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Six UFC fights you can't afford to miss in January

Next year looks set to get off to a flying start for mixed martial arts fans.

UFC 195 | Las Vegas | Saturday, 2 January

Dustin Poirier vs. Joe Duffy

inpho_00951382 Joe Duffy Source: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Joe Duffy will be the first fighter to fly the Irish flag in the UFC in 2016 when he takes on Dustin Poirier in this rescheduled lightweight bout. The pair were originally due to meet in the main event at UFC Dublin back in October but Duffy was withdrawn from the contest just four days beforehand due to a concussion. There’s been a lot of hype around Duffy as a result of his two first-round wins in the UFC so far, but Poirier will undoubtedly present the Donegal man with his toughest yet. If Duffy can pass, a place in the rankings among the elite of the 155lbs division is likely to be his reward.

Stipe Miocic vs. Andrei Arlovski

Another fighter who missed UFC Dublin because of injury, Stipe Miocic returns from an eight-month lay-off to face a former UFC champion. Miocic is keen to secure a heavyweight title shot and, having stopped Mark Hunt in his last outing, a win here might do the trick. It’s 10 years since Arlovski, a legend of the sport who previously defeated current heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum, held a UFC belt. However, since he returned to the UFC in 2014, the 36-year-old has shown that he’s still got plenty to offer by overcoming Brendan Schaub, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva, Travis Browne and Frank Mir. The winner of this bout could be in line for a title bout against Werdum or Cain Velasquez next.

Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit

UFC 189 Mixed Martial Arts Robbie Lawler Source: John Locher

Lawler turns 34 in a few months but the current UFC welterweight champion is ageing like a fine wine. The fearless San Diego native has always been a fan-favourite but few, if anybody, would have predicted that he’d be regarded as the top 170lbs fighter in the world just three years after he put together a 3-5 record in Strikeforce. Nevertheless, Lawler is now the man to beat in the welterweight division and he showed in July’s incredible battle with Rory MacDonald that he won’t give the belt up easily. Condit, a former WEC champion and interim UFC title-holder, is another fighter who always delivers when it comes to entertainment and he’ll be desperate to go one better as he competes in his second UFC title bout, having lost to Georges St Pierre in November 2012.

UFC Fight Night 81 | Boston | Sunday, 17 January

Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez

There’s a lot at stake in this co-headliner, with neither fighter able to afford a setback in their quest for the lightweight title. With Khabib Nurmagomedov still out injured, this is being billed as a bout to determine the next championship challenger at 155lbs — unless Conor McGregor decides to fill that slot in the meantime. Alvarez, a former Bellator champion, lost his UFC debut against Donald Cerrone but he bounced back by picking up a vital win over Gilbert Melendez back in June. Due to injury, Pettis hasn’t fought since he relinquished the UFC lightweight title to Rafael dos Anjos in March. Many still rank ‘Showtime’ as the top dog at lightweight. If he is, a win over Eddie Alvarez is essential.

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TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz

UFC Chicago Mixed Martial Arts TJ Dillashaw Source: AP/Press Association Images

Dillashaw has already proven his superiority against one former bantamweight champion, Renan Barao, having defeated the Brazilian twice. However, some observers maintain that Dillashaw — the current title-holder in the 135lbs division — still has some work to do before he can be regarded as the undisputed champion. Dominick Cruz has never lost a fight as a bantamweight and he was only stripped of the UFC belt in January 2014 due to persistent injury problems. Fans seem to be split down the middle on this one, but a win will remove any remaining doubts over Dillashaw’s legitimacy as a champion. Nevertheless, even at such an early stage of the year, this bout has the potential to be one of the best of 2016 and it’ll be good to see Cruz competing at the highest level again. The 30-year-old has spent just 61 seconds in the octagon since October 2011.

UFC on FOX 18 | Newark | Saturday, 30 January

Anthony Johnson vs. Ryan Bader

With Jon Jones set to return in 2016, things are about to get interesting again in the light-heavyweight division, and both Johnson and Bader know that victory in this main event is a must if they’re to position themselves in the title picture. Johnson came up short against reigning champion Daniel Cormier last May but he bounced back in convincing fashion by taking just over a round to dispose of Jimi Manuwa. By contrast, Bader is aiming for his sixth consecutive win and he believes his title shot should have come by now. In this striker-versus-wrestler clash of styles, seeing off the challenge of ‘Rumble’ Johnson is as big a statement that a 205lbs contender could possibly make.

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Paul Dollery

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