October will be a pretty slow month by mixed martial arts standards. Save for a bevy of critical bouts at this Saturday's UFC 192 pay-per-view event in Houston, the rest of the month is almost barren of must-watch matchups, in and out of the UFC octagon.
Here's a look at the most important UFC contests scheduled this month, as well as a couple standouts from the rest of the MMA world. All rankings in parentheses come from my personal rankings, which are available to view in full at www.ufc.com/rankings.
Oct. 3: UFC 192
Light Heavyweight Title: Daniel Cormier (C, 12 pound-for-pound) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (2)
Light Heavyweight: Ryan Bader (3) vs. Rashad Evans
Welterweight: Johny Hendricks (1) vs. Tyron Woodley (3)
Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez (1) vs. Ali Bagautinov
Although Jon Jones is the true champion when it comes to in-cage ability, his legal troubles cost him the crown. Now, Cormier and Gustafsson tangle in a battle of two former Jones foes.
While Gustafsson looked better against Jones than Cormier did, the Swede has lost two of three. More troubling is his biggest weakness (wrestling) is the champ's greatest strength -- he's a former Olympic wrestler. Look for that to be the difference as Cormier wins a decision or earns a finish on the mat.
Bader and Evans likely are vying for the next shot at Cormier -- unless Jones returns soon. They're both power-hitting wrestle-boxers, and that doesn't always lead to a fun fight. Look for Evans to shake off 23 months of cage rust and win a laborious decision.
Speaking of heavy hitters who can wrestle, Hendricks and Woodley fit the bill in a welterweight title eliminator. Hendricks, the former champ whose only recent losses were contested decisions in title fights, should have enough to put away the talented, but inconsistent, Woodley with strikes.
Benavidez is always worth watching. He's always the figurative best man, but never the groom, when it comes to the title picture. While he may never win the belt, Benavidez thrives on stifling the rest of the competition. Saturday will be no different as decisions Bagautinov, who is returning from yearlong hiatus due to suspension.
Also worth checking out are a flyweight matchup between Chris Cariaso (10) and Sergio Pettis, a women's bantamweight bout between Jessica Eye (5) and Julianna Pena (13), and a women's strawweight tilt between Rose Namajunas (9) and Angela Hill.
Oct. 24: UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Duffy
Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic (4) vs. Ben Rothwell (5)
Flyweight: Louis Smolka (11) vs. Patrick Holohan (14)
Lightweight: Dustin Poirier vs. Joseph Duffy
If not for the local angle brought about by Duffy fighting on home turf in Dublin, Ireland, Miocic vs. Rothwell would make for a superb UFC Fight Night main event. Instead, it will make for a superb co-main. It's a great matchup that could produce a 2016 heavyweight title challenger.
Both big men prefer to hash it out on the feet, and each packs power in their fists. Rothwell's inconsistency makes this hard to predict, so the safe pick is for Miocic to win by TKO near the midway point of the bout.
Both Smolka and Holohan are up-and-comers at 125. Seeing how neither has challenged for the title yet -- as most of the flyweight contenders have by this point -- it's reasonable the winner might be fighting for the strap within the next 15 months. Even in hostile territory, it's more likely Smolka emerges victorious.
If the Poirier-Duffy bout was scheduled for October's pay-per-view event, this bout would barely register based on divisional impact alone. But hey, these young guns aren't far off from being difference-makers at 155 pounds. Plus, they tend to put on a heck of a show. This is a Fight of the Night candidate that should go Poirier's way, but Duffy is an intriguing prospect and cannot be counted out.
Outside the octagon...
Oct. 17: World Series of Fighting 24
Welterweight: Yushin Okami vs. Jon Fitch
Not the strongest WSOF card they've put forth, but the main event is intriguing thanks to this being Okami's return to 170 pounds. The one-time UFC middleweight title challenger was never considered small for that division. Can he fight to his ability after a big weight cut? Does former UFC welterweight contender Fitch have much left at this point in his career. Interesting questions, but don't expect a breathtaking bout to unfold.
Oct. 24: Bellator 144
Bantamweight Title: Marcos Galvao (C) vs. Eduardo Dantas
A trio of UFC-caliber 135ers rule Bellator's division. Galvao beat Joe Warren for the title. Warren won it from Dantas. Dantas had defended the title against Galvao in 2013.
If Galvao is to end the vicious cycle, he'll need to be wary of Dantas' offensive talents and put the younger challenger on the defensive. That will be tough, even for a vet like Galvao. Look for Dantas to pick up the win and reclaim his title, extending the circle of Bellator bantamweight life.