By Adam Martin
The incredible 2015 calendar year in MMA may be nearly over, but fight fans have a ton to look forward to in 2016.
Kicking off the year is the return of legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who returns at a Rizin event on New Year's Eve. Emelianenko hasn't fought since mid-2012, and he's pushing 40 years old now, but he remains one of the biggest names in the sport, and his return on Spike TV -- dubbed "Breakfast with Fedor" -- is a great way to start the year, despite the fact that the legend is fighting an unknown opponent in Jaideep Singh.
As far as the UFC goes, the first event of the year is UFC 195, which is headlined by a potential welterweight war between champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Carlos Condit. Lawler is coming off of the 2015 Fight of the Year against Rory MacDonald, a fight he won via fifth-round TKO, while Condit returned from a major knee injury to smash Thiago Alves in his return bout to earn a title shot. Lawler and Condit are two of the most exciting strikers in the division, and the fact they are headlining UFC 195 makes the event a must-buy, as this is a fight that has excitement written all over it.
Later in January, UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw faces rival Dominick Cruz in the main event of UFC Fight Night 81. This is a fight that fans have been hoping to see for a few years now, and it's sure to provide fireworks. In addition, the winner of the fight will likely fight Urijah Faber later this year in a grudge match, so the fans win either way. Additionally, former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis returns against Eddie Alvarez on the same card, and later in the month UFC on FOX 18 is headlined by light heavyweight contenders Ryan Bader and Anthony Johnson. Then, a week later, UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum fights former champion Cain Velasquez, and just a few weeks after that, former UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva fights Michael Bisping.
Another huge fight that fans will see in the coming year is UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier defending his belt against former champ Jon Jones, who had his belt stripped and who has been sitting out for the past year due to legal issues. The first Jones vs. Cormier fight at UFC 182 was huge, and the rematch promises to hold even more intrigue, with Jones coming into the bout off of a lengthy layoff and Cormier now holding the belt.
Other potential big fights in the UFC include the aforementioned dos Anjos taking on Khabib Nurmagomedov in a rematch, UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk taking on Claudia Gadelha in a rematch after they coach TUF 23, a rematch between UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold and Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem potentially fighting the Werdum-Velasquez winner for the title, Johny Hendricks possibly getting another welterweight title shot, the return of Jose Aldo, UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson's intriguing matchup with Henry Cejudo, and the comeback fight from former middleweight kingpin Chris Weidman. Let's just say there are a lot of good fights coming up in the UFC.
Over in Bellator there isn't as much excitement on the horizon, although its lightweight division, with champ Will Brooks, former champ Michael Chandler, and former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson, should give the fans something to look forward to, while freakshow fights like the trilogy between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock will bring in viewers, despite not being very exciting on paper. And in WSOF we can always look forward to the next title defences from lightweight champ Justin Gaethje and bantamweight champ Marlon Moraes.
Phew, that was a lot, but there are so many good fights coming up in 2016 that it wouldn't be right to leave any of them out. 2015 was a great year, but 2016 has the potential to be even better. Buckle up, MMA fans.
UFC 195: Lawler vs. Condit takes place on January 2, 2016 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
UFC Fight Night 81: Dillashaw vs. Cruz takes place on January 17, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
UFC on FOX 18: Johnson vs. Bader takes place on January 30, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
UFC Fight Night 84: Silva vs. Bisping takes place on February 27, 2016 at The O2 in London, England.