One Saturday, Jul. 2, the UFC will put on a championship doubleheader, as UFC 276: Adesanya vs. Cannonier will be the culmination of the organization’s annual International Fight Week. The event features featherweight and middleweight title fights as the co-main and main events.
In the main event, Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya will attempt to defend his title for the fifth time. In his four previous title defenses, the Nigerian-born New Zealander has won three times by unanimous decision and once by first-round TKO, when he defeated powerful Brazilian striker Paulo Costa. This time, he faces another hard-hitting challenger in Jared Cannonier. Cannonier has racked up an impressive record over his last six fights, going 5-1 over that stretch. The only blemish on his record in that timeframe is a decision loss to former champion Robert Whittaker, who gave Adesanya all he could handle in the pair’s rematch back at UFC 271.
The co-main event is the unconventional type of trilogy where Alexander Volkanovski meets Max Holloway for a third time, despite winning both of the pair’s previous encounters. Both fights were closely contested, and, as the two men clearly seem to be a step ahead of the rest of the division, fans and matchmakers alike have been more than open to this third showdown.
Also on the main card are a top-contender middleweight tilt between Sean Strickland and Alex Peireira, a 135-pound battle between Pedro Munhoz and Sean O’Malley, and a veteran welterweight affair between Robbie Lawler and Bryan Barbarena.
The UFC 276 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass starting at 8 p.m. ET. The main card will air on ESPN+ pay=per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela offer their preview and predictions on this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Israel Adesanya has never lost at middleweight and is looking to make the fifth defense of his middleweight championship; does Jared Cannonier have the requisite skills to dethrone The Last Stylebender?
Sumian: There are only two types of styles or game plans that can lead to Israel Adesanya being dethroned as the UFC middleweight champion. The first would require a combatant to have a better striking skill set than the champion, which is extremely unlikely. The second is something which we have already seen. The challenger would need to be a prolific wrestler who can outpower the champion and continuously take him down and control him. This is precisely what led to former UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz defending his belt against Adesanya back in Mar. 2021. However, this fight also took place at 205 pounds, where Adesanya undoubtedly gave up a power advantage. At 185, it would take a special type of talent to defeat the champion, who looks to defend his belt for the fifth time.
Jared Cannonier is inarguably one of the most powerful middleweights on the roster. He possesses powerful leg kicks, brutal ground-and-pound and above-average striking. The challenger has found his stride at 185, which has resulted in a 5-1 record since making the move to middleweight. Cannonier does most of his damage on the feet, but is no slouch when it comes to mixing it up on the ground, finding openings for his vicious elbows and ground strikes. Cannonier’s best chance of winning this fight will either be catching the champion with a powerful punch or finding a way to unleash his brutal ground striking if he can get Adesanya to the ground.
At this point in time, there is no doubt that Adesanya is the second greatest middleweight champion in UFC history. He has utterly dominated all his fellow middleweights using his impeccable striking and continues to improve with every title defense. His second fight with Robert Whittaker was extremely close, but Adesanya was able to showcase his ever-improving skill and defend the belt by unanimous decision. The contenders at 185 are drying up quickly, and it will only be a matter of time until Adesanya gets bored and attempts another run at 205.
The July pay-per-view card is usually supposed to produce the most exciting and high-profile card of the year. In its entirety, the UFC has certainly accomplished that by putting on numerous exciting fights from top to bottom. However, the main event lacks the prowess and excitement to headline such a prolific card. To put it simply, it is truly hard to imagine a scenario where Adesanya does not dominate Cannonier from start to finish and defend his belt in dominant fashion.
Cannonier is a formidable opponent with undeniable skill, but his lack of a polished ground game, and his reliance on knocking his opponents out, is simply not enough to dethrone the champion. Adesanya will continuously batter the challenger with crafty combinations and be out of the way by the time the challenger is able to mount any offense. If Alex Pereira is able to defeat Sean Strickland in exciting fashion the same evening, there is no doubt that a third fight between Adesanya and Pereira is the fight to make.
