10 Fights to Watch in January

By Keith Shillan Jan 9, 2020

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

The first month of the 2020s will not waste much time trying to get off to a memorable start, as the biggest star in MMA history, Conor McGregor, returns to the cage to take on the record-setting Donald Cerrone in the UFC 246 main event on Jan. 18. While the majority of the public remains focused on their epic showdown, several other intriguing battles continue to fly under the radar.

Here are 10 more obscure January matchups fans should make an effort to catch:

Raimond Magomedaliev vs. Joey Pierotti
One Championship “A New Tomorrow”
Jan. 10 | Bangkok

One Championship invades Thailand to kick off its 2020 campaign and will do so with a card flooded by solid talent. The event features a clash between Magomedaliev and Pierotti—two fighters who have a combined record of 16-2. Magomededaliev flaunts a 5-1 mark, with four wins having resulted in finishes. The only time he has tasted defeat was in his last appearance: a unanimous decision loss to the undefeated James Nakashima in November 2018. The Russian has shown an innate ability to end fights on the feet and on the ground. Pierotta, meanwhile, will make his debut under the One Championship banner after enjoying a stellar career on the regional scene, which included victories over David Mundell and Emmanuel Walo in his last two outings. The only blemish on his resume was put there by current UFC lightweight Tristan Connelly. Of his 11 wins, nine have come via stoppage. Based on the fighters’ track records, this confrontation does not figure to see the judges.

Christopher Brown vs. Carrington Banks
Legacy Fighting Alliance 80
Jan. 17 | Albuquerque, New Mexico

Brown has the look of a fighter who will not be competing on the regional scene much longer. The Jackson-Wink MMA product has compiled a 5-1 record, his only loss resulting in a split decision to UFC veteran Thomas Gifford. He opened some eyes in his most recent appearance when he knocked out Dana White’s Contender Series alum Austin Tweedy in the first round of their Nov. 27 meeting. Brown, 30, will carry a three-fight winning streak into his sophomore Legacy Fighting Alliance appearance. Banks, meanwhile, appeared to be an exciting addition to the Bellator MMA roster after starting his career 4-0. He lived up to expectations initially, as he defeated C.J. Keith, Jake Roberts and Steve Kozola in his first three appearances with the organization. However, his situation changed drastically. He was submitted by Adam Piccolotti and was on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout from Mandel Nallo before resurfacing in the Island Fights promotion in March and stopping David Alex Duarte in the second round.

Tim Caron vs. Aaron Jeffery
Combat Zone 73
Jan. 17 | Manchester, New Hampshire

New England promotions outside of CES MMA do not often draw much attention, but New Hampshire’s Combat Zone squeezes onto this list by kicking off its year with a sensational middleweight pairing between two Dana White’s Contender Series graduates. Caron will perform in front of hometown fans while trying to pick up the most significant win of his career. The 32-year-old sports an impressive 10-2 record, with his only losses coming against intriguing prospects Jordan Young and Vinicius de Jesus. He showed in his Bellator 231 appearance against Lucas Pimenta Borges that he had the grit and toughness necessary to become a mainstay with a major organization. Despite falling short against Brendan Allen in his lone DWCS bout, Jeffery could be the next Canadian to receive a phone call from UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby or Mick Maynard. The former BTC Fight Promotions middleweight champion is battle-tested, having fought in top regional promotions like King of the Cage and Cage Fury Fighting Championships. He has won five of his last six fights, so getting past Caron might be all the 27-year-old needs to do to get back on the UFC’s radar.

Andre Fili vs. Sodiq Yusuff
UFC 246
Jan. 18 | Las Vegas

While the Conor McGregor-Donald Cerrone main event figures to draw all the headlines at UFC 246, a featherweight affair further down the card could become the “Fight of the Night.” This seems to be a perfect-storm pairing between a fighter in his prime (Fili) and a fighter on the rise (Yusuff). Fili will step into the Octagon for the 14th time, and the Team Alpha Male representative has never looked better during his six-year stint with the promotion. He excels at blending together his striking and underrated wrestling skills. Meanwhile, Yusuff has established himself as a true blue-chip prospect who some see as a future champion. He followed a successful appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series by posting victories in each of his first three UFC assignments. Yusuff has as high a ceiling as any featherweight on the roster and appears to have only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.

