Next month, the UFC will be taking over Abu Dhabi for four events in just 14 days. The UFC kicks off Fight Island with the best card of the year at UFC 251. That card features three title fights including the headliner between Kamaru Usman (16-1) and Gilbert Burns (19-3) for the welterweight title. All of the cards are absolutely stacked on Fight Island. With that in mind, let’s look at an under the radar fight from each of the first four cards in Abu Dhabi.
UFC 251 – July 11th
The card on July 11th is absolutely sick. Three title fights and a rematch between the top two female strawweights in the world all on the main card. However, there is a light heavyweight matchup that I’m extremely interested in. That would be the matchup between former title challenger, Volkan Oezdemir (17-4), and the Rizin light heavyweight champion, Jiri Prochazka (26-3-1).
While a lot of people might not know him, Prochazka is one of the more exciting signings that the UFC has made in a while. He enters the UFC on a ten-fight winning streak including nine knockouts. He’s finished his last eight opponents including seven in the first round. Oezdemir has won back-to-back fights after losing three in a row. He’s looking to get back to a title shot, and a win might get him there. A win for either one of these men will vault them into the title discussion at 205. Jon Jones’ future in the division is in question. If he continues to fight, he’s likely going to be moving to heavyweight soon. The light heavyweight division could be on the verge of becoming wide open.
UFC on ESPN 13 – July 15th
Just a few days after UFC 251, we get a rare Wednesday night card that will be headlined between Calvin Kattar (21-4) and Dan Ige (14-2). There are a number of great fights including a strawweight matchup between Carla Esparza (16-6) and Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2). However, the one fight that somehow is flying under the radar is the co-main event between Frankie Edgar (23-8-1) and Pedro Munhoz (18-4).
“The Answer” is going to be making his bantamweight debut against one of the best guys in the world. The former lightweight champion is still trying to get back to UFC gold after losing his title years ago. Edgar dropped to featherweight, and had three title shots in his run there. He lost all three which has resulted in him dropping one more time to bantamweight. Edgar was very small at lightweight, small at featherweight, but will finally fit in at 135 pounds. Just like with everything in Edgar’s career, he’s jumping right in with the sharks in his debut.
Prior to his loss to Aljamain Sterling a year ago, Pedro Munhoz was on a roll. He had won three fights in a row including a knockout over former champion, Cody Garbrandt. Munhoz is no easy task for anyone in the division. I’m very curious to see this fight play out on July 15th. I’m putting it on the list today because I’m shocked at how little people are talking about this incredible fight. This fight was initially scheduled to be at UFC 251, but it was bumped a few days to beef up the Wednesday card.
UFC on ESPN 14 – July 18th
On July 18th the UFC will have another fight night that will be headlined by a flyweight title fight. Deiveson Figueiredo (18-1) and Joseph Benavidez (28-6) will have their rematch for the vacant title. They fought back in February, and Figueiredo won the fight by stoppage. However, since he missed weight in the fight, nobody won the title. The UFC decided to run the fight immediately back with the hope that he can make weight this time. Speaking of the flyweight division, there is a fight that most people probably don’t know about that’s really caught my eyes on this card.
I’m very interested in the flyweight contest between top Russian prospect, Askar Askarov (11-0-1) and Alexandre Pantoja (22-4). Russian MMA is on fire right now, and one of the brighter prospects is Askarov. He fought to a draw in his UFC debut against Brandon Moreno, but bounced back with a unanimous decision victory over former title challenger, Tim Elliot. Pantoja is no easy task for the Russian. Pantoja is 6-2 in his UFC career with wins over Brandon Moreno and Wilson Reis. This is a very interesting matchup in the flyweight division. With both guys ranked in the top seven, the winner of this fight could very well be next in line to fight the winner of the main event.
UFC on ESPN 15 – July 25th
The final card of the month is loaded. The main event of the evening is a title eliminator in the middleweight division between former champion, Robert Whittaker (20-5), and Darren Till (18-2-1). While the card is stacked, the one matchup that I’m very curious about is in the heavyweight division. Former heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1), will be taking on Alexander Gustafsson (18-6) in “The Mauler’s” heavyweight debut.
After some trouble with USADA, the former champion made his return back in May. Werdum really didn’t look that great in his return. Maybe you could attribute that to ring-rust after two years off. Werdum will also be getting ready to turn 43-years-old when he fights Gustafsson. Gustafsson surprised many when he retired last June after losing to Anthony Smith at UFC Fight Night 153. Gustafsson was just one fight removed from his loss to Jon Jones. Gustafsson is one of the best fighters to never taste UFC gold. He’s constantly been one of the best guys in the world, but he never has been able to climb the mountain all the way. I’m very curious to see how he looks at heavyweight. If this fight stays on the feet, the speed that Gustafsson has could really showcase well here, if it goes to the ground, I’m not sure how “The Mauler” will hold up.
A July to Remember
As a fight fan, you live for months like July. Four events in just two weeks time. The cards are all stacked from top to bottom. While other major sports in the world are still trying to figure it out, the UFC is churning out one of the more anticipated months in the sports history.