By Josh Gross
December 01, 2009

While Thanksgiving provided a short respite from the seemingly endless string of noteworthy mixed martial arts bouts in 2009, the calendar picks up where it left off this week.

December, as has become tradition in MMA, is rampant with important, big-money fights. (It's getting to the point that that can be said about every month.) In the latest e-mail/Twitter-bag, readers chime in on November's results, December's promises, as well as other issues surrounding the sport as another big year comes to a close.

I won't ask you to limit it to one, so please pick your five favorite scheduled fights for December. A few words on each would be appreciated as well.-- Felix S., Toronto

It's a big month for lightweights. Four bouts at 155 top my list:

1) B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez -- A great fight in nearly every respect for the UFC 155-pound championship (Dec. 12).

2) Shinya Aoki vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri -- Japan's top two lightweights battle for the Dream title (Dec. 31).

3) Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida -- Competitive fight with implications in the UFC lightweight class (Dec. 12).

4) Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez II -- Jinxed rematch gets matched once more; Thomson must stay healthy so Strikeforce can establish its lightweight champ (Dec. 19).

5) Takeya Mizugaki vs. Scott Jorgensen -- Potential high-pace war at 135 pounds (Dec. 19).

There were so many high-profile fights in November this might be asking a bit much, but which fighter stood out to you as the most impressive?-- Damon Upton, Chicago

By a pretty wide margin, I'd pick WEC featherweight champ Jose Aldo following his win over Mike Thomas Brown -- which may have been enough to vault him into the lead for Fighter of the Year honors in '09. The 23-year-old Brazilian went 4-0 in a combined seven minutes 22 seconds.

We discussed this after you ranked Jake Shields in your PFP top 10, but what do you think now? I thought he looked terrible [against Jason Miller], and would get beat up by pretty much any decent striker with good wrestling/takedown defense (for example, Josh Koscheck). Shields has NO striking whatsoever. I still stand by my statement that he doesn't belong anywhere near the PFP top 10.-- Jeff, Pittsburgh

Shields' striking is limited, and against heavier fighters those deficiencies are apparent. At welterweight I still feel he remains a threat to anyone. Not so at middleweight. That's clear now, and he admits as much. Because he entered my P4P based on fighting up and weight and defeating a ranked opponent (Robbie Lawler), it's difficult to keep him there after struggling against a top 20 guy. While I disagree with you that Shields doesn't belong anywhere near the top 10, his effort against Miller indicated there are other fighters more deserving of the distinction right now.

I am so puzzled. Fedor showed why he is the best? Really? Where is Brett Rogers' ranking? An experienced fighter would have stopped Fedor. Fedor simply has not fought anyone of experience, depth, or that is good or not a has-been other than Arlovski (questionable) in the past couple of years.

What are your thoughts if he and Brock Lesnar fought? I think Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Gabriel Gonzaga, Cain Velasquez and Cheick Kongo could beat him. Lesnar, I think, would be an impossible fight for Fedor, and that is why I don't think it will ever happen. I fear that we will never know how good Fedor really is because he will never fight in the UFC.-- Keith Kriegelstein, Waterloo, NY

Fedor's the best because all he's done is win. Most rankings had Rogers anywhere from 6-10 because his knockout of Andrei Arlovski convinced many people he's a top talent, and dangerous fighter.

Prior to meeting Tim Sylvia in '08, there was a legit argument that Fedor had not faced a test in some time. But now that he's faced legit opposition, discounting his dominant wins over Sylvia and Arlovski isn't fair.

As far as the Rogers fight goes, Fedor did get hit. But if the expectation of an excellent performance is based on avoiding getting touched, that's raising the bar a tad high for my taste.

Lesnar is a serious threat; very athletic, a giant wrestler. Carwin is similar to Lesnar, but I don't think he's as good and Fedor's speed would be the difference. You saw what Randy Couture did to Gonzaga. I don't picture Fedor having a ton of trouble. Velasquez is interesting, but is he ready for that kind of fight? Kongo (and Mir) wouldn't be very competitive against the Russian.

For my money, we already know how good Emelianenko is. Losing one bout wouldn't diminish his previous accomplishments, nor would it take away from the fact that he hadn't been defeated in a decade.

@SPC8: Josh, What do you think are the keys to the Sanchez-Penn fight? How do you see it playing out?

First, I'm calling Penn-Sanchez to take fight-of-the-year honors. This one has everything you could want, and I expect a fast pace from the outset. So long as Penn doesn't wilt under Sanchez's attack, I like B.J. to retain the belt. If Diego is as aggressive with B.J. as he was Clay Guida, he'll leave himself open to getting countered. I like Penn to score on the feet, get the better of their exchanges, and finish Diego when it hits the canvas.

@onyenemezu: I saw Tyron Woodley's fight and I think he carries a lot of muscle mass, cuts too much weight and keeps pace like a 7 min. match.

Woodley went eight minutes and 38 seconds with Zach Light without gassing. Each time I watch Woodley fight I'm struck by how relaxed he looks. He's not a punch-pusher. He doesn't try to muscle people. Everything is done with proper form, and that means he'll be able to go deeper into fights without overly fatiguing as the opposition gets better. He's the most intriguing prospect in the sport, and should get a serious uptick in competition in 2010.

@MTFIII: How far out are we from the UFC providing fighters with guaranteed contracts w/incentives, rather than solely show/win purses?

It would take a very good reason for the UFC to change how it structures the majority of its payouts, and right now I don't see anything on the horizon that would convince Zuffa to do so. Guaranteed money has come up as a point of contention in contract negotiations (mainly in the form of signing bonuses) and thus far remains an uncommon practice.

@FatKidMMA: Is there any truth to rumors about Fedor Emelianenko-Josh Barnett at Dynamite?

None. Both FEG (which is joining forces with Sengoku to promote the New Year's Eve card) and Emelianenko's camp confirmed there's no way the fight will get made right now. The Russian will likely get the cast protecting his left hand removed around that time.

@mmafan1984: How is it Tito Ortiz always says he's healthy b4 the fights, passes medicals, then he has a cracked skull & hurt back?

Ortiz was not listed among the 10 fighters requiring post-UFC 106 suspensions for injuries by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. So either the NSAC missed Ortiz's injuries before and after his fight, or all his talk about cracked skulls was a bit overblown.

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