UFC 276 will play host to two title fights and a potential title eliminator on Saturday. Reigning Middleweight king Israel Adesanya takes on the powerful Jared Cannonier while, in the co-main event, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway lock horns for the third time in three years.
Elsewhere on the card, Alex Pereira and Sean Strickland will have their crosshairs on the main event as a win for either fighter will likely see them challenge for the belt.
Former UFC Welterweight champion, Robbie Lawler, will be vying for Fight of the Night honours against the all-action Bryan Barbarena.
In one of the most anticipated fights on the card, Sean O'Malley looks to continue his finishing streak against the durable and dangerous Pedro Munhoz.
The prelims are stacked with talent, in particular the headliner which pits two of the brightest talents at Lightweight against one another. Brad Riddell and Jalin Turner will no doubt put on a show.
Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone will be on the hunt for sole possession of the record for most UFC wins. Both fighters are tied at 23.
Prospects Ian Garry, Dricus du Plessis, Andre Muniz, and Maycee Barber will also feature on the prelims.
Israel Adesanya x Jared Cannonier
Israel Adesanya has been calling to fight Jared Cannonier for a while now and that alone excites me to no end. Adesanya claimed being bored in his rematches against Marvin Vettori and Robert Whittaker and it was a little evident in his performances. His strikes didn't have the usual sting that got him to the top of the food chain at Middleweight and, especially against Whittaker, he allowed himself to get backed up a little too much without throwing much else in return.
Adesanya is a generational talent. Hate his mic-work all you will, his TikTok dances or his anime references - his quality as a fighter is completely undeniable. We've rarely seen a more sophisticated striker in the history of the sport.
If this fight has motivated Adesanya, I suspect that we're going to see a career-best performance. I don't think much of Cannonier as a fighter. He hits very hard but he gets dropped a fair amount and this against fighters who aren't as precise and potent as the champion. A puncher's chance is a puncher's chance for a reason, though, and an accurately placed bomb from Cannonier will put Adesanya to sleep. I just don't see him even getting close enough to land clean on the champ.
Pick: Israel Adesanya by 2nd / 3rd round KO
Alexander Volkanovski x Max Holloway III
When all is said and done, the Volkanovski and Holloway saga might very well go down as the greatest trilogy of all time. An evenly-contested set of fights between two top 5 pound-for-pound fighters, let alone the best in their division.
For complete transparency, I thought Volkanovski won the first fight and Max the second (not a robbery). Funnily enough, I predicted the wrong fighter to win on both occasions. Suffice to say I'm not confident at all in calling how this one goes down. But I'll give it a shot anyway.
Volkanovski has the blueprint to beating Holloway. After 50 minutes shared in the cage, Volkanovski has proven that his game plan will always trump Holloway's when it matters most. No-one disrupts Max's rhythm and throws his striking patterns off quite like Volkanovski does. It's the leg kicks, the elite footwork and pressure, as well as the sheer doggedness. When fights go bad for Volkanovski, we always see him dig deep to find a way to win. The second fight against Max, the title defence against Brian Ortega and the fight with Chad Mendes all saw the champion face adversity yet still come out on top.
I think Saturday night will be his most decisive victory over Holloway. I don't like the damage that Holloway has absorbed in recent fights and the weight cuts just look worse and worse as the years go by. How he manages to flip a switch and churn out elite performance after elite performance will always befuddle me. At some point, it will catch up to him and the back-to-back losses to the champion must knock his confidence a little. We may just see the culmination of this all in their third fight.
While Holloway is pure offensive firepower, Volkanovski excels on the defensive side while he chips away at his opponents (unless their name is Chang Sung Jung). That's what makes this saga infinitely interesting. Do you back the high volume of Holloway or the patience and precision of Volkanovski?
Volkanovski just knows how to beat Holloway. He'll cement himself as the number pound-for-pound fighter in the world when he gets his hand raised for the third time.
Pick: Alexander Volkanovski by decision
Sean Strickland x Alex Pereira
Alex Pereira has always had the touch of death. And now with four-ounce gloves, his otherwordly power only increases.
I totally understand why Sean Strickland is the sensible pick here. He's vastly experienced, has never lost at Middleweight, is well conditioned, and can fight adeptly on the feet or on the ground. I normally always side with this type of fighter when similar matchups are made. Here, though, the sheer freakish athleticism and nuclear power of Pereira make it impossible for me to go against him.
