UFC 262 on Saturday features a vacant title fight at the top of the card.
Charles Oliveira (30-8 MMA, 18-8 UFC) is a slight favorite at Toyota Center in Houston against former Bellator champion Michael Chandler (22-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) for the title vacated by Khabib Nurmagomedov earlier this year. Naturally, there is plenty of intrigue in that matchup given the circumstances around it.
But outside that title tilt, what fights below it have the most intrigue? That’s what we asked this week’s MMA Junkie “Triple Take” panel of Farah Hannoun, Nolan King and Mike Bohn to weigh in on – listed here alphabetically by last name, not by any overall preference toward their choices, naturally.
Check out their picks below.
Farah Hannoun: Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza
Has either man ever been in a boring fight? Shane Burgos and Edson Barboza never fail to deliver.
There’s a reason why these two men will open up the pay-per-view portion of UFC 262 as they make their move toward the top 10 featherweight rankings. Burgos (13-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) is coming off a “Fight of the Year” contender against Josh Emmett in June 2020, when he saw his three-fight winning streak snapped in a unanimous decision loss.
Barboza (21-9 MMA, 15-9 UFC) was able to finally break his string of bad luck by battering Makwan Amirkhani in October and reminding everyone why he has every capability of being a player at 145 pounds. Barboza has fought the who’s who at 155 pounds and has shown us moments of brilliance with recent incredible finishes over lightweight contenders Dan Hooker and Beneil Dariush.
But he faces a stern test in Burgos, who never stops coming forward. Burgos showed incredible heart and durability when he was dropped multiple times against Emmett and refused to go away. He has three “Fight of the Night” bonuses to his name and undoubtedly will bring the fight to elite striker Barboza, in a matchup that is expected to be a certified banger.
Nolan King: Beneil Dariush vs. Tony Ferguson
Yes, I get it. Tony Ferguson hasn’t put on prime performances as of late. But I’m not buying wolf tickets either. Ferguson is still one of the most exciting, high-level combatants in all of MMA. Add Beneil Dariush into the equation and it’s a sure-thing, guns-a-blazing, grapple-scramble, “Fight of the Night” fistfight.
Not only does this bout appear, on paper, to be a must-see event because of the action it’ll likely bring, but it’s also extremely meaningful to the trajectories of each fighter’s career.
Ferguson (25-5 MMA, 15-3 UFC) needs a win – badly. While the 37-year-old has suffered losses to Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira recently, he’ll gain momentum if a victory vs. Dariush follows. After all, when you take a step back and look at his current skid, he’s lost to two fighters that were granted immediate title shots afterward. A loss, however, would be a step in the wrong direction.
As for Dariush (20-4-1 MMA, 14-4-1 UFC), big springboard-type opportunities like this don’t come often. It took him six straight wins over the difficult competition to earn a shot at a major name. If he loses this, it could be a while until the UFC puts him back in a high-profile fight like this. This is major for him and his title aspirations.
So, yeah. I see how choosing the co-main event as the second-most exciting fight on the card can seem cliche. But with the violence potential and high-stakes nature, this one deserves that recognition.
Mike Bohn: Ronaldo Souza vs. Andre Muniz
OK well we all know this isn’t the actual “best” non-title fight at UFC 262, but my choices were handcuffed here.
Not only because Farah picked Burgos vs. Barboza and Nolan went with Ferguson vs. Dariush, which are the obvious choices, but because the clear third candidate of Jack Hermansson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test within Hermansson’s camp.
So, here’s what we’re left with. All respect to the women’s flyweight matchups on this card that feature ranked competitors, but I can’t deny my interest in Ronaldo Souza vs. Andre Muniz, mainly because I’m wondering if this is a do-or-die scenario for “Jacare.”
It’s been a rough 1-4 run in the past five fights for the Brazilian submission artist, but the competition is nothing to dismiss with his list of losses coming to Hermansson, Kelvin Gastelum, Kevin Holland and Jan Blachowicz. Those are all acceptable outcomes, but Souza (26-9 MMA, 9-6 UFC) dropping another one to an unranked and unheralded name in Muniz (20-4 MMA, 2-0 UFC) wouldn’t be a great sign.
At 41, Souza has no time to waste if he wants to make another run at middleweight. The stakes are as high for him as anyone on this card, so this matchup gets my nod as the “best” and most anticipated.