10 Fights to Watch in January

By Keith Shillan Jan 10, 2019

With the start of the new year, millions of people are looking for a fresh start at improving their lives. Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are losing weight, saving money and spending more quality time with loved ones. If you are a mixed martial arts fan, your resolution might be to watch more fights.

Heading into 2019, the world is slowly shifting in how it is entertained. Each day, it appears more and more people are cutting the cord on cable, with the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu becoming very popular. The MMA world appears to be following this trend. UFC Fight Pass continues to add top regional organizations like CES MMA to improve its video streaming service. DAZN has taken the combat world by storm by airing Bellator MMA, KSW and several other organizations to its company, all while showcasing some of the biggest names in boxing, like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Anthony Joshua. In addition, Asian MMA’s top organization, One Championship announced in December that it joined Turner Sports digital platform Bleacher Report Live.

However, the biggest news is the industry’s leading organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, joining ESPN and having several of its events shown on the ESPN Plus streaming device. While it might get a little pricey for MMA fans to join all the different subscription services, it does make organizations that were once unavailable to watch available to a majority of fans. If you want to watch more fights in 2019, the chance is there.

Let us check out 10 fights in the month of January that might not be on every MMA fan’s radar but should be worth the time to watch. With the top two organizational juggernauts, the UFC and Bellator, holding only one card each this month, several of the fights will come from the regional scene and showcase budding prospects.

Phil Hawes vs. Al Matavao
Alaska Fighting Championship 144
Jan. 16
Anchorage, Alaska

After Hawes compiled a 3-0 record to start his professional career, many prognosticators were believing he would be the next big thing coming out of the Jackson-Wink MMA camp. The former junior college national champion wrestler had a chance to live up to his huge potential when he competed on the 23rd season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” UFC President Dana White stated on the show that the Jackson-Wink MMA team was comparing him to greats like Jon Jones and Chris Weidman. However, Hawes’ gas tank failed him, costing him to lose the qualifying fight. Arguably the biggest favorite to win the show did not even get in the house. This would be a bit of a norm for Hawes, who would lose two more fights against Louis Taylor and Julian Marquez. He would be competitive in both bouts before being stopped by his underdog foes. Matavao is a staple of the Alaska Fighting Championship, having all of his professional bouts under the organization’s banner. Both of his two career losses came when he competed as a heavyweight. He will be looking to win his second straight fight at light heavyweight by defeating Hawes. Matavao is known for his striking, as he throws fast, wild strikes and looks to separate his opponent from his senses with every blow. At 29 years old, Hawes still has time to live up to the buzz he once generated, but getting past the heavy-handed Matavao will be no easy task.

Youssef Zalal vs. Jose Mariscal
Legacy Fighting Alliance 57
Jan. 18
Broomfield, Colorado

The LFA has been a great catapult for young talent to reach the callup to the UFC. Zalal and Mariscal are two prospects that could be standing right outside the UFC door and will battle in the main event of LFA 57. Zalal is a Factory X team member who looks ready to be its newest addition to a big show. Born in Morocco, he is an accurate striker with real punching power, especially his bone-crushing straight right hand. Despite how good his standup is, he is even better on the ground. The undefeated fighter has six professional wins, with five coming by way of submission. Mariscal fights like a Tasmanian devil. He comes forward throwing wild haymakers. The relentless pursuit of his prey tends to overcome many opponents, which is why he has won five out of his last seven fights. He holds a respectable 8-3 record, with two of those losses coming to current UFC fighters Gregor Gillespie and Bryce Mitchell. Zalal is the more polished product, while Mariscal tries to make up for his lack of technique with pure aggression. Expect both fighters to have their moments in a possible barnburner.

