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Three months into 2019, and five of Sherdog’s pound-for-pound Top 10 have already thrown down. A sixth, Max Holloway, will join the action this Saturday at UFC 236. With the year hitting stride and several cards being announced, it seemed like it’d be a good time to size up the fighting landscape through the rest of the year -- or at least what’s been announced to date. Let’s start from the top with this weekend’s Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view. Note: I’m not wussing out and using pluses and minuses here; each event gets a solid letter grade closest to where it stands, measured by relevance and pure entertainment.
UFC 236 | April 13 | GRADE: B
Hard to argue with the main event -- the best featherweight in the world going up against a top-three lightweight, with an interim lightweight belt and a presumptive crack at Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year on the line. Holloway has arrived as a true superstar by virtue of his two Jose Aldo beatdowns, his mercy killing of Brian Ortega, and his 13 consecutive wins dating back to 2014. Poirier has likewise paid his dues, coming in on a four-fight win streak over some pretty good dudes, and hitting his peak over a long and successful run in the UFC. The co-headliner is also legit -- Kevin Gastelum vs Israel Adesanya for the interim middleweight belt -- and the third match down could be the fight of the night, at least if you like to see guys napping on the canvas – Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree. Both guys hit like Mack trucks and the fight should look a lot like those Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots toys some of us older folks used to play with.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT 149 | April 20 | GRADE: D
A lot of guys with zeros or ones in the loss column, and some very intriguing prospects… but this might be a good Saturday night to take the family out for a nice dinner and a movie. The headliner features two fighters with over 129 total fights. That’s not a typo. Everyone knows Alistair Overeem; at 44-17 he’s moved from contender to champion to veteran gatekeeper to, now, hanging on for one or two more UFC paychecks. His opponent, Alexey Oleynik, somehow has 57 wins! That’s 13 more than Holloway and Poirier combined. Yowsers. The 41-year old Ukrainian is here by virtue of his “Performance of the Night” submission of fellow journeyman Mark Hunt, but also comes in winning 15 of his last 17 matches, including a 6-2 mark since joining the UFC. Not too shabby, even if none of them are against the top guys in the division. Nevertheless, that’s your headliner – 44-win Overeem versus 57-win Oleynik. After that, it’s a lot of young guys looking to make a name for themselves in the Octagon.
UFC ON ESPN 3 | April 27 | GRADE: B
A relevant headliner, plus a card completely jam-packed with names everyone knows. Not bad at all for a non-PPV event. Jack Hermansson, fresh off his first round upset against David Branch, turns around on short notice to step up against Ronaldo Souza. We all know what we have with “Jacare”; this fight should really tell us what we need to know about “The Joker.” Is he a legitimate top-10 fighter? Hermansson needs another big name victory to answer that affirmatively, and this would certainly do it. “Jacare,” however, will be a major step up in class, and at 39, still has the strength and power to control the match. At No. 5 in Sherdog’s middleweight rankings, a win by Souza also keeps him in line for a possible rematch with Robert Whittaker whenever he returns. And look at all the other names fighting on this card that you know: Greg Hardy, Glover Teixeira, Carla Esparza, Andrei Arlovski, John Lineker, Jim Miller, Court McGee, Alex Oliveira, Mike Perry and Ben Saunders. It’s like a who’s who of the UFC’s middle class.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT 150 | May 4 | GRADE: C
Hard to give any event headlined by Al Iaquinta and Donald Cerrone a C, but since a B- isn’t allowed here, we’ll cautiously go with the C. Iaquinta vs. Cerrone is an eliminator match of sorts; the winner moves right to the top of the heap for either of two sizable jackpots: a lightweight title shot or a massive payday against Conor McGregor. And if styles make fights, this one should be thoroughly entertaining for as long as it goes. The co-headliner is pretty decent in its own right: a three-way match between Derek Brunson, Elias Theodorou, and Theorodou’s hair. Brunson is hanging on for dear life in the UFC, with four losses in his last six, albeit to some pretty top-notch guys. Theodorou seems like he’s been that classic up-and-coming fighter forever now, but hasn’t yet had the match to really make his mark. Unfortunately even with a win over Brunson, Theodorou needs to take it up another notch if he want to be seen as a contender. So I’m not really sure what this fight does for him. Another interesting match pits unbeaten Sergey “the Polar Bear” Spivak against gatekeeper Walt Harris. Spivak has looked dominant en route to a 9-0 record, so it’s time to see if he can continue dominating more legitimate competition. Harris may or may not count as that; he’s mostly traded wins and losses over the past five years, most recently with a dull split decision win over the ageless Andrei Arlovski overturned to a no-contest by the California State Athletic Commission after Harris failed an in-competition drug test.
