The month of January is usually when the first frost of the winter season finally settles in here around Rough Copy, and this year we have some fantastic fights to keep us warm while the rest of the nation is buried under entirely unnecessary amounts of snow. The biggest news of January is probably the first event for the newly formed Legacy Fighting Alliance that merges talent from Legacy FC and RFA under one banner. The UFC is still recovering from the holiday hangover with only two broadcasts this month, neither of them on pay-per-view. Bellator is similarly lackluster this month unless you're hyped about the Chael Sonnen and Tito Ortiz match at Bellator 170. Fortunately for fight fans, there are some nice matches from Invicta FC, and the UFC on Fox card later this month should have some good matches. Here's a look at our top picks for must watch mma this month.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Pena - UFC Denver
On the surface Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Pena looks like a gang of angry consonants preparing to go to war with a gang of angry vowels. Shevchenko is a decorated striker from the ranks of Tiger Muay Thai and a she-tank on the feet. She's has a 2-0 record in boxing, a 58-2 record in kickboxing, and a 13-2 record in mixed martial arts. Despite losing she survived three rounds with Amanda Nunes and last walked away with a huge win over former champion Holly Holm. She has yet to finish a UFC fight and has a tough challenge ahead of her in the form of Julianna Pena. The 8-2 Pena is one of the toughest in her division. She has racked up four official wins in a row starting with her run at the end of The Ultimate Fighter, and she has gone through Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano in her pursuit of her first championship shot. This fight will play a large role in that pursuit.
Steven Peterson vs. Leandro Higo - LFA 1
The newly formed Legacy Fighting Alliance will have its first event this month from Dallas, TX. Legacy Fighting Alliance was formed when Legacy FC and Resurrection Fighting Alliance merged in September 2016. The two promotions were former staples of AXS.tv's Friday night block of MMA programs and will spend the next few events merging belts and sorting its ranks of competitors.
Their first event features a bantamweight unification championship match between Legacy FC champ Steven "Ocho" Peterson and RFA bantamweight champion Leandro "Pitbull" Higo. Ocho is 14-4 as a pro and enters the fight with a seven win streak. The Octagon MMA champ has not tasted defeat since 2013 and has finished four of those six fights. Peterson captured the title after a tough back and forth fight that saw him opened up above the eye before securing the fight-winning choke deep in the fourth round.
Higo is 5-1 within a similar timeframe and has won three in a row. Higo earned the nickname "Pitbull" before entering the world of MMA, so it's only appropriate that he trains at Pitbull Brothers MMA. It's kind of their thing. He captured the vacant RFA crown in April 2016 when he rendered Joey Miolla unconscious in the first with a deep rear naked choke. Pitbull was dazed after being dropped on his head and slammed to the canvas while attempting to armbar his opponent but hung in there to win it. Both fighters are insanely tough and willing to put on an excellent fight to bring home the new championship, and we're excited to see it.
Fan favorite Joe Lauzon is a human bonus machine. Seriously. He has 14 insane of the night awards and won fight of the year in 2012 for his fight against Jamie Varner. Every time someone punches the man, he bleeds a Sam Raimi budget of blood and quarters everywhere. Any card featuring Lauzon gains immediate interest because win or los he's probably going to put on a spectacle of brilliant violence, and that's what we love. We are sick people.
He faces recent signee and former Bellator lightweight tournament winner Marcin Held, a 22-5 fighter considered one of the best Polish prospects today. Held fell to UFC veteran Diego Sanchez in his first outing, and he's getting another challenge in one of the toughest UFC veterans currently competing as his next opponent. It's hard to tell if the company wants him to succeed or wants to bury him, but he gets a shot to prove himself and we get to see if he rises to the occasion.
Aspen Ladd vs. Sijara Eubanks - Invicta FC 21
Of all of the rising talent on this list, this women's bantamweight match is one of the more intriguing. Ladd is an undefeated prospect from MMAGold Fight Team and has racked up a 4-0 win as a pro with all of her wins as finishes. Ladd is a volume striker with some nice submissions earned in her short carer, one being a nasty standing guillotine choke that slept opponent Roma Pawalek.
Opposing her is Sijara Eubanks, a TLI black belt and seven time IBJJF champion. Eubanks is 2-1 as a pro and pressures her opponents with heavy strikes and a dominating ground game. Sarj has both of her pro wins under the Invicta banner. She won her last fight by securing top position, working to side control, and finishing with hard punches and elbows. The women's bantamweight division is a small pond right now, and a big win here could net some exposure for either of these future UFC competitors.
Andrea Lee vs. Jenny Liou - Invicta FC 21
Andrea "KGB" Lee and Jenny Liou are two of the grittiest fighters on the Invicta FC roster. Lee, the 4-2 Karate Mafia flyweight, has an extensive background in the traditional MMA combo of muay thai striking mixed with solid Brazilian jiu-jitsu systems. Lee won Legacy FC fight of the year and championship belt back in 2015 for her win over Ariel Beck. It was a dominating performance featuring submission attempt after submission attempt, and Ariel Beck was stretched and pulled in every direction like a raw pretzel. She has nice mix of hands, body kicks, and knees at her disposal, and she used all of her tools against opponents like Shannon Sinn. She's coming off of her first submission loss and looks to get back on track in 2017.
Her opponent Jenny Liou is also looking to bounce back from a loss to Sarah D'Alelio, the woman who also gave Lee her last defeat. Liou is 6-4 as a pro but has yet to taste victory inside the Invicta cage. She trains out of Moscow, and whooooaaaah there Putin, no need to activate the sleeper cells, we're talking about the one in Idaho. Before the loss she Rouseyed her way to three consectutive armbar victories, and a win here is huge. There is talk of the UFC considering a women's flyweight division at some poin in the future and this fight could help punctuate who gets an early shot.
Are you looking forward to any of these fights? Let us know in the comments below, and don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on future articles like the one you just read.