For a sport with no off-season, there's hardly a busier time than the end of the year. It's fitting then that 2008, which undoubtedly will go down as a crucial chapter in mixed martial arts history, closes with several meaningful fights.
While Japanese promoters used to carry the end-of-the-year torch with stacked New Year's Eve cards, it's the UFC's
Looking at the sheer volume of fights in December, it was tough to limit my list of the most important -- it's all about relevance, big names and consequences -- but I chose five that fit the bill for various reasons.
Some, like the UFC light heavyweight title fight between
A rematch of 2004 bout that saw Norwegian lightweight Joachim Hansen take a majority decision over a talented and inexperienced Calvancante, this
If his surgically repaired knee is healthy, Calvancante can bring the fight to Hansen, who's shown little timidity during his nine-year career.
There's no shortage of star power in this clash of light heavyweight greats. In previous meetings -- both of which were finished conclusively by Silva (32-8-1, 1 NC) during his reign as the Pride champion in Japan -- the two bulls charged at one another until one was left standing. Chances are good that a similar result will come from their third clash on Dec. 27 in Las Vegas.
Silva owns a 2-0 edge, and without a title on the line (a No. 1 contender spot could hang in the balance), most of the pre-fight attention will focus on Jackson (28-7), who returns for the first time since his highly-publicized arrest in July.
"Rampage" has never lost two in a row, but Silva, looking rejuvenated after consecutive losses to
The back-half of UFC's heavyweight tournament (Dec. 27) features an "interim" title fight between the second-best heavyweight in MMA history and a former UFC champ hoping skill and talent can carry him to an upset.
If Nogueira (31-4-1, 1 NC) manages to submit Mir, he'll own the title of the best submission-based heavyweight in perpetuity -- 20 of the Brazilian's wins have come from some sort of joint lock or choke. Yet there's no guarantee he'll catch Mir (11-3), who's enjoying the fruits of submitting "pre-
While Nogueira has looked sluggish since coming to the UFC after years spent dominating opponents in Japan (save
The winner's prize: a UFC heavyweight title unifier against Lesnar.
For Tapia (10-0-1), the headline bout on Dec. 3 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (Versus 8 p.m. ET) offers a chance to prove himself against the best in his division.
The World Extreme Cagefighting champ, meanwhile, is a win away from completing a monster 2008 -- a 12-month stretch that saw him rise to prominence after a "Fight of the Year" caliber performance against Japan's
A testament to the star-building power of
Because most year-end awards seem to come with time left on the clock, pundits likely won't make Griffin (16-4) "Fighter of the Year." But if people are willing to wait, and he manages a victory over Evans (12-0-1), the No. 1-ranked Griffin, who took the title against "Rampage" in July, could qualify.
One bout after handing