With International Fight Week upon us and one of the best cards in UFC history looming, there is a lot to talk about. UFC 226 is stacked from the curtain-jerking Fight Pass prelims right through the entirety of the pay-per-view line-up, and I would like to give my general thoughts on each individual fight along with my enthusiasm for the event as a whole, which is set to be a blockbuster.
(Bouts are listed first-last in the order shown on UFC.com)
Jamie Moyle vs. Emily Whitmire
This bout is far from star-studded, but it is noteworthy. Jamie Moyle is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt with a win over Kailin Curran under her name in the UFC already. She is facing off against Emily Whitmire, a TUF 26 contestant who is set to drop weight classes to compete at strawweight. I am interested to see which woman comes out on top here and proves themselves as being worthy of their place on the UFC roster.
Dan Hooker vs. Gilbert Burns
Dan Hooker recently made headlines after nicely calling out Paul Felder in April. Felder, who was serving as the color commentator and in-cage interviewer on the night, accepted the offer (although the matchmakers didn’t). Hooker may not have gotten the fight he asked for that night, but he still left with a brutal knockout win over UFC veteran Jim Miller. This continued a fantastic recent run of form that has seen the Kiwi secure a submission victory over Marc Diakiese and a knockout against Ross Pearson.
A winner of two Performance of the Night bonuses in the UFC, Gilbert Burns is on a two-fight winning streak heading into UFC 226. As a three-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, he is a serious threat to anyone on the ground, and his two latest knockout wins have shown that his striking skills are developing steadily as well.
These are two exciting lightweights on the rise. A win will go a long way in establishing either of them as legitimate contenders at 155-pounds, and this contest is another great reason to tune into the Fight Pass prelims on Saturday night.
Curtis Millender vs. Max Griffin
It was February when Curtis Millender made his emphatic UFC debut against former welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves. Millender, who is very tall for the 170-pound weight class at six-foot-three, grew his winning streak to seven with a lethal knee that left ‘The Pitbull’ staring at the lights.
And, with his opponent Max Griffin claiming a decision win over the surging Mike Perry during the same month, the two have been matched up to face off on the UFC 226 prelims. I’m expecting a good fight between these two – their striking skills should deliver some great action on the night.
Lando Vannata vs. Drakkar Klose
They are mutual opponents of David Teymur, but these two men have massively conflicting styles. While Drakkar Klose is more of a traditional fighter with an accomplished amateur wrestling background, Lando Vannata is as wild as they come, as evidenced by his outstanding battle with Tony Ferguson in 2016.
Fans have been encapsulated by the unpredictable Vannata since the Ferguson fight, and were further impressed when he followed up his stellar debut performance with a stunning spinning-heel kick knockout of John Makdessi at UFC 206, the event where Saturday’s co-headliner Max Holloway first laid his hands on UFC gold.
Vannata is in for a stern test this weekend, however. Klose has beaten an unorthodox fighter before. His dominant decision win over Marc Diakiese almost a year ago proved Klose to be a real prospect, and the Michigan native has a point to prove after a frustrating hometown loss to David Teymur last December at UFC 218.
This showdown is a tough one to predict. Both fighters are eager to rebound from recent setbacks, and their respective skills should deliver a very exciting fight.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font
Another top prelim fight is Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font. This one is flying under the radar because of how stacked the rest of the card is, but it’s a fantastic matchup between two of the bantamweight division’s best.
Assuncao has been on a fantastic run of form since he was defeated in his rematch with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 200. He has notched up wins over Aljamain Sterling, Marlon Moraes, and Matthew Lopez since the bout, and seeks to open his 2018 account with another triumph over a top opponent as he stakes his claim for a title opportunity in the near future.
Rob Font will give him the top opposition he needs to beat in order to keep climbing the ladder at 135 lbs. The American beat exciting prospect Thomas Almeida in January, and it is clear that he believes he can do the same to the Brazilian veteran Assuncao.
With the striking skills he has at his disposal, Rob Font has a very good chance of causing an upset here and shooting himself up the rankings, but it will take a world class performance to get past his adversary on Saturday night. These two generally compete on the main card, so this fight is a nice treat for those who tune into the UFC 226 preliminary card this International Fight Week.
Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Costa
This one could be the true coming out party for exciting middleweight prospect Paulo Costa. After dominating his way to a victory over former welterweight strap holder Johny Hendricks last November, Costa can solidify himself as a top fighter in his weight class. if he performs at UFC 226.
He is facing off with the unpredictable but often jaw-dropping Uriah Hall. Hall recently had a weight cut scare that prevented him from testing himself against the now-retired MMA legend Vitor Belfort, but he is healthy and back in action for the biggest event of the year thus far, and the fans will be hoping to see a glimpse of what has made Hall so stunning in the past. He badly needs to follow up on his win over Jotko last September and avoid going 1-4 in his last five fights, albeit against top class opponents.
