For the first time ever, the UFC heads to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. A fight between two streaking featherweights serves as the main event.
Max “Blessed” Holloway, who is just 23 years old, is taking 12 fights of UFC experience into the Octagon this weekend. He has a chance to jump into title contention with the likes of Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes. Standing in his way will be the 25-year-old Charles Oliveira, another young fighter with a ton of UFC fights on his resume. Oliveira is looking to add to his four-fight winning streak and take the spot in the championship scene for himself.
The co-headliner is equally intriguing. Longtime underwhelming prospect Erick Silva has finally started to put things together and is riding a winning streak for the first time in his UFC career. After originally being set to fight 10th-ranked Rick Story, Silva is now set to fight 15th-ranked Neil Magny after Story bowed out with an injury. Magny is coming off a loss to Demian Maia less than a month ago at UFC 190, but prior to that fight he was riding a seven-fight winning streak in which he’d finished four of his last five victims.
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Oliveira kicks off from the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Sunday, Aug. 23. A pair of prelims on UFC Fight Pass will get things started at 6 p.m. ET, with the card shifting over to Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET for four more preliminary fights. The main card will stick around on Fox Sports 1, with the first of six bouts starting at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Sal DeRose and Vince Carey preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Featherweight Max Holloway is on a six-fight winning streak and stands at 9-3 overall in the UFC. Furthermore, he’s gone from fighting to split decisions against the likes of Leonard Garcia and Dennis Bermudez to finishing five of the six opponents in his current streak. Can Holloway extend his streak here against Charles Oliveira, who is a comparable 8-4 in the UFC and currently rides a four-fight winning streak? And will this fight be the Hawaiian’s chance to earn a title bid, or is it going to take a lot more for Holloway to get his shot at gold?
DeRose: I wouldn’t say a split decision loss to Bermudez is a bad thing. Bermudez is an extremely tough fighter who has progressed well since his time on The Ultimate Fighter. The fight was also in the middle of the incredible seven-fight winning streak Bermudez was on at the time. Holloway has also been fed to some of the better featherweights in the UFC. His only three losses have come against the aforementioned Bermudez, McGregor and Dustin Poirier. Holloway actually fought Poirier in his UFC debut, which is wildly insane considering how much potential Holloway has always had.
Holloway is 23 years old and has a wealth of experience against the top talent in the division. Oliveira is certainly up there as well, but the way Holloway has looked in his last few fights makes it difficult to pick against the young Hawaiian. Oliveira is going to pose some problems for Holloway on the ground, of course. The Brazilian has picked up three of his four straight victories by way of submission, but Holloway will most likely hold his own on the feet and avoid the takedown. That is imperative in this fight if Holloway wants to emerge with his hand raised.
This is a good shot for Holloway to make a case for a title bid, but the featherweight division is going to be backed up for a little while. Holloway realistically is looking at another fight, at least, before a title shot. The aforementioned Frankie Edgar still needs to get his chance. Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor have to fight first, and they won’t unify the belt until the end of the year. That probably pushes us into next spring if the UFC hurries up the division and everybody comes out of their respective fights unharmed. Edgar has said he doesn’t want to wait for a title shot, though, so he could conceivably lose and open the division back up, but Edgar has a solid track record in non-title fights, so it seems highly unlikely that he’ll lose and clear a path for Holloway.
Holloway wins this fight, but it by no means secures a title shot for him. There are still too many other variables to consider in the division, but another victory over a top-10 fighter to add to his resume would put him in a very good position within the division.
Carey: I don’t know if I’d say it’s going to take a lot more for Holloway to get a crack at gold, but he’s still a fight or two away. The Edgar factor is probably the main reason why Holloway isn’t being looked at as a serious contender right now, but a victory this weekend would likely change that, especially if the Hawaiian looks impressive in a winning effort.
Oliveira is going to be a tough man for Holloway to beat if the fight hits the floor. Remember, Holloway was just a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when he made his debut against Poirier. Obviously there’s been plenty of time for him to improve on the mat since then, but Oliveira was tapping fools in the UFC for a good year and a half before Holloway showed up on the roster. Holloway’s never fought a grappler quite like the Brazilian, and he’s going to want to stay off the mat as much as possible to avoid playing with fire.
