Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) market on Sat. night (July 2, 2022) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, the final stop for mixed martial arts (MMA) fans in “Sin City” for International Fight Week. Headlining this weekend’s card is a highly-anticipated championship doubleheader starting with the middleweight title fight between reigning division champion Israel Adesanya and power-punching 185-pound bruiser Jared Cannonier. Prior to that five-round war of attrition, defending featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski will lace up the gloves for one last battle — barring a “Blessed” upset — against former 145-pound kingpin Max Holloway. In addition, bantamweight sensation Sean O’Malley looks to (finally) crack the Top 10 of the 135-pound division by turning away rough-and-tumble veteran Pedro Munhoz.
Before we start breaking down the five-fight main card, which also features an important middleweight showdown between Top 5 contender Sean Strickland and Brazilian kickboxing phenom Alex Pereira — the only man to knock out current 185-pound champion Israel Adesanya — take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for all the UFC 276 preliminary card action by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 276 odds and a complete betting guide for the “Adesanya vs. Cannonier” PPV event can be located here.
Let’s get to work.
185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (22-1) vs. Jared “Killa Gorilla” Cannonier (15-5)
Israel Adesanya has established himself as an unstoppable middleweight champion with a style that makes him a fighter worth watching, regardless of opponent, which is why PPV cards led by “The Last Stylebender” have a certain energy to them. That includes the UFC 276 PPV this weekend in “Sin City,” where the fast-talking titleholder will put his strap on the line against former heavyweight Jared Cannonier. Over the last two years, Adesanya has done an admirable job of hyping up “The Killa Gorilla,” even calling him “more dangerous than Yoel Romero.” I think it’s a fair comparison because like “Soldier of God,” the 38 year-old Cannonier is a physical marvel and could easily hold down the cover on any number of muscle and fitness magazines. Also like Romero, Cannonier seems to have some extracurricular activity going on upstairs. He once told the UFC post-fight show he was going to watch Adesanya with “three eyes open” while massaging a piece of pyrite that contained “metaphysical properties” to help “expand his horizons.” I guess MMA is no different than any other sport in that respect, since Jason Giambi wore a gold thong to improve his batting average and NFL kicker Matt Bryant had to guzzle a chocolate milkshake the night before every Cardinals game.
Sports are weird, man.
Cannonier will have to do something against Adesanya that he couldn’t do against Robert Whittaker; namely, find a way to compensate for the disparity in skill. I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s mind by suggesting the champion is the superior striker across the board. Cannonier certainly has more power but it did little to help his cause against “The Reaper.” In addition, Kelvin Gastelum was able to weather the 15-minute storm in a losing effort at UFC Vegas 34. The knockout is always a threat from a titan like Cannonier but it’s a poor excuse for an equalizer against a fighter the caliber of Adesanya, who sports a sizable advantage in both height and reach. I would expect the Cannonier camp to focus on leg kicks and wrestling to help shut down the outside game of the once-beaten champion, otherwise this will be a 25-minute shooting gallery. By comparison, Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori both scored four takedowns on Adesanya in separate middleweight title fights. Whittaker and Vettori both lost, too, because they weren’t able to do anything with them. Only the bigger and stronger Jan Blachowicz found success in that department back when Adesanya tried (and failed) to join the ever-growing “champ champ” club.
Adesanya has proven himself at 185 pounds against the top of the food chain. In order to make a case for Cannonier we have to believe “The Last Stylebender” will get careless on his feet or start showboating in the later rounds, opening himself up for a one-hitter quitter. Or we have to expect the challenger, who sports a putrid 0.23 takedown attempt rate with just 50-percent success, to suddenly start shooting takedowns like an NCAA D-1 champ. I won’t go as fas as counting Cannonier out. Like Adesanya, he’s done enough against the middleweight elite to earn his spot. I just don't think he’s got anything “The Last Stylebender” hasn’t already seen — and conquered — in previous contests. Cannonier is probably too tough to finish, even at age 38, but I don’t expect this to be a close fight.
Final prediction: Adesanya def. Cannonier by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski (24-1) vs. “Blessed” Max Holloway (23-6)
Max Holloway is getting something you don’t rarely see in prize fighting: a second chance to win back his division title after already going down 0-2 against his toughest rival to date. There’s a couple of factors behind that decision, starting with the Hawaiian’s legendary run through the featherweight class. Prior to his Alexander Volkanovski loss at UFC 245 — followed up by his second straight defeat to “The Great” at UFC 251 — Holloway put together a torrid 14-fight win streak with 10 finishes. Post-Volkanovski, “Blessed” racked up a pair of wins over notable toughies Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez. It also helps that Volkanovski already rid himself of perennial title challengers Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung, so outside of the rising Josh Emmett, it’s hard to make a case for Volkanovski-Holloway 3 clogging up the division. There’s also the matter of the wonky scorecards at UFC 251, leaving some fans convinced that Holloway got screwed by the cageside judges. Promotion President Dana White fanned those flames with his own post-fight gripe, but a close fight that can go either way (and often does) is not an automatic robbery. That said, it sure does help the organization sell a third fight ... though who wouldn’t want another 25 minutes of these two legends?
