Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino has not tasted defeat since losing her debut in May 2005. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
This list does not focus on the well-promoted main event bouts from major organizations you already know to watch, but rather on fights from all over the planet that are worth seeing. Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA cards are excluded by design.
Controversies and suspicions notwithstanding, Cristiane Justino remains the most feared female mixed martial artist walking the face of the earth.
“Cyborg” will battle fellow former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen for the vacant Invicta Fighting Championships women’s featherweight crown in the Invicta FC 6 main event on July 13 at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. The five-round bout will serve as a rematch of their January 2010 showdown, which Justino won by third-round technical knockout.
A Rudimar Fedrigo and Rafael Cordeiro protégé, “Cyborg” returned from a year-long suspension in April and needed a little less than four minutes to dispatch the overmatched Fiona Muxlow with knees and punches at Invicta FC 5. Nine of the 27-year-old Brazilian’s 11 career victories have come by knockout or TKO, including an August 2009 win over Gina Carano that brought with it the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title. Justino is 11-0, with one no-contest, in her last 12 appearances.
Coenen has won four of her five bouts since her first encounter with “Cyborg.” The 32-year-old Golden Glory export last appeared at Dream 18 on Dec. 31, when she coaxed a tapout from Muxlow with a first-round armbar at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Coenen has delivered 15 of her 21 professional wins by submission.
The “Cyborg”-Coenen rematch is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring. Here are nine others:
GMC 4 “Next Level”
July 6 | Gysenberghalle, Germany
Rocha looked like he was poised for an extended stay in the UFC in 2010, as he entered the promotion with a first-round kneebar submission against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 finalist Kris McCray. Back-to-back decision defeats to Jake Ellenberger and Mike Pierce followed, and the 31-year-old Team Nogueira export disappeared from view. More than a year after his loss to Pierce, “Ta Danado” returns to face Betorangal under the German MMA Championship flag. The Frenchman, 30, has submitted his last three opponents in the first round.
Watch Out Combat Show 27
July 27 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nogueira reached the final of the Bellator Season 6 bantamweight tournament before succumbing to second-round elbows from World Extreme Cagefighting veteran and two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Marcos Galvao at Bellator 73. The 31-year-old Renovacao Fight Team member handled the defeat without issue and returned with a second-round submission against Francisco Nazareno Figueredo Jr. in November. Team Nogueira’s Maciel has posted three wins in his past four appearances, two of them finishes.
Nitro MMA 9
July 13 | Queensland, Australia
Having debuted professionally at the age of 16, Manawaroa has emerged as one of the top prospects in Australia. Still a teenager, the undefeated Integrated MMA product has opened his career with nine consecutive victories, including eight stoppages. While his level of competition leaves something to be desired, Manawaroa will put his unblemished record on the line against the once-beaten Celikovic in his return to the Nitro MMA promotion.
Legacy Fighting Championship 21
July 19 | Houston
It took a five-fight losing streak for the UFC to finally jettison Garcia, a polarizing figure who was reviled by some and revered by others. Known for his throw-caution-to-the-wind approach, the 33-year-old Texan forced the UFC’s hand after consecutive defeats to Chan Sung Jung, Nam Phan, Matt Grice, Max Holloway and Cody McKenzie. Garcia will appear outside the Zuffa umbrella for the first time in more than seven years when he touches down in the Legacy Fighting Championship organization. Trujillo, who won a fight in Strikeforce back in 2010, has knocked out his last two foes in the first round.
UCFC 5 “Legends of MMA”
July 27 | Doncaster, England
Shamrock’s last four wins have come against Johnathan Ivey, Ross Clifton, Kimo Leopoldo, Sam Adkins and Alexander Otsukua -- men who have combined for a 57-98-4 record between them. Still, considering his place in MMA history, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” makes headlines whenever he competes. The 49-year-old UFC hall of famer, provided he avoids any potholes along the way, will end a 32-month sabbatical when he faces Freeman under the Ultimate Cage Fighting Championships banner. Still best known for his UFC 38 rout of Frank Mir, the 42-year-old “Machine” has not fought since 2008.
Bison Fighting Championship 1
July 4 | Sao Paulo, Brazil
Chute Boxe and Macaco Gold Team prospect Almeida has little left to prove on the regional circuit. The promising 21-year-old Brazilian has finished all 10 of his opponents in the first round and has lined up an ambitious schedule for himself with three July fights. His first appearance of the month will see him as the centerpiece of the Bison Fighting Championship organization’s inaugural event, as he will collide with the once-beaten Alexandre. “Ze Reborn” has submitted four of his first six foes with chokes.
Caged Warrior Championship “Holobaugh vs. Card”
July 12 | Houma, La.
Holobaugh showed plenty of promise during his first stint with Zuffa, losing a decision to the rugged Pat Healy in Strikeforce before doing the same in his Octagon debut against Steven Siler at UFC 159 in April. The talented but still rough-around-the-edges Louisianan will aim to right his ship at the expense of the well-traveled Card, a former Xtreme Fighting Championships titleholder and Bellator alum who has dropped four of his past five bouts and finds himself in desperate need of a victory.
Victory Fighting Championship 40
July 27 | Omaha, Neb.
Bektic appears to be on the fast track. The 22-year-old American Top Team featherweight has posted a 6-0 record while cutting his teeth on the regional circuit. A native Bosnian who moved to Nebraska when he was 9, Bektic now returns to the promotion that gave him his start. None of his previous six foes carried Neace’s level of experience, as he has 44 fights -- including matches with Marlon Sandro, Mike Thomas Brown and Jeff Curran -- upon which to draw. Though Neace has lost four in a row, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 quarterfinalist should provide a clearer understanding of where Bektic stands in his development.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 56
July 6 | London
A graduate of “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes,” Omoyele will make his first appearance under the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship marquee since inking a deal with the company in May. The 31-year-old has spent time refining his craft at American Top Team and will carry a streak of five straight wins into his bout with Del Guerra. The Frenchman, 23, sports some momentum of his own. Del Guerra has won three in a row, including an April knockout of Olympic judoka Ferrid Kheder.