After a brief hiatus from the usual gruelling UFC schedule, UFC 236 has arrived with a top-heavy card with two must-watch fights.
Co-headlined by two interim title bouts, the future defacto #1 contenders will be decided in the middleweight and lightweight division as some of the best strikers in MMA currently square off against one another.
While the two marquee fights are the clear main attractions on this card, the preliminary cards are set to feature some bouts that promise to be tightly contested so make sure to keep an eye out for Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad and Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja in specific.
Max Holloway (20-3) vs. Dustin Poirier (24-5, 1 NC)
Oh boy. This promises to be a surefire fight of the year contender.
Seven years on from their first meeting, these two fighters are unrecognisable from the fight which Poirier emerged victorious from via submission. With their striking ability now both at a truly elite level in MMA, these two high volume strikers look set to put everything out there until the final bell has rung.
In the featherweight champion Max Holloway, you have a slick combination fighter who glides through distances and knows how to pick his shots on his opponent. Whether it be head-hunting, body-snatching or a combination of the two, Holloway is almost unstoppable once he gets into a rhythm as Brian Ortega found out in his last outing and the volume at which he works is simply incredible.
With the ability to switch hit out in the open or in close, feints off of his stinging jab or his skill of changing from reverse to fifth gear at the drop of a hat, Holloway in his current form is a problem that is nigh on impossible to crack.
Poirier however is a straight up monster and worthy champion of the mythical ‘violentweight’ division devised by Eddie Alvarez. Anyone who can score back-to-back TKO wins over Justin Gaethje and Alvarez is a phenomenal fighter and in both fights he showed incredible heart and durability to take punishing blows and keep marching forward.
Blessed with big power, Poirier has slowly build around his fight-ending ability to improve his footwork, work off of the jab and his own defence. Often doubling or tripling up on his jab to control distance at his behest, Poirier also puts himself in a rare club of fighters in MMA who employ a ‘Philly Shell’ when defending. Using the shoulder roll to take the brunt of punches on his arms or shoulders, Poirier can use his head movement to slide past shots and fire back with big power.
For however long this fight lasts, it should be a classic as this is two brilliant fighters fighting each other at their best. As for who wins, I think Max Holloway’s work to the body will be decisive in this fight and with slightly more tricks to pull out of his bag, I think Holloway can establish a rhythm later in the fight and start to pull away.
Pick: Max Holloway
Kelvin Gastelum (16-3, 1 NC) vs. Israel Adesanya (16-0)
I think this fight will be decided by how Kelvin Gastelum reacts to a five-round fight against a youthful opponent.
Gastelum has shown to be a solid wrestler in the past and his hand speed and power are amongst the best at 185 lbs. Where Gastelum falls down however is in his gas tank and his ability to pressure.
With exceptional head movement, Gastelum at his best is a tough fighter to catch and his striking on the counter against his opponents has enabled him to score the majority of his knockdowns since moving up to middleweight. Gastelum’s impressive run at middleweight has seen him knock down all of his opponents thus far but he has faced ageing fighters for the majority of his run.
Adesanya meanwhile is already probably the best pure striker in MMA today due to his kickboxing pedigree but his takedown defence has improved leap and bounds since his UFC debut. In his last outing against the talented wrestler Derek Brunson, Adesanya shook off Brunson’s attempts to ground the fight and that is not to be overlooked.
If Gastelum can keep the pressure on Adesanya and get him to the mat, that’s Gastelum’s clearest path to victory but his gas tank is just too unreliable to think he can do that here.
Adesanya has shown the ability to go the full 25 minutes and dictate throughout like he did against Brad Tavares and with his takedown defence constantly improving, I think ‘The Last Stylebender’ can keep the fight standing into the later rounds and potentially find a finish.
Pick: Israel Adesanya
Eryk Anders (11-3) vs. Khalil Rountree Jr. (7-3, 1 NC)
Both Eryk Anders and Khalil Rountree have shown a fair bit of potential during their respective UFC runs but both are widely inconsistent.
Anders has decent wrestling, decent power and a decent gas tank but he is far too passive in fights and allows bouts to simply slip away without the urgency to get them back.
Rountree meanwhile has freakish power but the defensive side of his game when it comes to wrestling or in the clinch is all but non-existent.
It’s a tough one to call as neither can be trusted to put their best work together but I think Anders’ wrestling will allow him to ground Rountree and both tire him out and take away his greatest threat.
Pick: Eryk Anders
Alan Jouban (16-6) vs. Dwight Grant (9-2)
Dwight Grant has shown to have big power at welterweight but he is a low output fighter without a huge amount of aggression to try and force the action.
Jouban meanwhile has shown that he can be dragged into a brawl in the past but recent fights like his one against Mike Perry show that he can keep it smart for 15 minutes.
Grant will be buoyed by Jouban’s history of getting rocked or knocked out in fights but I think Jouban can stay out of trouble here en route to win.
Pick: Alan Jouban
Ovince Saint Preux (23-12) vs. Nikita Krylov (25-6)
Much like the other light heavyweight fight on the main card, this fight pits two inconsistent light heavyweights against one another, albeit these two are more talented and experienced than Anders and Rountree.
Saint Preux has shown to be a big power kicker from the southpaw stance while his grappling is excellent offensively.
Krylov on the other hand is wilder in his approach as he will wade forward with aggression and just flow with wherever the fight goes.
With these two men having fought before, I think their second contest will be similar as neither has rounded out their skillsets and so I predict Saint Preux to find the openings caused by Krylov’s reckless abandon.
Pick: Ovince Saint Preux
(Last Predictions: 1/6, Total: 39/57, 68% Success Rate)
(2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58% Success Rate)