UFC 276 might be the most pay-worthy pay-per-view event of the year.
It’s important to note that while there have been some great headlines and champion bouts over the last six months, it is hard to top a card with three of the best pound for pound fighters around the globe. Those three being Israel Adesanya (No. 2), who goes for the fifth defense of his middleweight title in the main event, and Alexander Volkanovski (No. 3) and Max Holloway (No. 6), who clash for a third time for the featherweight title in the co-main event.
Adesanya promised magic against Jared Cannonier. But much like Anderson Silva’s spiritual successor, Anderson Silva, “The Last Stylebender”, needs to find a partner who can bring out his best. If Cannonier pierces through Adesanya’s aura and takes the fight to him, we could see either fighter deliver an exciting finish; if Cannonier is overly respectful, we could end up with a fight that more closely resembles Adesanya vs. Romero (apologies for bringing that up).
The trilogy fight between Holloway and Volkanovski is much less likely to fail. Their second encounter, though controversial when it came to the scoring, was an instant classic that solidified both men as the very best at 145 pounds and their performances since have done nothing to dent their reputations. Volkanovski won an epic battle with Brian Ortega and then dusted “The Korean Zombie,” while Holloway held the gate against two top-10 challengers in Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez to secure another crack at Volkanovski.
A Holloway win could set up a fourth meeting between the two, but let’s not look too far ahead. Let’s take a deep breath, and let us just enjoy the opportunity to witness the very best of what the best do at least once more.
And there’s the rest of the loaded main card, which features Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira meeting in a match that could determine the next challenger for the middleweight title, welterweights Robbie Lawler and Bryan Barberena being booked in a surefire slugfest, and veteran bantamweight Pedro Munhoz looking to humble the popular Sean O’Malley.
What: UFC 276
Where : The T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas
When: Saturday, July 2. The three-fight early prelims begin on ESPN and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight prelims on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Israel Adesanya (1) vs. Jared Cannonier (4)
I have a terrible feeling about this.
Listen, I’m glad that Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier are saying all the right things. The champ wants to add to his highlight reel by making short work of a worthy challenger in Jared Cannonier, and Cannonier has let it be known that he doesn’t care about Adesanya’s supposed greatness. He’s here to win fights, which if you’ve paid attention to what Cannonier has done lately, he’s pretty good at!
Cannonier is not a mere contender, but a fighter with a chance to punch. He has great leg kicks, solid wrestling, and, yes, enough power to make Adesanya think twice about exchanging with him. Adesanya has a clear speed and reach advantage, but Cannonier has proven he can take a hit, which he might have to do to close the distance. While I don’t think he should go all Gastelum here, some sloppiness might be in his favor.
However, Adesanya will have his technical skills on display tonight. I expect him to be sniping at Cannonier for five rounds. He won’t take any risks unless it is necessary. Adesanya is able to dance and lead, so it makes sense that he should be leading the break. Adesanya will not shy away from winning on points.
Cannonier could make the fight more interesting, if he is a bit recklesser than normal. But I expect Adesanya to win comfortably.
Alexander Volkanovski (1) vs. Max Holloway (2)
The second fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway was so close, it’s easy to see how “Blessed” can finally earn that elusive win over Volkanovski.
Holloway was one round away from winning the rematch after staggering Volkanovski in Rounds 1 and 2. We know he can touch Volkanovski’s chin. We know he can cut a pace that few can match. Is there an additional gear he has yet to discover? Possibly. He’ll need it.
It’s not just Volkanovski’s chin that’s top-notch, it’s his defense. Holloway’s surprise was astonishing because of this. Twice. But like all the great champions, Volkanovski adapts, and I’m confident that the 10 rounds he’s already spent in the cage with Holloway have given him a wealth of information with which to prepare for anything that Holloway has to offer. Volkanovski was rarely hit without a fight, except for those frightening moments during the rematch.
You don’t get points for defense but it keeps you alive. Volkanovski’s most crucial factor, especially in the initial three rounds, is that. He can’t fall behind early because one gets the sense that if Holloway smells blood this time, he’s going to push the pace until he takes Volkanovski out. Holloway won’t leave anything in the tank.
Even so, only the most skilled Volkanovski could win the title. Volkanovski is more powerful and precise than ever and peaks at just the right moment, both physically and mentally. Volkanovski will shock the world by making Holloway suffer and leaving no room for debate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this will be a non-competitive event. A wounded Holloway makes for a dangerous Holloway, and it’s likely that he will be fighting to the end.
Volkanovski, by decision.
Sean Strickland (8) vs. Alex Pereira
Don’t be surprised if Sean Strickland mixes martial arts.
While it is possible that Strickland will win a striking fight against Alex Pereira (a two-division Glory Kickboxing champion), he won’t get paid any extra to prove that hypothesis. He should be able to knock Pereira off his feet or just smother him with the fencing. He’s asking for his head to be kicked in.
Pereira’s MMA experience has been limited, and he is able to use his size. However, I believe Strickland will be able to take Pereira down if he focuses on wrestling. Although it won’t look pretty, and there will be boos from some people, if you are Strickland you need to focus on winning and getting a matchup with Adesanya. (assuming Adesanya wins the main event). Other than that, avoid Pereira’s clinch, mix it up inside when you can, and put him on his back.
For Pereira, it’s simple: keep this one standing and you win. Strickland may be a good striker but Pereira’s high-level kickboxing skills are undoubtedly the reason for his success in all his bouts. If Strickland is engaged on his feet, “Poatan” will find a knockout and win by decision. Strickland is smart, I believe. He wins the fight and gets the points.
Robbie Lawler vs. Bryan Barberena
Another UFC legend stands across from him, looking to knock him out.
You think Bryan Barberena has had fun?
“Bam Bam” might never make it into the top 10 of the welterweight rankings and I’m assuming that doesn’t mean a damn thing to him anyway. He’ll be happy as long as he can swing against Robbie Lawler or Matt Brown. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to trade bombs with Lawler on Saturday.
Though he recently turned 40, Lawler is still one of the most feared punchers in the division and for good reason. The former UFC champion combines high-level technique with the natural power that has made him a fan favorite for two decades. Barberena can be difficult to beat, but Lawler is the man who can.
It’s tempting to choose Lawler, particularly if Barberena is just standing there daring him to fire off. I choose to believe that Barberena will employ a modicum of strategy and at at least attempt to avoid one out of every, say, 10 punches or so. As long as he doesn’t eat a bowl-full of haymakers in Round 1, Barberena should have the cardio advantage and seek to push the pace for 15 minutes. Lawler’s cardio is not a problem, but years of fighting have made it difficult for him. Barberena will be able to determine how many “Ruthless”, if any, have left.
Barberena gets the win and both guys probably get a well-deserved 50 G bonus.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O’Malley
Check out the lineup of killers that Munhoz has faced in his past six fights: Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Jimmie Rivera, Frankie Edgar, Aljamain Sterling, and Cody Garbrandt. The fact that Munhoz was able to salvage two wins out of that schedule (and nearly three depending on how you scored the Edgar fight) is a minor miracle. So Munhoz’s supposed slump is deceiving.
Far and away, he’s the biggest test for Sean O’Malley yet, even more so than Marlon Vera was. Munhoz also has fought Rob Font, Raphael Assuncao. He’s faced a level of difficulty unlike O’Malley.
*It doesn’t matter what happens once there are just two of them. I trust O’Malley will continue to dispel doubters. He’s not as well-rounded as Munhoz, but his best skill is better than Munhoz’s best and as long as he keeps this on the feet he’s going to be a problem for the Brazilian veteran. His ground game is underrated too, so he can get out of trouble if Munhoz is aggressive with takedowns. O’Malley is a good opponent because of his speed and reach.
Munhoz and other fighters are difficult to defeat. O’Malley will have to deal with the man who can’t be stopped and is going to make O’Malley mad as he takes on all that Sugar has to offer. Munhoz is an excellent boxer, so look for him to cut off the cage, rough O’Malley up, and really test his opponent’s ability to control range. O’Malley can finish early or finish late, but can he earn a judges’ decision against an elite opponent? I’m skeptical.
Still, I look forward to him proving me and a lot of other people wrong as he goes the full 15 with Munhoz and earns a win by consistently landing the more damaging strikes.
Brad Riddell (13) def. Jalin Turner
Jim Miller def. Donald Cerrone
Gabe Green def. Ian Garry
Dricus Du Plessis def. Brad Tavares
Andre Muniz (10) def. Uriah Hall (12)
Maycee Barber def. Jessica Eye
Julija Stoliarenko def. Jessica-Rose Clark