Sherdog’s Top 10: Can’t-Miss Fights of January

Step aside, David.

Goliath will meet Goliath to unify the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title when Francis Ngannou faces former MMA Factory stablemate Ciryl Gane in the UFC 270 headliner on Jan. 22 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. To the victor go the spoils, along with the symbolic “Baddest Man on the Planet” designation.

Ngannou, 35, enters the cage on the strength of a five-fight winning streak. The Xtreme Couture export last appeared at UFC 260, where he punched out Stipe Miocic in the first round of their March 27 rematch and claimed his share of the heavyweight crown. Ngannou has secured all 16 of his victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 11 of them inside one round. The undefeated Gane improved to 10-0 on Aug. 7, when he captured the interim heavyweight championship with a third-round technical knockout of Derrick Lewis under the UFC 265 marquee. A potent finisher in his own right, the polished Frenchman has stopped seven of his 10 opponents inside the distance.

The Ngannou-Gane confrontation is but one can’t-miss fight in January. Here are nine more:

Alesha Zappitella vs. Jessica Correa Delboni
Invicta Fighting Championships 45
Jan. 12 | Kansas City, Kansas

Delboni will get her shot at redemption when she challenges Zappitella for the Invicta Fighting Championships atomweight crown at Memorial Hall, as their five-round rematch kicks off the promotion’s 2022 campaign. Zappitella retained the 105-pound title with a contentious split decision—it received substantial consideration for Sherdog’s 2021 “Robbery of the Year”—on May 21. While many observers felt Delboni won all five rounds, judges Stephen Graham and Kevin Champion struck 48-47 scorecards for the the 4-foot-11 Zappitella, allowing “Half Pint” to remain on Invicta’s atomweight throne. Delboni procured her second title opportunity when she defeated Lindsey VanZandt by unanimous decision in the final of the Phoenix Series 4 tournament in June.

Calvin Kattar vs. Giga Chikadze
UFC Fight Night 200
Jan. 15 | Las Vegas

Featherweight hopefuls step into the Ultimate Fighting Championship spotlight when “The Boston Finisher” toes the line against the surging Chikadze in an intriguing main event at the UFC Apex. Kattar has compiled a 6-3 record across nine appearances inside the Octagon, but he has not competed since being on the receiving end of a ruthless beating from Max Holloway at UFC on ABC 1 nearly a year ago. He absorbed a record 445 significant strikes from Holloway in losing a 50-43, 50-43, 50-43 unanimous decision. Chikadze, meanwhile, has rattled off nine consecutive victories and continues to make his push toward a title opportunity at 145 pounds. The Kings MMA standout last fought at UFC on ESPN 30, where he wiped out Edson Barboza with third-round punches on Aug. 28.

Joaquin Buckley vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan
UFC Fight Night 200
Jan. 15 | Las Vegas

Middleweight knockout artists are set to collide in a three-round battle that carries the promise of quick-strike violence. Buckley established his credentials when he froze Impa Kasanganay with a spinning back kick to the face in October 2020, as he authored Sherdog’s “Knockout of the Year” and produced a highlight for the ages. He has since sandwiched knockout victories over Jordan Wright and Antonio Arroyo around a surprising knockout loss to Alessio Di Chirico, further cementing his kill-or-be-killed reputation. Alhassan, meanwhile, boasts seven sub-minute stoppages among his 11 career victories. The Fortis MMA rep last competed on Aug. 28, when he needed just 17 seconds to fell the aforementioned Di Chirico with a head kick.

Tomasz Narkun vs. Ibragim Chuzhigaev
KSW 66
Jan. 15 | Szczecin, Poland

The fate of the KSW light heavyweight championship will hang in the balance when the “Giraffe” defends his 205-pound title against the fast-rising Chuzhigaev at Netto Arena. Narkun has not fought since he failed in his bid to become a two-division titleholder in a technical knockout loss to current heavyweight champion Philip De Fries in their KSW 60 rematch on April 24. The setback snapped his modest two-fight winning streak and dropped him to 0-2 in his head-to-head series with De Fries. Chuzhigaev steps into the cage on the heels of six straight victories—a run of sustained success that now spans nearly five years. The 30-year-old Berkut Fight Club product last appeared under the Eagle Fighting Championship banner in September, when he cut down Evgeni Myakinkin with third-round punches.

Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo
UFC 270
Jan. 22 | Anaheim, California

Trilogies remain a relatively rare occurrence in mixed martial arts, but Moreno will complete one of them when he defends the undisputed UFC flyweight crown in a co-main event showdown with Figueiredo at the Honda Center. Moreno owns a 1-0-1 edge in their rivalry. The two men fought to a majority draw—Figueiredo was penalized a point for a low blow in the third round—at UFC 256 in December 2020, then rematched one another six months later at UFC 263. There, Moreno recorded the signature victory of his career to date, as he submitted the Brazilian with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their June 12 sequel and emerged as the first Mexico-born champion in UFC history. The loss was Figueiredo’s first in 812 days.

Movsar Evloev vs. Ilia Topuria
UFC 270
Jan. 22 | Anaheim, California

Two of the UFC’s most promising young featherweights, both of them sporting undefeated records, will toe the line against one another in a three-round showcase at 145 pounds. Evloev, a former M-1 Global champion who trains out of American Top Team, climbs into the cage with a perfect 15-0 mark. The Greco-Roman wrestling stylist last fought at UFC 263, where the 27-year-old Russian took a unanimous decision from Hakeem Dawodu on June 12. Topuria, 24, has secured 10 of his 11 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission. The German-born Spaniard has not competed since he punched out “The Ultimate Fighter 22” winner Ryan Hall in the first round of their July 10 pairing at UFC 264.

Tyrone Spong vs. Sergei Kharitonov
Eagle Fighting Championship 44
Jan. 28 | Miami

Spong will return to the mixed martial arts scene for the first time in more than seven years when the Sanford MMA rep tests his wares inside Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle Fighting Championship promotion. The “King of the Ring” owns a 107-7-1 record as a professional kickboxer but has not competed in MMA since he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Angel DeAnda at a World Series of Fighting event in August 2013. Kharitonov opposes him, having agreed to fill in for onetime EliteXC champion Antonio Silva on short notice. The 41-year-old Pride Fighting Championships veteran last appeared on Nov. 6, when he put away Fabio Maldonado with first-round punches under the Modern Fighting Pankration marquee. Wins over Semmy Schilt, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski anchor the Kharitonov resume.

Anatoliy Malykhin vs. Kirill Grishenko
One Championship “Only the Brave”
Jan. 28 | Kallang, Singapore

Malykhin and Grishenko will determine the destination of the interim One Championship heavyweight title when they risk their undefeated records at Singapore Indoor Stadium. The winner figures to move on to a unification bout with reigning champion Arjan Singh Bhullar, provided he can iron out his contractual differences with the Chatri Sityodtong-fronted organization. Malykhin, 33, has finished all nine of his opponents. He last appeared at One Championship “Revolution” on Sept. 24, when he brought down Rizin Fighting Federation veteran Amir Aliakbari with first-round punches. Grishenko improved to 5-0 at One Championship “NextGen,” where the 30-year-old Belarusian was awarded a unanimous decision over Dustin Joynson on Oct. 29.

Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky
Bellator 273
Jan. 29 | Phoenix

Can Bader stave off Father Time? Bellator MMA’s incumbent champion will face Moldavsky, the interim titleholder, to unify the company’s heavyweight crown at the Footprint Center. Now 38 years of age and with 36 professional bouts under his belt, Bader has begun to show signs of deterioration. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner has lost two of his past three fights, albeit against top-flight opposition. He last competed at Bellator 268, where he succumbed to punches from Corey Anderson a mere 51 seconds into their light heavyweight grand prix semifinal on Oct. 16. Moldavsky, meanwhile, finds himself on a career-best six-fight winning streak. The 29-year-old Fedor Emelianenko protégé has not fought since he captured the interim heavyweight championship with a five-round unanimous decision over Timothy Johnson in the Bellator 261 headliner on June 25.


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