Fighters wanting ahead to this weekend as their massive probability to attract consideration to themselves ought to head again to the gymnasium to work on their timing. They picked the unsuitable Saturday to count on to make the evening’s greatest splash with followers, since they are going to be competing for oohs and ahhs with an anticipated slugfest between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje at UFC 291.
As I got down to rank the weekend’s fights, let’s simply get this out of the way in which: No. 1 isn’t up for dialogue. That place is securely in possession of Poirier and Gaethje, for whom expectations are all the time transcendent. Poirier has gained eight battle of the evening bonuses (tied with Nate Diaz, Frankie Edgar, and Edson Barboza) — nobody in UFC historical past has pocketed extra. Gaethje is correct behind him with seven of these $50,000 checks.
After which there’s their joint historical past. The primary Poirier vs. Gaethje tussle was probably the greatest fights of 2018, one which compelled many to carry their breath all through these turbulent 15½ minutes. Poirier gained the back-and-forth scrap by TKO early in Spherical 4. He is gotten higher since then. So has Gaethje. I do know I am not alone in impatiently counting the minutes till Saturday’s foremost occasion in Salt Lake Metropolis (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV).
However there are some fairly tasty appetizers on the menu previous to the weekend’s foremost course. Because of UFC 291 sharing Saturday evening with a Bellator and Rizin co-promotion over in Japan, we now have to present these rankings the complete top-10 remedy.
Each occasions are filled with interesting fights. Possibly some fighters aside from Poirier and Gaethje will discover their approach below the highlight in spite of everything.
1. Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje 2 (UFC 291)
Do not speak to me a couple of BMF belt being on the road. The shiny trinket’s function is so as to add grandeur to a nontitle matchup, however the belt is completely pointless when this battle is already as humongous as could be. Plus, the “baddest motherf—er” label does not apply to both of those gents of the game; they simply occur to battle like they don’t have anything to lose. Inform you what, UFC: Depart the foolish strap again at headquarters and as an alternative give us a Spherical 6. Deal? There is not any different battle scheduled for the remainder of 2023 that has extra viscerally captivated my curiosity, not even those with actual title belts at stake.
2. Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Makoto Shinryu (Bellator x Rizin 2)
It appears like simply yesterday that the UFC was on the point of taking away its males’s flyweight division. Now that weight class is flourishing. And right here comes Bellator to hitch the fast-paced enjoyable. Horiguchi, a former bantamweight champion in each Bellator and Rizin, has a stellar résumé at 125 kilos. His solely loss at that weight was in a 2015 problem of then-UFC champ Demetrious Johnson. Now “The Storm” goes for the brand-new Bellator belt in opposition to a 23-year-old who’s on a 10-fight profitable streak.
3. Jan Blachowicz vs. Alex Pereira (UFC 291)
Jan Blachowicz, Magomed Ankalaev battle to separate draw
Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev battle to a cut up attract the principle occasion of UFC 282.
Blachowicz is a former UFC gentle heavyweight champion, the final one to efficiently defend the title. Pereira is a former middleweight champ who’s about to be taught whether or not his potent punching energy will transfer up in weight with him. With the 205-pound title vacant, would not this be a nice time to resolve who will likely be preventing for the belt subsequent? Any probability the UFC truly makes that announcement?
4. AJ McKee vs. Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire (Bellator x Rizin 2)
Not way back, McKee was Bellator’s prized homegrown star. He could possibly be that man once more. However his pleasure experience hit a bump within the street final yr within the type of a “Pitbull.” Not Patricky, however his older brother Patricio. After dethroning the featherweight Freire in 2021, then dropping the rematch — and the title — 9 months later, McKee moved on to a brand new weight class. Now he’ll attempt to break a tie with the Freire household on this quarterfinal of the Bellator Light-weight World Grand Prix.
5. Seika Izawa vs. Claire Lopez (Bellator x Rizin 2)
Izawa is the one Rizin fighter who has garnered votes within the ESPN girls’s pound-for-pound rankings. And but for a lot of battle followers within the U.S., this would be the first time seeing the 25-year-old “Supernova,” who competed in judo, wrestling and even sumo previous to coming to MMA in 2020. She gained the tremendous atomweight (108-pound) championship in her sixth professional battle in April 2022. And whereas she has competed 4 instances since then, this will likely be her first title protection. Izawa is price staying up actually late to see.
6. Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira (UFC 291)
Thompson, Holland placed on potential Struggle of the Yr candidate
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Kevin Holland give the Orlando followers their cash’s price in the principle occasion of UFC Struggle Evening.
This one is correct out of a multiplex motion flick, one thing like Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Jackie Chan. “Wonderboy” Thompson has a karate aptitude to his recreation, however he is buttoned down in comparison with the high-flying Pereira. Get your popcorn prepared.
7. Derrick Lewis vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima (UFC 291)
Lewis has misplaced his three most up-to-date fights and 4 of his previous 5. Which means the followers have misplaced, too, as a result of they had been disadvantaged of the hilarious heavyweight’s raunchy postfight interviews. However win or lose, Lewis is all the time swinging these sledgehammers, and that is leisure. An additional giant popcorn, possibly?
8. Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Holland (UFC 291)
Chiesa has not fought since November 2021, and he misplaced his final two bouts previous to the layoff (following a four-fight run of success). Holland was on a two-fight dropping streak as effectively earlier than getting a powerful TKO win over Santiago Ponzinibbio in April. All through their ups and downs, each guys deliver it each time, so this must be a enjoyable one.
9. Kai Asakura vs. Juan Archuleta (Bellator vs. Rizin 2)
That is for the Rizin bantamweight championship, which was left vacant on the finish of 2022 when Horiguchi (see above) moved to flyweight. The person he’d dethroned two years earlier is Asakura. In an effort to regain the title, he’ll must get previous Archuleta, a former 135-pound champ in Bellator. Even when this belt does not matter a lot to followers new to Rizin, the battle for it can entertain.
10. Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Inexperienced (UFC 291)
Nate Diaz, Tony Ferguson placed on present at UFC 279
Nate Diaz and Tony Ferguson give the followers their cash’s price in the principle occasion of UFC 279.
Put together to be saddened … or possibly shocked. Ferguson has dropped 5 fights in a row and has seemed misplaced whereas doing so. However these defeats got here in opposition to Gaethje, Diaz, Charles Oliveira, Beneil Dariush and Michael Chandler. Inexperienced represents an applicable step down in competitors, one that may enable Ferguson, 39, to reprise flashes of the “El Cucuy” who, earlier than the skid, had gained 12 consecutive fights. Or am I dreaming?