The good thing for Holloway is that he uses his reach incredibly well, utilizing strong jabs and kicks to keep some distance from his opponents and pepper them with combinations. Coincidentally enough, that’s the exact same type of fighter that Oliveira has struggled against in the past — his losses to Donald Cerrone and Cub Swanson immediately come to mind.
Picking a winner in this fight is tough due to the clash of styles, but I’m going to take Holloway, who’s been on fire lately. Oliveira has been really good as well, but the Brazilian is going to struggle getting inside to the point where he’ll be stuck standing with Holloway for the majority of the bout. If that’s the case, this one won’t go five rounds. It may even turn into an early stoppage for the Hawaiian if he gets off to a fast start.
Neil Magny was dominated by Demian Maia earlier this month. He’s turning around on short notice to face Erick Silva, a UFC veteran who is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time in his Octagon career. Is this the perfect bounce-back fight for Magny?
Carey: I don’t blame Magny for looking to get back into the cage as quickly as possible following the lopsided loss to Maia earlier this month, but I can’t say I’m a fan of him taking on someone as dangerous as Silva with less than three weeks of preparation time.
Magny proved himself to be a player in the welterweight division prior to the loss to Maia when he rattled off seven straight wins in less than 18 months. The Ultimate Fighter 16 vet wasn’t fighting incredible competition or blowing people away with his performances, but he slowly found ways to push himself into the crowded mix at 170 pounds over the last year. If he can get back on track relatively quickly after getting outclassed by Maia, then an 8-1 record in his last nine fights should be enough to earn him another big-time opponent.
After fighting five times in 2014, Magny is no stranger to a short turnaround. If he’s able to pull off a big win over Silva, he’ll likely be fighting top-10 competition soon enough. The trick is, while Silva may not be on quite the same level as Maia, he’s twice as dangerous in a lot of ways. Magny is going to have to be extremely careful if he wants to avoid back-to-back losses in less than 30 days. Even though he’s never been a title contender, the fact that all six of Silva’s Octagon victories have come by first-round stoppage shows just how devastating the Brazilian can be when he’s on. Now riding a winning streak for the first time in his Zuffa career, it’s going to be interesting to see if Silva can keep the momentum going or if he’ll continue to flounder against tough competition.
I’m picking Silva to win this fight, even though his resume has a number of quality reasons to go with Magny. Silva’s been in the Octagon for almost four years now and he’s come up short every time he’s met a contender in the cage. From Jon Fitch to Matt Brown, it seems like Silva has always been just a step behind those in the top 10, and his latest win over Josh Koscheck didn’t help quell those thoughts half as well as it would have a couple of years ago. Yet, Silva’s seemed poised to break into contendership since the day he stepped into the Octagon. The time for the 31-year-old Silva is now.
DeRose: I don’t fault Magny, either, but a break from fighting for a little bit could be what the doctor ordered following that loss to Maia. This will be Magny’s ninth fight in just over a year and a half. With only one exception, he has had a fight every three months in that span. Once, he took an extra month off.
Every fighter is built differently. Magny could certainly be reaping the rewards from fighting so consistently, but this might eventually catch up with him (or it might have already have caught up with him in the Maia fight). His seven-fight winning streak was incredible, but he was bound to eventually suffer a loss while fighting at such a frequent rate. Honestly, this is a marvelous feat of human ability considering he hasn’t been injured or out of the cage for an extended period of time.
This isn’t a perfect fight for Magny’s comeback. Silva is indeed a dangerous opponent on short notice. Really, really dangerous. Magny hasn’t had a turnaround this quick — 22 days — yet, which is surprising considering how many fights he’s had in the last year. Combine the short turnaround with Silva’s power, and we could have a recipe for a second consecutive Magny loss.
Magny has one thing going for him: Silva hasn’t really beaten anybody all that impressive in his career. Sure, he beat Koscheck in his last outing, but that is a Koscheck who isn’t the same fighter as the one that challenged Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title. A win over Magny would perhaps be the biggest victory on Silva’s resume, and it would come in a short-notice fight.
Silva should win this one, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Magny pulled it off despite all the obstacles in front of him. After all, Magny has proven that it’ll take a lot to make him stumble.
Maryna Moroz shocked fight fans with a victory over highly ranked strawweight Joanne Calderwood in her UFC debut earlier this year to remain undefeated. Can the 23-year-old Ukrainian capitalize on her huge upset and take out Valerie Letourneau this weekend to become a contender at 115 pounds, or was her debut a fluke that she’ll be unable to recreate in her second Octagon bout?
