Many fans are speculating that the UFC’s return to Canada is not exactly of the strongest variety.
A card headlined by the greatest female Mixed Martial Artist of all time and buoyed by guaranteed fireworks at 155 in a potential title eliminator as the co-main has been met with mass amounts of criticism by fairweather and tenured fans alike. With an $80 price tag, is this card worth it?
The last time the world-wide leader in MMA was in the great north featured a Top 10 clash between Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje and the veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on September 14th, 2019. The card also featured Michel Pereira’s decision loss to Tristan Connely in his second UFC appearance, as well as three of the veterans on this current season of The Ultimate Fighter (Brad Katona, Hunter Azure and Austin Hubbard).
With a gate exceeding $1 million and an attendance of over 15,000, it’s clear the vast amount of MMA fans in Vancouver were visibly ready for violence that weekend. However, with 4 years separating us from that event and a PPV on tap instead of a Fight Night will that bring the crowd back?
I decided to take a deeper dive into the UFC’s long-awaited comeback to Canada and determine: Is this card a worthy follow-up? Or should the Vancouverites keep their money in their wallets?
The Main Event
“The Lioness” has returned and aims her sights on Mexico’s own Irene Aldana following the withdrawal of Julianna Pena from the card. The #5 ranked W-BMW Aldana is positioned to realize the biggest combat sports conquest possible in the UFC with a win over Nunes and could bring an unprecedented 4th belt to Mexico in 2023.
Joining the ranks of Brandon Moreno, Alexa Grasso, and Yair Rodriguez would be incredible and further position Mexico’s place among the elite bases in combat sports, especially with another gargantuan upset. Grasso closed as a +750 underdog before her fateful submission of Valentina Shevchenko and currently Aldana sits as a +325 underdog against Nunes.
We’ve seen the impossible happen before to “The Lioness,” with +700 underdog Julianna Pena electrocuting the MMA world with her 2nd-round submission over the MMA GWOAT. Can lightning strike twice for the underdogs against Nunes? Will Aldana rise to the occasion and show that while she may not have “the big wins” or “star power”, she is more than capable of stealing another belt back to Mexico?
Or can the legacy of Amanda be strengthened and can she further herself even more from her MMA competition? Can she further distance herself from the shocking defeat in December 2021 and, at age 35, prove to be entering a new prime as she participates in her 12th championship bout in the UFC?
While the WMMA main events have never found their stride in PPV sales without Ronda Rousey attached to the card, I think the continued legacy of Amanda Nunes and the possibility of Irene Aldana’s late entry to this card resulting in a new Bantamweight Champion and becoming the third person in the UFC to defeat Nunes is a solid defense of a PPV purchase.
The Co-Main Event
This fight is orgasmic. One of the most anticipated fights of 2023. The pinnacle of pressure for both individuals. Definition of dazzling for the fans. Violence of the highest variety. The former champion now #1 contender Charles “Do Bronx” takes on the darkest of dark horses in #4 ranked Beneil Dariush.
Following a disappointing night at the office for Charles Oliviera, who’s reign as LW King is among the very best, he finds himself in a potential title eliminator against one of the most stylistically challenging fighters in the division. Slated to compete on October 3rd of 2020, these two finally meet at the most critical points of their careers.
Charles Oliviera now attempting to right the wrongs of his championship-losing effort against Islam Makhachev and solidify he just had an off night. As for Beneil Dariush, his will attempt to add the biggest scalp to his 8-fight win streak that spans over 5 years.
Both men have rallied from the most disastrous valleys in their careers, with Beneil Dariush at one point being 2-3-1 with 3 stoppage losses before rattling off 8 wins and 4 finishes (3 of them POTN).
Juxtapose that with Charles Oliviera, an individual who grew up on the UFC’s stage and found himself 2-4 with 4 stoppage losses at one point before shedding his skin and becoming one of the fiercest lightweights on the planet finishing 7 of his next 8 opponents en route to dispatching Michael Chandler of his facilities to capture the undisputed lightweight throne.
