January is a notoriously slow month for combat sports: it’s hard to stay on weight in the winter because it's harder to sweat, fighters would rather be home with their families for the holidays than burning calories in the gym, the weather makes it hard to stay loose in a fight, and the cold makes it easier to get a cut from a glancing blow. But still, there are two boxing fights and one MMA match-up that might prove interesting this month, so let’s take a look at those.
January 1st: (BOXING) Luis Ortiz vs. Charles Martin
January 22nd: (MMA) Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane
January 29th: (BOXING) Ilunga Makabu vs. Thabiso Mchunu
January 1st: Luis Ortiz vs. Charles Martin
Image Credit: Boxing News 24
Luis Ortiz’ name has always been part bogeyman, part gatekeeper, but since fighting Deontay Wilder and coming up short twice, he seems to have fallen off of people’s radar, which is a shame. He’s a dangerous southpaw with a slick Cuban boxing style and a hammer left hand, so if nothing else, he’s great to watch. His opponent, Charles Martin, is a journeyman but a fun one, so this will be an entertaining fight.
Luis Ortiz: Ortiz has the nickname “King Kong” for a reason: he’s a destructive force in the ring. He’s got good footwork, solid boxing fundamentals, and very good power in both hands to back up all of that boxing technique. Where he tends to fall short is mostly on the branding side of things, though he does have some cardio troubles as well. Look for him to do what he always does: force his opponent into sticky positions with good footwork, and then brutally punish any mistakes.
Charles Martin: Martin may be a bit of a journeyman, but he’s still a solid puncher and a good gatekeeper. He’s relatively durable (only Anthony Joshua has knocked him out) and can certainly punch with the best of them. His main downfall is his lack of good competition. Of all the people he’s fought, the only two I’d rate at all are the two he’s lost to. Look for him to be game and give it his all.
Prediction: Ortiz by KO. Ortiz is, frankly, just a better boxer by a mile, and he’s got comparable power to Joshua, so I’m betting that Martin will fall here as well. I think Martin is a brave fighter, but bravery can only keep you on your feet for so long.
HOW TO WATCH: Live on FITE TV on January 1, 2022 at 8:00 PM ET.
January 29th: Ilunga Makabu vs. Thabiso Mchunu
Image Credit: Boxen247
This is a fight that is probably more interesting due to its implications than the actual fight. Makabu has been tapped as a potential Canelo opponent should he overcome his next opponent and retain his belt, marking both Canelo’s first fight at cruiserweight and a marked step-up in competition for Makabu.
Ilunga Makabu: A cruiserweight champion out of South Africa, Makabu is a skilled, aggressive puncher. He’s had a little bit of genuine competition (namely Tony Bellew), but he’s still relatively untested. It will be interesting to see what he does against Mchunu who, while relatively unknown, is anything but an easy win. Then again, he’s beaten Mchunu before, so look for him to try and catch Mchunu with his dangerous check hook, and to pressure the more defensively-oriented fighter.
Thabiso Mchunu: Another skilled boxer (something of a rarity at the higher weight classes) and a perennial challenger. Having fought Makabu before, albeit on a smaller stage and coming up short, he has a lot to prove here. He’s got a skillful style with a very active defense, so he will be looking to set up a counter offense against the more aggressive Makabu.
Prediction: Makabu by KO. I love an underdog story as much as the next guy, but they’re exciting because comebacks are rare. Makabu already has a blueprint for Mchunu, who hasn’t changed much since their fight.
HOW TO WATCH: Live on Don King TV on January 29, 2022 at 9:00 PM ET.
January 22nd: Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane
Image Credit: La Sueur
This is easily the best fight on this schedule this month. Both of these fighters are evenly matched and highly skilled, but more importantly, they both have experience fighting each other, having been sparring partners earlier in their careers.
Francis Ngannou: A destructive power puncher at heavyweight with solid all-around striking, Ngannou is a brutally simple fighter. He catches you, he knocks your soul out of your body, and end-of-fight. I doubt he’ll change that pattern now. Look for him to go for the kill right from the opening bell.
Ciryl Gane: With dominant wins over Derrick Lewis and Junior Dos Santos, Gane is a tested and proven fighter now. He’s got a fairly even win spread between submissions, knockouts, and decisions. He actually sparred with Ngannou early in his career as well, so he’s got a playbook against him. Look for him to try and go to the ground where Ngannou is uncomfortable, or maybe just try to brawl it out.
Prediction: Gane in any fashion. I know this goes against the mob wisdom, but I just like Gane better. He’s more varied. Ngannou might just knock his head off though.
HOW TO WATCH: Live on ESPN+ on January 22, 2022 at 10:00 PM EST.
Note: All information is accurate as of December 29, 2021.