In a week where one of the UFC’s best fighters (TJ Dillashaw) was banned for two years for testing positive for EPO, the organisation could do with something positive to come out of the weekend.
And, thanks to their OUTSTANDING main event booking for UFC 236 in Atlanta this weekend, it seems almost certain that we’re going to be heading into next week talking about one of the fights of the year – and a new contender to face reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov when he returns later this year.
The interim UFC lightweight belt will be contested between two of the most exciting fighters on the roster, as UFC featherweight champion Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway moves up to lightweight for the first time to face longtime lightweight contender – and former featherweight star – Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier.
It’s a mouth-watering matchup that guarantees fireworks, and while here at Paddy Power we’re huge fans of Poirier’s devil-may-care, come-forward fighting style, we just can’t look past Holloway’s greatness. Because he really is THAT good.
Here’s our take on some of the key fights of the night.
Poirier is in the form of his life, and Holloway might just be a Top 3 pound-for-pound fighter in his current form. It’s a must-watch fight. And with the pair having already met before much earlier in their careers, there’s something of a backstory to this particular fight.
Poirier beat a very young Holloway in that first fight back at UFC 143, submitting the Hawaiian inside the opening round. But both men have evolved hugely since then, and both men are at the top of their respective games heading into this weekend’s rematch.
Holloway is moving up a division, but will be the bigger man on fight night, and his style may well bring the best – and worst – out of Poirier.
That’s because Poirier tends to get himself dragged into slugfests, and that doesn’t always go well for him. When Poirier’s controlled, he’s brilliant, but Holloway will make him fight for every second of every round, and that relentless pace may well prove decisive as Max claims a late stoppage, or a decision win after five rounds.
Pick 1: HOLLOWAY TO WIN: 2/5
Pick 2: HOLLOWAY TO WIN BY KO/TKO: 6/5
Israel Adesanya has looked outstanding since swapping the kickboxing ring for the UFC octagon, and has charged into a battle for the interim UFC middleweight title against Kelvin Gastelum.
Gastelum is one of those fighters who never seems to get the credit he deserves, but against Adesanya he faces as tough a test as he’s faced in a long time.
The Kiwi striker looks a decent bet to pick apart Gastelum, whose come-forward style seems tailor-made for the slick striker to counterstrike.
Adesanya is a superstar in the making, and I reckon he’ll move one huge step closer to that status with another eye-catching win on Saturday night.
Pick 1: ADESANYA TO WIN: 1/2
Pick 2: ADESANYA TO WIN BY KO/TKO: 12/5
Ukrainian Nikita Krylov is back in the UFC, but after losing his comeback bout, he’ll head into this weekend’s bout doubly determined to pick up the first win of his second stint on the big stage.
Incredibly, Krylov has never seen the judges’ scorecards in his 30 career bouts, which suggests his matchup against Ovince Saint-Preux won’t go the distance on Saturday.
He’s also going to be additionally motivated by revenge this weekend. He got caught in Saint-Preux’s go-to Von Flue choke submission when they met back at UFC 171, but if he can avoid that this time around, he has more tools to finish the fight than the big Tennessee native.
Pick 1: KRYLOV TO WIN: 8/11
Pick 2: KRYLOV TO WIN BY KO/TKO: 13/5