Now two years removed from that victory at UFC 272, the optics for Oliviera have shifted. The online sentiment suggests we’ll see a regression to the Charles who lacked durability and will-power, and that “Benny” Dariush will buzzsaw through the former champ in his campaign to square off with Islam Makhachev and cut another Christianity promo on the attendees in Abu Dhabi.
With 50 UFC fights combined between these two top-5 lightweights, and 35 of those not making it the distance, it’s hard to imagine we don’t see absolute fireworks for as long as it lasts. Can Dariush put to rest the conversation of who’s next? Or will Oliviera once again dig deep into himself and show why he at one point was the best in the world at 155?
The Rest of The Card
I think many will see my overexposure of the main and co-main in this article and go, “Ben, we never said those two fights were bad it’s the rest of the card that doesn’t stack up” so allow me to filter these fights in a way that might make you more interested in some of the other highlights of UFC 289.
Malott vs. Fugitt
Canada’s next great hope at 170 pounds “Proper” Mike Malott returns following a massive 1st-round submission over Yohan Lainesse earning him a $50k POTN bonus. Malott’s entire UFC tenure has all been within the first 5 minutes: Blistering KO of Mickey Gall in the debut and a 39 second sub in his contender series outing.
He has all the elements of a star and seeing how he performs under the bright lights of his home country, we will see if Malott’s 100% finishing rate stays intact or if the equally as dangerous and largely durable Adam Fugitt can take Mike on a one-way trip to upset city.
Ige vs. Landwehr
Dan Ige seemed to be tumbling down the UFC’s featherweight roster until a POTN winning KO of Damon Jackson reminded the masses why he’s regarded as one of the best in the world. The #13 ranked FW has always had lights-out KO potential and finds himself squared off with an unbelievably durable and strong-willed customer in Nate “The Train” Landwehr this Saturday night.
“The Train” gave a remarkable come-from-behind win over David Onama in August of last year and followed it up with a POTN winning submission over Austin Lingo just over 2 months ago. With 20 finishes combined, and a style in Nate Landwehr that begs for action at all times, it’s hard to believe that this top-15 contest will fall flat. Can “The Train” steamroll his way through Ige Station and claim his seat at the table? Or will the Hawaiian live up to the name once again and pocket $50,000 by banishing the train from the tracks?
I have been somewhat left wanting more from Ige’s performances in the past, but with an opponent who will not stop coming at you in Nate Landwehr, I am confident in assuming one of these featherweights will leave Canada with a bonus in hand.
Imavov vs. Curtis
An individual who has no idea how to take a day off, the always entertaining #14-ranked middleweight Chris “The Action Man” Curtis has lived up to his reputation and more in his UFC run by earning POTN honors in 2 of his finishes and a Fight of The Night distinction last time out following his war with Kelvin Gastelum.
My interest in this fight hinges on Curtis’ disdain for losing. Having had the pleasure of talking with Chris, I concluded there are few people that hate losing more and when you look at his record you notice some of his best performances have come following a setback. Case in point, after dropping a decision to Jack Hermansson in July of last year he came back with a show-stopping KO of Joaquin Buckley.
The firepower that “The Action Man” possesses is second to none, and with the always entertaining Sean Strickland prevailing over Nassourdine Imavov last time out, I can imagine Curtis’ crew is keenly aware of how to win this fight. Can Sean Strickland help guide Chris Curtis to a comeback victory and rankings jump against his most previous foe? Will Chris Curtis hop on social media and go to war with everyone again following another setback? These are questions I simply cannot wait to find the answer to.
Conversely, the Dagestan born but French trained Imavov aims to put his main event upset firmly in the past with a dominating win over one of Sean Strickland’s main training partners and friends. The opportunity to avenge his loss in front of the man who beat him has to be tantalizing and incredibly motivating as he now seeks to defend his #12 ranking from Curtis. These two were slated to fight on October 30th of 2020, now it finally goes down right at the most crucial moment of Imavov’s career.
Stylistically intriguing, a delicious storyline between these two top-15 middleweights, and one thing is for sure: Sean Strickland will have something to say about it all.