Petela: Heading into this fight I can’t help but think that Cannonier will have the kind of performance that many people thought Paulo Costa would have against Israel Adesanya. I wasn’t alone thinking that a haymaker from Costa would clip the champion early and alter the balance of the fight until an eventual knockout blow gave the Brazilian the middleweight crown. I was wrong, clearly, but I see this fight playing out the same way.
It is hard to avoid for any fighter, even one of Adesanya’s caliber, to avoid getting hit for twenty-five minutes. Cannonier has the type of power where even one glancing blow can have fight-changing implications. At the end of an early exchange, Cannonier will land a big counter-hook that momentarily stuns Adesanya. The champion will be forced to fight with a more conventional defensive style where he uses a high guard and slight head movement to avoid the power coming his way, rather than his fleet-of-foot style where he avoids punches with almost his entire body moving out of the way. That defense will limit his offense, and the champion will be down on the scorecards in the championship rounds, when he goes back to his normal style. Slightly less than 100-percent, Adesanya will get hit cleanly in the later rounds and drop to his butt where Cannonier will pounce on him. A TKO finish just minutes before the final bell will give Cannonier the win and the belt.
Max Holloway came up short in two close fights with Alexander Volkanovski; is the third time the charm and does Blessed get his title back?
Petela: The first meeting between these two fighters was certainly close, but it wasn’t a controversial decision victory for Alexander Volkanovski. The rematch was razor thin, and each time I watch it, my scorecard varies on who I think deserved the nod. In my opinion, this fight will more closely resemble the first fight, with Volkanovski picking up the win in a close, but clear, decision victory.
The difference maker in this fight will be the somewhat newfound power punching of Volkanovski. He battered The Korean Zombie from pillar to post in his last fight, and, before that, he knocked Brian Ortega around for the majority of their title bout. While I don’t expect him to run through Holloway or this fight to be as one-sided on the feet as the Ortega bout was, the punches he lands against Holloway this weekend will do substantially more damage than they did to him the first two times around. Both men will have stretches where they lead the dance, but expect Volkanovski to have more of those stretches and become the first fighter to ever knock Max Holloway down as he moves to 3-0 with three decision wins over the former champion.
Sumian: It would make for an enticing story if Max Holloway is able to dethrone the champion and set up a potential fourth fight between the two, given that they are far and beyond the two best featherweights in the world. However, I side with my colleague. Punch for punch, Volkanovski is capable of doing vastly more damage than Holloway, and this will be a huge advantage for the champion. He has already proven he can outpace Holloway and match the challenger’s speed. Volkanovski will likely win a 49-46 decision victory and finally move up to lightweight, as he has been consistently saying.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 276?
Sumian: There are so many different directions to go with this question given how many great fights there are on this card. With that being said, I will have to go with Sean O’Malley. This is O’Malley’s first opponent ranked in the top 10 of the division, and a major step-up in competition. Munhoz has certainly struggled as of late, as he has compiled a 1-4 record in his last five fights. Despite this, Munhoz is always dangerous, and his fights are always competitive among the elite of the division. O’Malley has a chance to put on a masterful performance and officially enter the top of the division. He will become the first fighter to finish Munhoz by knockout, and the hype train will only get faster after his performance on Saturday.
Petela: Sean Strickland. He’s taking on Alex Pereira, and, of course, Pereira is still widely known as the man who knocked out Israel Adesanya in kickboxing. Pereira is on the fast track to a title-shot rematch with Adesanya, but Strickland will successfully play spoiler and give himself a legitimate claim as the rightful next title challenger. He will face some adversity against the hard-hitting Pereira, but a clear decision victory for Strickland will make him the biggest winner of the fight card.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 276?
Petela: Max Holloway. There’s nowhere for him to go from here in terms of fighting for the featherweight title in the near future. He will have lost three times to the reigning champion, but he has beat seemingly everyone else at the top of the division. Holloway’s first foray into the lightweight division didn’t go his way, and he was a bit undersized. But, after a third loss to Volkanovski, it might be time for “Blessed” to make the permanent move up to 155 pounds.
