UFC International Fight Week is in full swing in Las Vegas and culminates in Saturday’s double world title main event featuring the game’s most ingenious striker and a trilogy fight that has Planet MMA divided, writes Nick Peet.
Israel Adesanya defends his middleweight crown for the fifth time, taking on the #1 contender and the 185lb KO king Jarod Cannonier at the T-Mobile Arena. And in the co-main event, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanvski and Max Holloway contest GOAT status at 145lb.
Adesanya vs. Connonier
Adesanya, 32, has been nothing short of a sensation since arriving in the Octagon in 2018; bagging 11 wins, seven bonuses, 185lb riches and even chased greatness at 205lb too. ‘The Last Stylebender’ is one of the most creative strikers ever to compete in mixed martial arts and become a global crossover star; the New Zealander with Nigerian roots is in the midst of a Hall of Fame legacy.
Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman is considered the pound-for-pound best in MMA today. But Adesanya’s sole career defeat was chasing gold at a second weight, something that Usman is yet to attempt, and shouldn’t overshadow Izzy’s run at middleweight.
Aged 38, this weekend’s challenger Cannonier has had to be patient to earn his UFC title shot. A former heavyweight, he transitioned down through two weight classes to find the best version of himself and arrives armed with a strong mindset and predatory instincts.
The Texan based out of Arizona has 10 knockouts in his 15 wins and although he’s suffered five defeats in his career, three were against former champions and one of the others was on his UFC heavyweight debut.
The first test in fighting an opponent as cerebral as the champ is a strong positive mindset, something ‘The Killa Gorilla’ is never short of.
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What he can’t do is stand there and allow Izzy to get into his flow state early. Cannonier has to make him work from the opening bell and look to tie Adesanya up and close that distance.
Timing will be everything. Pull the trigger to soon and Cannonier is toast. But wait too long and Israel will be styling his way to another unanimous decision and routine defence.
Volkanovski vs. Holloway
Despite seeing Volkanovski and Holloway go at it for 50 minutes – 10 rounds over two title fights – previously, the co-main is a much harder matchup to call.
Volkanovski, 33, from New South Wales, may have had his hand raised twice already. But both fights with Hawaii’s ‘Blessed’, 30, have been fiercely debated over for the past two years.
The Aussie champ – a former rugby league prospect who once weighed 240lb – has appeared superhuman inside the Octagon. His capacity to simply out-work, out-punch, out-grapple and out-persevere his opponents has granted him a formidable reputation.
His sole defeat in 25 fights was up at 170lb and a decade ago. Now the best 145lb’er on the planet, ‘Alex The Great’ could be the greatest featherweight the sport has ever seen. Two men stand out as rivals to that title; Jose Aldo – who was king at 145lb for a decade before running into Conor McGregor’s left hand – and, of course, Holloway.
Max looked untouchable in the early stages of his featherweight reign, with two wins over Aldo and a run of 14 straight wins at 145. But, similar to Adesanya, he tried to enhance his legacy with a failed switch up in weight, then bounced back down almost straight into the rise of Volkanovski.
I’d like to say the trilogy fight will end all the questions about who is best. And, indeed, should Volk win in style then that really should be the case.
But these are the best two featherweights in earth and more likely is another close fight that leaves us salivating for number four!