The 17 Best Distilleries in the U.S.
It looks like it’s going to be an action-packed summer for UFC 2022. While the Las Vegas-based MMA promotion’s summer schedule is still a work in progress, its calendar is starting to fill up, and there’s already a lot to look forward to. The coming months are rife with high-stakes fights of all descriptions, featuring fan-favorite veterans, rising prospects, and bona fide contenders alike.
Wondering what to watch? Here are the fights we’re most looking forward to on the UFC schedule from the end of June through the end of September.
You're looking at a future contender at welterweight
Shavkat Rakhmonov sends a statement to the division! #UFCVegas47 pic.twitter.com/EtF1WAO0lc
— UFC (@ufc) February 6, 2022
By now, most UFC fans are familiar with the name Khamzat Chimaev. The undefeated Chechen-born Swede has taken the UFC welterweight division by storm, and after a decision win over Gilbert Burns last month, he’s on the cusp of a title shot against champion Kamaru Usman. But Chimaev isn’t the only undefeated prospect making waves in the welterweight division. In fact, he might not even be the best one.
While Chimaev has been working his way to the top of the division, Kazakhstan’s Shavkat Rakhmonov (15–0) has quietly been doing the same—and in no less impressive fashion. Since joining the UFC in 2020, the Kazakh has won three fights, defeating Alex Oliveira and Michel Prazeres by submission and Carlston Harris with a highlight-reel knockout.
On June 25, Rakhmonov will take the toughest test of his career: a fight with longtime ranked welterweight contender Neil Magny (26–8).
Magny, who has beaten former UFC champions like Robbie Lawle, Carlos Condit, and Johny Hendricks, will be looking to play the spoiler. But if Rakhmonov maintains his momentum, a fight with a top-five opponent—maybe even Chimaev—could be next.
Sean O’Malley gets the step up the world has been waiting for against Pedro Munhoz #UFC274 | Full story: https://t.co/pQKPuUs99c pic.twitter.com/Kn9mo4a1HG
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) May 3, 2022
Arizona’s Sean O’Malley (15–1) has long stood out as one of the brightest young contenders in the UFC bantamweight division, which is one of the deepest, most competitive weight classes in the entire sport. The problem is that he was knocked out in his lone fight with a legitimate contender, Marlon “Chito” Vera, and hasn’t really fought anyone else of note.
That will finally change at UFC 276 on July 2 in Las Vegas—the culmination of the promotion’s annual International Fight Week bonanza—when he takes on tenth-ranked bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz (19–7, 1 NC).
It’ll be interesting to see the betting line for this fight. O’Malley, who is known for his slick striking, will have all the hype heading into the matchup, but Munhoz is a massive step up in competition for him. The Brazilian also seems to have all the tools to beat O’Malley.
While O’Malley has good striking and fight-ending knockout power, Munhoz has freakish durability that has carried him through 27 fights without ever being stopped—including fights with dangerous strikers like Rob Font, John Dodson, Jose Aldo, and Cody Garbrandt. He also has excellent wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills, whereas O’Malley is fairly unproven in those departments.
Will O’Malley finally pass a real test and assert himself as a legit threat to the bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling? Will he be exposed by a proven commodity in Munhoz? There’s only one way to find out.
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Sean Strickland has repeatedly come under fire for racist and homophobic remarks and his frequent assertions that he would enjoy killing somebody. But the UFC has repeatedly shown that it doesn’t care what its fighters do or say so long as the fighter is generating revenue.
And Strickland, for better or worse, has been doing just that.
The middleweight has not only been making headlines with his comments, he has also been winning fights in the Octagon in impressive fashion. He has picked up wins in his six most recent fights, including a trio of decision wins over Krzysztof Jotko, Uriah Hall, and Jack Hermansson.
While the No. 4-ranked American is probably only a win or two away from a middleweight title shot, he has agreed to an incredibly risky fight at UFC 276 on July 2: a showdown with unranked Brazilian knockout artist Alex Pereira (5–1).
Pereira is a former kickboxing champion who famously holds a knockout win over UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. While he is still fairly new to MMA, he’s already being talked about as a future title challenger. His matchup against Strickland will be a major opportunity for him to prove he’s worth the hype.
It will either be the fight that sees Strickland, one of MMA’s true villains, get his comeuppance, or a fight that pushes him into a title shot. One way or the other, it’s worth watching.
MIESHA TATE IS BACK #UFCVegas31 pic.twitter.com/e06oTvx8S1
— Spinnin Backfist (@SpinninBackfist) July 18, 2021
Women’s MMA has never been better, but with stars like Rose Namajunas, Valentina Shevchenko, Weili Zhang, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk all slated to compete before the end of June, the summer itself is currently looking a little sparse in terms of women’s action.
Still, there are a few great women’s bouts on the calendar for the upcoming UFC 2022 season, and for many fans, none are more compelling than Miesha Tate’s (19–8) scrap with Lauren Murphy (15–5), also slated for UFC 276 on July 2.
Tate is a pioneer of women’s MMA. Her pro career dates back to 2007, when there were barely any opportunities for women to fight, let alone get paid. She’s also a former UFC bantamweight champion, having famously choked out Holly Holm in a dramatic comeback in 2016.
