Here’s hoping you all enjoyed the short break in the UFC schedule we just had, because from now until the end of the year, there’s only one weekend without a UFC event. That weekend isn’t until Dec. 23.
The UFC’s sprint to the end of 2017 begins on Saturday with UFC Fight Night 118.
In the main event, young upstart Darren Till meets Donald Cerrone, the man who just can’t say no when the UFC calls and offers him a fight. Till is unbeaten in his 16-fight career. That run includes four fights in the UFC. Cerrone is on the first two-fight losing skid of his career. With a loss in this contest, the former UFC lightweight title challenger could be at risk of going winless during the calendar year – something that has never happened during his 11 years of fighting.
In the co-main event, former strawweight title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz looks to get back in the win column after two straight defeats against UFC newcomer Jodie Esquibel.
UFC Fight Night 118 takes place at Ergo Arena in Gdansk, Poland. The entire card streams on UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.
1. Lights, camera, action
After just four fights in the UFC, Till (15-0-1 MMA, 3-0-1 UFC) saunters into his first main event with the promotion full of attitude and confidence. The 24-year-old, faces 25-fight UFC veteran Cerrone (32-9 MMA, 19-6 UFC), who also knows a thing or two about swagger and self-belief.
There are some, like former UFC fighter Brendan Schaub, who think Till shouldn’t fight Cerrone this early in his career, but Till has something to say about that kind of talk.
“You’ve got people like Brendan Schaub … saying he doesn’t know me, he’s disrespecting me and whatever, saying ‘Cowboy’ shouldn’t be taking this fight, but why shouldn’t I be taking the fight? Let’s get it straight, I’m unbeaten here,” Till said on the “Obviously Fight Talk” podcast. “I’m unbeaten. Nobody’s been able to beat me.”
“I was up-and-coming once. I was in his shoes. He might be the next guy,” Cerrone told MMAjunkie. “You can’t look at him like, ‘Oh, this guy sucks.’ He’s undefeated. We’ll see. It’s like going from like a farm team, called up to the big show and now he’s the main event, five rounds – that’s a lot. Lights, camera, action.”
2. Strange days
Interesting is one way to describe the strawweight matchup between Kowalkiewicz and Esquibel. Kowalkiewicz fought three of the best 115-pound fighters in her three most recent outings. During that run, she defeated Rose Namajunas, dropped a title fight to champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and was submitted by Claudia Gadelha.
A cynic might look at this fight as the promotion giving the No. 4 ranked Kowalkiewicz (10-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC), who competes in her home country of Poland for the first time as a UFC fighter, a favorable matchup. After all, Esquibel (6-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who is unranked, makes her promotional debut in this contest.
During her run with Invicta FC, Esquibel went 4-2 with losses to current UFC fighters Alex Chambers and Alexa Grasso at atomweight. Her strawweight debut morphed into a 117.6-pound catchweight contest when her opponent, DeAnna Bennett, came in heavy. Esquibel won that fight by split decision.
Before his UFC debut, Jan Blachowicz was on a five-fight winning streak with victories over four former UFC fighters. In his promotional debut, Blachowicz put Ilir Latifi away in the first round. After that triumph, the Polish fighter went 1-4.
Blachowicz’s (19-7 MMA, 2-4 UFC) opponent, Devin Clark, has gone unbeaten at 205 pounds, including two decision wins with the UFC. In his most recent bout, Clark (8-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) pitched a shutoutagainst Jake Collier. He dominated the fight, but left the arena disappointed.
Clark fought at a high pace against Collier and that could be a concern for Blachowicz, who has run out of gas in the past, most recently during his April loss to Patrick Cummins.
4. A whole lot of finishes
Oskar Piechota made his Cage Warriors debut in June. He claimed that promotion’s vacant middleweight title that night with a 32-second knockout. The quick KO win was Piechota’s ninth finish in 10 fights. Piechota (9-0-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) makes his UFC debut against Jonathan Wilson (7-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) in this middleweight scuffle.
Wilson began his UFC career with a 50-second knockout of Chris Dempsey in a light heavyweight bout. He followed that victory with two losses. Wilson, a heavy-handed striker with six knockout wins, drops from light heavyweight for this matchup.
If you’re looking for a sleeper pick for “Fight of the Night,” this could be your fight.
