Max Holloway’s next journey begins on Saturday.
Where the road takes him and how long it stretches on for is anyone’s guess, though we’ll have some indication on what lies ahead for Holloway when he squares off with Arnold Allen in the UFC Kansas City main event. Holloway — No. 2 at featherweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — fights for the first time since suffering a third loss to UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski.
With 30 fights under his belt, it’s possible that Holloway’s best days are behind him, but he’s also never lost at 145 pounds to anyone not named Volkanovski in almost a decade. On the other side, Allen hasn’t lost to anyone since making his UFC debut in 2016. So even if Holloway isn’t ready to hand off any torches, Allen may snatch it away regardless.
In other main card action, featherweight veteran Edson Barboza fights Billy Quarantillo, Dustin Jacoby meets Azamat Murzakanov in a duel of light heavyweight strikers, Ion Cutelaba welcomes new 205er Tanner Boser to the division, Pedro Munhoz seeks a much-needed win against the fast-rising Chris Gutierrez, and Clay Guida makes his 35th UFC appearance when he takes on Rafa Garcia in a lightweight bout.
What: UFC Kansas City
Where: T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.
When: Saturday, April 15. The eight-fight preliminary card begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a six-fight main card at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Max Holloway vs. Arnold Allen
Arnold Allen has been searching for that moment that will make him the undeniable No. 1 contender at 145 pounds and this is it. If he puts on a convincing performance against Max Holloway — heck, if he ekes out a split decision — it’s time to give “Almighty” his due.
Fair or not, Allen has been missing that piece of indisputable evidence for his contender case. His knockout of Dan Hooker left more people questioning what Hooker was even doing back at featherweight than campaigning for an Allen title shot, and what could have been a showcase fight against Calvin Kattar ended in disaster when an errant knee forced Kattar to bow out from the contest prematurely with an injury. We all know Allen has done enough to challenge for UFC gold, but in a business that’s all about making statements, Allen’s has trailed off with an ellipsis rather than been punctuated with an exclamation point.
As great as this opportunity is for Allen, it could also expose him in a major way if Holloway brings his A-game. There’s simply no way to prepare for the combination of volume, accuracy, and sheer savagery that Holloway brings to every fight. He’s gone five hard rounds in his last seven fights, something that Allen hasn’t had to do once in his UFC career. Allen’s cardio isn’t in question, but maintaining that kind of focus and intensity for five rounds is difficult for anyone and it’s fair to ask if he’s up to the task against one of the best fighters of all time.
Oddly, I think Allen will need the full 25 minutes to figure Holloway out. Allen is blessed with top-shelf athleticism and everything he does is so fundamentally sound, but Holloway gives his opponents zero room to breathe. A few sink-or-swim exchanges might be exactly what Allen needs to snap into action and fire back. You’ll know early on whether Holloway is too much for the talented Englishman.
Allen will likely mix in some wrestling, but I’ll actually be surprised if he’s able to muster much offense off of his takedown attempts if he can even get Holloway down at all. So look for this to be a close striking encounter, one that will force Allen to dig down deep and prove that he deserves another five-round opportunity after this one, and for a UFC title next time.
I have Allen winning a narrow, possibly controversial decision, over Holloway.
Edson Barboza vs. Billy Quarantillo
Billy Quarantillo is the fresher fighter in this matchup, so much like the main event, I’m favoring the younger fighter. But like the main event, the more experienced fighter has faced considerably stiffer competition. Really, there are few fighters in the UFC who can say they’ve fought the murderer’s row that Edson Barboza has seen in the past nine years.
Add in the fact that Quarantillo is an accommodating style matchup for Barboza and you can see why it’s possible he snaps a two-fight skid here. Quarantillo may consider mixing the martial arts, but he’s going to come out swinging first and that’s all the opening Barboza needs to do damage. It’s not like Quarantillo is known for his sharp defensive skills. He’s here to out-slug people, not take them to the cards.
Still, Barboza has to lose a step someday and Quarantillo is exactly the type of opponent that will give us a gauge on how much the Brazilian fan favorite has left in the tank. Give me Quarantillo by third-round knockout.