Could Strickland grapple his way to victory? Sure. The minute he feels Pereira's power in the clinch, however, I think he'll change his mind.
In both kickboxing and MMA, I've seen countless men fall victim to his strikes. I can't shake the image of him putting Strickland out to pasture and calling out Adesanya on Saturday night. And if he does knock Strickland out, it'll be impossible to deny him the title shot.
Pick: Alex Pereira by knockout
Robbie Lawler x Bryan Barbarena
If there's one thing that I'm certain of this weekend, it's that Robbie Lawler and Bryan Barbarena are going to throw down. And it might last 15 minutes, if we're lucky.
Barbarena is coming off a Fight of the Year contender against Matt Brown and it wouldn't surprise me if the fight with Lawler ends up being a carbon copy of that. Both guys are going to stand in the pocket and exchange. I'm not sure that Barbarena's chin - which is usually solid - will be able to hold up. The aforementioned Brown fight was only four months ago and he absorbed a lot of damage while emptying his gas tank.
Lawler is clearly on his retirement tour but I'm pleased to see that the UFC aren't just throwing him at dangerous prospects. Barbarena is a brawler but he's infinitely hittable and not a spring chicken. At 40 years of age, Lawler could very well pick up a second successive win on the weekend.
I back Lawler's superior power and gas tank here. Both he and Barbarena will take lumps out of one another but, if the fight extends past the second round, Lawler will have the definite edge.
Pick: Robbie Lawler by 3rd round TKO
Pedro Munhoz x Sean O'Malley
I really, really want to pick Pedro Munhoz to win this fight. His proclivity for chopping lead legs and wilting his opponents down could cause problems for Sean O'Malley. Munhoz is slick on the ground and has one of the nastiest guillotines in the sport, too. But speed kills in this sport and the fact of the matter is that Munhoz is one of the slowest strikers at Bantamweight.
Munhoz routinely struggles against fighters with astute and elusive footwork. Aljamain Sterling, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz all exposed his lack of hand speed and danced around him with ease. While I don't hold O'Malley in the same regard as those fighters, his talent in the striking department is undeniable. His footwork is always elusive and his ability to strike comfortably out of either stance makes him must-watch television.
Munhoz's durability will carry him through all three rounds; I don't think O'Malley will be able to finish him. I don't expect a competitive fight, however. I suspect O'Malley will be able to see everything coming and Munhoz will be too slow to react to what's being thrown back at him.
It's O'Malley's toughest test to date and one that he will pass with flying colours. It's a tailor-made matchup for him.
Pick: Sean O'Malley by decision
Brad Riddell x Jalin Turner
This is my personal pick for Fight of the Night. There's no way this fight doesn't entertain. Brad Riddell is pure action and Jalin Turner has been running through his Lightweight opponents with ease.
Despite the knockout loss to Rafael Fiziev back in December 2021, I still hold Riddell in high regard and believe he continues to be one of the 15 best fighters in his weight class. His kickboxing style has translated well to MMA where he has also developed a knack for grappling. In every single UFC fight he's had, Riddell has taken down his opponents at least once.
Turner is one of the most exciting strikers at 155lbs. His sheer length and size make it a total marvel how he fights at Lightweight. At 6ft3, he's the tallest fighter in the weight class and his 75.5" reach makes him the longest too. Though he has all of these natural gifts, I'm not certain that Turner has learned how to use them effectively just yet. While his current win streak is nothing short of brilliant, we've still seen fighters be able to cut his reach advantage down and get in his face.
Riddell is by far the most dangerous striker he has faced at Lightweight and is someone who will happily eat a couple of shots to close the distance and make a fight ugly. While Riddell is an undeniably exciting fighter, he does his best work when the fight gets dirty. He's excellent at going ego-for-ego with fighters and breaking them late on.
Turner is a tough fighter to grapple with since his long limbs make it difficult to get him down and keep him down but he's still shown that he's not technically adept enough to defend takedowns just yet.
There's an infinite amount of ways that this fight could but Riddell is smart enough to nullify Turner's best tools and dictate where the fight will play out.
Pick: Brad Riddell by decision
Donald Cerrone x Jim Miller II
When Cowboy Cerrone and Jim Miller first faced off back in 2014, it was Cerrone who would go home with the win after a devastating head kick knockout. Fast-forward 8 years and Cerrone is on a 5-fight losing streak and has been finished in four of those bouts.
