Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier headlines UFC 276, but there is plenty more to sink your teeth into during International Fight Week. The UFC is tasked with piecing together a big fight card every July. The promotion has called on some of its most popular available stars for the July 2 pay-per-view at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and former titleholder Max Holloway are set to collide for a third time. Popular rising contender Sean O’Malley and kickboxing phenom Alex Pereira will also touch down in Las Vegas. UFC 276 won’t rank high on the list of all-time UFC lineups, but it still offers things to enjoy.
Let’s take a look at three must-watch fights outside of Saturday’s main event.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
It is very rare to see a trilogy fight booked where one party holds a 2-0 lead. Volkanovski is the only 145-pounder to beat Holloway in nine years. Volkanovski and Holloway are the 1A and 1B of the UFC featherweight ladder. The gap between Volkanovski and Holloway is narrower than the gap between them and the rest of the division — excluding Yair Rodriguez, perhaps. This is the perfect time for a trilogy fight while Rodriguez and Josh Emmett further build their cases for a title shot. Volkanovski surprised Holloway at UFC 245, leaning on footwork and activity to build a lead on the scorecards. Holloway was better prepared to regain his UFC featherweight crown at UFC 251. “Blessed” hurt the champ during their fight, leading to misguided claims of a robbery as Volkanovski won a split decision. There are serious stakes in Las Vegas: Holloway’s last chance (maybe) to be champion, Volkanovski’s irrefutable greatness and the next stage in a great MMA rivalry.
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Sean Strickland vs. Alex Pereira
Strickland is a mad man and Pereira has mad power. UFC matchmakers made the cheeky call to have Pereira fight on the undercard of an Israel Adesanya PPV. Pereira, the former Glory kickboxing double-champion, is the only person to knockout the current UFC middleweight champion in any combat sport. In fact, Pereira beat Adesanya twice. Pereira (5-1) is certainly a work in progress as a mixed martial artist and Strickland (25-3) may be too much, too soon. Strickland loves to exchange wild shots but expect him to lean on his wrestling against one of the best strikers on the planet.This could certainly turn into 15-minutes of yawn-inducing grappling; however, the prospect of Adesanya and Pereira winning on the same night is too good to pass up.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O’Malley
UFC fans have a sweet tooth for the Sugar Show. O’Malley has emerged as one of the sport’s most marketable stars and a business savvy fighter. O’Malley has incrementally increased his level of competition, refusing to fight above his paycheck. First-round knockouts over Eddie Wineland, Thomas Almeida and Raulian Paiva prove that O’Malley has serious potential. A loss to Marlon Vera ages better with time as “Chito” continues to tear through former champions and high-ranked bantamweights. Munhoz is the perfect next step in the O’Malley experience. Munhoz is on the downside no doubt about it. What the veteran possesses is fight-finishing instincts, experience against former champions like Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo and insane durability (he has never been finished in 27 pro fights). O’Malley will soar to new heights or crash and burn at UFC 276.
Honorary mentions: Brad Riddell vs. Jalin Turner, Uriah Hill vs. Andre Muniz