DeRose: There was something very off about Calderwood when she took on Moroz. When Calderwood started her walk to the Octagon, it was apparent from her demeanor and body language that the Moroz fight wasn’t particularly going to go her way. Moroz’s victory was by no means a fluke, though. Moroz still had to lock in the armbar to get the win, but there were a lot of other things going on that factored into Calderwood’s performance. Calderwood’s ground game isn’t exactly known for being the best in the strawweight division, either.
Letourneau is another good name to build off of if Moroz does want to make a title run in the division. While a title shot is probably a few fights off in the distance considering who is in front of Moroz — Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres and, inevitably, Paige VanZant, just to name a few — Letourneau is a veteran who will serve as another good test for the Ukrainian strawweight. Moroz is obviously very adept on the ground with her submission skills, giving her a strong case for playing the wild card in her division. If you were to sit here and pick a dark-horse candidate at 115 pounds, you’d most likely land on Moroz.
We also can’t forget that Moroz is only 23 years old and hasn’t seen past a minute into the second round. There is still a lot that possibly could happen over the course of her next couple of fights. Moroz might not have the striking to dismantle some of the higher-ranked strawweights. Her cardio might not carry her over the course of a three- or five-round fight. There are plenty of question marks, but that isn’t to say the potential isn’t there. She just beat a top-three strawweight with relative ease, so it’s quite possible that she has what it takes to hang with the division’s elite.
Moroz still has to get past Letourneau, who is 2-0 in the UFC so far. Letourneau’s opponents are 1-4 in the UFC, but Letourneau still had to go out and outperform those opponents. A win is a win at this level.
Moroz will win, probably by armbar. It would be preferable to see her go the distance just to better judge her talents, but it could very easily be a quick submission finish.
Carey: My colleague mentioned something obviously being off with Calderwood in Moroz’s debut, and that’s exactly the reason that I almost have no idea what to expect from the prospect heading into her second UFC fight. There’s no denying that Moroz looked like a future champion in her debut, but until we see her fight at least a couple more times, it’s going to be tough to anoint her as the future of the division.
Taking out Calderwood as easily as Moroz did was completely unexpected. A win over a tough opponent in Letourneau would do wonders toward convincing fight fans that the Ukrainian is the real deal, but it’s going to take a win over another one of the top strawweight fighters before she’s in true title consideration. Moroz is extremely young and would normally be given a little time to stretch her wings in the Octagon before jumping into the thick of things, but with the strawweight division sitting wide open at the moment, opportunities are probably going to come sooner rather than later. That means any sort of statement win this weekend will likely be rewarded with a big-time match-up.
All of that being said, I’m not exactly confident that Moroz is going to walk away without any problems this weekend. She undoubtedly has a ton of talent, but the things that my fellow writer mentioned — cardio, overall striking skills — could come into play if the fight hits the second half. I’m willing to give Moroz the benefit of the doubt. I’m expecting her to look good in victory this weekend, but the fact that she’s never gone the distance is cause for concern, to say the least.
Josh Burkman and Patrick Cote are on the outside of the top 15 in the welterweight division. Does a win from either fighter vault them into the rankings? Does either fighter possess the ability to go on a crazy title run at 170 pounds, or is the division too deep for a possible climb?
Carey: This is a pretty fun fight between a couple of really solid veterans of the sport, but if we’re being honest, that’s all these two are going to be at this point in their careers.
The welterweight division has always been one of the deepest in the sport. That hasn’t changed, even with the departure of Georges St-Pierre a little over a year ago. Guys like Gunnar Nelson and co-headliner Neil Magny are sitting outside of the top 10, and they’re both way higher on the totem pole than either Cote or Burkman. I’m actually looking forward to seeing these two throw down this weekend, but I can’t act like they’ll be fighting for a spot in the top 15 or even the top 20. It would take a lot more than a win on Sunday for one of these men to jump into the rankings.
