A Viewer's Guide to the Best MMA Fights in February

Francis Ngannou after KO
Francis Ngannou Photo credit USA Today Sports

February can be the worst time of the year for sports fans. The NFL season has wrapped up, pitchers and catchers still haven't reported to spring training, the NBA and NHL regular seasons seem not to mean as much as they used to and March Madness remains more than a month away.

What to do with all this extra time? Well, if you’re a fight fan, you’re in luck. The February schedule is packed with wall-to-wall fights each week. Here's a look:

Island Fights 52
Thursday, Feb. 7
8 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass

Chase Sherman vs. Jeremy May, heavyweight

Sherman, also known as the Vanilla Gorilla, was formerly in UFC, but he was let go after he lost three fights in a row. Sherman (12-6) has only had three career pro fights decided by the judges' scorecards. The 29-year-old, 6-foot-4 Mississippi native never had shied away from a brawl. His opponent is the complete opposite. May (13-10) has had majority of his success from submissions. This fight may seem like a contrast in styles on paper, but never doubt Sherman’s willingness and ability to keep the fight standing.

UFC 234
Saturday, Feb. 9
Early prelims, UFC Fight Pass; Main prelims, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN; Main card, 10 p.m., PPV

Robert Whittaker (champion) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (ranked No. 4), middleweight title, main event

The 28-year-old Whittaker is riding a nine-fight winning streak, though he has fought just three times since April 2017. Whittaker is one of the most well rounded fighters in combat sports. The 27-year-old Gastelum is known for his powerful left hand. Both fighters spent time in the welterweight division before making the jump to 185 pounds. Gastelum was mostly forced to the bigger weight class after missing weight multiple times at 170. This could be a long, drawn-out five-round chess match. Gastelum will take his time stalking his prey looking to land his left hook. Whittaker may be just as cautious to engage, waiting for an opportunity to counter.

Israel Adesanya (No. 6) vs. Anderson Silva (No. 15), middleweight, co-main event

Adesanya-Silva is the typical rising star vs. fading vet matchup. Silva, the future Hall of Famer from Brazil, is arguably the best MMA fighter ever. He held the UFC middleweight championship belt for 2,457 days, the longest title run in the history of the promotion. Now 43, “Spider” has won only one of his past six fights while incurring multiple injuries and suspensions. The fast-rising 29-year-old Adesanya, a former kickboxer from New Zealand, is 15-0 in his pro MMA career. “The Last Stylebender” has fought four times in UFC, winning “Performance of the Night” three times. The 6-foot-4 Adesanya’s style is very similar to Silva's: Every movement flows perfectly into the next, and he makes it look easy as he picks apart his opponent. These two are true artists, it’s just too bad we can’t reverse time back to when Silva was unstoppable. Adesanya should win this one fairly easy and all but put an end to Silva’s career.

Bellator 215
Friday, Feb. 15
9 p.m. ET, Paramount Network and DAZN

Matt Mitrione vs. Sergei Kharitonov, heavyweight

These two vets clash as part of back-to-back-to-back fight nights. If you want a knockout, this is the one to watch. The 40-year-old Mitrione and the 38-year-old Kharitonov have a combined 27 career knockouts. Kharitonov has been known to submit fighters here or there, but Mitrione is constantly looking to KO his opponent.

Invicta FC 34
Friday, Feb. 15
8 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass

Vanessa Porto vs. Pearl Gonzalez, women’s flyweight title, main event

The all-female promotion matched up a former UFC fighter Gonzalez against Invicta FC vet Porto for its vacant flyweight championship. This is a must promotion to watch, the closest thing to a Triple-A to UFC for women fighters.

Bellator 216
Saturday, Feb. 16
9 p.m. ET, DAZN

Michael Page vs. Paul Daley, welterweight Grand Prix, main event

On the second straight night of Bellator fights, the promotion jumpstarts its welterweight Grand Prix. Bellator successfully finished a heavyweight Grand Prix last month in which light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader became the company's first “champ champ” by knocking out Fedor Emelianenko in 35 seconds of the first round. Page and Daley, both from the UK, have bad blood dating back years. The two will finally settle their differences in the cage as Page puts his undefeated 13-0 record on the line against the notorious Daley, who was banned for life in UFC back in 2010.

Mirko Cro-Cop vs. Roy Nelson, heavyweight

These are classic Bellator fights. The promotion always finds a way to pull huge past-their-prime names and put them back in the cage. The quality isn't the best, but it’s vintage and you have to watch. Think of Pedro Martinez, Brett Favre or Mark Messier in their final seasons.

Sunday, Feb. 17
Prelims, 7 p.m., ESPN; Main card, 9 p.m., ESPN

Francis Ngannou (No. 3) vs Cain Velasquez (not ranked), heavyweight, main event

UFC Fight Night 143 in Brooklyn, which aired on ESPN+ on Jan. 19, was the debut card of ESPN's broadcast deal, and this will be the first to be featured on the cable network. Ngannou, one of the hardest-hitting heavyweights in memory, is set to take on one of the best ever in two-time former champ Velasquez, making his return after missing two and a half years due to back injuries. He has no easy task. Ngannou had highlight-reel knockouts over Alistair Overeem and Curtis Blaydes, to name a pair. There's a lot of knockout power in this can't miss fight; expect some fireworks.

Jimmie Rivera (No. 5) vs. Aljamain Sterling (No. 7), bantamweight

The entire UFC on ESPN 1 card is stacked. But this bantamweight title eliminator, the "main event" of the preliminary card, needs to be noted. Rivera and Sterling have worked their way to the top of the division, despite each having been stopped by current No. 1 contender Marlon Moraes. Now the winner of this fight between two tri-state natives (Rivera is from New Jersey, Sterling from Long Island) puts himself right behind Moraes for the shot at the title.

UFC Fight Night 145
Saturday, Feb. 23
2 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Jan Blachowicz (No. 4) vs. Thiago Santos (No. 6), light heavyweight, main event 

Blachowicz of Poland and Santos of Brazil are both 6-foot-2, 205-pound 35-year-olds looking for a late run at the title. Blachowicz has the slightest physical advantage, with two extra inches of reach. Their fight styles are more diverse that their body types. Santos is a heavy hitter. He has brawled with and knocked out Jimi Manuwa, Eryk Anders and even Anthony Smith, who will fight Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 235 in March. Blachowicz relies on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; 18 of his 23 wins have come by submission or decision. Blachowicz will try to avoid damage, take the fight to the ground and outpoint Santons. Blachowicz can expect the crowd in Prague to be on his side. Contrasting styles can produce a lopsided fight or something entirely unexpected. The winner certainly can be considered the No. 1 contender on a collision course to fight Jones (or Smith).

Bellator 217
Saturday, Feb. 23
9 p.m. ET, Paramount Network and DAZN

James Gallagher vs. Steven Graham, bantamweight, main event

The 22-year-old Gallagher suffered his first career loss in August via a brutal knockout at the hands (and feet) of Ricky Bandejas. Gallagher trains with Straight Blast Gym Ireland, the same stable as superstar Conor McGregor. Unlike McGregor, though, Gallagher is known for his submissions, having recorded five of his seven wins by rear naked choke. This will be a very technical fight. Graham is also known for his ground game. Graham is on a five-fight win streak, all by finish, four by submission. The 28-year-old trains with American Top Team, one of the best gyms in the country. Gallagher has home-cage advantage in Dublin, but Graham has trained with the best and should be able to give the kid a true test in this rebound fight.

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