I’m not picking Holloway to win but if I woke up Sunday morning and read a headline that said he gutted out a close decision victory, I wouldn’t be surprised. I just don’t have the confidence to back him against a champion who’s as dialed in as Volkanovski. He didn’t have a great start to their UFC 251 rematch but made the necessary adjustments and reclaimed the lead, then continued his dominance against Ortega and Jung, to the point where his “Korean Zombie” fight became uncomfortable to watch. That did not look like a fighter who is ready to hand over his strap anytime soon, especially with the goal of lightweight — and “champ champ” status — within striking distance. Holloway is an outstanding striker and made fellow boxer Calvin Kattar look like some chump they pulled from the stands at the last minute. Since falling to Conor McGregor at UFC Fight Night 26 roughly nine years back, “Blessed” went on to register 16 wins at featherweight and out-struck all 16 opponents across the board. But in two fights against Volkanovski, Holloway was the one who was out-struck: in significant strikes, total strikes, and striking accuracy. “The Great” also landed three takedowns in their UFC 251 do-over, making this a no-brainer (at least on paper) when it comes to this championship prediction. Holloway is an accomplished fighter and a lock for the promotion’s hall of fame, he’s just not good enough to beat Volkanovski. I know that’s hard for “Blessed” fans to hear, but it’s even harder to pretend otherwise based on what we’ve seen to date.
Final prediction: Volkanovski def. Holloway by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Sean “Tarzan” Strickland (25-3) vs. Alex “Poatan” Pereira (5-1)
Sean Strickland has quietly amassed a six-fight win streak in the crowded middleweight division and if you’re thinking “there’s nothing quiet about that loon;” well, you would be right when talking about “Tarzan” outside the cage. But if we want to make a case for Strickland — currently ranked No. 4 at 185 pounds — defeating Alex Pereira to earn the winner of Adesanya vs. Cannonier, we may need more than a run of tepid decision victories. I don’t blame him for avoiding the ground game of Jack Hermansson, a decorated grappler, but he also painted by numbers in judges’ nods over Uriah Hall and Krzysztof Jotko. His two finishes since abandoning his brutal cut in the welterweight division came over Nordine Taleb and Brendan Allen. The 41 year-old Taleb was not re-signed after getting knocked out by Muslim Salikhov and Allen has failed to crack the division Top 15. At the same time, you can’t be overly critical of a fighter who sports a 25-3 record with over a dozen fights for the world’s preeminent combat sports promotion. Strickland is the real deal and a tough out for any middleweight. But is he a bona fide title contender?
We’re bound to find out one way or another tomorrow night in Las Vegas, and I can say with great certainty that if Strickland thinks he can jab his way to the scorecards like he did against the boxing-challenged Hermansson, “Tarzan” is going to find himself looking up at the lights. I’m sure by now most fans are sick of hearing about Pereira’s knockout victory over Israel Adesanya on the kickboxing circuit and to be fair, I’m sick of writing about it. What’s more impressive is the Brazilian’s overall body of work, to the tune of more than 30 wins with over 20 knockouts. In addition to GLORY, Pereira competed for WGP Kickboxing, Jungle Fight, and Superkombat, making good use of his 6’4” frame and 79” reach. I’m not sure how this monster makes 185 pounds but that’s a story for another day. If you’re a Pereira fan or just want to see him rematch Adesanya, you can’t go into this bout with 100-percent confidence. Both Andreas Michailidis and Bruno Silva were able to score a pair of takedowns against Pereira, though you can also argue that it didn’t matter because they ended up losing their fights. And 2-for-7 (Michailidis) and 2-for-8 (Silva) are not terrific ratios, so the takedown remains a concern but is hardly a foregone conclusion.
I don’t buy into Marvin Vettori’s theory that Pereira is too old to slug his way to the top. At 34, he’s roughly two years older than Adesanya and three years older than Strickland. I’m paying more attention to how “Tarzan” exploits the Brazilian’s lack of experience. There’s more to just cage fighting than just kicks and punches. Strickland may act the fool, but competitively speaking, he’s no dummy. Spatial awareness, wall work, dirty boxing, these are areas the 15-fight UFC veteran has mastered and can use against an opponent who’s entering just his third bout for the promotion — assuming he doesn’t get KTFO beforehand. In a five-round fight, I might be more inclined to side with Strickland, who would have a better chance of grinding down and tiring out his opponent. At UFC 276, both fighters have just 15 minutes to get it done with a middleweight title shot on the line. Expect them to go hard and fast until somebody drops, a scenario that in my opinion does not favor Strickland.
