We’re getting set for a packed run of events to take us all the way into the summer.
So, with UFC events coming thick and fast from the weekend onwards, let’s throw things forward and cast our eyes over the upcoming fight cards for April and pick out a six-pack of fights to keep an eye on.
We’ve even thrown in some way-too-early fight predictions for some ante-post acca action.
The main event of UFC 236 in Atlanta on April 13 has the potential to be one of the fights of 2019. Reigning featherweight champ Max Holloway is moving up from 145lbs to go for interim gold at 155lbs, while perennial contender Poirier is looking to shake that ‘nearly man’ tag and turn his undoubted championship potential to a championship belt.
Poirier’s high-pace, high-volume approach will force Holloway to fight from the very first bell, but that’s exactly how the Hawaiian likes it.
Despite moving up a weight class, Holloway will be the bigger, stronger man on fight night, and he pushes a pace like no other fighter in the UFC.
Poirier deserves his shot and it would be a real feel-good story to see one of the sport’s genuine good guys win a title. But when he has to get past one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet to do it, I just think it’s a bridge too far.
I’m backing ‘The Blessed Express’ to continue rolling through UFC 236, as he picks up his second world title.
The co-main event at UFC 236 features a battle for the interim UFC middleweight title that sees a perennial underdog taking on a man who has been marked out for MMA superstardom.
From the moment he walked into The Ultimate Fighter gym back in 2013, Kelvin Gastelum has spent his career being written off, but he’s gone on to become a TUF winner, a welterweight contender and now a legitimate world title contender as a middleweight.
He’ll look to prove the doubters wrong again when he faces Israel Adesanya, a slick world-class kickboxer who has transitioned his skills beautifully to the all-encompassing rules of mixed martial arts.
Gastelum upsets the odds more often than I upset my wife, but I just can’t pull the trigger on backing him against Adesanya. The Kiwi is just too good.
The main event for St. Petersburg, Russia on April 20 took a blow with the withdrawal of Russian Alexander ‘Drago’ Volkov, but the story of the other half of the fight remains a compelling one to follow.
Dutch MMA superstar Alistair Overeem has been in the game for years, and has a highlight reel – of both wins and losses – that guarantee his place in MMA history.
Overeem has won titles almost everywhere he’s fought, with one notable exception – the UFC. And ‘The Reem’ is set to compete in his 63rd professional bout in the continuation of his quest to win the UFC heavyweight title.
And with striker Volkov’s withdrawal and subsequent replacement with grappler Alexey Oleynik, Overeem faces a completely different test.
If anything it makes his job a little easier, as he he can use his striking experience to control range and keep Oleynik’s takedown attempts at bay. If he does – and I reckon he will – we should see the big Dutchman claim his second straight win and move him one step closer to his dream.
The St. Petersburg card also features a fascinating clash in the women’s flyweight division, as one of the sport’s most positive characters takes on a rising new star with world title lineage.
You’ll do well to find someone in any sport more positive and enthusiastic than Roxanne Modafferi. ‘The Happy Warrior’ is one of the most positive role models in the sport and the complete opposite to the ridiculous mudslinging and distasteful trash talking we’ve seen from some rather more ‘notorious’ fighters we could mention.
Modafferi battled for years to get her shot in the UFC, and now she has it, she’s looking to pick up her second win in the octagon. She takes on Antonina Shevchenko, whose sister Valentina is the current UFC women’s flyweight world champ. The two sisters have vowed to never fight each other, but that won’t stop Antonina climbing the flyweight ladder to get as close to the top as she possibly can.
Nobody would begrudge Modafferi the win, but the smart money says Shevchenko’s Muay Thai striking skills should give her the edge here.
John Lineker is a wild man. The Brazilian has a chin of granite and, as his nickname attests, ‘Hands of Stone’. And on April 27 in Miami he’ll be facing Corey Sandhagen – a man who also has a happy knack of finishing his opponents.
Sandhagen is riding a five-fight, five-finish win streak, including three thrilling finishes inside the UFC octagon. But when he faces Lineker he’ll take on the hardest-hitting opponent he’s ever faced.
Lineker has 14 knockouts from his 31 career wins, and his only two losses since 2012 have come against fighters who have subsequently failed drug tests (Ali Bagautinov and TJ Dillashaw).
It has Fight of the Night written all over it, and even if Sandhagen’s chin holds up against Lineker’s ‘Hands of Stone’, the Brazilian’s relentless three-round pace should see him take the win. However it pans out, expect a thriller.
The Miami card featured a setback when Chinese star Li Jingliang was forced off the card and out of his fight with Brazil’s Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira. But the UFC’s matchmakers had a solution, and it’s left fans licking their lips in anticipation.
The always-entertaining, always-slighty-crazy ‘Platinum’ Mike Perry has agreed to step in to face Oliveira in Miami, setting the stage for what should be an entertaining scrap – for a long as it lasts.
Either Oliveira is going to slap on a submission to force ‘Platinum’ to tap out, or Perry’s heavy hands are going to find the Brazilian’s chin for another big KO. Either way, it seems inconceivable to think the judges will be needed for this one.
And while I’m pretty sure he’ll be the underdog when the odds are released, I’m taking Perry to spring the upset here. He’s gradually showing improvements in his game, but that fight-ending punch power remains the same. Oliveira’s fighting style will put him in harm’s way at some point, and Perry has the power to take advantage.