UFC 237 | May 10 | GRADE: D
It’s good to see “Thug Rose” back in action, as it’s been a year since Namajunas beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk for a second time to retain her strawweight title. And Jessica Andrade is the right opponent; winner of six of her last seven, including a brutal one-punch knockout of contender Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her last outing. Victories over Tecia Torres, Claudia Gadelha, and Angela Hill don’t hurt the résumé either. The problem with this card is… that match would make a nice co-headliner, but as a PPV main event, it seems a little light. This could be remedied by a strong co-headliner, but we’ve been given Anderson Silva vs. Jared Cannonier, so that answers that. A fairly intriguing match up between Jose Aldo and Alexander Volkanovski definitely spices things up, but there’s really not a lot going outside of that. It’s possible the UFC will add another fight as the main event to bolster things up a bit, but as it is now, we’re giving this one a D.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT 151 | May 18 | GRADE: C
A Rafael dos Anjos vs. Kevin Lee headliner should be a banger, and a few other up and comers -- Aspen Ladd, Felicia Spencer, Trevin Giles -- make this a sneaky-deep card. The Antonio Carlos Jr. versus Ian Heinisch fight is also very intriguing. Two fighters with a ton of potential going head to head.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT 152 | June 1 | GRADE: D
Tempted to give this one an F, but you have to figure it will be bolstered from what it is now. What it is now is a headliner between two guys who most recently lost to Jon Jones in convincing fashion. Gustafsson versus Anthony Smith…for the right to…what? Neither has any chance of a rematch with Jones, so this really just helps sort out the pecking order in the Top 10 for people who like to write about such things.
UFC 238 | June 8 | GRADE: B
Henry Cejudo versus Marlon Moraes? I’m in! Plus we’ve got the “Bullet,” Valentina Shevchenko against a game Jessica Eye, and a lot of other women looking to throw down on this card. Quite frankly, as it is now this looks more like an Invicta FC card than a UFC PPV. Have to feel at least one, if not two, significant fights will be added before this one is said and done.
Note: While UFC Fight Night 153 is currently scheduled for June 22 in Greenville, South Carolina, the card is too up in the air to comment on much at this point.
UFC ON ESPN 4 | June 29 | GRADE: B
Only one fight announced and it’s a doozy: the Most Awesome and Violent Fighter of All Time, Robbie Lawler, in a rematch against former welterweight king -- and sometimes fighting enigma -- Tyron Woodley. I don’t care who they add to this one, it can’t be worse than a B.
UFC 239 | July 6 | GRADE: A
The UFC takes its International Fight Week cards pretty seriously, and this one is no exception. Not sure if I’m in the minority here, but I say Thiago Santos gives Jon Jones a haaaaard run for his money. Santos is a physical freak and as they say in soccer, is in excellent form. He’s knocking out everyone Dana White puts in front of him, and Jones will be tested. On his best day, Jones beats anyone. But any kind of slip or less than full effort could lead to a pretty big upset here. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.
The co-main event features a bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm. A certain Sherdog senior editor and I have gone a few laps around on this one. I believe Nunes might be the most dominant, in-form fighter on the entire UFC roster at the moment, Jon Jones excepted. I don’t see how Holm possibly, remotely, in any conceivable way comes out of this one with the belt around her waist; Señor Duffy feels differently and thinks it will be competitive. Regardless, it’s one of the more interesting women’s bantamweight fights you could make.
And if that’s not enough, the big boys will be rumbling, with Francis Ngannou battling Junior dos Santos, two fighters coming off impressive wins. Ben Askren vs. Jorge Masvidal gives this card terrific depth, and there’s even Luke Rockhold making his light heavyweight debut against Jan Blachowicz to make this event an embarrassment of riches. Not a dud on the card. This is the one we wait all year for… and the reason we put up with all the other events.