After an unusual weekend in the UFC world, the action returns to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday as middleweights Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum attempt to come back from losses to Robert Whittaker in their most recent fights.
While it would appear to be more urgent for Gastelum, who has lost four of five, albeit against the best fighters in the division.
Mark O. Madsen has similarly high aspirations in the lightweight division, entering Saturday’s co-main event, looking to move his UFC record to 3-0, against veteran Clay Guida.
Plus, Dustin Poirier is already ‘seated’, waiting as the number one contender in the lightweight division. Poirier was there before he chose to fight Conor McGregor for the third time, which apparently set him up for a championship fight against Charles Oliveira. But the buzz is starting to build around another high-profile, untitled opponent for Poirier: Nate Diaz. Could Poirier once again give up a title shot?
Yair Rodríguez, on the other hand, seems extremely focused on landing a title shot at the featherweight division. His previously scheduled fight against Max Holloway is still in the works for a date later in the year, but after nearly two years out of the Octagon, a win over the former UFC featherweight champion would put Rodriguez at the top of the list to challenge. to the winner of Alexander Volkanovski against Brian Ortega.
Our panel, with Brett Okamoto and Carlos Contreras Legaspi, is here to separate what’s real from what’s not when it comes to the biggest UFC stories of the moment.
Dustin Poirier’s next fight will be against Nate Diaz
Okamoto: Oh man. This is a tough question. Here’s the deal. Diaz wants to fight Poirier. It’s obvious. Just look at their social media. He’s looking for a fight.
Do you need to face Poirier? No. Diaz has options. Always has. But that’s the one that interests you the most right now.
Also, Poirier wants to fight Diaz. Why shouldn’t I? It’s a great fight. They were supposed to meet in 2018, but Diaz was on bad terms with the UFC, Poirier was recovering from a hip injury, and at the end of the day, the fight never happened. Each side blames the other for falling apart. It’s a fight that, on paper, doesn’t make a lot of sense, but fan interest would be through the roof by the time it happens.
The question is, how interested is the UFC in doing it? Poirier has the right to be the best lightweight in the world, and a fight between Poirier and lightweight champion Charles Oliveira is the most obvious one for the division. He could really see that this was going either way. It’s good to see that Poirier and Díaz have so many options, but if you look at their exchanges on social media, it’s obvious that their main interest is fighting each other, which makes me lean (very slightly) towards the real thing. This will be the next fight for both of them.
Saturday’s main event is more important to Gastelum than Cannonier
Okamoto: You know what? I will take the surprising answer here and say that this is not real. Look, it is very easy to say that Saturday is a “must” for Gastelum. He has lost four of his last five. He’s close to falling out of the UFC’s top 10 at middleweight. Cannonier, meanwhile, is coming off a loss, yes, but he’s 3-1 in his last four. And division champion Israel Adesanya has expressed interest in fighting him.
So why would you say this fight is more important to Cannonier? For some reasons. First of all, age. Cannonier is 37 years old. Gastelum is 29 years old. If Cannonier is going to fight for a championship and collect big money fights, his window to do so is much smaller than Gastelum’s. And beyond that, despite Gastelum’s recent streak, he still has great opportunities. Is popular. Even if he lost his top 10 ranking, it seems like he’s one of those guys who’s always just two wins away from a title shot. Cannonier doesn’t have that luxury. If he falls to 0-2 in his last two appearances, his record falls far more than Gastelum’s.
It’s certainly a great fight for both of them, and if Cannonier wins, he’s very close to having a title shot in 2022. But in terms of who has the most to lose, surprisingly, I think it’s Cannonier.
If he beats Holloway, Yair Rodríguez deserves a title shot
Legaspi: Very real. Anyone capable of beating Holloway at this stage in his career can compete for the belt. Rodriguez climbed the UFC featherweight rankings from seventh to third during his long absence, which was caused by a combination of injuries and a six-month suspension.
Rodriguez isn’t going to beat Max – everyone saw what happened when Brian Ortega and Calvin Kattar went in that direction, with the high volume of punches Holloway proved he can land over the course of five rounds. If Rodriguez can establish his distance, it may cause some problems. A win over Holloway will require something spectacular, and thankfully that’s familiar territory for Rodriguez, who has seven bonuses in 10 UFC fights and two of the most spectacular finishes in the division’s history, over Andre Fili and Chan Sung Jung.
If he wins, he will instantly become a legitimate contender for Volkanovski or Ortega.