In an effort to bring more attention to the global stage of mixed martial arts, this list does not focus on major North American-based promotions like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA and the Professional Fighters League.
Invicta Fighting Championships will close out the year with a sensational main event pairing between two of its marquee competitors at 125 pounds.
Chute Boxe star Jennifer Maia will defend her flyweight championship against the undefeated Aga Niedzwiedz in the Invicta 26 headliner on Dec. 8 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri. The event -- which also features the latest appearance from 2015 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Mackenzie Dern -- will stream to UFC Fight Pass in its entirety at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Maia enters the cage on a five-fight winning streak. The 29-year-old Brazilian captured the interim Invicta flyweight crown with a unanimous decision over Vanessa Porto in March 2016 and was later promoted to undisputed champion when Barb Honchak was removed from the throne due to inactivity. Maia last competed 15 months ago at Invicta 19, where she retained her title with a five-round split decision against Roxanne Modafferi. Wins over Jessica Andrade and Zoila Frausto buoy her resume.
A budding superstar in the flyweight division, Niedzwiedz has raced out to a perfect 10-0 record since making her professional debut as a 17-year-old in 2012. The Polish judoka last appeared at Invicta 23 on May 20, when she took a unanimous decision from the aforementioned Porto and staked her claim as promotion’s No. 1 contender at 125 pounds. Niedzwiedz has secured seven of her 10 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
The Maia-Niedzwiedz showdown is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of December. Here are nine more:
TKO Major League MMA 41
Dec. 8 | Montreal
The vacant TKO Major League MMA featherweight championship will be there for the taking when the undefeated Jourdain meets Laramie at the Bell Centre. Operating out of Academie Pro Star MMA, Jourdain has finished all five of his opponents. The 22-year-old last competed at TKO 39 on June 16, when he cut down Will Romero with third-round punches and continued to build his case as one of Canada’s most promising prospects. Laramie, 20, represents the Maximum Training Centre in Windsor, Ontario. He remains an intriguing talent at 145 pound despite losses to Alex Morgan and Vince Murdock.
Invicta Fighting Championships 26
Dec. 8 | Kansas City, Missouri
Simpson has established herself as one of the Top 10 atomweights in the sport. The Austin, Texas-based Guam native returned from a three-year sabbatical in 2016, claiming quality wins against Satomi Takano and Simona Soukupova while cementing her position at 105 pounds. Onetime Invicta champion Herica Tiburcio eked out a split decision over “The Typhoon” on May 20, stalling Simpson’s momentum for the time being. Brown operates out of the Luttrell-Yee MMA outfit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After a 6-1 start to her career, Brown has suffered consecutive losses to Ayaka Hamasaki, Ashley Yoder and Ashley Cummins.
One Championship “Warriors of the World”
Dec. 9 | Bangkok
One of Asia’s best-kept secrets, Naito will put his perfect 12-0 record and strawweight championship on the line against Silva in the “Warriors of the World” main event at Impact Arena. Spawned by the Paraestra Matsudo camp in his native Japan, the 33-year-old Naito last fought at One Championship “State of Warriors” in October 2016, when he retained his 115-pound title with a third-round rear-naked choke submission on Joshua Pacio. The former Shooto champion boasts seven finishes among his 12 professional victories, six of them by submission. Silva, 35, has stopped five consecutive opponents, four of them inside one round, since his decision loss to Geje Eustaquio a little less than six years ago.
Unified MMA 33
Dec. 15 | Edmonton, Alberta
Campbell has found a post-Ultimate Fighting Championship home. The Canadian muay Thai practitioner will risk his Unified MMA lightweight title when he squares off with Beaumont at the Royal Palace. The encounter serves as a rematch of their November 2012 encounter, which Campbell won by guillotine choke. Since being released by the UFC following consecutive losses to James Krause, Erik Koch and Felipe Silva, “Shaolin” has rediscovered himself in subsequent wins over Jose Rodriguez, Tristan Connelly and Mike Scarcello. Beaumont, 32, carries with him a modest two-fight winning streak that includes a victory in World Series of Fighting.
Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide 66
Dec. 16 | Pretoria, South Africa
A pillar of the Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide organization, the unbeaten Pena returns from a yearlong absence to defend his bantamweight title in a rematch with Sayed. The two first met in November 2016, though Pena’s decision win was later changed to a no-contest after he tested positive for a banned substance. The 28-year-old champion has compiled a 12-0 record since he debuted in 2011, a run during which he has gone five full rounds on seven different occasions. Evolve MMA’s Sayed last fought at EFC Worldwide 58 on April 8, when he disposed of Tumisang Madiba with second-round punches.
Fight Nights Global 82
Dec. 16 | Moscow
Nearly four years removed from his reign as Bellator MMA champion, Minakov has done nothing to diminish his place as one of the sport’s best heavyweights. The 32-year-old Russian will once again serve as the Fight Nights Global promotion’s star attraction when he collides with Johnson across three rounds. Minakov, 20-0 with 18 finishes, last appeared at FNG 68 on June 2, when he cut down former EliteXC champion Antonio Silva with second-round punches. Best known for his stints in Bellator, One Championship and King of the Cage, Johnson owns victories against Derrick Lewis, Tim Sylvia and Alexander Volkov.
Cage Fury Fighting Championships 69
Dec. 16 | Atlantic City, New Jersey
The interim Cage Fury Fighting Championships bantamweight title will hang in the balance when Bandejas defends it against Mamalis at the Borgata Hotel and Casino. A New Jersey-based Nick Catone protégé, Bandejas has rattled off four straight wins since his 2015 submission loss to Nick Pace. The 26-year-old last fought at CFFC 66 when a first-round technical knockout against Giorgi Kudukhashvili netted him the organization’s interim 135-pound championship. Mamalis, 31, has a wealth of experience on his resume. The Genesis Training Center representative sports 21 finishes among his 28 career victories.
Road Fighting Championship 45
Dec. 23 | Seoul
Ham has never shied away from difficult tasks, so it should come as little surprise that she agreed to face Frey in her first defense of the Road Fighting Championship atomweight title. After a disappointing 1-3 run in the UFC, Ham returned to her native South Korea in June and promptly captured the aforementioned 105-pound championship by stopping Mina Kurobe on third-round punches. The 30-year-old has not posted back-to-back victories since winning six in a row between April 21, 2013 and Nov. 3, 2014. Frey owns a 4-1 mark across her past five appearances, a cut-induced technical knockout loss to Ayaka Hamasaki under the Invicta Fighting Championships banner the only misstep.
Rizin Fighting Federation World Grand Prix 2017 Second Round
Dec. 29 | Saitama, Japan
Horiguchi draws the undefeated Oliveira in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Rizin Fighting Federation bantamweight grand prix. The Norifumi Yamamoto understudy enters the high-stakes battle with momentum on his side, as he has fashioned a five-fight winning streak since submitting to a Demetrious Johnson armbar in April 2015. Horiguchi punched his ticket to the quarterfinals with a first-round knockout against Hideo Tokoro on July 30. The largely unproven Oliveira, 27, did much to quiet his doubters in October, when he laid waste to Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri and improved to 10-0.