As the UFC heads to the Middle East for a summer of fights, many big names and important matchups are scheduled to take place over the next month. With three title fights confirmed and with the potential for a super fight between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal potentially on the horizon, much of the interest so far has been on the crowning of a new bantamweight champion, whether Max Holloway can regain his featherweight title and the aforementioned ever changing situation with welterweight champion Usman. But which fights have gone under the radar and which matchups have the potential to steal the show?
Jessica Andrade vs Rose Namajunas
Perhaps suffering from the overall strength of the rest of the card, Jessica Andrade’s (20-7) rematch with Rose Namajunas sees two former champions clash in what is for all intents and purposes a number one contenders clash. There 2019 fight saw Namajunas put on a striking clinic in the first round, dominating the majority of the action before Andrade picked her up and slammed her headfirst, rendering her unconscious and claiming the strawweight strap. ‘The Chiropractor’ then went on to drop the belt in her first defence to Zhang Weili, being destroyed in under a minute. Both 28 year olds will take confidence from their last encounter, and with a potential shot at the belt at stake, this one could very well prove to be not only the fight of the year but one of the better fights of the whole summer.
Brett Johns vs Montel Jackson
Brett Johns (16-2) will look to continue his road to redemption with a tough assignment in the shape of former wrestling standout Montel Jackson (9-1). Johns ended a storied regional career in which he picked up belts in three different organisations by signing with the UFC in 2016 and picked up three quick wins to take his resume to a perfect 15-0. Two losses to Aljamian Sterling and Pedro Munhoz stunted his growth and the Welshman put a near two year injury layoff behind him with a win in January of this year. Jackson’s initial life goal was to make the Olympic wrestling team, but after the IOC removed wresting from the Olympic programme he took up martial arts. He put five wins together and was then invited onto the Contender series where he won by TKO to earn a contract. Since then he has gone 3-1 in the promotion and a win over Johns could be the signature win he’s been looking for.
Joseph Duffy vs Joel Alvarez
Irish Joe (16-4) returns after over a year out of action on the preliminary card of Fight Night 173 as he looks to get his once-promising career back on track. Suffering back to back losses for the first time in his professional career, this is a must win scrap for Duffy who’s currently 4-3 in the UFC. Famous to many MMA fans for submitting Conor McGregor in under 40 seconds while fighting under the Cage Warriors banner, big things were expected of the Donegal native when he joined the promotion back in 2015, and a promising start has since been derailed with losses to Dustin Poirier, James Vick and Marc Diakiese. In the opposite corner Spanish prospect Joel Alvarez (16-2) will be looking to build on his first UFC win last time out, and with sizeable BJJ credentials himself, expect an intense grapple heavy battle.
Alexandre Pantoja vs Askar Askarov
A battle of the little men is next on our list as Alexandre Pantoja (22-4) faces Askar Askarov (11-0-1) in the flyweight division. With both men ranked comfortably inside the top ten and with the vacant belt being contested for on the same card, an impressive performance and a good callout could be enough to earn one of these men the next shot at the belt. Coming into the UFC after an impressive run with ACB in Russia, Askarov jumped straight into a tough fight with highly rated Brandon Moreno, earning a split draw last September, and since then has picked up a decision win over veteran Tom Elliott. Pantoja broke into the UFC after impressing on TUF and has remained very active in picking up a 6-2 record with the company, earning impressive wins over Brandon Moreno and Matt Schnell. With the flyweight division often being criticised for not producing exciting fights, this one could buck that trend between two top contenders.
Fabricio Werdum vs Alexander Gustafsson
One fight that hasn’t received the attention it deserves is Alexander Gustafsson’s (18-6) first foray into the UFC’s heavyweight division. That alone would be worth watching but then when you add his opponent is none other than former champion Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) this should be very fun for however long it lasts. Gustafsson showed in his first fight with Jon Jones he was truly elite, and can count himself unlucky that he was around at the same time as the two greatest light heavyweights of all time, without them he would’ve enjoyed a long reign atop the division. Unlike his adversary Werdum has had UFC gold wrapped around his waist, and after being written off many times has gone on to enjoy a hall of fame career in and outside of the octagon. Now at 42 and past his best, Werdum should offer a stern test and will undoubtedly be very dangerous, but if Gustafsson retains any desires of making it to the top of the division this is a must win.