Fittingly, the fact that it’s going to take a lot more than a win this weekend is also the reason I don’t see either of these guys making a Matt Brown-style run to the title. Both men are 35 years old with 30 or more fights on their resume. Sure, Cote’s earned a solid 4-2 record over the last couple of years, but he’s also dropped fights to the only two guys that were anywhere near being ranked at the time of the bout. The same goes for Burkman, who was on a pretty decent run until he returned to the UFC and ended up winless in two fights. These guys are firmly in the middle of the pack right now. That’s where they’re likely to stay for the rest of their careers.
DeRose: While Burkman’s loss to Hector Lombard has been overturned to a no-contest, he is still technically on a two-fight losing streak. That doesn’t bode well for anybody wanting to start a title run, especially in the deep waters of the 170-pound division. Dong Hyun Kim, the other fighter to recently defeat Burkman, isn’t a bad fighter to lose to, either.
Nor can I fault Cote for his losses. His two defeats in this most recent UFC run have come to Cung Le on short notice and the up-and-coming Stephen Thompson. Yes, those opponents were nowhere near the rankings at the time, but Thompson’s potential upside and the short-notice fight with Le negate that fact. There’s no shame in losing either of those fights.
My colleague said it best: these two guys are simply here to put on good fights at this stage in their career. Neither fighter is even that bad in terms of their overall skill. Yet, while they’re both equally adept fighters, the division is just way too stacked for them to make a run. They are 35 years old and have almost 70 fights between them.
I would love to see either guy make a run in the division a la Matt Brown. It’s always fun and incredible to watch fighters completely change so late in their career, put everything together and really make a run at the belt. However, I don’t see it happening here.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
DeRose: The fight between lightweights Sam Stout and Frankie Perez. Mainly, this is due to Stout, who always comes to put on a good performance with his heavy hands. Stout’s fights either end up in a nasty three-round war or a quick finish. He will most likely push Perez to fight his kind of fight and make it entertaining for the Canadian fans. There’s a reason this fight is essentially the prelim main event on Fox Sports 1 instead of landing on Fight Pass.
Carey: I’m always down for a good flyweight fight and I’ve got high hopes for the prelim battle between Chris Beal and Chris Kelades. Beal showed off some insane knockout power with his flying knee victory over Patrick Williams in his UFC debut last year, but he struggled in his flyweight debut against Neil Seery a few months ago. It’ll be fun to watch him try to bounce back against Kelades, who suffered a disappointing loss of his own to Ray Borg in his last outing. Despite the recent setback, the 34-year-old showed some flashes of brilliance in his win over Irish prospect Paddy Holohan last year and should have plenty of support from his fellow Canadians on Sunday.
Pair this card with…
Carey: Brock Lesnar… in the pro-wrestling ring. There may not be a title fight this weekend, but you can still watch a former UFC champion compete on Sunday night. Lesnar and the WWE are putting on the four-hour extravaganza that is Summerslam on Sunday. Since they’ll be wrapping up at around 11 p.m. ET, that gives fans plenty of time to watch Lesnar take on The Undertaker before switching over to the fights for the featured bouts of the UFC card.
DeRose: The Rock. I may not be a wrestling fan, but even I’d have a difficult time topping Summerslam as a pairing with this card. But here it goes… This is a Sunday UFC card and we’re getting pretty close to football season, but alas, there is no meaningful football just yet. We do have what could conceivably be the next best thing, though: HBO’s [i]Ballers[/i] starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I’ve enjoyed the season so far, and the season finale is on Aug. 23, the same night as the UFC and WWE offerings.
|Fight||DeRose’s Pick||Carey’s Pick|
|Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET)|
|FW: Max Holloway vs. Charles Oliveira||Holloway||Holloway|
|WW: Neil Magny vs. Erick Silva||Silva||Silva|
|WW: Josh Burkman vs. Patrick Cote||Cote||Cote|
|LW: Chad Laprise vs. Francisco Trinaldo||Laprise||Laprise|
|LW: Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Tony Sims||Aubin-Mercier||Aubin-Mercier|
|StrawW: Valerie Letourneau vs. Maryna Moroz||Moroz||Moroz|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Frankie Perez vs. Sam Stout||Stout||Perez|
|BW: Felipe Arantes vs. Yves Jabouin||Jabouin||Jabouin|
|LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima||Krylov||Krylov|
|FlyW: Chris Beal vs. Chris Kelades||Beal||Kelades|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Shane Campbell vs. Elias Silverio||Silverio||Silverio|
|LHW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Daniel Jolly||Cirkunov||Cirkunov|