In an effort to bring more attention to the global stage of mixed martial arts, this list does not focus on major North American-based promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA and the World Series of Fighting.
The mere mention of their iconic nicknames evokes images of yesteryear and turns even the heartiest of men nostalgic: “Cro Cop” and “The Axe Murderer.”
Mirko Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva will meet for a third time when they lock horns in the 2016 Rizin Fighting Federation open weight grand prix quarterfinals at Rizin 3 on Dec. 29 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The two MMA legends fought twice before under the Pride Fighting Championships banner, their April 2002 encounter ending in a draw before Filipovic knocked out Silva with a head kick in their September 2006 rematch.
One of the most decorated heavyweights in MMA history, Filipovic has the wind of four-fight winning streak at his back. Now 42, the 2006 Pride open weight grand prix and 2012 K-1 World Grand Prix winner last competed on Sept. 25, when he submitted Hyun Man Myung with an arm-triangle choke in the first round of the Rizin tournament. Victories against Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman and Hidehiko Yoshida highlight the stellar Filipovic resume, along with three wins over Josh Barnett and two others over Satoshi Ishii. “Cro Cop” has 29 finishes to his credit, 23 of them knockouts.
Silva has not fought since he knocked out former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Stann at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in March 2013. How the rust from such a long layoff impacts the 40-year-old Brazilian juggernaut remains to be seen. Silva was a dominant force in Pride’s heyday, capturing the promotion’s middleweight title and holding it for more than five years. He boasts 27 knockouts among his 35 career wins. Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Quinton Jackson (twice), Keith Jardine and Cung Le are among his victims.
The Filipovic-Silva trilogy bout is but one under-the-radar matchup worth monitoring during the month of December. Here are nine more:
One Championship “Age of Domination”
Dec. 2 | Manila, Philippines
Fernandes will defend the One Championship bantamweight crown against McLaren in the “Age of Domination” co-main event at the Mall of Asia Arena. The 36-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has pieced together an 11-fight winning streak since 2010. Fernandes last appeared on Jan. 23, when he submitted Kevin Belingon with a first-round kimura to retain his title. McLaren, 25, has made an immediate impression in One Championship, as the Australian prospect has bested the once-beaten Mark Striegl and the undefeated Muin Gafurov in back-to-back bouts.
KSW 37 “Circus of Pain”
Dec. 3 | Krakow, Poland
The fate of the KSW welterweight championship will hang in the balance when Mankowski risks his title against Maguire at Tauron Arena. Mankowski at age 27 has hit his stride, as he will step into the cage on the strength of a five-fight winning streak. He last fought at KSW 32 on Halloween, when he submitted “The Ultimate Fighter 7” alum Jesse Taylor with a first-round guillotine choke. Maguire has also won five in a row. The 33-year-old Tsunami Gym rep went 2-3 during a five-fight stay in the UFC from April 14, Nov. 5, 2011 to June 15, 2013.
M-1 Challenge 73
Dec. 9 | Nazran, Russia
Emeev has his work cut out for him in his latest M-1 Global title defense. The 29-year-old has defeated Vyacheslav Vasilevsky, Luigi Fioravanti and Maiquel Falcao in succession, finishing all three of them in his rise to the top of the middleweight division. Training with the same Gorets Fight Team outfit that spawned UFC lightweight Rashid Magomedov, Emeev has delivered 10 of his 14 professional wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Tokov, 26, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Europe. He has recorded 17 straight victories, winning an Absolute Championship Berkut tournament in the process.
Road Fighting Championship 35
Dec. 10 | Seoul
Kwon will put his Road Fighting Championship lightweight belt on the line against Sasaki at Jangchung Gymnasium. The 31-year-old saw his four-fight winning streak snapped in an 18-second knockout loss to Kiyoshi Kuwabara in a non-title affair on May 14. Kwon owns notable victories over current Pancrase champion Takasuke Kume and “The Ultimate Fighter China” winner Guangyou Ning. A longtime Shooto veteran, Sasaki has posted four wins across his past five appearances, a violent KO defeat to Daron Cruickshank the lone blemish.
British Association of Mixed Martial Arts 27
Dec. 16 | Dublin
His time on the regional scene undoubtedly running short, Duquesnoy will defend his British Association of Mixed Martial Arts bantamweight championship against Philpott at 3Arena. The 23-year-old Frenchman has won four fights in a row since his September 2014 encounter with Ashleigh Grimshaw ended in a no-contest. Duquesnoy last competed at BAMMA 25 in May, when he wiped out Shay Walsh with a spectacular elbow strike just 75 seconds into the first round. Philpott, 24, has gone 6-2 over his past eight appearances, including a unanimous decision win over Aaron Blackwell under the BAMMA flag on Sept. 10.
Cage Fury Fighting Championships 62
Dec. 17 | Philadelphia
Santella and Lozano will duke it out for the Cage Fury Fighting Championships flyweight title at the 2300 Arena in the City of Brotherly Love. The 32-year-old Santella will enter the cage on the strength of a modest two-fight winning streak. A staple of the East Coast MMA scene, he has secured 10 of his 15 victories by submission and has never been finished in his 22-fight career. Lozano has fought in the Bellator, World Series of Fighting and Legacy Fighting Championship organizations. He has put together run of four straight wins since suffering consecutive defeats to Damacio Page and Sidemar Honorio in 2014.
Absolute Championship Berkut 50
Dec. 18 | St. Petersburg, Russia
Magomedov will look to maintain his control over the Absolute Championship Berkut bantamweight throne when he collides with Borisov at Sibur Arena. The 24-year-old has won 11 in a row, including victories over Petr Yan and Damian Stasiak. Magomedov sports eight finishes among his 12 career wins, five of them inside one round. Borisov finds himself in the midst of a 16-fight (15-0-1) unbeaten streak. The 33-year-old suffered his only pro defeat in 2012, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Timur Valiev.
Rizin Fighting Federation 3
Dec. 29 | Saitama, Japan
Carwin started his career with 12 straight first-round finishes, established himself as one of the heaviest hitters in the sport and then coughed up back-to-back losses to Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos before retiring due to various injuries. The Grudge Training Center rep hits the comeback trail at age 41, as he faces the unbeaten but untested Aliakbari in the 2016 Rizin Fighting Federation open weight grand prix quarterfinals at the Saitama Super Arena. Aliakbari was a two-time world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling but left that arena in disgrace after receiving a lifetime ban related to repeated doping violations.
Rizing Fighting Federation 4
Dec. 31 | Saitama, Japan
Kawajiri parted ways with the UFC following a unanimous decision loss to Cub Swanson in August and returns to his native Japan on a two-fight losing streak. The former Shooto champion owns victories over Yves Edwards, Gesias Cavalcante, Dennis Siver and Joachim Hansen (twice), but one has to wonder how much the 38-year-old has left in the tank. Kawajiri has accumulated plenty of mileage during his 47-fight career. Gracie, 28, has submitted each of his first three opponents inside the first round. He was a gold medalist at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships.