This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
The next nine days are composed of four (!!!) UFC fight cards and all of them have compelling fights. Things kick off Thursday night, Dec. 10, with Paige VanZant looking to enter the title picture with a win in the main event over Rose Namajunas. Friday's card consists of both The Ultimate Fighter Finale and a possible featherweight title eliminator. In the finale, devastating European striker Artem Lobov will look to bring his consecutive knockout streak to four in his clash with submission ace Ryan Hall. The main event will be a wild fight between top featherweight contenders Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar, with the winner likely solidifying a title shot. On Dec. 19, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone meets Rafael dos Anjos to challenge for dos Anjos' UFC lightweight championship. However, even with all of these great matchups, the focus remains on UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor on Dec. 12.
UFC 194 is arguably the greatest card ever. Other cards have been phenomenal, like UFC 189, but that card was only thought of as one of the greatest ever once it was finished. UFC 194 is certainly the most highly anticipated fight card in the history of the UFC. Much of this can be attributed to Conor McGregor, but the other fights on the card are just as compelling as Aldo vs. McGregor. Along with the featherweight title tilt, Urijah Faber makes his move back to bantamweight against Frankie Saenz. That fight is somehow on the preliminary fights, which proves how stacked this card is.
Moving on to the main card, rising star Max Holloway meets veteran fighter Jeremy Stephens in a fight that will almost certainly be an exciting stand up war. Following that is a fight which will appease grappling fanatics as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Demian Maia meets grappling specialist Gunnar Nelson. Before the two title fights, top-5 UFC middleweights Jacare Souza and Yoel Romero meet in a title eliminator. Whichever fighter wins that fight will likely get a shot at the winner of Rockhold and Weidman. Those are only the first three fights of the main card and leave two title fights as the co-main and main event.
In the co-main event Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman to determine who is the middleweight king. A fight like this doesn't come around very often, as both fighters are at the top of their respective games and in their prime. Weidman is undefeated and holds two victories over Anderson Silva while Rockhold has only lost once in the UFC, which came against TRT Vitor Belfort who was one of the most incredible fighters to ever compete in the Octagon. This fight is a clash of two highly skilled fighters in their prime and should be a crowd pleaser.
That leads us to the main event which, as everybody knows, is the number one pound-for-pound fighter Jose Aldo taking on interim UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor. This is a highly anticipated bout which was supposed to take place in July before Aldo pulled out with an injury. Each fighter has phenomenal striking skills and devastating knockout power. The anticipation and bad blood have made this a must-see fight. All of these main card fights taken together, including two championship fights, make UFC 194 the greatest card in the history of the UFC.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
Demian Maia seems to be hitting his stride at welterweight. Since dropping consecutive fights to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, Maia has won three straight fights. His last fight was an impressive second round submission victory against an always tough and No. 9-ranked UFC welterweight Neil Magny. Maia is a multiple time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and has submission prowess is legendary in the UFC. Since moving down from middleweight in 2012 Maia has had an increased advantage on the ground because he is generally not the smaller man in the Octagon at welterweight. He was heavy on top at middleweight and that smothering style is even easier for him to employ at welterweight. Along with the pressure he fluidly advances position and passes his opponents guard. His last fight against Magny was a masterpiece on the ground as he continually was able to transition to mount and eventually ended up sinking in a rear naked choke after Magny gave up his back. In his fight on Saturday at UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor, Maia faces another opponent known for his ground game in No. 12-ranked UFC welterweight Gunnar Nelson. Nelson is the owner of four submission victories in six Octagon appearances, so once the fight hits the ground it will be interesting to see who has the advantage. Nelson is above-average on the ground, but expect Maia's winning streak to extend to four as his world champion level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will most likely prove superior to Nelson's skill level.
Next Fight: Gunnar Nelson, UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor (December 12th, 2015)
Alves has won all three fights in his UFC career and is undefeated as a professional mixed martial artist with ten wins and no losses. He won The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 and is now moving his way up the middleweight ranks. His last fight against Nordine Taleb showcased the versatility Alves possesses as a mixed martial artist. He rocked Taleb in the first round, showcasing his kickboxing skill which earned him three Brazilian kickboxing championships. In the second round he took Taleb down early and stayed on top for most of the round before securing a guillotine choke for the submission victory. The only question mark for Alves is whether his gas tank can hold up in a high paced fight. Even though he won by decision, Alves seemed to fade in the third round in his fight against Alan Jouban. His next fight against Colby Covington will be an interesting clash of styles and will most likely test Alves' stamina. Covington is known for his wrestling and good cardio. It will be an interesting clash of styles because of Alves' kickboxing skill and Covington looking to bring the fight to the ground. Alves has defended 100 percent of the takedowns his opponents have attempted against him in the UFC, so this could prove to be a difficult fight for Covington, who has been successful only 38 percent of the time with his takedowns in the UFC. Covington is also undefeated as a professional mixed martial artist, but expect Alves to keep the fight standing and maybe finish Covington early in the fight.
Next fight: Colby Covington, UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor (December 12th, 2015)
"Funk Master" has won all three of his fights in the UFC and also boasts an undefeated professional mixed martial arts record with eleven wins and no losses. His last fight was an impressive third-round submission victory over No. 9-ranked UFC bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki. Sterling, a two-time Division III All-American in wrestling, keeps up a fast pace and grinds his opponent down along the fence and eventually will usually get his takedown. He was able to secure at least three takedowns against each of his UFC opponents, including three against Mizugaki, who is a veteran of the sport and traditionally has excellent takedown defense. Sterling will look to employ this strategy against No. 10-ranked UFC bantamweight Johnny Eduardo on Dec. 10, as Eduardo prefers the fight standing and has 70 percent takedown defense in his UFC career. Furthermore, he has avoided being taken down in each of his last two contests. Sterling is the younger up-and-coming fighter and has a good chance of grinding down the veteran Eduardo for a late finish or decision victory. As the No. 5-ranked UFC bantamweight a victory in this fight should propel Sterling into title contention at the top of the division.