Final prediction: Pereira def. Strickland by knockout
170 lbs.: “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (29-15, 1 NC) vs. Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena (17-8)
Note: With the loss of Miesha Tate vs. Lauren Murphy, this welterweight bout was elevated to main card status after UFC 276 “Prelims” predictions were already in the books. Therefore, we’ll import Patrick Stumberg’s existing preview and prediction below.
The sun looked to have finally set on Robbie Lawler’s illustrious career after he followed a decision win over Donald Cerrone with four consecutive defeats. He proved he still had something left in the tank in Sept. 2021, however, overpowering Nick Diaz in a rematch to secure his first victory since 2017. He’s ended 21 pro fights by knockout in his two decades as a professional.
A 2-4 skid, capped off by an ugly decision loss to Jason Witt, likewise had Bryan Barberena’s UFC tenure on the ropes. He’s since bounced back with two straight wins, including a “Fight of the Night” decision victory over Matt Brown in Columbus. “Bam Bam” stands an inch taller than Lawler but gives up 1.5 inches of reach.
My big worry going into Lawler’s fight with Diaz was that he just couldn’t pull the trigger anymore. Then he went and threw over 200 punches in just over two rounds, so I think we can safely call that fear assuaged. That’s very bad news for Barberena, whose durability and cardio ain’t what they used to be. Even Witt managed to rock him on the feet, and without the wrestling that Lawler’s recent conquerors used to keep “Ruthless” honest, there’s not a lot stopping Lawler from teeing off.
I’m not saying Barberena can’t grit out another win over a legend, but if the Diaz fight was anything to go by, Lawler has a lot more left in the tank than Brown. Enjoy the first Lawler knockout since 2015.
Final prediction: Lawler def. Barberena by technical knockout
Holland’s two cents: I wasn’t as impressed with Lawler’s victory over Diaz, which resembled a kid with anger issues whaling on a partially-deflated Bobo doll. I do however, agree with Pat about Barberena possessing none of the skills that have been known to stifle “Ruthless” in the past. Assuming Lawler remembers to let his hands go, this should be an easy three-round decision for the former champ.
135 lbs.: Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (19-7, 1 NC) vs. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (15-1)
Sean O’Malley recently signed a new contract with UFC for big money and it looks as though the promotion is hoping to get the most from its investment. That’s why “Sugar” has been paired with Pedro Munhoz, currently ranked No. 9 at 135 pounds and widely-respected for his gritty performances as well as his conduct outside the cage. That shouldn't distract us from the fact the not-so-young “Punisher” turns 36 in October and has dropped four of his last five. Munhoz remains ranked in the Top 10 because the bottom half of the division is mostly interchangeable and I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest Munhoz is on his way down, competitively speaking. The Brazilian is certainly one of the more well-rounded fighters at 135 pounds, racking up a nice balance of five knockouts against eight submissions. It’s also worth pointing out that his recent losses — all decisions — have come against one current champion and three former titleholders, so it’s not like he’s getting knocked around by the Job Squad. I just don’t know if performing admirably against top competition is a good enough argument for picking him against O’Malley.
“Sugar” will enter this contest with a five-inch advantage in height and a staggering seven-inch advantage in reach. Remember, O’Malley is the current UFC record holder for significant strikes landed at 8.34 per minute. He’s also got the record for striking differential at 5.01; meaning, for every one strike his opponent lands, O’Malley lands five in return. With such a dramatic disparity in reach, the former “Contender Series” standout can sit on the outside and treat Munhoz like a game of Duck Hunt, sans obnoxious beagle. Munhoz is a competent wrestler with dangerous submissions though he doesn’t have the speed or length to get inside. Most shots require a striking setup to put an opponent off balance. Without it, the shot can be seen from a mile away — which is how O’Malley stuffed Raulian Paiva like a cajun Turducken. I do think Munhoz, who’s never been finished in nearly 30 professional fights, is too tough to get laid out and has good enough defense to remain competitive for all three rounds. But let’s remember why UFC booked this contest and put it on the PPV main card. As far as I see it, this is O’Malley’s fight to lose.
Final prediction: O’Malley def. Munhoz by unanimous decision
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 276 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ABC/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
For the rest of the UFC 276 fight card and PPV lineup click here. To check out the latest and greatest UFC 276: “Adesanya vs. Cannonier” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
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