The UFC will close out International Fight Week this weekend with its eighth pay-per-view event of the year as the promotion hosts UFC 290 on Saturday (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV, with prelims at 8 p.m. on ABC/ESPN/ESPN+, and early prelims on at 6 p.m. on ESPN+).
Two title fights will headline a card full of interesting matchups, 12 in total. Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski puts his belt on the line against interim champion Yair Rodriguez in the main event. And in the co-main event, men’s flyweight champion Brandon Moreno defends his title against Alexandre Pantoja.
Former UFC women’s featherweight title challenger and current ESPN MMA analyst Megan Anderson highlights the top storylines to watch during the action this weekend.
Dricus Du Plessis flattens Trevin Giles with one punch
Dricus Du Plessis needs just one punch to knock out Trevin Giles in their prelim bout at UFC 264.
But really … what if he wins this fight?
When you look at this matchup, it’s expected that Whittaker, one of the best fighters in the sport (a -380 favorite), will win this fight.
Du Plessis has this uncanny ability to find ways to win, and that’s what makes him so dangerous. He’s not very technical. He gasses himself out and he’s unorthodox in his style. But he keeps winning because opponents keep underestimating him.
On film, his timing looks slow and labored. But he has so much trust in his chin and faith in his punching power that he’s willing to take risks that many fighters might not. These intangibles make his style so hard to replicate in training.
His ability to take a tremendous amount of punishment — while continuing to keep coming forward and pressuring his opponents — is commendable. And from an opponent’s perspective, it can be disheartening. But, if you ask me, not for Whittaker.
Whittaker, the former UFC middleweight champion, needs this win to get another shot at the title. A fight that, according to UFC president Dana White, will be in Whittaker’s hometown of Sydney in September. Of course, that fight would be against the man that took the belt from him, Israel Adesanya.
Leading up to this fight, Whittaker mentioned that he feels many of Du Plessis’ previous opponents have discounted his ability and that he won’t make the same mistake. With so much experience, Whittaker will be Du Plessis’s most formidable opponent to date. There’s history with the division champ on both sides of this matchup, and I’m sure Adesanya will be sitting in the front row this weekend.
The potential shake-up of the featherweight and men’s flyweight divisions
Pantoja, Perez let the fists fly early in Round 1
Alexandre Pantoja and Alex Perez don’t hold back as they both unleash on each other in the early moments of the first round.
There are also two title fights to close out the card. In the main event, Volkanovski, one of the most dominant champions in the sport, will defend his title against Rodriguez in an intriguing stylistic matchup.
While I don’t think Rodriguez is Volkanovski’s toughest matchup to date, it could be Volkanovski’s most unique opponent. Rodriguez has crazy-powerful striking, and he is creative in his kicking game.
Volkanovski has yet to face an opponent who brings that to the table. Rodriguez has given many credible fighters in the featherweight division problems with his kicks. Look at his fights against Brian Ortega, Josh Emmett and even Max Holloway.
But if Rodriguez is able to pull off the upset, things get interesting at featherweight. Considering how dominant Volkanovski has been in the division, I would imagine he’d get an immediate rematch if he loses. But if the fight isn’t competitive, like Rodriguez wins by knockout in the early rounds, more options will open up. Rodriguez hasn’t fought many top opponents in the division yet. Plus there are some interesting rematches out there for him.
There’s Holloway, who was the last opponent to beat Yair in November 2021, and Ortega, who’s coming off an injury in his fight against Rodriguez last July. Then there’s Topuria, who recently proved he may be the most deserving of the next title shot.
In the co-main event, after concluding a seemingly never-ending saga with Deiveson Figueiredo, Moreno will finally have a new opponent in the men’s flyweight title fight — even though it’s still a rematch — against Pantoja.
Moreno has already lost to Pantoja twice (once in an exhibition in 2016 for The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions, and the other at UFC Fight Night in Chile in 2018) and is looking to get one back.
If Pantoja wins again, this division could be open for other top contenders. Pantoja has already beaten a few of the top contenders in the division, but considering they weren’t in title fights, I’d think the UFC would consider offering one of them a second crack at the new champ. Until the third fight takes place this Saturday, it’s hard to tell how much interest the UFC may have in booking Moreno for another tetralogy, especially if he’s entering the fight at 0-3 against Pantoja. If the UFC decides to pass on that idea, fighters like Brandon Royval and Amir Albazi could be next in line.
Is Jalin Turner the Oceanic bogeyman?
Jalin Turner closes out UFC 276 prelims with impressive 1st-round win
Jalin Turner submits Brad Riddell with a guillotine choke in Round 1 of their fight.
Turner has fought four Australian or New Zealand-born fighters and has finished all of them: Callan Potter, Josh Culibao, Jamie Mullarkey and Brad Riddell. But his next opponent is Dan Hooker, a fighter who is more accomplished and skilled than those fighters, and has only lost to the top guys at lightweight.
While Hooker has lost four of his last six fights, each of those losses were against title challengers in the division (Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler), a top contender (Arnold Allen) and the current champion (Makhachev). Most recently he picked up a win over Claudio Puelles at UFC 281. Hooker is still among the best fighters in the lightweight division, even if his record in recent fights doesn’t exactly suggest that.
This will be a good test for Turner, who is coming off a loss to a ranked opponent in Mateusz Gamrot. Prior to that loss, Turner was on a five-fight win streak. How Turner bounces back from that loss will tell us a lot about what his potential in this division looks like. If he wins, Tuner could land another matchup with a fighter in ESPN’s divisional rankings.
Jack Della Maddalena pulls out big TKO win at UFC Fight Night
Jack Della Maddalena defeats Danny Roberts via TKO at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.
This is a situation — where a fighter has to back out of a fight — that happens quite often in combat sports and so many factors must go right for matchups to come through.
It’s like UFC commentator Jon Anik said via Twitter: “High-profile short-notice slots such as this one [vs.] Jack Della Maddalena [at UFC 290] materialize a lot. And while it is asking a lot of a fighter to stay ready and then go beat a top [opponent] with no camp, a life-changing opportunity knocks for someone.”
Before the announcement that Harrell was stepping in, a couple of UFC vets offered to step up in Brady’s absence: Joaquin Buckley who’s coming off a huge knockout win over Andre Fialho in May; also, Kevin Holland, who’s booked to fight against Michael Chiesa at UFC 291, offered to take the fight against Della Maddalena at a catchweight and maintain his matchup at UFC 291 three weeks later.
While those matchups would have been much more interesting, every fight featuring Della Maddalena will be entertaining. He is on a 14-fight winning streak and has 13 wins via stoppage. Don’t blink.
UFC 290: Why the top three fights on the card could shake up the rest of 2023 for the UFC