This fight has huge implications for both men. While Uriah Hall is looking to salvage his place in top level MMA, Paulo Costa will be trying to steal it away, and he will show no remorse if the former TUF runner-up is not up to the challenge this weekend in Las Vegas.
UFC 226 Main Card
Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
Even though these two have just 12 fights between them, this matchup is one that has fans salivating heading into UFC 226. Gokhan Saki exploded onto the MMA scene in 2017 when he starched Henrique da Silva with a peach of a left hook in the first round of their fight. The Turk, who dominated proceedings throughout, was making just his second appearance in MMA after losing his debut fight way back in 2004.
That was before his outstanding run in kickboxing, where Saki rose to the very top of the sport. He held the Glory light-heavyweight title as recently as 2015, only losing the championship due to inactivity. Gokhan has also won a world championship in Muay Thai and amassed an 83-12 (1NC) record in kickboxing over a career that spanned almost 15 years. He is one of the best strikers in the sport of MMA and is a very exciting fighter to watch.
His opponent, Khalil Rountree Jr., shares a few characteristics with Saki – he is a skilled, ruthless striker and has devastating power that can end a contest in the blink of an eye. His only setbacks have come against opponents with superior grappling. And, since Gokhan Saki is extremely unlikely to be instigating any grappling exchanges, Khalil will be able to make this the type of fight he loves.
I don’t expect him to stand at distance for the entire fight and have a kickboxing match with Saki, but I believe Rountree will try and hunt for a KO on the feet. He will need to use his greater MMA experience and wear Saki out in the clinch early on, and at least threaten with takedowns to stop ‘Turkish Tyson’ from being comfortable using his entire arsenal of offensive attacks.
This fight should be a thriller. It’s a perfect way to kick off the main card festivities at UFC 226, and I’m very excited to see which fighter’s style comes out on top here.
Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis
As you surely know already, this fight fell through in April when Chiesa was injured in the Conor McGregor bus attack incident ahead of UFC 223.
The incredibly unfortunate incident extended a period of over two years which Michael Chiesa has competed just once in. At UFC 226, he will return from an extremely controversial loss to Kevin Lee in July of last year. The point of contention that fuelled the argument that raged after the bout was due to referee Mario Yamasaki stopping the contest while Lee had Chiesa trapped in a rear-naked choke, with Michael showing no signs of tapping out.
Controversy aside, Chiesa has a fantastic record. He holds win at lightweight over the likes of Al Iaquinta, Mitch Clarke, Beneil Dariush and Jim Miller. His ground game is top class, and 10 of his 14 wins have come by submission. He’s a threat to anyone on the ground, and if he can get back the momentum he had built up in 2015 and 2016, Chiesa will find himself near the top of the lightweight division (he’s ranked #9 already).
In order to regain this good form, Michael will have to go through former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who has as much experience in high-level MMA as just about anyone. ‘Showtime’ holds one of the best highlight reels of all time, and he undoubtedly has plenty of great performances left in him. The question is if he can rise to the great heights we once saw him reach – Pettis is 2-5 in his last seven fights. If he can get back to the level he was at during his run to the UFC lightweight championship and eventual title reign, Pettis can beat almost anyone in the world.
Even though Anthony Pettis is very well-versed down there, Michael Chiesa will be eager to take this fight to the ground early. Pettis presents a lot of problems for him on the feet, and if the fight stays there, it could be a perfect night Anthony. After a year out of action, however, Chiesa may have some new tricks up his sleeve that could surprise us on Saturday night. I’m intrigued by this fight because the pair’s respective styles offer up a great matchup, and I’m expecting a very competitive contest.
Mike Perry vs. Paul Felder
Although this fight only came together last week, it has the potential to steal the show. Mike Perry was expected to face Yancy Medeiros at this Las Vegas show, but the Hawaiian was forced to withdraw due to injury. Luckily, the 14th ranked lightweight contender in the world, Paul ‘The Irish Dragon’ Felder immediately offered his services after his scheduled UFC Boise opponent James Vick was placed in a fight with Justin Gaethje for a later date.
Felder has never fought in the welterweight division (which has a limit of 170lbs), but he has mentioned that he was over 180lbs last week. He makes a huge cut to lightweight, and size should not be too much of a factor for Felder, who is in fact an inch taller than his UFC 226 opponent.
This fight promises to be nothing short of epic. Both Paul Felder and Mike Perry can be simply described as savages – they look for the kill at all times, and hitting them only makes them angrier and more determined to take your head off. While I feel Felder has the skill advantage here, Perry is improving and will be looking to turn this into an all-out war, which is an offer that Felder is not likely to turn down. This fight is guaranteed chaos. Do not miss it.
Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis
The new co-main event of UFC 226 will be one of the most “don’t blink” fights of the year.
