Coming off a sellout UFC Fight Night in Texas this past weekend, the UFC’s summer schedule is heating up.
As the promotion returns to the APEX this week, the main event features Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot. This was not the original No. 1 fight on the card, but I love that it was elevated to prime-time status. The lightweight division is full of talented rising stars the public needs to know, and that list of names probably starts with Tsarukyan and Gamrot.
Afterward, we move into a jam-packed July that kicks off with International Fight Week and UFC 276 on July 2, a long-anticipated main event between Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev on July 9, a UFC on ABC card main evented by Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez on July 16, Tom Aspinall hosting Curtis Blaydes on a UFC London card on July 23 and then Amanda Nunes looking to reclaim her title versus Julianna Peña at UFC 277 on July 30 in Dallas.
There’s a lot to talk about. Here are five things on my mind in the world of MMA.
I hope Emmett and Kattar are generously rewarded for their main event this past Saturday night. The duo gave fight fans a tremendous fight over the weekend, in a division that has been my favorite in the UFC. I’ve sung the praises of the 145-pound division for over a year, and it seems like every weekend, the featherweights continually prove my point.
How many outstanding fights have we seen from this division in recent years? Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega. Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar. Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez. Kattar vs. Giga Chikadze. Kattar vs. Josh Emmett. Emmett vs. Shane Burgos. Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza. Arnold Allen vs. Dan Hooker.
The top of this division is elite and fun to watch, but every detail matters when you have a division this competitive. The net result? Small details can have massive consequences.
Take Kattar, for example. Kattar could have easily won that decision against Emmett on Saturday. Instead, he comes up short on one scorecard by one round and loses his win bonus. He also drops to 1-2 in his past three, affecting his career trajectory. For Emmett, even though he earned a big win against a top fighter in the division, the odds aren’t in his favor of getting an immediate title shot. He’ll likely have to do it again by accepting a challenging fight to achieve what he hoped a win in this fight would get him.
We saw outstanding efforts from both fighters on Saturday, and I’m glad they won “Fight of the Night” bonuses on a night when the UFC handed out 10 bonuses in total. But I hope Emmett and Kattar are rewarded even further with a discretionary bonus or matchmaking opportunity in their next appearance.
2. Volkanovski vs. Holloway could be the biggest fight of the summer
Let’s play it out on both sides.
If Volkanovski wins — and moves to 3-0 against Holloway — he’s firmly in the conversation for greatest featherweight of all time. With a few more title defenses, he moves past Holloway and the great Jose Aldo. That success would elevate his brand to new heights, as additional title defenses compounded with past wins over Ortega and Chan Sung Jung could do wonders.
That elevated status could lead to super fights in the UFC. Volkanovski wants to move up to lightweight, and a match between him and the projected lightweight champion this fall (Charles Oliveira, Islam Makhachev, Beneil Dariush, Conor McGregor?) would be a massive fight. If Volkanovski wins, he becomes arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world with future eyes on potential champ-champ status. That means a legacy secured and dollars in the bank.
If Holloway wins — and does so impressively — he will do a great deal in erasing his previous losses to Volkanovski. Those fights were so close that if Holloway were to put Volkanovski away, he might get a free pass for them. Not entirely, of course, but we can still call him the greatest featherweight ever if he barely lost to Volkanovski twice, then flattened him in a definitive third fight.
And just like Volkanovski, a win would open the door to move up to lightweight — maybe even a non-title fight against McGregor. Because of Holloway’s popularity, that insistence would definitely be made.
The result of this fight will weigh a lot in both of these fighters’ careers. In my opinion, this fight has more stakes than any other fight we’ll see in July, including a championship rematch between Peña and Nunes. There’s plenty on the line in that one, but this matchup matters most to both athletes involved.
Burns vs. Masvidal. I’m all the way in, and I think it’ll happen.
In an interview on The MMA Hour, Masvidal said he likes the potential matchup. In an interview shortly after, Burns told me that’s one of the fights he wants most. He even said he would have a hard time taking Masvidal down in that matchup, because he believes it wouldn’t be “fair” on the ground. Burns is a fighter through and through. He knows the fans would want to see a stand-up fight between him and Masvidal, and it sounds like he’s willing to give it to them.
Masvidal isn’t immediately ready and Burns isn’t one for waiting around, but I’m hoping this fight gets booked this fall. I love that Burns is pushing for a five-round fight, but I used to be against random matches lasting up to 25 minutes, as I believe sports are better when they’re consistent. But, if Burns wants five rounds and Masvidal is willing to comply, it adds to the entertainment and serves as a nod from the UFC that these two might be champions, or they are special fighters willing to put on a show. Either way, I’m down. Please let it happen.
4. Cowboy Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon should still happen, ASAP
Joe Lauzon explains the injury that caused him to withdraw from his fight against Donald Cerrone.
Dana White says no, but he should rebook Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon. I don’t believe in curses — maybe I should, especially after Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson fell apart five times, for reasons that escalated to the absurd. But, I don’t believe that because this fight has fallen through twice, it will happen again.
Cerrone pulled out on the day of the fight in May because of food poisoning. Lauzon pulled out the day of the fight in June because of a freak injury. Although these bizarre circumstances prompted White to say he’ll never book it again, this fight still makes sense. Both guys are ready to go against each other, and I suggest the promotion rebook it to UFC Fight Night on Aug. 13 in San Diego and make it a catchweight fight.
Why? Because both fighters have cut weight twice in the past month. Maybe don’t make it at 170 pounds because I’m not sure Lauzon would be comfortable for that. However, this fight is for fun and doesn’t need to be at 155 pounds. Find a weight both are comfortable with and rebook it for California. The third time’s a charm.
5. One fighter from every division I’ve got my eye on.
Flyweight: Manel Kape (has the potential to shake up the division)
Bantamweight: Sean O’Malley (an obvious choice, but his next fight is such a big one)
Featherweight: Arnold Allen (no one else in the division has a bigger gap between his skill level [high] and the amount he’s being talked about [not enough])
Lightweight: Rafael Fiziev (high ceiling, huge main event in July)
Welterweight: Daniel Rodriguez (pound for pound, one of the most entertaining in the division, and expected to return from injury layoff later this year)
Middleweight: Darren Till (what will his move to Sweden and training with Khamzat Chimaev produce?)
Light Heavyweight: Jiri Prochazka (I think he has the talent to maintain the belt for a while, but I think his fighting style needs to change a bit to eliminate some variability)
Heavyweight: Jon Jones (When is this happening?)
Women’s bantamweight: Amanda Nunes (of course, what does Nunes coming off a loss look like?)
Women’s flyweight: Tatiana Suarez (she has teased a return from a very long injury layoff at 125 pounds. If she’s healthy, she’s still one of the most intriguing women of any weight class)
Women’s strawweight: Marina Rodriguez (will she take another fight as she waits for a title shot, who will it be against, and is a true dark horse hiding among all of the big names at 115?)