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Navigating December's Middleweight Maze

By the time August of 2012 rolled around, Anderson Silva had effectively cleaned out the UFC’s middleweight division. After winning the title in October of 2006, the Brazilian MMA icon successfully defended his crown 10 times, with only Chael Sonnen threatening his reign with a stellar effort in their first bout in 2010. In terms of marquee matchups, they were few and far between for Silva, with talk of a superfight with Georges St-Pierre garnering more attention than anything that would happen with a fellow 185-pounder.

Yet a little more than three years later, the middleweight class is one of the most compelling in the sport, led by a dominant champion who has more than a few challengers eager to take him on and that are more than capable of lifting the belt from his possession.

In other words, it’s a good time to be a fan of the middleweight division, and there will be no better month to celebrate that than this one, as 12 members of the weight class will clash against each other in an attempt to either keep a title, win a title, earn a title shot, or get into the title picture. That’s a lot at stake for the fighters, and a lot of interesting fights for those watching it all play out.

December 10 – Las Vegas
Kevin Casey VS Antonio Carlos Junior
This may be seen like your typical prospect vs. prospect matchup, but this one has a little extra heat on it thanks to Casey and Carlos Junior both being Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts. So how do you separate the two? Do you go with Casey’s black belt under the Gracie family, or Carlos’ BJJ world championships? Or will striking decide this one? Either way, it’s an intriguing matchup and one that should move the winner into a good position to make a run at the top 15 in 2016.

Thiago "Marreta" Santos VS Elias Theodorou
TUF Nations winner Elias Theodorou is unbeaten, coming off a training camp with Chris Weidman and his crew in Long Island, and someone with legitimate star potential. Of course, Thiago “Marreta” Santos has the potential to knock an opponent’s head off his shoulders with fists or feet. All three of the Brazilian banger’s UFC wins have come by way of knockout, with his head kick finish of Steve Bosse in June a frontrunner for Knockout of the Year. This is a quality matchup that opens up the December 10 main card and will set up some interesting fights for Santos and Theodorou next year.
 

December 12 – Las Vegas
Yoel Romero (3) VS Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (2)
Oft-postponed but never forgotten, the showdown between Brazil’s “Jacare” and Cuba’s “Soldier of God” might be the most explosive in the middleweight division this year. Souza has a night-altering ground game and enough pop in his fists to earn any opponent’s respect, and Romero – an Olympic Silver medalist in wrestling – can handle himself in the grappling realm, but he prefers to deliver vicious knockouts. If this one goes three rounds, that would be a shocker. What wouldn’t surprise is if this fight steals Fight of the Night honors from the two headline bouts on a stacked UFC 194 card.

Luke Rockhold (1) VS Chris Weidman (C)
It’s easy to fall into the “best ever” trap in an ever-changing MMA world, but it’s hard to imagine a better championship fight than this one. The undefeated Weidman already has a Who’s Who list building thanks to his wins over Silva, Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, but a look at Rockhold’s resume and skillset make this an almost impossible fight to pick. This is what makes the UFC great – two fighters in their prime, at the top of their game, fighting each other. And if this one lives up to expectations, a series wouldn’t be too bad, eh?
 

December 19 - Orlando
Tamdan McCrory VS Josh Samman
A week after UFC 194 determines who will head into 2016 as the middleweight champion and who will likely be next in line for a shot at the belt, Tamdan McCrory returns to the UFC for the first time since 2009 and Josh Samman will be there to greet him. McCrory being back in the UFC is a great thing, because he was always one of those fighters who, win or lose, was looking to finish the fight. In Samman, he finds a like-minded opponent whose three Octagon wins have all ended in spectacular fashion. He’s a finisher. The Barncat is a finisher. Don’t get up for a snack or beverage once the gate closes. This one isn’t going three rounds.

Nate Marquardt VS CB Dollaway (12)
After going 1-5 in his last six, Nate Marquardt has reached a point in his career where winning wouldn’t just be nice, but necessary. Yet when talking to the former middleweight title challenger, he sounds like there’s still some fire in his belly to make a run at the age of 36. Of course, CB Dollaway, who dropped his last two to Michael Bisping and Lyoto Machida, will have something to say about that, and while that pair of losses hurts, there is a feeling that he’s turned a corner in his career and will be moving further up the 185-pound ladder in 2016. This is an interesting matchup on a lot of levels, and the perfect way to end the middleweight punching season.

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