With the 2022 UFC Hall of Fame class inducted, the final item to remove from the checklist for the UFC’s International Fight Week is the UFC 276 fight card, which takes place on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
In the main event, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya puts his title on the line against heavyweight turned light heavyweight turned middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier. In the evening’s co-headliner, featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski faces the man he took the title from in 2019 and defeated in a rematch in 2020, former 145-pound titleholder Max Holloway. As for the possible title eliminator. In that contest, Sean Strickland faces Alex Pereira in a 185-pound scrap.
Ahead of Saturday’s fight card, I look at the storylines to follow on the pay-per-view portion of UFC 276.
Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier
Looking back at how Jared Cannonier earned his first UFC title fight, it’s kind of amazing. This is a man who went from losing a heavyweight fight opposite Shawn Jordan in his UFC debut to going 2-3 at light heavyweight before putting together a 5-1 record at middleweight. That’s not a bad run for the 38-year-old Cannonier.
Now the question becomes, can Cannonier overcome the odds and pull off the upset win against UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya? We will get the answer in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 276 fight card.
My opinion, if you’re interested, is probably not.
I suspect this is going to be Cannonier’s first and last shot at a UFC title and that makes him a desperate man. He was already a dangerous fighter thanks to the power he carries in his strikes. A desperate and dangerous fighter makes for an interesting opponent for Adesanya.
I think Adesanya and his team at City Kickboxing know everything there is to know about Cannonier and they have planned for the best he has to offer. Adesanya is a master at judging time and space and with the advantages he has in height and reach over the challenger, he should be able to handle everything that comes his way in this bout.
However, there’s always a chance for an upset.
Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway 3
I’m likely not alone in feeling like the UFC wants the UFC featherweight title wrapped around the waist of Max Holloway. After all, he is 0-2 in title fights opposite Alexander Volkanovski and getting a third title fight. That’s not to say that Holloway doesn’t deserve this fight, he has two wins following his second loss to the current champ, but I am saying it feels strange since Volkanovski is 2-0 against Holloway.
This fight won’t answer who the best featherweight in UFC history is, but with a win, it will put to rest the question about who the better fighter is between these two elite 145 pounders. If Volkanovski wants to remove the Max Holloway sized albatross from around his neck, he needs a third win against the ex-champ.
A secondary thing to consider in this bout is if this is the contest where Holloway’s style catches up to him, because if history has told us anything it’s that fighter’s who absorb the amount of strikes that Holloway has absorbed over his career, eventually break down.
Sean Strickland vs Alex Pereira
All signs point toward this one being a UFC middleweight title eliminator, with the winner moving on to face the victor of the UFC 276 main event scrap.
The big question in this fight is if Strickland will test his striking against Alex Pereira, who is a much more dynamic and talented striker than Strickland, who mostly relies on his jab, forward movement and volume.
I don’t believe Strickland will be that foolhardy. He might toy with the idea early in the first round, but I think the veteran’s plan will be to exploit Pereira’s weak grappling game.
Strickland doesn’t have a submission win since his first fight in the UFC in 2014, but he is a brown belt in jiu jitsu and in his most recent win, a five-round contest opposite Uriah Hall, Strickland went four-of-six on his takedowns and earned 7:02 of control time.
Strickland is the No. 4 fighter in the UFC’s middleweight division and I don’t expect him to risk his ranking or his six-fight winning streak for the sake of possibly entertaining fans on Saturday. Especially since Strickland’s fighting style is not one the UFC usually favors when booking competitors in title fights.
Robbie Lawler vs Bryan Barberena
If a fan’s main event exists, I would imagine it’s a toss up between the Jim Miller vs. Donald Cerrone fight on the ABC prelims portion of UFC 276 and the opening fight of the pay-per-view card, the scrap between Robbie Lawler and Bryan Barberena.
Like the Miller vs. Cerrone booking, if history is any sign of what we can expect, Lawler and Barberena are going to do their best to put the other one away.
Barberena is on a two-fight winning streak and coming off a somewhat controversial split-decision win over Matt Brown in March. For Lawler, this is a great booking following September 2021 TKO win over Nick Diaz. Prior to that, Lawler was on a four-fight losing skid and had gone 1-5 dating back to his UFC welterweight title losing setback to Tyron Woodley in 2016.
Lawler said that the Diaz fight reignited his passion for fighting and that his enthusiasm for that bout has carried over to his preparation for the Barberena matchup.
With Lawler having turned 40 in March, the big question in this matchup is if his body and mind are on the same page.
Pedro Munhoz vs Sean O’Malley
Sean O’Malley’s slow stroll up the bantamweight rankings ends on Saturday when he faces the No. 9 ranked Pedro Munhoz. O’Malley, who would like us to believe that he is undefeated, is actually 15-1 and checks in as the No. 13 fighter in the UFC’s 135-pound division.
The 35-year-old Munhoz is 2-4 dating back to UFC 235 and while that record is not great, Munhoz’s effort in those bouts was enough to garner four “Fight of the Night” bonus awards. I should also point out that his losses all came opposite former or future UFC champions.
Despite his age and his recent losing record, Munhoz is still a threat at 135 and his 5.50 significant strikes landed per minute is nothing to scoff at. However, his 6.09 strikes absorbed per minute is something that should raise eyebrows, especially when O’Malley averages 8.26 significant strikes landed per minute.
One thing O’Malley needs to be aware of is that Munhoz has never been knocked down, let alone knocked out in a UFC fight. With that, O’Malley might want to be more judicious than usual in his striking and output.
Another important thing this fight might tell us is if calf kicks remain a problem with O’Malley because Munhoz kicks low and kicks often. With that being said, O’Malley has an enormous advantage in height (five inches) and reach (seven inches) and if he uses those physical attributes to his advantage, the kicks coming his way might not be a factor.
This is the test we’ve been waiting for O’Malley to take and if he passes it, there’s no looking back for the 27-year-old. A win here and O’Malley moves on to face the elite of the UFC’s bantamweight roster.
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