By Pete Hoffman
The MMA world is blessed with cards every weekend from now until the end of the year, events that feature a range of fighters from top-tier talent to old vets. Here are the fights to pay attention to over the Thanksgiving weekend:
UFC Fight Night Beijing: Ngannou vs. Blaydes II
A heavyweight rematch many have been begging for between Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes will finally take place this Saturday, Nov. 24, at UFC Fight Night Beijing (6:30 a.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass). Both men are at crucial points in their careers as they climb the heavyweight rankings.
They first fought in April 2016 with a combined one fight of experience in the UFC. Blaydes walked away from an early exchange in the second round with a right eye that was swollen shut. After he finished the round, the doctor called the fight.
Ngannou, 32, had the more sudden rise to the top. Ngannou’s punching power is unreal. His highlight reel is filled with cartoonish knockouts, including his 2017 Knockout of the Year over Alistair Overeem. That set him up to face Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title less than two months later, and Miocic claimed a dominant five-round decision. With a two-fight losing streak (he later dropped a forgettable three-round decision loss to Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis), Ngannou’s stock is beginning to drop.
Blaydes, 27, is looking for his fifth win in a row. He’s a much more versatile heavyweight — he has powerful strikes and elite wrestling skills. He has been known to toss grown men across the cage with incredible ease (just ask Mark Hunt, Overeem and Alexey Oleynik).
This rematch comes at a great time for Blaydes. Seeing Miocic expose Ngannou’s flaws on the ground should give Blaydes plenty of confidence to shoot for takedowns. Ngannou retains the very real threat of finishing Blaydes if he lands a clean strike.
If the winner of Ngannou-Blaydes can do it in dominant fashion, don’t be surprised if you hear his name brought up for a title shot. After Brock Lesnar gets his shot first, of course.
Liddell vs. Ortiz III
Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz are set to pick up their rivalry 12 years from where they left off, making it a trilogy. This is not a Bellator promotion. Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions will put on the company’s first ever MMA event this Saturday night (9 p.m. ET) in a pay-per-view event. De La Hoya, who was critical of UFC boss Dana White leading up to the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor superfight, stole White’s former employee and friend in Liddell to make this fight.
Liddell, 48, last fought June 12, 2010, when he suffered a brutal first-round knockout to Rich Franklin. The former UFC light heavyweight champ lost five of his last six fights in the UFC, four by knockout. At 40 years old, his career was said to be over; White made it clear to Liddell that his health was a real concern and he did not want him fighting anymore.
Liddell’s opponent is none other than “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.” Ortiz, 43, another former UFC light heavyweight champ, has never really stopped fighting since his debut at UFC 13 in May 1997. One of the original trash talkers in MMA, Ortiz has had a successful resurgence, winning three of his last four fights, most recently a win over Chael Sonnen in January 2017.
In their first two fights, Liddell knocked out Ortiz in dominant fashion. Liddell would get comfortable and find his distance, then track down Ortiz and land his right-handed kill shot. Liddell still has KO power, but if his ring rust is evident, Ortiz — highly skilled in wrestling and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu — may make Liddell’s return very brief.
Follow @theHoffWFAN, @Ike_CBS & @_Outsidethecage for all your MMA and UFC coverage. Listen to their weekly "Outside the Cage" podcast. Next live post-fight show is Sunday, Dec. 9 after UFC231 12am-2amEST on CBS Sports Radio.