Next Fight: Johnny Eduardo, UFC Fight Night: Namajunas vs. VanZant (December 10th, 2015)
"The California Kid" finds himself in an interesting position in light of recent events. For the past year Faber has found himself in an awkward position as his friend and teammate T.J. Dillashaw has been the UFC bantamweight champion, and he and Faber had no interest in fighting each other. This caused Faber to go up to featherweight to see if he could put together a winning streak in a higher weight class and get a title shot in that weight class. Faber was thoroughly outclassed by Frankie Edgar in his foray into featherweight, and it seemed as if he could not compete with the fighters at the top of the UFC featherweight division. However, now that Dillashaw has left Team Alpha Male, Faber has expressed his willingness to fight for the UFC bantamweight title against his former teammate. As the No. 4-ranked UFC bantamweight and a perennial fan favorite, Faber could find himself in line for a title shot with a victory against No. 13-ranked UFC bantamweight Frankie Saenz. Faber is an above-average striker with phenomenal hand speed, but he is most well-known for his wrestling and submission skills. Now that Faber is back down in his proper weight class, expect him to continue his winning ways at bantamweight, as he has never lost a non-title fight in the weight class. Faber is getting older, but Saenz is probably not the bantamweight who will break Faber's two-fight winning streak in the weight class. Even if the bantamweight division doesn't work out for Faber, he may have a big money fight with Conor McGregor (should McGregor lose to Aldo) because of coaching opposite McGregor on The Ultimate Fighter this season. At this point, Faber still must win his fight at UFC 194, and if he does that he will have multiple choices on the which way to take his career.
Next Fight: Frankie Saenz, UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor Prelims (December 12, 2015)
Castillo has hit a rough spot over the last year as he has dropped three fights in a row. Since a devastating knockout of Charlie Brenneman in April 2014 Castillo has lost two fights by split decision and one fight by knockout. Castillo generally relies on his wrestling, but his striking has greatly improved since Duane Ludwig became the head coach of Team Alpha Male. Even though he is on a three-fight losing streak, it seems as if Castillo likes the direction his striking is going, as he followed T.J. Dillashaw to train full time with Ludwig in Colorado after Ludwig and Team Alpha Male cut ties. Castillo got caught and knocked out by Paul Felder and found himself in fights against superior grapplers in contests against Tony Ferguson and Jim Miller. His next fight comes against a tough opponent in Nik Lentz on Dec. 19 at UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone. The veteran Lentz is known for strong skills in takedown defense, but he did allow seven takedowns to Chad Mendes when they fought. Castillo is not at the same wrestling level as Mendes, but this should give him hope that he can employ his wrestling against Lentz and apply his strong top pressure. However, if Lentz is able to defend Castillo's takedowns, Castillo will have to hope the striking tutelage of Ludwig pays off. This is an important fight for Castillo as a fourth consecutive loss could put his UFC career in jeopardy.
Next Fight: Nik Lentz, UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone (December 19th, 2012)
Struve has lost three of his last four fights, and his sole victory came against an incredibly past-his-prime Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira -- a fight that went to decision. Struve was absent from the sport for almost two years due to a heart condition, and he has not been the same fighter since he came back. Struve was known for his kickboxing and using his length, but his first fight back he suffered a first round knockout to Alistair Overeem (a great kickboxer in his own right). His next fight against an aging Minotauro was an underwhelming decision victory, and in his last fight Struve had no answer for Jared Rosholt, as he lost by unanimous decision. Struve is still only 27 years old, so his career is not over, but he is definitely at the lowest point of his career. "The Skyscraper" has always been an exciting fighter to watch and hopefully he can regain his exciting fighting style and use his huge reach advantage to out strike his opponents. Struve is also known for being crafty on the bottom with submissions by using his long limbs. Struve is in a bad spot in his career, but there is plenty of time for him to turn it around and regain his pre-medical issue form.
Next Fight: TBA
I hate putting Rousey on this list after one loss, but she undoubtedly had her stock fall the most out of any UFC fighter. It would be one thing if she was caught by Holly Holm during their title fight and got knocked out by a lucky punch, but she was thoroughly outclassed throughout both rounds of the fight. She was also finished in devastating fashion. Rousey's daily fantasy value also drops because it has been announced by the UFC that her next fight will be a rematch against Holm at UFC 200 in July 2016. That means Rousey will have to greatly improve her standup skills and game plan in eight months, or she runs the risk of being soundly beaten by Holm a second time. Rousey had no answers for Holm's footwork, takedown defense, and power throughout the fight. It will be difficult to justify choosing Rousey in a lineup when she is facing the same fighter who dominated her for two rounds in the last contest. However, this is still only one loss for Rousey, and it is very possible she just had a bad night. She was the biggest star in the sport, so once she lost it was inevitable her stock would fall more than anybody else. I expect a driven championship-level fighter like Rousey to stop at nothing to get her title back. It can only benefit the sport and the UFC if Rousey is able to get back to her winning ways and continue to dominate the sport. We have a long time before UFC 200, but Rousey's comeback fight will be one of the most anticipated in UFC history.
Next Fight: Holly Holm, UFC 200 (July 9th, 2016)