UFC’s first pay-per-view of the New Year is admittedly lackluster. It’s become normal for the promotion to lean on its brand name instead of card depth when making rare visits to affluent Canadian cities. UFC 297 is no different.
The main event is intriguing. UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland and Dricus du Plessis is a near pick’em between two hard-nosed fighters with buckets of bad blood. Saturday’s co-main event is a low-profile women’s bantamweight title fight between Mayra Bueno Silva and Raquel Pennington. The contenders try to fill the large vacuum left by retired former champion Amanda Nunes.
There isn’t much to gawk at beyond the main event. An optimist would say that star power, storylines and elite technique can’t predict the fun factor. There is some truth to that. So let’s break down the best non-title fights north of the border this weekend.
Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Neil Magny vs. Mike Malott
Malott might just be the next big thing for Canada. The country is desperately looking for someone to fill the massive void left by the legendary Georges St-Pierre. No one in the UFC has come close so fans are grasping at straws. Malott is a juggernaut who stopped every opponent he’s beaten. Malott’s momentum carries him to a challenging escalation, leaving behind the likes of Mickey Gall for a perennially ranked welterweight. Magny’s latest efforts to reach the peak of the welterweight mountain were crushed by Gilbert Burns and Shavkat Rakhmonov. Losing to rising contender Ian Machado Garry may have permanently relegated Magny to gatekeeper. You won’t find a more battle-tested veteran than Magny, who eclipsed St-Pierre’s record for most welterweight wins last year. Malott and Magny are on opposite ends of the excitement scale, but Toronto will be electric for this one.
Chris Curtis vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Barriault finally found his footing and the middleweight division is more fun for it. A darling on the Canadian regional scene, Barriault was winless across his first four UFC fights. The promotion could have canned him, but Barriault has since turned it around with a 5-2 record and is on the verge of his first UFC winning streak. “Power Bar” isn’t the prettiest fighter but his pressure and punching barrages overwhelm opponents. Eryk Anders couldn’t keep up with him and Julian Marquez folded from his power. Curtis’ trajectory is the opposite: he started hot and cooled off. Curtis’ UFC career kicked off with stoppage wins over Phil Hawes and Brendan Allen. Now he’s coming off a loss to Kelvin Gastelum and a no-contest against Nassourdine Imavov in a short fight he was losing. Curtis will look to close friend and training partner Strickland for motivation ahead of Saturday’s fight. Reserve a performance bonus for this one.
Arnold Allen vs. Movsar Evloev
This is the fight most likely to produce a future title contender on Saturday. Allen and Evloev are ranked No. 4 and No. 9, respectively, on the UFC’s official featherweight rankings. Allen had a 12-fight winning streak snapped by former champion Max Holloway in April 2023. Allen looked competent but outclassed in a fight that could have earned him a title shot. There is no shame in losing to Holloway and Allen can remedy things by fending off another hungry contender. Evloev is a puzzle that no one has solved. Evloev is a perfect 17-0 with seven consecutive wins in the UFC. He had brief scares against a surprisingly game debutant named Diego Lopes last May but came out unscathed. This fight against Allen is the former M-1 bantamweight champion’s chance to announce himself to the featherweight elite. A win likely puts the winner within one or two fights of a title shot.
Honorary mentions: Charles Jourdain vs. Sean Woodsen