Sunday, April 14, 2024
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UFC 299 fight card — Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera: Five biggest storylines to watch in Miami

As UFC 300 approaches, with all the hype that naturally surrounds such a historic event, many fans have pointed to Saturday’s UFC 299 as a more exciting card. UFC 299 does indeed have a deep and compelling main card and the action in Miami is sure to deliver some thrilling fights.

There’s something of a theme to the main card, with several established stars in crossroads fights with young up-and-comers. The main event sees a young star making the first defense of his title when Sean O’Malley rematches the only man to have ever defeated him, Marlon Vera.

In the night’s co-main event, Dustin Poirier looks to get back on the winning track as he takes on Benoit Saint-Denis in a fight that has every chance to take Fight of the Night honors.

As we draw closer to this weekend’s action, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines ahead of the card.   

1. Can Sean O’Malley get his revenge?

O’Malley has performed like a star in nearly every trip to the Octagon throughout his career. Even after suspensions for drug test failures and a hip surgery combined to keep him out of action for two years, O’Malley came right back firing like the elite prospect he was considered entering his UFC debut. In August 2020, O’Malley hit his first career stumble when he suffered a TKO loss to Vera. There have been some who have blamed the loss on a “freak injury” to O’Malley, but that injury was caused by a leg kick from Vera and an injury from a strike during a fight is not “freak” in any way. Looking at what has happened since their first fight, there’s no reason to think O’Malley isn’t the better fighter of the two, but sometimes a fighter just has another fighter’s number. There were more worthy challengers for O’Malley’s first defense of the bantamweight title, but the revenge storyline is carrying the fight and a second loss to Vera would be a massive setback for O’Malley.

2. Dustin Poirier enters a must-win fight as an underdog

For just the second time in his 38-fight career, Poirier has lost two of his last three appearances. After being submitted by Charles Oliveira in a fight for the lightweight title, Poirier came back with a solid submission win over Michael Chandler. Things took a very bad turn for Poirier in his most recent outing, as he suffered a brutal head kick knockout in his “BMF” title fight with Justin Gaethje. Now, Poirier heads to UFC 299 as a +180 underdog against a rising star in Benoit Saint-Denis. Poirier has never held a major championship, coming closest by winning the interim lightweight title in 2019. At 35 years old, the window is already closing on Poirier’s time at the top. A loss to Saint-Denis may fully close the window on Poirier ever holding undisputed UFC gold. Poirier is nothing if not a scrapper, however, and pulling off the minor upset in what figures to be a thrilling scrap is certainly not out of the question.

3. “MVP” finally steps on the big stage

Michael “Venom” Page was one of the most exciting fighters on the Bellator roster for years, with a striking game that produced — sometimes literally — skull-crushing knockouts. Page didn’t always fight the toughest competition, but he only suffered two losses in the first 23 fights of his professional MMA career. As one of Bellator’s most consistently exciting fighters, it was only natural to want to see him in the deeper waters of the UFC roster. Page became a free agent in mid-2023, shortly before Bellator was purchased by PFL, and signed with the UFC. A month before turning 37, it’s a now-or-never situation for Page and he’s not getting an easy fight in his Octagon debut. Page will face Kevin Holland, who has gone 4-5 since his incredible 5-0 year in 2020. Despite a rocky stretch of fights, Holland has the skills to test Page anywhere the fight may go. If Page can’t get past Holland, it sets an immediate cap on what can be expected out of “MVP” inside the Octagon.

4. Jack Della Maddalena faces his biggest test yet

Since his first UFC bout in 2022, Della Maddalena has been impressive, with sharp boxing skills that have carried him to a perfect 6-0 record in the promotion. In those six fights, Della Maddalena has picked up three Performance of the Night awards and one Fight of the Night bonus. His past two outings have been split decision wins, against Bassil Hafez and Kevin Holland. Della Maddalena now steps up his level of competition significantly with a fight against former title challenger Gilbert Burns. Since returning to welterweight in 2019, the only losses Burns has suffered came against elite fighters Kamaru Usman, Khamzat Chimaev and Belal Muhammad. This is yet another fight featuring a younger fighter looking to knock off an older, more established talent as Della Maddalena faces a man 10 years his senior. A loss would not be the end of the road for Della Maddalena, but it would raise some eyebrows, especially after narrowly escaping his two most recent fights. Della Maddalena has the opportunity to cement his place in the 170-pound division with a win, but Burns is never an easy out and will make the younger man earn every bit of success he has.

5. What happened to Petr Yan?

Yan exploded onto the UFC scene in 2018, dominating good fighters before stopping Jose Aldo to win the then-vacant bantamweight title. It seemed as though Yan would rule 135 pounds with an iron fist. Instead, Yan dropped the title in his next fight, throwing a blatantly illegal knee to the head of Aljamain Sterling and losing by disqualification. After beating Cory Sandhagen, Yan got his rematch with Sterling but lost a split decision. He then lost a split decision to O’Malley and a unanimous decision to Merab Dvalishvili, giving him three straight losses and four in his five most recent fights. And, just like that, Yan felt like old news in a bantamweight division that seemed to be moving on without him in the title mix. At UFC 299, Yan faces Song Yadong, who holds a 10-2-1 UFC record and has put together some impressive performances as he has risen to the No. 7 spot in the official UFC rankings. The idea of Yan losing four consecutive fights felt unthinkable not that long ago, but the Russian enters this fight in a virtual pick’em, making the unthinkable is very much a potential reality. Will Yan even be on the UFC roster if he suffers yet another loss?

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