Francis Ngannou is downright scary, even when compared to the most frightening men on the planet. His punching power is out of this world, and his jaw-dropping knockouts have left numerous world-class fighters crumbled on the canvas as the Nigerian-born heavyweight has shot up in the UFC’s rankings.
This would strike fear into the hearts of most men, but Derrick Lewis has been looking for a fight with the recent title challenger for quite some time. He has not held back when speaking about Ngannou, and he’s training extremely hard to take home a win that may secure him a title shot in the near future.
It’s a monumental task for anyone to beat Francis Ngannou. People are underestimating Francis after his lopsided loss to Stipe Miocic in January, but I still believe he is a legitimate title contender, and I expect to see a much-improved version of him this weekend.
Derrick Lewis is one of the few fighters in the world who will try and take on Ngannou on the feet. He has plenty of power himself, and he’s been in there regularly against top opposition such as Travis Browne, Marcin Tybura and Roy Nelson (he defeated all three). He is hungry to knock Francis out, a feat that no man has achieved quite yet. Lewis has a shot in this fight, but he’s in for the sternest test of his entire career.
This fight could finish at any moment. It’s one that I’ve been waiting to see since Ngannou began his heavyweight rise, and I’ll be very excited for it on Saturday night. When these two monster heavyweights collide, there will be fireworks.
Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier
Speaking of monster heavyweights, UFC 226’s main event is a clash between two of the sport’s greatest champions. UFC light-heavyweight kingpin Daniel Cormier is embarking on a pursuit for history. He is returning to a division in which he is undefeated after 13 fights, and he believes that he will leave UFC 226 as the first ever man to hold the UFC’s light-heavyweight and heavyweight championships simultaneously (Randy Couture held them both on separate occasions in the past).
In his way is ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet.’ Stipe Miocic is in no way unnerved by the status around Cormier’s legendary resume. He just needs to know what day to turn up, and you will hear no complaints from the longest reigning heavyweight champion of all time. He truly fears no man, and he enters this fight with the same goal as any time he competes inside the Octagon – to finish his opponent and return to his humble life as carefree as possible.
Stipe has been successful in his six most previous outings – Junior Dos Santos was the last man to defeat him, and Miocic has since avenged the loss in crushing fashion. His length, natural heavyweight power, and top-drawer boxing skills are bound to give Daniel Cormier problems. When you see how Miocic has performed against the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Mark Hunt, and Alistair Overeem, you will realize just how phenomenal a fighter Stipe is.
But, he’s never faced anyone like Cormier, who will press him for the full 25 minutes of the fight, should it go so far. ‘DC’ is one of the best wrestlers in MMA history – Miocic’s Division 1 wrestling background has given him the advantage in this regard over each of his opponents to date. It’s rare he’s had to worry about being taken down, and this threat is very real against Daniel Cormier. DC would love for this contest to reach the mat, but his wrestling will benefit him either way – it can make Stipe wary and allow Cormier to open up on the heavyweight champion with his strikes throughout the fight.
Stylistically, this fight fascinates me. As I mentioned before, they are two of the very best fighters in the world today. Stipe Miocic is an unusual type of heavyweight – he is extremely athletic, and he moves like a man far smaller than he is. The defending champion won’t show fear Cormier in the cage – the challenger will have to earn Miocic’s respect early on. If he doesn’t, he risks being walked down and stopped by Stipe, who has been underestimated for his entire career in MMA, even during his time as the world champion. Miocic’s relaxed demeanor has, and likely will continue to, lead to people picking against him, but one shot is all it takes for him to put those doubts to bed.
In many people’s eyes, Cormier’s biggest problem heading into UFC 226 was the size difference. Although the reach and height advantage will go to Stipe, Daniel (somewhat surprisingly) came in a few pounds heavier than the Cleveland-born fighter at 246 pounds at the early weigh-ins. You may think that this will slow him down on the night, but DC says otherwise. In fact, he claims to be in far better shape than the last time he competed at heavyweight. If he can avoid being hurt badly by Miocic, and that’s a big if when you consider the champion’s skill level, Cormier has a great chance to leave victorious. He has more than enough skills to beat anyone in the world, and a top performance could see Cormier make history on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
This is one of my favorite matchups in MMA right now. It may very well be the greatest heavyweight showdown in UFC history, and even though I don’t want to see either man lose, I am compelled to see which of these all-time greats comes out on top and places their name in the history books forever, as if they’re not both firmly established in them as it is.
UFC 226 as a whole
This is one of the best fight cards of the year. Even with the unfortunate withdrawal of featherweight champion Max Holloway, UFC 226 is stacked from top to bottom. The mayhem should slowly build throughout the night, and it will lead us to a main event of epic proportions and legendary implications.
There is no way this fight won’t deliver excitement. The week that’s in it, the fighters on the card, the matchups – they can only give us some amazing fights, and I truly cannot wait to sit down and watch this event in its entirety.