5. Looking for some traction
The good news for Marcin Held is that he gets to fight in his home country of Poland for the first time in more than seven years. The bad news is the former Bellator lightweight title challenger enters his bout against Nasrat Haqparast (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) on the worst run of his nine-year career. Held (22-7 MMA, 0-3 UFC), who joined the UFC in 2016, has lost each of his three fights inside the octagon.
When he signed with the UFC in 2016, many felt Held would be a threat in the lightweight division. An excellent grappler with 12 career submission wins, the 25-year-old has been unable to get on track since he joined the promotion.
Haqparast makes his UFC debut as a short-notice injury replacement. This bout marks the first time Haqparast fights outside of Germany. In his nine pro contests, Haqparast has eight knockout victories, six of which have come in the first round. His only defeat came in his professional debut.
6. Local man makes his UFC debut
Adam Wieczorek makes his UFC debut on the strength of a seven-fight winning streak. Each of those victories have come by way of stoppage. Wieczorek, the former PLMMA heavyweight champion, has spent his entire career fighting on the Polish scene. Wieczorek’s sole loss is a 2011 decision to current UFC heavyweight Marcin Tybura.
Wieczorek (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) faces Anthony Hamilton in Poland. Hamilton (15-8 MMA, 3-6 UFC) briefly toyed with retirement after his most recent fight, his third consecutive first-round stoppage defeat. He steps into this contest as a late injury replacement.
7. Looking for his place
Brian Kelleher made quite an impression in his UFC debut. Not only did he submit Iuri Alcantara, he did so in front of a hostile Brazilian crowd, but he then taunted that crowd after he defeated the home country fighter. During his post-fight interview, Kelleher threw the infamous Portuguese “you’re gonna die” chant back at the fans.
Kelleher’s second UFC fight did not go as well. He lost that bout via submission to Marlon Vera.
With both his UFC fights ending early in the first round, it’s hard to get an idea of just where Kelleher, who fought for more than 10 promotions before joining the UFC, fits in the bantamweight division.
8. Time to make a move
When Artem Lobov faced Cub Swanson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 108, there were questions about the matchup. With a record of 2-2 in the UFC, the thinking was Lobov didn’t deserve a shot at Swanson who was on a three-fight winning streak and ranked No. 6 in the featherweight division at the time. The oddsmakers seemed to agree. Swanson was a more than a 6-1 favorite and he dominated the contest on fight night. Despite the decision loss, Lobov earned some respect with his performance. He hung tough, despite absorbing 251 strikes.
Lobov (13-13-1 MMA, 2-3 UFC) meets Andre Fili in Poland. Calvin Kattar upset Fili (16-5 MMA, 4-4 UFC) in his most recent bout. The decision defeat keeps Fili on a win one, lose one rollercoaster for his eight-fight UFC career.
This should be a high-paced striking battle between two fighters desperate to get back in the win column and make a move in the featherweight division.
9. A once hot prospect returns
In 2015, Warlley Alves was on his way up the welterweight rankings. He closed that year with a first-round submission win over Colby Covington. The victory gave Alves’ a record of 10-0. Since then, he’s dropped two unanimous decisions.
This is his first fight of 2017. With nearly a year between fights and with two straight losses, it’s going to be interesting to see what lessons Alves took from those setbacks and how he’s developed.
Alves (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) faces UFC newcomer Salim Touahri in this bout. Touahri (10-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has won five straight fights ahead of his promotional debut. Four of those wins have come by knockout.
10. An anticipated debut
The unbeaten 22-year-old Aspen Ladd makes her UFC debut in Poland against Lina Lansberg in a bantamweight bout. Lansberg, a decorated muay Thai fighter, is best known for making her UFC debut against Cristiane Justino this past September. Lansberg lost to Justino via TKO.
Ladd made her pro debut with Invicta in 2015. She went 5-0 with the promotion. Four of her victories were by stoppage.
Ladd (5-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is an aggressive fighter who likes to pressure, but she’s never met an opponent with as much experience as Lansberg (7-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC). Her previous opponents had seven combined fights before Ladd faced them. Lansberg has nine MMA fights and almost 50 muay Thai contests to her name.
The 35-year-old Lansberg is a very tough fighter who can absorb a tremendous amount of punishment. She’ll be an excellent test for the still-developing Ladd.
For more on UFC Fight Night 118, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.