After retiring from MMA in 2019 and spending a few years working for Singapore-based martial arts powerhouse ONE Championship, Tate announced her intention to return to the cage last year. She has gone 1–1 since, first defeating Marion Reneau by TKO, then losing a decision to Ketlen Vieira.
What really makes Tate’s fight with Murphy interesting is that it will be her first fight in the 125-pound flyweight division after spending her entire career at bantamweight and featherweight—135 and 145 pounds, respectively. If she loses to the former title challenger Murphy, her comeback can be mostly written off. If she wins, she’ll suddenly have a plethora of exciting options in a new weight class.
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Curtis Blaydes (16–3) is one of the best-established contenders in the UFC heavyweight division. The wrestling specialist is currently ranked No. 4 in the weight class, and has beaten some of its very best fighters, including Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and Alexander Volkov.
On July 23, when the UFC returns to London, Blaydes will be tasked with slowing the rise of the hottest contender in the weight class: British finisher Tom Aspinall (12–2).
Aspinall has been a force of destruction since joining the UFC roster. He has rattled off five straight victories, all by way of knockout or submission. Highlights of his time in the Octagon include a second-round submission win over former heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski, a first-round TKO win over Moldovan contender Sergei Spivak, and most recently, a first-round submission win over former Bellator champ Alexander Volkov.
This Blaydes vs. Aspinall fight would be a big one under any circumstances, but with reigning UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou poised to leave the promotion—and vacate his title—at the end of the year, it’s all the more important. The winner will be among the top contenders for the vacant heavyweight throne if Ngannou does end up moving on from the UFC.
vs @JackTheJokerMMA vs @DarrenTill2 is on deck for #UFCLondon!
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) May 4, 2022
Blaydes vs. Aspinall isn’t the only big fight slated for the UFC’s July 23 return to London. On the same night, Liverpool’s Darren Till (18–4–1)—one of the UFC’s most popular fighters—will take on Norwegian-Swede Jack Hermansson (22–7).
It’s a crucial fight for both men. While both are still ranked in the middleweight top 10, neither has achieved the results they wanted of late.
Till, a former welterweight title challenger, has gone 1–2 since moving up to middleweight in 2019, first defeating Kelvin Gastelum by split decision, then losing a decision to former champion Robert Whittaker and tapping out to a choke courtesy of grappling specialist Derek Brunson.
Hermansson has won more recently than Till, defeating Edmen Shahbazyan by decision in 2021, but he sandwiched that victory between decision losses to Marvin Vettori and Sean Strickland.
A win will be extremely valuable for either man. A loss will be disastrous: enough to push the vanquished party right out of title contention. When the stakes are this high, the result is usually an entertaining fight.
DERRICK LEWIS WITH THE MOST KNOCKOUTS IN UFC HISTORY
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 19, 2021
A Derrick Lewis fight is always must-watch television. Not only is the hulking Houstonian heavyweight behind some of the most iconic lines in UFC history, but he also holds the record for the most knockout victories of any UFC fighter, past or present.
Lewis (26–9), currently ranked No. 5 in the heavyweight division, will look to add to his long list of knockout victories on July 30, when he takes on Russia’s Sergei Pavlovich (15–1).
The matchup with the No. 11-ranked Russian—a definite step down in competition—is proof that Lewis is up to fight just about anybody. He deserves props for that, but there’s no escaping the reality: This is a must-win fight for him.
At 37 years old, Lewis is 2–2 in his last four bouts, with both of his recent losses—against Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa—coming by way of knockout. While he will always be a fan favorite, another loss would deflate what remains of his credibility as a title contender.
Beating Pavlovich won’t be easy, either. The 29-year-old Russian was defeated by the great Alistair Overeem in his first UFC fight (one of the toughest debuts of all time) but has rebounded with three straight stoppage wins over Marcelo Golm, Maurice Green, and Shamil Abdurakhimov.
Youth and momentum are both on his side. The big question is whether or not he can avoid Lewis’ explosive punches.
Both Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa have agreed to fight on Sept. 3, officials confirmed to @bokamotoESPN.
An official location has not been announced, but the event has been targeted for Paris. It would mark the UFC's first trip to France. pic.twitter.com/AoI5nyAE9I
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) May 4, 2022
Much like Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa is as loved as much for his antics outside the Octagon as he is for his performances inside it. And when the shooey drinking Australian knocked Lewis out with a volley of second-round elbows in his last fight, he transformed from entertaining prospect to legitimate title contender. Tuivasa will look to make a final leap toward a heavyweight title shot when he takes on France’s Ciryl Gane on Sept. 3.
Gane, the former interim heavyweight champion, could be the best fighter in the division outside of Francis Ngannou (Ngannou defeated Gane in their last matchup). The Frenchman boasts incredible fight IQ, world-class striking honed over an extensive Muay Thai career, and boundless athleticism to boot.
It remains to be seen how his technical, tactical style matches up with Tuivasa’s hyper-aggressive and explosive approach to fighting, but it’s probably going to be a lot of fun to watch either way. And just like the Blaydes vs. Aspinall winner, the victor of this fight will be right on the cusp of a title shot.