Miller, on the other hand, has found a second wind seemingly out of nowhere. He's become a prospect killer after looking like he would be on the way out not too long ago. Not only is he winning fights, he's brutalising his opponents. Known for his grappling prowess, Miller has been straight up knocking people out in the last 12 months. Both Erick Gonzalez and Nikolas Motta have fallen prey to his newfound power at 38 years of age.
The fight playing out at Welterweight would be a sure-fire advantage for Cerrone if not for the fact that he accepted this fight on a week's notice and has had two rough cuts down to 155lbs in the last month. At his age, and with the damage he has accrued over the years, depleting his body in rapid succession is a recipe for disaster.
I'll keep this one short: I don't think we get to the judges' scorecards here. Cerrone's looked old, tired, and fragile in recent years. Miller is the much better fighter at this point and doesn't look to be slowing down.
Pick: Jim Miller by KO
Ian Garry x Gabe Green
I've really enjoyed Ian Garry's run in the UFC so far. He's garnered a lot of criticism despite winning performances. Against Jordan Williams, he was getting bloodied on the feet until a picture-perfect counter punch knocked Williams out. Most recently against Darian Weeks, Garry fought a smart and patient fight on the feet which frustrated fans expecting a knockout from him.
Garry talks a big game and has that textbook Irish charisma on the microphone and I think people expect him to be leaving a pile of bodies in his wake much like Conor McGregor did. Garry isn't that type of fighter. Is he a lethal counter-striker? Yes. But he also excels in the grappling department and has shown that he can control fights too.
Much like Maycee Barber, Garry is forced to do most of his learning under the bright lights of the UFC and with that comes immediate overwhelming hyperbole whether he's winning or losing. It's a serious test of a fighter's character, especially in this digital media age, and Garry has done well to cope with that so far.
Gabe Green is no joke and is definitely the toughest test of Garry's UFC career, thus far. Green is insanely durable, first and foremost. He took Yohann Lainese and Daniel Rodriguez's hardest shots and lived to tell the tale. Not many fighters can do that. Against Lainese, Green absorbed heaps of punishment before lamping the Canadian prospect in the 2nd round and ending his unbeaten streak.
Green constantly switches stances and can box fairly well out of either stance. When he switches to southpaw, however, he loses quite a bit of his defensive capabilities. I'm sure Garry will be salivating at the prospect of finding the chinks in Green's armour and prodding away at him.
I suspect that we will see a fair bit of grappling in this fight. Green will have to pressure forward to nullify Garry's height and reach advantage. Garry won't want to get hit much by Green and so, if he does crash the distance, I'd imagine Garry will finally flex his Judo and wrestling skills.
It probably won't be a very clean performance but I think we'll see another promising wrinkle in Garry's game as he notches up his 10th career win.
Pick: Ian Garry by decision
Brad Tavares x Dricus Du Plessis
After four straight fight cancellations, we're finally seeing Dricus Du Plessis in 2022. It's been almost 12 months to the day since he flatlined Trevin Giles at UFC 264. It says a lot that after only two fights in the UFC, the former EFC and KSW champion is getting the Brad Tavares test.
Tavares is a gatekeeper in the purest sense of the word. When we call guys like Neil Magny gatekeepers, we mean that they're the next step before title contention. Tavares is the guy you need to get past to enter the rankings. Some of the best at 185lbs over the years have had to go through Tavares: current champion Israel Adesanya, former champion Robert Whittaker and former title challenger Yoel Romero. Those are three of the bigger names to pass the Tavares test but it goes to show that if the UFC matchmakers think highly enough of you, you'll match up with him at some point.
Tavares is good everywhere. He combines a solid boxing game with thunderous leg kicks and is fairly adept in grappling exchanges, particularly defensively. He doesn't really excel anywhere, though, and his chin almost always takes a bit of a beating.
Du Plessis has an awkward striking style that makes him a tough puzzle to figure out on the feet. It's not that he's being intentionally deceitful with an array of feints a la Adesanya, he just throws strikes from unthinkable angles. You never know where Du Plessis' next strike is coming from and where it's intended to land. He has these big looping strikes that pack some serious power and I can't see Tavares withstanding many exchanges.
Although Tavares is on a 2-fight win streak the last two opponents he defeated are no longer in the organisation. I don't see this fight lasting very long and wouldn't be surprised if Du Plessis gets it done within the opening five minutes. Expect to see the South African in the top 15 come Tuesday.
