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UFC stacks the deck to finish 2018 in style

A host of top-drawer matchups looks set to give the UFC a stellar finish to 2018

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Dana White and the UFC are looking to finish 2018 with a bang (Per Haljestam)

After a steady start, the UFC is finishing 2018 with a bang, as some of their biggest stars return to action in an exciting end-of-year schedule.

Here’s a quickfire look at a handful of the biggest and best clashes set to wow the fans before the New Year.

Max Holloway v Brian Ortega (December 8)

"The best is 'Blessed'": Max 'Blessed' Holloway returns at UFC 231 (Simon Head)

“The best is ‘Blessed'”: Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway returns at UFC 231 (Simon Head)

After their initial UFC featherweight title meeting was postponed and rescheduled, this mouth-watering 145lbs encounter between champion Max Holloway and challenger Brian Ortega has gathered even more momentum and attention.

In the current UFC and boxing betting from bet365, it’s Ortega that will enter the octagon as the 11/10 outsider to prevail in this highly-awaited featherweight title match-up.

In a battle to see who is the best in the division, who will come out on top in the UFC 231 main event this year? 

Holloway and Ortega are two members of the UFC’s new generation of stars making their way to the top of the sport, and their matchup could well spark a friendly rivalry between the pair, with plenty of potential for rematches as their careers progress side-by-side in the months and years to come.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk v Valentina Shevchenko (December 8)

Will Joanna Jedrzejczyk become "Joanna Champion" as a flyweight? (Per Haljestam)

Will Joanna Jedrzejczyk become “Joanna Champion” as a flyweight? (Per Haljestam)

Former dominant women’s strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk is aiming to continue her comeback from back-to-back losses against Rose Namajunas.

The Polish star recovered with a strong unanimous decision triumph over Tecia Torres this past July and will now go straight back in the deep end against dangerous opponent Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight crown.

The pair have met before in Muay Thai contests, with Shevchenko holding the advantage after those bouts. But this will be the first time the pair has faced off in mixed martial arts, and with a world title up for grabs, it could well deliver one of the best women’s fights in UFC history.

A win here would see Jedrzejczyk secure history by becoming the first female fighter to win titles in different divisions, a feat which would seal her spot as an all-time great in the sport.

Al Iaquinta v Kevin Lee (December 15)

Motown Phenom: Kevin Lee is looking to gatecrash the lightweight title picture

Motown Phenom: Kevin Lee is looking to gatecrash the lightweight title picture

A bout that’s perhaps flying under the radar a little is the lightweight clash between  Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee.

There has been plenty of bad blood and verbal trade-offs in the build-up to this one and it should make for a very interesting bout, as heavy-handed New Yorker Iaquinta and Detroit wrestler Lee go toe to toe in a superb match between two lightweights looking to force themselves into the title picture in 2019.

Jon Jones v Alexander Gustafsson (December 29)

Happy to be back: Former light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones fights for his old title again at UFC 232 (Per Haljestam)

Happy to be back: Former light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones fights for his old title again at UFC 232 (Per Haljestam)

This is the big one. The return of Jon Jones sees the American star face-off with old foe Alexander Gustafsson in what is sure to be another cracker.

The pair previously met in a thrilling first encounter back in September 2013, with Jones coming out on top via a unanimous decision.

If he can secure a successful return in this highly-anticipated rematch then it would potentially set up a third showdown with long-standing rival Daniel Cormier at heavyweight.

That would be a true blockbuster super-fight for 2019. But given how good Jones’s first bout with Gustafsson was, this one could become a blockbuster of its own, too.

Amanda Nunes v Cris Cyborg (December 29)

Stepping up: UFC bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes will challenge Cris Cyborg for her featherweight title (Per Haljestam)

Stepping up: UFC bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes will challenge Cris Cyborg for her featherweight title (Per Haljestam)

Two of the biggest and best names in women’s MMA will finally collide in the final UFC pay-per-view event of 2018 as Brazilian knockout artists Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg go toe to toe in the most explosive women’s MMA matchup in UFC history.

Nunes defeated Miesha Tate to capture the UFC bantamweight title, then demolished Ronda Rousey to halt the women’s MMA icon’s comeback and send her off to the WWE. Subsequent title defences against Valentina Shevchenko and Raquel Pennington cemented her place as the world’s premier 135lb women’s fighter.

But now she’s stepping up to 145lbs to face the seemingly unstoppable force that is Cris “Cyborg” Justino. Justino hasn’t lost a fight since her MMA debut and has become the most intimidating presence in women’s mixed martial arts. She was the longtime Strikeforce womens’ featherweight champion, and is now the UFC women’s featherweight champ.

She’s run through the competition like a hot knife through butter so far, but against Nunes she’ll face arguably the most formidable power striker of in her career.

It promises to be a spectacular co-main event bout at UFC 232 in Las Vegas.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 20 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including UFC world title fights, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Grand National and the FA Cup Final.

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