Title talk: Looking ahead to the last four UFC title fights of 2018

Plenty of action to be had before 2018 bows out...

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We may only be a little over a month away from the end of the year, but MMA fans still have a quartet of top-drawer UFC title fights to enjoy before toasting the New Year.

The two remaining UFC pay-per-view events this year – UFC 231 and UFC 232 – both feature world-title double-headers at the top of their respective fight cards, as some of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster get set to end the year with a bang.

Max Holloway vs Brian Ortega

The main event at UFC 231 in Toronto will see the long-awaited meeting between two of the most exciting featherweights on the planet, as reigning UFC featherweight champ Max “Blessed” Holloway takes on undefeated No.1 contender Brian “T-City” Ortega.

The pair were set to face off at UFC 226 during UFC International Fight Week in the summer, but Holloway was pulled out of the fight on medical grounds after suffering what were described at the time as “concussion-like symptoms”.

Now Holloway has been given a clean bill of health and returns to grant Ortega his title opportunity, and it should deliver a cracker of a matchup on December 8.

Holloway is all forward pressure, high-volume striking and a fighting style that doesn’t give his opponent a moment’s rest. But Ortega is as good a submission specialist as you can find in the UFC’s featherweight division, and he showcased his knockout power with a devastating uppercut KO of former UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in his last outing at UFC 222 in March. Holloway holds the longest win streak in UFC featherweight history, while Ortega is on a record-breaking run of fight finishes.

Something’s gotta give. Who’s your money on?

The Odds

Max Holloway – 8/11

Brian Ortega – EVENS

 

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Valentina Shevchenko

In the night’s co-main event, the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion will be crowned, as former UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger Valentina Shevchenko in a mouth-watering battle of striking excellence at 125lbs.

Shevchenko is dropping down to flyweight from bantamweight, where she came agonisingly close to defeating Amanda Nunes for the title, losing out by split decision.

She’ll face Jedrzejczyk, who is moving up to flyweight after losing her strawweight title to Rose Namajunas, then losing out again in their world title rematch.

The bout has some history to it, too. Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk have fought three times before in Muay Thai competition, with Shevchenko coming out the winner on each occasion, but the pair went their separate ways and took different routes into MMA and, eventually the UFC.

Now reunited in the same weight class at the highest level of the sport, Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk will do battle for the first time under MMA rules, with the winner walking away the UFC women’s flyweight champion.

For Shevchenko, it’s an opportunity to become a UFC world champion for the first time after missing out by the thinnest of margins at bantamweight. And for Jedrzejczyk, it’s a chance to make history as the first female athlete in UFC history to win championships in two different weight classes.

With the competitive backstory between the two, plus their exciting fighting styles, this matchup should deliver fireworks galore on December 8.

The Odds

Joanna Jedrzejczyk – 11/5

Valentina Shevchenko – 3/10

Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson

It’s the rematch of arguably the greatest world title fight in UFC history, and it’s the perfect fight to see out 2018 and send the UFC into the New Year with real momentum.

Jon Jones’ battle with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in 2013 was a five-round battle of attrition that saw the pair go back and forth in an epic encounter with a result that some fans dispute to this day.

Gustafsson pushed Jones harder and further than any fighter before or since, and when they lined up to hear the scorecards, the Swede and his team believed they had done enough. But as it turned out, a big final round from Jones proved enough for him to retain his UFC light-heavyweight title that night as he edged past “The Mauler” after an unforgettable clash in Toronto.

Now the pair are set to face off for a second time, with the soon-to-be-vacated UFC light-heavyweight title on the line for the winner, and with both men out to prove a point on their respective returns to action following lengthy layoffs.

Injuries have seen Gustafsson on the shelf for extended spells, restricting him to just two fights since 2015. His victories in those two fights – a unanimous decision over Jan Blachowicz and a fifth-round knockout of Glover Teixeira – have kept him in the title conversation and now he has the chance to avenge his loss to Jones five years ago.

Jones’ story is rather more well-known. Failed drug tests, a hit-and-run incident and a successful comeback, where he spectacularly knocked out Daniel Cormier to reclaim his title were the prelude to more drama. Jones failed another drug test, rendering his win over Cormier null and void, and seeing him stripped of the title once again.

But now, after he was cleared of any wrongdoing with his latest failed test, Jones is back and ready to reclaim the title he never lost inside the octagon. After a tumultuous year in 2018, he wants to finish on a high and open a new chapter in his career.

But to do that he’ll have to defeat the man who pushed him closer to defeat than anyone else. It should be another classic battle.

The Odds

Jon Jones – 1/3

Alexander Gustafsson – 2/1

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs Amanda Nunes

If the UFC 231 title fight between flyweights Joanna Jedrzjeczyk and Valentina Shevchenko is a battle between the two slickest strikers in women’s MMA, the UFC 232 clash between Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes is a head-to-head clash of the two biggest power punchers on the UFC’s women’s roster.

Put simply, Cyborg is a one-woman wrecking machine. The Brazilian has a BJJ black belt, but has rarely needed to use it because of her immense strength and devastating punch power. One by one, Cyborg has ripped through the competition, both in Strikeforce and in the UFC, as matchmakers have struggled to find a suitable match for her dominant skillset.

Holly Holm provided the sternest test to date at UFC 219, as she became the only woman to take the Brazilian the distance since 2008. But even the conqueror of Ronda Rousey couldn’t do enough to outpoint Cyborg on the scorecards.

Now the other woman to stop Rousey is stepping up, looking to succeed where Holm failed.

Nunes is the one woman on the UFC’s women’s roster with the punch power to give Cyborg problems, and “The Lioness” knows her best chance to defeat Cyborg is to catch her early. If she’s successful, Nunes will make history as the first female athlete to hold two UFC world titles at the same time and join Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier in an elite group of UFC “champ-champs”.

It should make for a fascinating opening round, with the action in the first five minutes likely to dictate the type of fight we’re going to see. Will it be a quick finish or could we see another five-round slugfest? It’s the co-main event before Jones vs Gustafsson, and as co-main events go, this one should be spectacular.

The Odds

Cris “Cyborg” Justino – 4/11

Amanda Nunes – 15/8

Find the latest MMA odds over on paddypower.com