UFC 260 on Saturday was supposed to feature a pair of title fights at the top of the card.
But after featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski had to be pulled due to COVID-19, his fight against Brian Ortega will have to wait. We’re left with just one title bout, but it’s a good one: heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic (20-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC) vs. Francis Ngannou (15-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) in a rematch.
Naturally, with unofficial “Baddest Man in the World” status on the line in the headliner, it’s what the majority of fans are most looking forward to. 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 Matt Erickson, Farah Hannoun and Danny Segura to weigh in on – listed here alphabetically by last name, not by any overall preference toward their choices, naturally.
Check out their picks below.
Matt Erickson: Miranda Maverick vs. Gillian Robertson
Everyone loves to talk about how dominant Amanda Nunes is as a two-division UFC champion – and make no mistake, holy smokes, she sure is. But that leaves women’s flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko often playing second fiddle to Nunes.
And that is fair, no question. After all, Shevchenko’s only two losses the past 10 years have come to Nunes. But the point is, Shevchenko is one pretty damned dominant UFC champion, herself, even though we all tend to default to Nunes in that top spot.
Since Shevchenko moved back to flyweight, she really hasn’t been threatened. She has three highlight-reel stoppages and three five-round decisions in which she’s lost only a total of two rounds.
Will Jessica Andrade pose more of a threat to her title next month at UFC 261 than we’ve gotten from Jennifer Maia, Katlyn Chookagian, Liz Carmouche, Jessica Eye or Joanna Jedrzejczyk? The oddsmakers say Andrade will since Shevchenko is only a -400 favorite. But it’s a pretty strong likelihood UFC 261 will come and go with Shevchenko still the 125-pound champ – and waiting for the next test.
Saturday’s fight on the prelims between Miranda Maverick (8-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and Gillian Robertson (9-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC) might not be a title eliminator, but it could be a crucial first step for the winner to stake claim to a spot in the title picture down the road. (Many people were excited for it in February when it was scrapped the day of the fight thanks to a Robertson illness. Now it’s back on.)
Maverick, the betting favorite, has four straight wins, including a TKO win in her promotional debut at UFC 254 this past October in Abu Dhabi. Robertson is coming off a decision loss to Taila Santos that derailed her momentum, but a win over a highly touted prospect like Maverick would make it three wins in four fights for her – and we’ve seen stranger things happen than title shots granted to UFC fighters with recent resumes like that.
So before we go talking about Saturday’s co-main event or the featured fight on the main card, will any of those four potential winners be a fight or two away from a possible title shot? Probably not. But I posit that the Maverick-Robertson winner could be, and that makes it Saturday’s non-title bout with the most intrigue.
Farah Hannoun: Sean O’Malley vs. Thomas Almeida
Not only is this matchup a must-watch, but it’s also a must-win for both men.
Once undefeated rising star Sean O’Malley took a lot of heat after suffering his first loss to Marlon Vera at UFC 252 in August. Vera used effective low kicks which badly hindered O’Malley’s movement, and eventually took him out at the end of Round 1.
O’Malley received plenty of criticism for the way he handled the loss, insinuating that it was a freak accident and that he’s the better fighter. A lot of pressure is riding on the highly touted O’Malley, who will look to get back in the win column against the skidding Thomas Almeida.
Almeida knows a thing or two about being an undefeated rising star. Since suffering his first loss to Cody Garbrandt in 2016, it’s been a rocky road for the Brazilian knockout artist. Almeida returned in October after an almost three-year long layoff due to a serious eye injury, but was unsuccessful when he was outstruck by Jonathan Martinez.
Having lost four of his past five, UFC 260 is also a must-win for Almeida, who certainly has his back against the wall. Both fighters declined interview requests and haven’t done any media in the lead-up to their fight, which shows how high the stakes are.
Danny Segura: Tyron Woodley vs. Vicente Luque
The matchmakers did a fantastic job here. Tyron Woodley vs. Vicente Luque was 100 percent the fight to make for both guys at this point of their respective careers.
Woodley, a former UFC champion, is on a three-fight skid and hasn’t been able to look even remotely good in his past three performances. Woodley has been dominated every minute of fighting he’s been in since March 2019. Granted, he has fought the three best welterweights today – current champion Kamaru Usman and recent title challengers Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns.
Woodley needs a win badly, but also a step down in competition. Luque is by no means a tune-up fight, but he’s certainly a slight break from the very elite at 170 pounds.
On the flip side, you have Luque – a man trying to prove to the world once again that he belongs among the elite. The Brazilian came up short in his quest to break through the top of the division in November 2019 when he lost to Stephen Thompson in a one-sided decision. Now, finally, Luque gets another high-profile opponent and this time he thinks he’s ready to top the challenge and show he’s an elite welterweight.
I love this fight and I think it makes all the sense in the world for both guys. Stylistically, it should be interesting too, since this is the first time we’ll see Luque against a skilled wrestler and the first time in a while we’ll see Woodley facing a striker.