Bilder vs. Nelson
Canadian staple Kyle Nelson has been in the UFC since 2018, but has only had his hand raised on one occasion in 2019 against Polo Reyes. The last time Nelson competed in Canada was at UFC 231 on December 8th 2018, nearly 5 years removed from that fight he is long overdue for a homecoming performance. It’s do or die for “The Monster” as he attempts to defend his place in the UFC roster on home soil against one of the brightest prospects California has seen in years in Blake Bilder.
Blake “El Animal” Bilder currently rides a 15-fight win streak, unblemished in Combat Sports competition, and has notched 5 finishes within his 8 professional victories. Last time out we saw Bilder fly into enemy territory and outwork the Kiwi Shane Young in his own home and is pitted with the same task this Saturday in Canada.
Can Bilder best another opponent in their own backyard? Or will we see Kyle Nelson find the tools and motivation to secure a victory for his countrymen while his back is against the wall in the UFC’s featherweight division?
Belbita vs. Oliveira
If you know me you knew I was going to be adding this into the reasons why UFC 289 is a bit better than fan’s are making it seem. In a similar position to fellow Canadian fighter Kyle Nelson, Diana Belbita is in a crucial career position. Going 1-3 so far in her UFC tenure, it’s necessary that Belbita gets her hand raised Saturday night if she wants to continue her time in the UFC. No easy task at this level however, she’s facing off with tenured veteran Maria Oliviera who is similarly needing to impress if she wants to prove she belongs in the promotion.
Oliviera’s track record is an interesting one, following her 1st RD TKO loss to Marina Rodriguez on the Contender Series in 2018 she found a rebound performance against 0-1 Dyulie Duarte and followed it up with a finish of 0-0 Enila Tabosa before being called up to the UFC to face Tabatha Ricci. That level of opponent seemed to be the standard outside her two step-ups in competition: One in Marina (who was 9-0 at the time) on DWCS and the other in Rizin main-stay Kanna Asakura (who was 9-2 at the time).
However, in the spirit of being impartial and fair, when one glances through Belbita’s tapology, her opponents have a similar level of experience. The fight before her UFC debut she took on 1-2 Ana Maria Pal despite being 12-4. Before that, the combined record of the last 3 opponents before Ana was 0-0, all of them were debuting against Belbita who had amassed over 13 fights.
I think both women are talented and have the skills needed to compete at the highest level, and the best time to prove that is Saturday night at UFC 289. The job is likely on the line and I am anticipating the absolute best that both of these strawweights can offer. Can Belbita kick start the Canadian’s night? Or will Maria Oliviera prevail on a card with her lone Brazilian counterpart Charles Oliviera?
The Scrap Sheet
UFC 289 does features 9 competitors inside the top-15 either aiming to keep their spot, or progress upwards with pivotal clashes at Men’s and Women’s Flyweight between #10 ranked David Dvorak (20-5) and short-notice debutant Steve Erceg (9-1) and #13 Ranked Miranda Maverick (11-4) defending the spot against Canada’s Jasmine Jasudavicius (8-2).
But overall, while this might not be the strongest we’ve seen on PPV, I think it is important to contextualize the fights that sadly didn’t come to fruition.
Chris Daukaus and Khalil Rountree squaring off, with Daukaus entering a new weight class but still facing high-level opposition, sadly fell apart within the last week.
The rescheduling of the nail-biter that was Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Michel Periera in what was sure to be a dynamite stand-up affair of two bonafide top-15 talents.
Losing Hakeem Dawodu and Matt Schnell was a blow to the card and while Schnell’s bout was able to be reworked, it would’ve been great to see the always entertaining “Danger” Schnell try and bounce back from his December defeat to Matheus Nicolau.
While the star-power is somewhat lackluster for UFC 289, with a little digging, there are plenty of storylines in this card to get attached to and the age-old expression still stands, “It’s often the cards with low-expectations that produce the highest results.”
While I imagine the Pay-Per-View sales will lead many to conclude this card was a “failure”, I am optimistic that several of these fights can produce moments we’ll remember for the remainder of the year
Or not. I don’t f****ing know.