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With the first “Fight Island” event a week away and four cards set to take place in 23 days, we ask a simple question: What is the one fight this July that can’t be missed?
With so many incredible fighters about to compete, there are no wrong answers, but Jed Meshew and Alexander K. Lee will do their best to convince you why their choices are absolutely, unequivocally correct.
AN ALL-TIME GREAT IS IN ACTION
Meshew: First, let me start out by saying what a disappointment “Fight Island” turned out to be. Once again the UFC had a wondrous opportunity gift-wrapped for them and they turned it into... a series of completely normal events taking place at a location they’ve been to several times before. “UFSea?” More like UFSee-how-creatively-moribund-we’re-lucky-we-ever-escaped-the-Affliction-shirt-days. (Editor’s note: Catchy!)
But I digress. Despite the UFC’s total lack of promotional chutzpah, they still managed to populate these four events with a number of excellent fights. However, only two of them could be considered “can’t miss” action and sadly, one of those fights, Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns, just got kiboshed by Gilbert Burns testing positive for COVID-19. Regardless, Usman-Burns still would have paled in comparison to the historical excellence that awaits on the undercard of UFC 251.
In the second title fight of the debut “Fight Island” event, Jose Aldo has the chance to join the rarified club of two-division UFC champions when he takes on Petr Yan. Does he deserve this chance? On his merits in the division, of course not. But does he deserve this chance? You’re damn right he does.
Aldo is one of the five greatest fighters of all time and despite Joe Rogan’s incessant and absurd proclamations, he’s the clear-cut greatest featherweight of all time. The only reason Aldo doesn’t get as much shine as he should is because the UFC never let him move up to lightweight to take out Anthony Pettis, which you can bet your sweet ass he would have; instead, Aldo is getting a questionable title shot in one of the deepest divisions in the sport, and lucky for him, Yan happens to be probably the most favorable matchup for him among the top contenders at bantamweight.
Yan does not have the same quickness as other 135ers, is more predictable, and is far less proven than, say, Aljamain Sterling. Aldo may have lost some speed off his fastball, but he’s still one of the most technically skilled fighters in the world and he’s got a real shot to further cement his legacy. That’s must-see television.
On top of that, Aldo is just a fighter you should always be thrilled to see compete. He’s the best defensive fighter in MMA history and a joy to watch work. There aren’t many fighters who can parry, slip, deflect, and roll every punch in a five-punch combo and then make you pay with a clean counter. Aldo is one of them. Moreover, he’s one of an even smaller few who can completely adjust his style as needed to adapt to matchups that don’t suit him. In short, even past his prime, Aldo is playing with a wider toybox than most people in the sport, and watching him do so is something I’ll never miss out on.
Honorable Mention: Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Gustafsson. Gus at heavyweight! Werdum, potentially less fat and terrible than his last time out! Weird heavyweight matchups that would have seemed insane four years ago! It’s fun for the whole family!
YOU HAD MY CURIOSITY, NOW YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION
Lee: For my pick, I’m leaning towards a fight that I viewed as a mere oddity when it was first announced, but that I now see as one that could be both high in entertainment value and intrigue insofar as what it could mean for each man’s career.
For a lot of fans, this booking made a lot of sense, given that Whittaker needed a name opponent for his first fight since losing his title to Israel Adesanya. Guys like Jared Cannonier (who was supposed to face Whittaker in March), Jack Hermansson, and Kelvin Gastelum didn’t quite fit the bill and past that it’s a cluster of unproven prospects and gatekeepers in the rankings. An Adesanya rematch felt too soon especially with a worthy challenger in Paulo Costa waiting in the wings, and while Yoel Romero is always a fun name to throw out there, no man should ever have to fight Romero three times.
Then out of nowhere came Till, the popular Scouser who made a strong statement in his middleweight debut by earning a split nod over Gastelum. Here’s a guy with a name, a style that matches up well with Whittaker’s, and someone who can sell a fight. Even better, both Whittaker and Till are essentially 185-pound fighters who don’t cut weight, so there will be no noticeable size difference when the two meet in the July 25 main event.
Whittaker is such a well-respected and likeable fighter, it’s actually a positive that there will be no need to force trash talk between himself and Till. If anything, Till has done an excellent job of building up his own brand with his offbeat humor and willingness to say pretty much anything on social media, even at his own expense. There’s a buzz to this fight, even if it isn’t the typical “I’m gonna git you, sucka!” kind of heat that the UFC is fixated on.
These two aren’t likely to engage in a brawl, so there could be lulls in the action, but Whittaker is so good at adapting and putting the pressure on his opponents that he’ll force Till into some fun exchanges. And Till should be eager to find his first finish in almost three years.
A loss shouldn’t hurt either man too much as Whittaker’s four-plus year unbeaten streak is still fresh in people’s minds and Till will get credit just for stepping up to face a former champion in just his second fight in a new division. A win puts either man in position to challenge Adesanya by year’s end, and Till has already planted the seeds for that matchup.
If “Fight Island” is supposed to be a showcase for the international fighters, then Whittaker and Till are the perfect pair to prove that notion.
Honorable Mention: Calvin Kattar vs. Dan Ige. The featherweight division is scorching right now, and hot off the heels of Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos’ Fight of the Year effort, we have another 145-pound matchup that is absolute fire on paper. Really, you could take almost any two names from the featherweight top-15 and match them up and you’ll get something spectacular.
In this case, it’s two of the most promising current contenders. Kattar has won three of his last four, while Ige has won six straight, and the winner could be next for whoever emerges from the Alexander Volkanovski-Max Holloway rematch with the title. Regardless of those stakes, sign me up for five rounds of Kattar and Ige putting in work any day.
What "Fight Island" fight are you looking forward to the most?
This poll is closed
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till
Fabricio Werdum vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Calvin Kattar vs. Dan Ige
Other (leave comment below)