Dustin Jacoby vs. Azamat Murzakanov
Azamat Murzakanov is scary when he gets his counter-striking going. Dustin Jacoby is a considerable step up in competition for the undefeated Russian, who can establish himself as a sleeper contender at light heavyweight with a third straight UFC victory. Or this could be Jacoby’s bounce-back fight after a tough decision loss to Khalil Rountree Jr.
Jacoby’s experience advantage has me picking him here as I like how adaptable he can be and how much pressure he puts on his opponents. Aggression could easily backfire on him as Murzakanov uses tricky movement to set up explosive counters and he’s capable of finishing early or striking late. This will be a test of Jacoby’s defense as much as his ability to control the tempo of this contest.
If Jacoby can keep Murzakanov from figuring out his timing, he should come out on top on the scorecards after a tense 15 minutes.
Tanner Boser vs. Ion Cutelaba
Forget Tanner Boser, meet Tanner Bruiser.
THE BULLDOZER @BulldozerBoser comes in at 203 for #UFCKansasCity tomorrow night pic.twitter.com/5GI9LRDcIY— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) April 14, 2023
The former heavyweight looked incredible in his first weigh-in appearance at 205 pounds (he actually came in at a svelte 203) and it’s fun to imagine what this new physique could mean for his chances of becoming a contender in a new division. On the other hand, it’s not as if Ion Cutelaba is a slouch. The man used to regularly paint himself green to look like The Incredible Hulk and he actually pulled it off!
The usual Cutelaba disclaimer: expect chaos. Something weird always seems to happen in the Moldovan’s fights and having to deal with the crafty Boser should lead to more unpredictable action. Boser’s agility made him a wonky matchup at heavyweight, so he should have no problems maintaining that mobility now that he’s shed 30-40 pounds.
None of Cutelaba’s past three fights have gone to the scorecards, but Boser isn’t always inclined to chase for a finish despite having sneaky knockout power. So I’m torn on whether or not the Canadian can put Cutelaba away. I’m going to play it safe and say Boser by decision, but a knockout is in play for him in any round.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Chris Gutierrez
This could be a trap fight for Chris Gutierrez. The up-and-coming bantamweight contender is fresh off of a devastating knockout of Frankie Edgar and it seems as if the matchmakers have granted him the opportunity to add another respected veteran to his resume. But Pedro Munhoz isn’t an easy win for anybody.
Sure, Munhoz has struggled mightily in recent years, but there’s no shame in dropping decisions to Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Aljamain Sterling, and Edgar. There’s an upper tier that Munhoz couldn’t quite crack, which now raises the question of whether Gutierrez has a better chance of ascending to that tier.
I love what I’ve seen from Gutierrez recently, even though he’s technically the man who ended the career of one of my favorite fighters. He mixes his strikes at all three levels and he knows how to capitalize on openings with highlight-reel strikes. Munhoz has never been finished, but Gutierrez could be the first to do it.
That’s why Munhoz should be smart here and utilize his grappling to throw Gutierrez off of his game. Gutierrez is fine on the ground, but Munhoz should have a huge advantage there. I’m picking Munhoz to get back in the win column with some potent ground work leading to a submission.
Clay Guida vs. Rafa Garcia
Even this deep into his career, you can never count out Clay Guida, but Rafa Garcia has the grappling skills to slow Guida down. Garcia has to avoid playing Guida’s game, because if he tries to keep pace for 15 minutes with the ageless veteran then it won’t end well for him. When Garcia strikes, it should be to close the distance and set up takedowns. Prolonged exchanges on the feet will just gas him out and leave vulnerable to a Guida charge in the latter stages of the fight.
That said, grappling defense has never been one of Guida’s strengths, so all Garcia needs is a few key takedowns to assert himself in this fight. The pressure is on him to cut off the cage, back Guida up to the fence, and drag him to the mat. Given how strong Garcia is, it’s a safe bet that he can pull this off. To Guida’s credit, I fully expect him to make Garcia sweat for 15 minutes before dropping the decision.
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