Nasrat Haqparast vs. Drew Dober
UFC 246
Jan. 18 | Las Vegas

Since Haqparast dropped his first fight in the UFC to Marcin Held, the Kelvin Gastelum lookalike has rattled off three consecutive victories, including a brutal knockout of Joaquim Silva in his most recent appearance. The Tristar Gym standout appears to be coming into his own at the age of 24, a well-rounded martial artist lurking just outside the Top 15 at 155 pounds. Meanwhile, Dober has no intention of becoming a steppingstone for Haqparast. The Elevation Fight Team export seems to be firing on all cylinders, as he has won six of his last eight bouts, three of them by first-round knockout. Dober has proven to be a difficult test for anyone who stands across the cage from him. This fight does not seem likely to disappoint.

Brett Johns vs. Tony Gravely
UFC Fight Night 166
Jan. 25 | Raleigh, North Carolina

After capturing Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and Titan Fighting Championship titles, Johns joined the UFC with the kind of skills that often make noise. Initially, he lived up to the expectations and won each of his first three fights inside the Octagon. However, when he faced upper-tier talents like Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz, the results were far less promising. On the heels of those back-to-back defeats, Johns sounds determined to regain some of the hype that once surrounded him. Meanwhile, Gravely was one of the more decorated fighters on the regional MMA scene, where he managed to capture bantamweight championships in four different organizations, including King of the Cage and CES MMA. Now 19-5, the former Appalachian State University wrestler has posted seven straight wins, the most recent of them—a third-round technical knockout of Ray Rodriguez on Dana White’s Contender Series—earning him a UFC contract.

Sara McMann vs. Lina Lansberg
UFC Fight Night 166
Jan. 25 | Raleigh, North Carolina

A former UFC bantamweight title challenger, McMann returns to action after nearly two years away from the sport due to the birth of her child. Perhaps the 2004 Olympic silver medalist has one last run left in her. Now 39 and riding a two-fight losing streak, the decorated wrestler will have to stare down Father Time and navigate a women’s bantamweight division led by Amanda Nunes. Meanwhile, Lansberg will enter the cage on a roll after back-to-back upsets of former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Tonya Evinger and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 28 winner Macy Chiasson. Has the multiple-time muay Thai world champion finally turned the corner in MMA?

Darrion Caldwell vs. Adam Borics
Bellator 238
Jan. 25 | Inglewood, California

After losing his bantamweight title and falling to 0-2 in his head-to-head series with Kyoji Horiguchi, Caldwell moved up to 145 pounds and joined Bellator’s loaded featherweight grand prix. “The Wolf” easily eliminated Henry Corrales to advance to the quarterfinals and now looks to build on his newfound momentum. Borics entered the tournament as something of a dark horse. However, he silenced any remaining critics who thought his come-from-behind flying knee knockout of Aaron Pico was a fluke when he stopped two-time featherweight champion Pat Curran on a second-round technical knockout. The undefeated Hungarian is an explosive athlete with 11 stoppage victories to his credit. The Caldwell-Borics winner advances to the semifinals, where A.J. McKee awaits.

Aaron Pico vs. Daniel Carey
Bellator 238
Jan. 25 | Inglewood, California

When Pico made his professional debut at Bellator 180 in June 2017, he did so as perhaps the most hyped prospect in history. Despite the fact that he submitted to a Zach Freeman guillotine choke in just 24 seconds, many observers brushed off the loss as a fluke. The Jackson-Wink MMA rep then began to blossom, as he destroyed his next four opponents inside one round, including former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Leandro Higo. However, after suffering consecutive knockout losses to Henry Corrales and Adam Borics, the 23-year-old Pico has begun hearing whispers about his being a bust. Meanwhile, Carey will march into the Bellator cage for the sixth time. During a run that has seen him compile a 3-2 record in the promotion, he has recorded quality victories over Cris Lencioni and Gaston Bolanos. Relegated to preliminary duty, Pico has another chance to show why his arrival was greeted with so much hype.

Joshua Pacio vs. Alex Silva
One Championship “Fire and Fury”
Jan. 31 | Manila, Philippines

Pacio will attempt to defend his strawweight championship for the second time in front of his hometown crowd when he confronts Silva at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Filipino star has established himself as one of the most talented fighters on the One Championship roster and carries an impressive 18-3 record, with wins in six of his last seven appearances. The 23-year-old has delivered eight of his 18 career victories by submission and has slowly begun to stake his claim as one of the top 125-pound fighters in the sport. Meanwhile, Silva will find himself in hostile territory when he tries to reclaim a belt he once held. The 37-year-old Brazilian also excels on the ground, as evidenced by the eight submission wins on his resume. Silva, who has never been finished, has put away his last two opponents with armbars in the second round. Advertisement

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