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Five fights to watch in June

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The June fight schedule is a front-loaded slate. We already saw Marlon Moraes’ 33-second knockout of Jimmie Rivera to kick things off at UFC Utica on June 1. And things only pick up from there, with a wild weekend of fights on the horizon. Here are five worth watching this month:

June 7: Andre Harrison (17-0) vs. Jumabieke Tuerxun (20-6-1), PFL 1, New York City, NBCSN

Maybe the Professional Fighters League will revolutionize the way we view mixed martial arts. Or maybe it will just blow through a ton of money while providing a platform for future stars, the way its predecessor, World Series of Fighting, did with Justin Gaethje and Marlon Moraes. Either way, it’s not likely to be boring. The PFL’s grand experiment kicks off this week at the Theater at Madison Square Garden and puts the company’s best foot forward with one of it’s brightest prospects. The undefeated Harrison, the final WSOF featherweight champion, comes from the same Long Island gym as Gregor Gillespie, Ryan LaFlare, and Gian Villante. His record includes wins over a string of current UFC competitors. Tuerxun, of China, has won three of his past five bouts, with all three wins coming by way of knockout.

June 8: Derrick Krantz (21-10) vs. Kassius Kayne (12-4), LFA 42, Branson, Mo., AXS-TV

Fresh off their landmark 400th MMA broadcast, AXS gets right back into the swing of things with five events in June: Four LFA cards and a CES event. And out of the entire slate, LFA 42’s welterweight main event is the one which promises the most fireworks. Krantz, a former LFA and LFC 170-pound champ, has won six of his past eight. Nineteen of his 20 career victories are via finish, as are seven of his 10 career losses. Kayne, meanwhile, boasts all 10 of his career wins via finish, with the Nebraska native earning seven knockouts and three submissions. He’s won two of his past three heading into the bout.

June 9: Robert Whittaker (19-4) vs. Yoel Romero (13-2), UFC 225, Chicago, Pay-per-view

If you’re going to run back a previous fight, you can do a whole hell of a lot worse than rematching Whittaker and Romero. The duo put on one of the finest fights of 2017 at UFC 213. Romero won the first two rounds, only to have Whittaker rally over the final three despite a leg injury and win on across-the-board scores of 48-47. That made Whittaker interim middleweight champion at the time, and he was elevated to the full championship after Georges St-Pierre relinquished the belt after defeating champion Michael Bisping. Romero, for his part, defeated Luke Rockhold at UFC 221. In that fight, Romero conserved his energy early and turned up the heat in the third round and scored a devastating knockout. If that’s an indication of a full change of philosophy for Romero, given how close the first Whittaker fight was, the second one could be just as intriguing.

Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero
Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero is a rematch of one of last year’s most exciting fights.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

June 9: Holly Holm (11-4) vs. Megan Anderson (8-2), UFC 225, Chicago, PPV

Well, will you look at that? The UFC is putting on a women’s featherweight fight, and it doesn’t even involve champion Cris Cyborg. Between this and 145ers being featured on the fall season of The Ultimate Fighter, it appears the UFC is finally getting serious about the division. Of course, it’s going to be a good, long while before any of the TUF fighters are ready to contend for the title, so Holm-Anderson appears to be a setup fight for the next challenger to Cyborg’s crown. Holm, for her part, took Cyborg the distance in their UFC 219 bout before dropping a unanimous decision. She’ll continue her quest to become the first woman in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes when she meets Anderson. The Australian, who is the former Invicta champ, brings a four-fight win streak into the bout, with all four victories coming by TKO. But the last of those, over Charmaine Tweet at Invicta 21, was 18 months ago.

June 29: Ilima-Lei MacFarlane (7-0) vs. Alejandra Lara (7-1), Bellator 201, Temecula, Calif., Paramount Network

It’s hard to believe MacFarlane is just three years removed from her “soccer mom” controversy, but it’s for good reason: MacFarlane didn’t take long to establish herself as one of the finest competitors at 125 pounds. And one who is lethal on the floor, too: Her fifth-round triangle of Emily Ducote to win the inaugural Bellator flyweight belt at Bellator 186 was her fourth submission win in her past five victories. The San Diego-based champ makes her first title defense in her backyard against Colombia’s Lara, who has six finishes among her seven career wins, most recently a submission of Lena Ovchunnikova at Bellator 190. The main card also features a women’s flyweight contender’s bout as Valerie Letourneau meets Bruna Ellen.