictured, on right) completely wrecked UFC-veteran Josh Neer in his last fight. He’s got it all showing off solid wrestling and knockout power while winning 10-of-11. Huerta’s gas tank is in question and so is his defense standing. In his defense, before he left the UFC he lost a close decision to lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard and went the distance with Kenny Florian.
8. Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis-- WEC 53, Dec. 16
This is a real litmus test for the fighters and the promotion. Is Henderson way ahead of the class in the 155-pound division of the WEC or are Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner just average fighters that allowed him to shine? At 23, Pettis is the new breed of mixed martial artist. He’s not coming from a particular background and trying to shore up weaknesses. Pettis has trained all aspects of MMA from an early age. This is a great showcase for two guys who probably belong with the big boys in the UFC’s lightweight division.
9. Sarah Kaufman vs. Marloes Coenen-- Strikeforce, Oct. 9
Kaufman stepped up in her last fight and finally delivered a finish, with her devastating slam of Roxanne Modafferi. Now she steps in with a big 135-pounder who can trade with her and probably use her power to get the fight to the ground. Kaufman is more skilled with her hands than the other Strikeforce women’s champ, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Now we get to see if she can win more impressively against Coenen than Cyborg did.
10. Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill -- UFC 121, Oct. 23
Neither guy is anywhere close to a top-10 light heavyweight in the world but Ortiz keeps talking about being healthy and making a run at his old UFC title. This is where it starts or really ends. If Ortiz gets destroyed by Hamill his career may be over or he's headed for side-show/senior-tour status. It’s a tough matchup for Ortiz, who's still primarily a takedown artist. Hamill may have his weaknesses, but outside of Jon Jones, who’s been able to muscle the former college wrestling champ? If Ortiz can’t get the fight where he wants it does he have more than eight minutes in his gas tank?
This list is incomplete until we know what Japan has planned for the close to the year. DREAM's event in December will probably feature Shinya Aoki with the possibility that he's facing Gilbert Melendez or Diaz. We could also see Alistair Overeem in a superfight. Strikeforce's December card is also still in the planning stages.