Sumian: Jessica Eye. She is going to get decisively defeated by Maycee Baber come Saturday night. This will be the fourth time that Eye has suffered a four-fight losing streak, and the fact that she remains in the top 15 of the flyweight division is puzzling, to say the least. Barber has a lot of growing to do mentally, but this is an extremely winnable fight for her.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: The correct answer is Julija Stoliarenko, who is 0-3 in her UFC campaign. She is facing Jessica-Rose Clark, who is much better than her record makes her out to be. Stoliarenko will likely suffer a fourth-straight loss and be sent packing by the UFC.
Petela: Jessica Eye. The Ohio native has struggled mightily since winding up on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout at the hands of current champion Valentina Shevchenko. She is just 1-3 since that fight, including losses in her last three straight. If the former title challenger doesn’t get the nod against Maycee Barber this weekend, it could very well be the end of the road.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Jim Miller vs. Donald Cerrone. Twice in the past month, Cerrone’s fight against Joe Lauzon has fallen apart at the last minute. When Jim Miller was left without a dance partner for this weekend, of course Cowboy stepped up, and the two storied UFC veterans will meet for the second time. Cerrone picked up a second-round TKO the first time these two met. This fight is buried on the prelims on this loaded fight card, but these two should put on an exciting fight, as both men are late in their careers and by all measures should be fairly evenly matched heading into this fight before they both ride off into the sunset in the near future.
Sumian: Due to the electricity of this card, the preliminary headline fight is being vastly overlooked. Brad Riddel and Jalin Turner are two of the most exciting lightweights currently outside of the top 10. Both are well-rounded combatants and will put on a performance that gets fans ready for an epic main card.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Dricus Du Plessis is one of the best middleweights in the world that nobody knows about yet. He is 2-0 in UFC campaign and will make 3-0 by knockout, when he finished Brad Tavares in the first round. A win over Tavares indicates that a middleweight is ready for the next level of competition in the UFC, and Du Plessis will only improve with every Octagon performance.
Petela: Bryan Barberena. He takes on former champion Robbie Lawler in a fight that could go one of two ways, both of which result in a performance bonus for Barberena. If Robbie Lawler is willing-and-able to pull the trigger with his hands, this fight will turn into a wild back-and-forth slugfest that will earn the pair “Fight of the Night” honors. If Lawler is hesitant, as he has been over his last several fights, it will be a dominant victory for Barberena, who will score a late first-round or early second-round knockout en route to a post-fight bonus.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Grilled chicken and fresh vegetables. Regardless of the outcome, Jared Cannonier is the poster boy for good things happening when you have a proper nutrition plan. Cannonier fought up at heavyweight and light heavyweight, but has turned into a truly elite fighter now that he is fighting at his proper weight class. The middleweight version of Cannonier is the best version of Cannonier so take a page out of his book and pair this card with a nice lean dinner.
Sumian: Fish and chips with a pint of Speight’s beer. Both of these are staples in New Zealand and will pay homage to the two champions that will successfully defend their belts and proudly represent New Zealand’s City Kickboxing Gym. Both Adesanya and Volknovaski are ranked as top-three fighters in the men’s pound-for-pound rankings for good reason. The dominance and celebrations will continue after they headline the most anticipated card of the year.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW Championship: Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier
FW Championship: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
MW: Sean Strickland vs. Alex Pereira
BW: Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O’Malley
WW: Robbie Lawler vs. Bryan Barberena
Preliminary Card (ESPN and UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Brad Riddell vs. Jalin Turner
WW: Ian Garry vs. Gabriel Green
WW: Jim Miller vs. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
Preliminary Card (ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass, 6 p.m. ET)
MW: Uriah Hall vs. Andre Muniz
Women’s FlyW: Jessica Eye vs. Maycee Barber
MW: Brad Tavares vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Women’s BW: Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Julija Stoliarenko
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