The UFC returns to pay-per-view this weekend with UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2. The event is set to take place at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
We’re here to update you on the final UFC 236 fight card and bout order, as well as preview all of the fights, share the odds and leave our predictions.
UFC 236 Fight Card
Fight card starts at 6:15 pm ET (3:15 pm PT)
- Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier
- Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya
- Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree
- Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant
- Nikita Krylov vs. Ovince St. Preux
- Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola
- Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja
- Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev
- Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha
Early Preliminary Card
- Belal Muhammad vs. Curtis Millender
- Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath
- Poliana Botelho vs. Lauren Mueller
- Randy Costa vs. Brandon Davis
UFC 236 Preview
Brandon Davis vs. Randy Costa
Odds: Davis (-153) / Costa (+142)
Kicking things off as the doors open is a fight that may well be over before the crowd finds their seats. Following a ‘Fight of the Night’ performance against Steven Peterson at UFC Fight Night 126 in early 2018, Atlanta-native Davis has made the Octagon walk twice, most recently falling victim to rising star Zabit Magomedshapirov at UFC 228.
His opponent, Randy Costa will be making his first walk to the octagon is one of the most highly-regarded MMA prospects in the New England area, and will carry a perfect 4-0 record, with three KOs and one TKO, all within the first round.
It’s hard to ignore the momentum Costa is carrying into this fight, especially given his track record of early, violent finishes. The more experienced Davis is the betting favorite here and there’ll be pressure on both fighters’ shoulders to produce a standout performance. Davis is a jiu-jitsu practitioner at heart but splitting his career wins fairly evenly across TKO (33%), submission (22%) and decision (44%) does not fill me with confidence against the younger, more dynamic Costa who I believe will open his UFC chequing account with a first-round TKO win.
Lauren Mueller vs. Poliana Botelho
Odds: Mueller (+134) / Botelho (-150)
Nova União protégé Botelho is coming off a first-round defeat to top #15 submission artist Cynthia Calvillo, a loss that ended a five-fight win streak. Meanwhile, Mueller is a Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series winner and is looking to improve on an even 1-1 UFC record.
Poliana fights with a similar smothering striking Muay Thai approach to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, an approach that can prove very fruitful at lighter weight classes. If she can maintain the pace and avoid becoming tied up with the physically imposing Mueller, she should get the TKO in the second round.
Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath
Odds: Jackson (-454) / Soukhamthath (+380)
Former CES MMA Bantamweight Champion Andre Soukhamthath returns after a hard fought back and forth victory over Jonathan Martinez, looking to break into the top 15 over UFC newcomer Montel ‘Quik’ Jackson.
Soukhamthath is a hard guy to count out, always looking to pressure and never afraid to throw down until the bitter end, a fact shown by only 2 of his 13 wins coming by decision.
Jackson has proved himself a natural talent in the sport of mixed martial arts having only started his training in 2017, even scoring a first-round submission win over veteran Brian Kelleher in his last outing. But in spite of Soukhamthath’s experience, I expect Jackson to come out on top by KO/TKO in the early rounds; his only loss was off a five-day fight camp and I expect him to continue his impressive career start with sufficient preparation time under his belt.
Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad
Odds: Millender (+115) / Muhammad (-125)
The ever-game Belal Muhammad has notable wins over Tim Means, Jordan Mein and most recently Chance Rencountre. Now he looks to cement his place into the top #15 early in 2019. Unfortunately, the first trial comes in the 6-foot-3, 75-inch reach form of ‘Curtious’ Curtis Millender. A rangy striker, Millender is looking to restart the nine-fight win streak brought to an end by Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos at UFC Wichita less than a month ago.
Short-notice notwithstanding, Millender’s Jon Jones-esque style utilizing length and kick-heavy game has caused his previous opponents numerous problems, landing shots in abandon as they try and close the distance. At 5-foot-10 and with a 72-inch reach, Muhammad faces the same issue. But make no mistake, he’s one tough fighter and I think he’ll eat Millender’s shots until the bitter end, losing by decision.
Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha
Odds: Salmon (-110) / Taha (+110)
Following three canceled bouts, Salmon is making his much-anticipated UFC debut. Another product of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Salmon brings crisp boxing and plenty of self-belief (as a former two-time national Ringside Boxing Champion), hoping to make a statement against the stockier and more experienced German kickboxer, Khalid Taha.
This contest is unlikely to go the ground and has the potential to be one of the most exciting fights of the night. If Taha can make good use of his kicking game to keep Salmon from advancing into his favored boxing range, he should come out with the win by TKO in the third round.
Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev
Odds: Griffin (-110) / Imadaev (-106)
Boy, Max Griffin has had a hard time of it in the UFC. Following a loss to interim champion Colby Covington in his 2016 debut, he has dropped three decision losses to Dos Santos, Millender and most recently, to Brazilian MMA legend Thiago Alves amongst some questionable scorecards down in Fortaleza. Despite earning victories over Mike Perry and Erick Montaño, you get the feeling this could be the last throw of the dice for the 33-year-old.
Hoping to strike the final blow is the undefeated 24-year-old Zelim Imadaev, making his UFC debut and hoping to continue his record of never leaving a fight in the hands of the judges (three KOs, five TKOs, all from punches).
Griffin needs a statement victory to affirm his presence in the UFC. By using his considerable kickboxing ability from range, he will look to disrupt Imadaev’s creative and unpredictable rhythm that has earned him his undefeated record. Given Griffin’s experience and awareness that he could be in last chance saloon, I see him getting the second-round TKO victory but this match-up is designed for chaos.
Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Odds: Reis (+150) / Pantoja (-150)
Despite featuring the #4 and #5 flyweights in the world, the UFC’s disdain for the flyweights remains apparent as this fight doesn’t even sit as the preliminary headliner.
Reis is universally considered one of the divisions most talented jiu-jitsu practitioners, with 50% of his career wins coming via submission. Now 34-years-old, his 7-5 record is a somewhat unfair reflection of his abilities, as three of his losses come from a 2017 title fight with Flyweight G.O.A.T Demetrious Johnson, a resurging John Moraga and now champion Henry Cejudo. Pantoja, on the other hand, boasts a hugely impressive record at the age of just 28 and is fresh off decisive wins against Brandon Moreno and Ulka Sasaki.
There’s a good chance that much of this fight could happen on the ground and from there, despite Reis’ more considerable experience, his advantage could only be slim. Should the fight remain standing, Pantoja, with six career KO/TKO wins, should look to capitalize on his 2.5-inch reach advantage, especially considering the problems Reis faced closing the distance against a similarly proportioned Moraga, and come out with the third-round TKO win.
Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola
Odds: Turner (-120) / Frevola (+104)
After suffering a knockout loss to Vicente Luque in his Octagon debut at UFC 229, Turner rebounded with a first-round TKO win over Callan Potter at UFC 234. At 23-years-old, the ‘Tarantula’ is looking to keep his ‘no-decision’ approach to winning alive.
Frevola began his career with wins in his first six professional outings, including a second-round submission of Jose Flores on DWTNCS in 2017. His Octagon debut four months later went less well, suffering a first-round knockout loss against Marco Polo Reyes and subsequently battling Lando Vannata to a scrappy draw at UFC 230.
As with Millender vs. Muhammad, the key to victory in this fight will be distance control. Turner will look to neutralize Frevola’s attempts to walk him down and get inside, picking him off from distance and staying busy from the outside. Despite his proclivity for landing in the stand-up, Turner’s striking defense was exposed in his KO loss to Luque and should he fail to incorporate consistent head movement and evasive footwork, Frevola could find the openings to do damage from close range and take the fight to the ground; an area in which he is the favorite.
I believe Turner would have worked a lot on distance control in the lead-up to this fight and think he’ll be able to shut down Frevola’s forward pressure, coming out with the first decision win of his career.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov
Odds: Saint Preux (-110) / Krylov (-106)
A rematch of their 2014 bout, Krylov was the first victim of the ‘Von Preux’ dynasty. Back then, the 22-year-old Krylov was a green 22-year-old with a 1-1 UFC record. ‘The Miner’ has since found his stride, running 9-2 with a perfect nine stoppage finishes through some tough light heavyweight competition such as Marcos Rogério de Lima and Fabio Maldonado.
Following his loss to light heavyweight GOAT Jon Jones at UFC 197, OSP has struggled to find consistency balancing finishes of Tyson Pedro and Corey Anderson with losses to Ilir Latifi and most recently, #5 ranked Dominick Reyes.
There’s no doubt that Krylov is the more improved fighter since their last outing, however, there’s no counting out OSP’s experience and the Ukranian knows the danger of his opponent’s submission game better than anyone. Notwithstanding his recent loss to top #3 contender Jan Blachowicz, Krylov’s confidence to get the W should be high, he’s showed significant improvement both on his feet and the mat since their last outing and I expect him to get the better of an aging OSP, bringing some poetic justice with a third-round submission victory.
Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant
Odds: Jouban (-110) / Grant (-108)
UFC welterweight/Versace model Alan Jouban is looking to reinstate his name into the division. After scoring an impressive second-round ‘Performance of the Night’ KO win over Ben “Killa B” Saunders last February, an undisclosed neck injury has sidelined ‘Brahma’ for the last 14 months. Grant meanwhile has been good in eight of his last nine fights, with his last win coming in the form of a buzzer-beater first-round knockout of Carlo Pedersoli Jr at UFC Fight Night 145 in February.
Jouban’s victory over Saunders was much needed following early stoppage losses to Gunnar Nelson and heavy-handed Niko Price in his previous two outings. His powerful and awkward striking from southpaw is a tricky style to read, especially in the early rounds where Jouban is known to keep a high work rate (5.41 significant strikes per minute). Grant will likely look to stay on the outside and use his 5-inch reach advantage to keep Jouban’s creative clinch-work and dirty boxing at bay, but I see ‘Brahma’ finding an opportunity to slip inside and cut up Grant from close distance to earn a TKO win in the first round.
Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
Odds: Anders (-187) / Rountree (+176)
The trajectories of Rountree and Anders’ career are oddly similar. Both were violently running through their opponents before Dana White’s phone call but in the UFC are struggling to perform consistently with Anders being in particular danger having gone 1-3 in his last four. So come April 13, the bulls will be locked in the china shop and there’s little room for error. Both men have shown a talent for violent stoppages, and while this sometimes leads to a stalemate (Lewis vs. Ngannou), I don’t believe this fight goes the distance.
Rountree has spent months in Thailand working on clinch operations since ‘that elbow’ KO loss to Brazilian phenom Johnny Walker at the end of last year. But he is most effective when staying on the outside, launching attacks in short bursts and then retreating to distance. Anders has shown a preference for tying opponents up in the clinch and either striking from close quarters or looking for the takedown to unleash his powerful ground and pound. Expect a barnburner, but I believe Rountree has done enough in his time off to hone a strong game-plan in all areas on the feet and will get the second-round TKO win.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya
Odds: Gastelum (+150) / Adesanya (-162)
Where to start here…
Gastelum recently stated that he doesn’t think Adesanya deserves this shot because he hadn’t been through “the fire” that he had to get there. No arguments there. Gastelum has arguably one of the most impressive resumes of any UFC fighter. In fact, he’s the fighter who seems to consistently ruin the party for the sport’s big names; former champion Johny Hendricks, recent hall of fame inductee Michael Bisping, long-time top #5 middleweight and world-class submission artists Jacare Souza, Gastelum has dispatched them all with quiet indifference.
Coming into The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 as a vanilla 20-year-old with almost no combat sports resume, to no one’s great surprise he went with the last pick. Then from nowhere beat three competition stand-outs and eventually the day one favorite, Uriah Hall in the finals to the win the entire tournament. His coach on the show, Chael Sonnen “rules simply don’t apply to him, he doesn’t care who you beat or what belts you have, he’s just good at fighting.”.
Across from him, Adesanya’s rise in the UFC has been nothing short of meteoric, both in and outside of the cage. His Super Saiyan kickboxing has dazzled the MMA world and left all five opponents wondering ‘what the **** happened?’ His most recent victory over Anderson Silva seemed to mark the passing of the torch between striking deities and affirmed (if it was in any doubt) ‘The Last Style Bender’ as a generational talent.
Now we get down to tactics. From Adesanya’s side, taking the fight to the mat is unlikely. Whilst showing proficiency in the clinch to open up his striking game, he hasn’t attempted a takedown to date in his UFC career and quite frankly he hasn’t needed to. On the feet, his mantra is not to swing and hope but to “aim and fire,” born of an extensive world-class boxing and kickboxing background and, given his ever-present cool-guy demeanor thus far, it’s unlikely that he’ll break rank and drop his guard to headhunt for the Hollywood knockout. Instead, look for him to try and pick Gastelum apart at all levels in a graceful flurry of limbs.
Against any other fighter, I would say Adesanya’s skillset would prove enough but, in his role as a chief party pooper, Gastelum is a generational talent himself in no more specific an area than ‘fighting’ in general. His stand up, wrestling and jiu-jitsu fundamentals are all so solid that on the night, any of them can be considered his greatest strength. Add to that his proven one-punch knockout power shown against Bisping and Tim Kennedy and I’m at a loss to see gaping holes in his game.