Tony Gravely vs. Kris Moutinho
Jan. 19
Lincoln, Rhode Island

As the top regional organization in New England, CES MMA has joined the UFC Fight Pass family. It has loaded its first card under the UFC Fight Pass banner by showcasing some of the best talents the organization has to offer. While the main event fight between lightweight champion Nate Andrews and challenger Bryce Logan could have easily made this list, the co-main event clash between bantamweight champion Gravely and Moutinho stands out. Gravely is a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler who is riding a four-fight winning streak, with all four bouts coming by way of knockout. The Appalachian State University standout gets overlooked based on having five losses in his career, but if you dig deeper, you see that those defeats came to some great competition. He dropped bouts to current UFC fighters Manny Bermudez and Merab Dvalishvili, exciting Bellator lightweight Ricky Bandejas and fellow top prospects Pat Sabatini and Patrick Mix. Gravely won the CES bantamweight strap by defeating New England MMA fan favorite Kody Nordby. He picked up and slammed Nordby on his head, winning by knockout in just 36 seconds. It was one of the best knockouts on the regional scene in all of 2018. The man he meets in the cage will also be a New England favorite. Moutinho did not end 2017 as he planned, picking up the only two losses of his career. Nevertheless, he turned things around in 2018, when he got his hand raised in all three of his contests. Moutinho is best known for his fierce kickboxing. He is a long and lengthy volume striker who likes to press the fight with a stiff jab and relentless kicks. The Rhode Island crowd should be rocking in its support for Moutinho. Will it be enough for him to upset the powerful Gravely?

Gregor Gillespie vs. Yancy Medeiros
UFC Fight Night 143
Jan. 19
Brooklyn, New York

The UFC kicks off 2019 at its new home on ESPN with an absolutely loaded card. The main event clash between flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, along with the UFC debut of the controversial former All-Pro NFL defensive end Greg Hardy, will draw all the attention, but the scrap between Gillespie and Mederios should not be overlooked. Gillespie has all the tools to be a future title contender or even possibly a champion. The former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion is the self-proclaimed “best wrestler in all of MMA.” He makes a strong claim to this title by securing 17 takedowns across his five UFC battles. The undefeated New Yorker might be just entering his prime at 31 years old. He has blossomed into more than just a decorated wrestler. He holds two submission wins and a one-punch knockout of Andrew Holbrook during his UFC run. Gillespie will take on the toughest test of his career, facing off with a crafty veteran in Mederios. The Hawaiian is the main training partner of UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway. Mederios is a well-rounded fighter but is always game for a slugfest. Though he lost his last and most prolific fight to Donald Cerrone back in February 2018, he was previously on the best run of his UFC career, winning three contests in a row, all by stoppage. Mederios might struggle with Gillespie’s grappling; however, if he touches Gillespie’s chin, the New York native could find himself saddled with his first career loss. The winner of this bout could find himself pitted against a Top 10-ranked fighter next.

Joanne Calderwood vs. Ariane Lipski
UFC Fight Night 143
Jan. 19
Brooklyn, New York

The first women’s UFC fight to air on an ESPN platform will be the matchup between flyweights Calderwood and Lipski. Calderwood is hoping to build off of her recent success at flyweight by making an example out of the newcomer. “JoJo” has two wins in her new division, though she sandwiched two losses at strawweight between those victories. The Scottish fighter is known for her long-range striking and active clinch game, but her severely underrated grappling was on display in her last bout -- a triangle submission of Kalindra Faria. Lipski has been a consensus top flyweight outside of the UFC for a long time. The former KSW fighter has not lost a fight in nearly four years, as she has rattled off nine straight victories. She is a pressure striker who throws caution to the wind and invites a brawl. She throws fast but wild strikes and seems willing to eat a punch to land one. She has great dexterity in her long kicks, allowing her to quickly switch back and forth between low kicks and head kicks. Her flexibility also allows her to pick up submission wins on the canvas. At only 24 years old, Lipski should only be improving from fight to fight. With the UFC looking for challengers for new champion Valentina Shevchenko, the winner of this bout could propel herself near the front of the line.

Lowen Tynanes vs. Honorio Banario
One Championship “Hero’s Ascent”
Jan. 25
Manila, Philippines

It has been nearly three years since Tynanes competed in MMA, but it appears the budding prospect is about to make his long-awaited return. He is set to take part in One Championship’s lightweight grand prix against the red-hot Banario. Tynanes is one of the most gifted fighters outside of the UFC. He uses his steady kickboxing to set up his bread-and-butter grappling. The former Hawaii high school wrestling state champion has a lightning-quick drop step. Once on top, he smothers his opponents with great top pressure, brutal ground-and-pound and opportunistic submission skills. Banario will be fighting in front of his home crowd in the Philippines. The Team Lakay standout has turned around his once-struggling career by moving up to lightweight. Without depleting his body with a large weight cut, he has been able to win six out of his last seven matches. Tynanes will have to shrug off any “ring rust” if he is going to remain undefeated and advance in the tournament over the resurging Banario.