Pick: Dricus Du Plessis by 1st round KO
Uriah Hall x Andre Muniz
This is about as Striker vs Grappler as it gets. 3rd degree BJJ black belt Andre Muniz and 2nd degree Kyokushin Karate black belt Uriah Hall put their specialties to the test.
Muniz's UFC run has been flawless. Not only has he yet to suffer defeat but he has also racked up three back-to-back 1st round submission wins. All via armbar. And one of them against Jacare Souza - one of the most decorated grapplers in the history of Mixed Martial Arts - who had never in his illustrious career been submitted before.
I'll just come out and say it right off the bat: Muniz is the real deal and I'd be shocked if he lost this fight. It wouldn't surprise me to see him in the title conversation over the next couple of years.
He's one of those rare submissions specialists that is actually consistent in getting the fight to the ground. In every single UFC fight he has had, Muniz has taken down each opponent at least twice. The only exception to that stat is Bartosz Fabinski who he submitted in less than 3 minutes anyway. He may not be the most technically adept in getting fights to the ground - you're not going to see him wrestle his backside off - but he has a solid single and double leg as well as some good judo trips that help him get the fight where he wants it. It also helps that he can pull guard whenever he damn well pleases.
Though Uriah Hall is always a dangerous threat on the feet, as the years have gone by his mystique has worn off. If fighters pressure Hall, his kicking game is rendered ineffective and he doesn't quite have the boxing to dissuade them from doing so.
Muniz won't bother to keep the fight standing very long and I can see him securing the takedown with ease. Hall doesn't have the strongest base and will probably wilt the minute Muniz gets him down once.
Pick: Andre Muniz by submission
Jessica Eye x Maycee Barber
For a huge period between 2020 and 2021, it seemed as though the prospect of Maycee Barber as a legitimate player at 125lbs was over. She had gone from proclaiming to become the youngest ever UFC champion to losing back-to-back fights. She bounced back with a shaky and dubious decision win over Miranda Maverick in July 2021 to snap the skid. After comfortably defeating Montana de la Rosa a few months ago, it looks like Barber is back to her best.
I don't put much stock in Barber's title aspirations. She's obviously a very talented fighter but she's doing all of her learning under the bright lights of the UFC so it's expected that she'll continue to hit stumbling blocks.
Jessica Eye is the perfect litmus test for Barber at this point in her career. For the first time since the Roxanne Modafferi fight, Barber is facing off against a veteran fighter. The UFC hasn't done her any real favours, routinely matching her up against other young fighters or straight-up title contenders like Alexa Grasso.
Though Eye hasn't won a fight since 2019, her pressure-heavy boxing style is always a strong test for up-and-comers. Just ask Vivane Araujo.
I suspect that we'll see Barber and Eye exchange in the pocket quite often and this could genuinely turn out to be an exciting fight. Barber is faster and hits harder. She also possesses the ability to bully Eye in the clinch and on the ground if they tie each other up at any point.
Barber has a real opportunity to prove herself as a surging contender at Flyweight and, unlike the Modafferi fight, I think she'll take it with both hands.
Pick: Maycee Barber by decision
Jessica-Rose Clark x Julija Stoliarenko
Jessica-Rose Clark was looking like a completely different fighter until her recent loss to Judo ace Stephanie Egger. There was a newfound meanness to her game, an emphasis on wrestling with the intention to do serious damage to her opponents on the ground. Saturday will be her opportunity to put that Egger loss behind her and continue on the very promising path she had laid out prior to it.
Julija Stoliarenko is rarely in a dull fight. Just go back and watch her Invicta FC title match against Lisa Verzosa. The problem with Stoliarenko is that, while she always finds herself in exciting fights, she's almost always losing those same fights. Her run in the UFC has been pitiful; in four fights, she's yet to get her hand raised. Granted, her opponents have been tough - Pannie Kianzad and Yana Kunitskaya are comfortably among the very top of the division - but Stoliarenko has rarely shown glimpses of anything other than her sheer toughness.
Clark likes to get in your face, make the fight dirty and then get you down to the ground. Stoliarenko will likely show zero resistance as most of her best work is done off her back (8 of her 9 wins are via armbar). I think Clark will have learned from the loss to Egger and will control all facets of the fight. Stoliarenko cuts and bleeds very easily and so I wouldn't be surprised to see Clark win late via TKO.
Pick: Jessica-Rose Clark by TKO