As an interim title fight, the winner of the bout will face Robert Whittaker upon his return, a position Gastelum, unfortunately, had taken away from him at UFC 234. This is where I think Gastelum wins the fight. Adesanya’s momentum aside, Gastelum’s road to a belt has been foretold for the last few years as he enters every fight an underdog and emerges almost always a legend-killer. Rounds one and two may go to Adesanya where he’ll be able to keep a cautious Gastelum at bay but eventually, I think Gastelum finds a way through the maze and controls Adesanya in the clinch, leading to a takedown and a hard-fought victory in the third or fourth round via TKO stoppage to ground and pound.
Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier
Odds: Holloway (-205) / Poirier (+187)
The main event that no one saw coming. We’ll get to all the questions around Holloway’s weight class future, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, interim title implications etc. in the post-fight piece. For now, let’s just look at this fight in and of itself because make no mistake, it’s a huge treat for the MMA fan.
Firstly, don’t get too caught up in the promotion for this fight. Technically it’s a rematch seven years in the making, but both Holloway and Poirier have developed so much, that it might as well be a clean slate. And don’t bring up the fact that it’s at lightweight as an advantage to Poirier because it’s simply not.
Holloway should be one of the UFC’s most revered champions. He has not only beaten the consensus second greatest featherweight of all time, twice (once to win the belt and once as his first defense) but hasn’t lost in six years. Those facts aside, he entered his most recent defence against the undefeated honorary Gracie, Brian Ortega, an underdog. ‘Cool story,’ said Holloway and proceeded to unleash the single greatest statistical beating in UFC history, landing an ungodly 290 significant strikes. Ortega’s face post-fight mirrored the UFC’s record books as with the win, Holloway achieved the following:
- Longest winning streak amongst active UFC Fighters (13)
- Most UFC featherweight victories in history (15)
- Most significant strikes landed during UFC competition (1,627)
- Most stoppage victories in UFC featherweight history (10)
Got it? Cool. If Holloway isn’t the favourite here, I’m not sure what else to do.
If it weren’t for the fact that he has Holloway to compare to, Poirier’s stats sheet would steal the day and the fact that this is his first title shot with the promotion almost beggars belief. In his last three fights, he has not just won, but stopped future Hall of Famers and former champions Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje (WSOF) and Eddie Alvarez, making a case to be considered one of the greatest lightweights in UFC history.
Table set, let’s break down how the fight could play out…
There is little to no chance for this bout to be boring, at any point. Both men are strikers first and foremost, Holloway opts for attrition over KO power, while Poirier swings and swings hard, searching to land his thunderous left hand. The key factor in this fight, in my opinion, is output; Holloway ups his volume as time goes by, but Poirier’s typically diminishes favoring quality over quantity to find wins past the first and second rounds. This is significant because at the point where he is going to be looking to land his best shots, Holloway will be constantly raising the strike count so to give himself the best chance. Poirier may have to look to throw with a higher average volume round by round and force Holloway to back-up, something he has rarely had to do in his career so far. This would represent a huge mental boost for Poirier and would increase his chances of dropping the Hawaiian before the onslaught becomes too overwhelming.
If the two meet in the middle, we could see an out and out brawl. Holloway’s staggering strike numbers against Ortega were seemingly born of a disregard for his opponent’s striking pedigree and as such, he fought far more openly in contrast to the more discerning shot selection we saw him employ in his two fights against Aldo. This is an option that could prove risky against Poirier who is as effective a brawler as we have seen recent times particularly in terms of his ability to shrug off a shot and immediately fire back from an open stance (especially when looking at his victories over Alvarez and Gaethje).
I mentioned earlier not to put too much stock into the weight difference, and I believe that to be true. It is well documented that Holloway walks around somewhere between 170-180 pounds, so it is hard to see having to cut ten fewer pounds being anything other than an overall benefit to his game.
The only place that it could prove a disadvantage is if Poirier can overcome Holloway’s much-overlooked 83% career takedown defense success rate, and choose to employ his considerable jiu-jitsu game, weighing on the champ and forcing him to work to get standing again. This might be a very astute game-plan for Poirier given his status as a BJJ black belt is often overlooked, with only 1 of his last 11 wins coming via submission.
Holloway has proved himself the consensus greatest featherweight of all time, and one of the world’s pound-for-pound best. His skills and credentials are lauded by media and fans year-round and yet, whenever his next fight is announced, there’s always a feeling of ‘this could be the one’ that isn’t as prevalent with other fighters. Thirty-year-old Poirier is, in my opinion, operating at his physical and mental prime and will prove Holloway’s toughest test to date and I wouldn’t dismiss anyone opting for him to emerge victoriously.
But I believe that Holloway’s greatness as a mixed martial artist is yet to be fully comprehended and I expect him to outpoint ‘The Diamond’ in a bloody and brutal war, once more silencing the ever-present doubters, if only temporarily…
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.