Danny Kingad vs. Tatsumitsu Wada
One Championship “Hero’s Ascent”
Jan. 25
Manila, Philippines

Kingad is a youngster who should not be overlooked. In fact, he has been called the “Team Lakay prodigy.” The fighter from the Philippians sports an 8-1 professional record, with his only loss coming when he challenged then-champion Adriano Moraes for the flyweight title. After dropping the fight, he went 3-0 in 2018. Kingad dispatches thunderous leg kicks, but his powerful takedown game is his trademark. Wada is a crafty veteran from Japan. He loves to turn the fight into a grinding affair. He will want to close the distance, where he can attempt to trip Kingad to the canvas and display his strong top position skills. He has won nine out of his last 10 fights, including a victory over current UFC fighter Kai Kara-France during his run. The winner of this fight would have a strong argument for a title shot against the winner of the main event between Geje Eustaquio and the previously mentioned Martins.

Jason Soares vs. Caio Rocha Uruguai
Titan Fighting Championship 52
Jan. 25
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

When Soares first got some big-league attention, he was a contestant on the 22nd season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” However, the fighter out of Miami lost his entry fight to get in the house to Julian Erosa and was quickly shipped back to the minor leagues. The exhibition loss was just a minor bump in the road for Soares, who has since rattled off three wins, pushed his record to a perfect 12-0 and captured the Titan featherweight championship. Soares is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has eight finishes by way of submission. The intriguing grappler has the crafty ability to end the bout at any moment. The unarmed combatant against whom Soares will defend his title is Uruguai. The Brazilian fighter is just 25 years old and sports an impressive 7-1 professional record. He is a well-rounded fighter but prefers to keep the fight standing. The long and rangy fighter loves to chop his opponent’s legs with brutal kicks. This fight might be projected as a classic striker-versus-grappler confrontation, but both fighters have the ability to challenge the other’s strength.

Roman Bogatov vs. Michel Silva
M-1 Challenge 101
Jan. 26
Harbin, China

With the news that M-1 Global has reached a partnership with the UFC, the winner of the lightweight title fight between Bogatov and Silva could draw a promotion to the premier MMA organization. Bogatov is the current M-1 Challenge champion and holds a perfect 7-0 record. The Russian is a phenomenal grappler who uses his striking to set up his takedowns. Once on top, he is extremely good at finding a fight-ending submission. Silva has been inconsistent over his career, but when he is on top of his game, he is a deadly fighter. The Brazilian went 3-0 in 2018, with all three wins by way of stoppage. Though he has skills on the mat, his striking remains his bread and butter. His strikes are both pinpoint accurate and powerful, and he is a serious threat if one of his ferocious blows finds Bogatov. Circle this event as one you want to watch because this main event is good.

Juan Archuleta vs. Ricky Bandejas
Bellator 214
Jan. 26
Los Angeles

Bellator has continually gathered a large stable of blue-chip prospects in hopes of developing them into title contenders. This strategy seems to have worked pretty well so far, with fighters like A.J. McKee, Michael Page and Neiman Gracie looking ready to challenge for their championships in their respective weight classes. The next fighter who might join the list of contenders could be the winner of the battle between Archuleta and Bandejas. Archuleta has one of the most impressive records in all of MMA at 21-1. The former NCAA Division 1 wrestler has 16 straight wins, including four wins under the Bellator banner. The touted prospect can do it all. He fights at an insane pace, overwhelming his opponent with a high volume of strikes and relentless takedowns. Bandejas is a student of Nick Catone. The New Jersey native honed his skills in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships promotion, where he captured the interim bantamweight title before joining Bellator. His only hiccup to date was a submission loss over three years ago to former UFC fighter Nick Pace. He turned the MMA community on its head in his most recent bout, as he brutally knocked out brash Conor McGregor teammate James Gallagher. Bellator has two really great talents in Archuleta and Bandejas. This is a no-brainer must-watch matchup for the first month of 2019.
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