Not yet fully fleshed out, the fight calendar for the back half of 2010 already reads like a best-of list. While this is sure to get augmented as promoters update their schedules for the remainder of the year, it's clear there's more than enough mixed martial arts to keep fight fans occupied. Here are the 10 fights (plus 10 more honorable mentions) I'm most looking forward to:
There shouldn't be any mystery as to why this fight is at the top of the list. Lesnar, the sport's top draw, faces a legitimate threat against the undefeated Velasquez. Public opinion will be behind the UFC heavyweight champion, but there will be plenty of people who question Lesnar's ability to hang with a fast, accurate puncher and kicker who can wrestle like Velasquez, a two time All-American at Arizona State. This should be the biggest "event" fight of the back half of 2010.
A real-world experiment of the "writing checks your body can't cash" principle this one is. Can Sonnen make good on what has been an unprecedented level of hype and trash talk? Depending on your perspective, the lead-up to this UFC middleweight title fight is like a or a ball-peen hammer to the brain -- or both. Regardless, it's certainly a fight worth watching as Silva attempts to fend off the aggressive, wrestle-first/talk-trash-always foe.
One year after fighting to a decision, the top two bantamweights in MMA meet again with a title on the line. Cruz, the WEC champion at 135 pounds, is pure speed and movement. He can also wrestle, which is the reason for his victory over Benavidez last August. Odds are good that this turns out to be the best fight of 2010.
A rematch of the controversial decision in Abu Dhabi this past April that gave Edgar the UFC lightweight belt. The new champion has earned little recognition for besting Penn and will have the opportunity to prove his five-round effort in the Middle East was no fluke. Penn, meanwhile, has his legacy to worry about. Another loss would signify a real dent to his reputation as one of MMA's pound-for-pound best.
The culmination of another season of "The Ultimate Fighter" takes place at a to-be-determined end-of-the-year date (possibly Jan. 1). Still, the UFC welterweight title is on the line in a fight that should have momentum via the reality show format. St. Pierre is the top fighter on the planet, even if he has not offered inspiring performances in recent victories. If Koscheck finds a way to wrestle with St. Pierre -- and the NCAA champion at 174 pounds in 2001 certainly has the ability despite failing to do so when the pair met in 2007 -- he can pull the upset. Otherwise, St. Pierre will control his way to another proficient title defense.
This is all about Aldo, the uber-talented 23-year-old featherweight king who recently vaulted into the top three of SI.com's pound-for-pound list. Is Gamburyan (3-0 since dropping to 145 pounds, including a clean knockout of Mike Thomas Brown) the guy to stop a fighter as dynamic as Aldo? Unlikely. But it's a fight worth watching simply to see Aldo go about his business. He was masterful against Urijah Faber in April.
In terms of crossover appeal, Couture-Toney could come in No. 2 to Lesnar-Velasquez. As a fight, well, you have two 40-plus-year-old fighters. One a multiple time MMA champion. The other, a former boxing king and eventual Hall of Famer who's never been asked to grapple in his life. It's all spectacle, though some have attempted to assign a larger meaning to the bout in a MMA vs. boxing context. The fallout from a Couture loss would be compelling stuff.
Unanswered questions about both heavyweights should be resolved when the pair headline the UFC's first card in Indianapolis. Mir looked tremendous against Nogueira in Dec. 2008, but then it was revealed the Brazilian fought on shaky legs as he struggled through a staph infection. Nogueira was knocked unconscious by Cain Velasquez in February. If he has anything left, he'll need to show it against Mir, who also returns for the first time after a brutal loss to Shane Carwin in March.
Options are thin in the light heavyweight division outside the UFC, and this may be the best bout possible right now. Lawal, won the Strikeforce title with a thorough effort against Gegard Mousasi in April. He's one of the best wrestlers in MMA and should hold a significant edge over Cavalcante, who would carry much more interest with him into the fight had he not surrendered a terrible loss to Mike Kyle last June.
An important rematch in the welterweight division, which should put the winner next in line for a second chance at the UFC 170-pound title, is made much more interesting because of Alves. Months after having to contemplate never fighting again after pre-fight medical testing revealed irregularities on his brain, the 26-year-old Brazilian is back, healthy and ready to fight. Fitch stopped Alves in 2006. A similar ending would be surprising since Fitch has needed the distance in his past seven fights. Neither fighter has lost someone other than St. Pierre in four years.