Amanda Nunes marches on to an uncertain future.
Sure, it’s entirely possible that Saturday’s UFC 289 main event is just business as usual for “The Lioness”: She arrives, she sees, she conquers. Outside of a stunning loss to Julianna Peña in their first meeting (that Nunes emphatically avenged in the second), Nunes has unequivocally been the baddest woman on the planet competing at 135 pounds and up for at least the past five years and few would be surprised if that continues when she faces Irene Aldana.
The headlining bout of the UFC’s return to Canada has lacked buzz for a variety of reasons (Aldana having stepped in on short notice to replace Peña, Nunes’ unerring dominance, the fact that bantamweight and featherweight are wastelands when it comes to developing contenders, we could go on), which is disappointing especially when you consider that Aldana is a live dog on paper. You get the sense that even if she were to upset Nunes this weekend, it wouldn’t have quite the same shock as when Peña temporarily stopped Nunes’ title run.
If anything, a section of fans and media gave anointed the lightweight co-main event between former UFC champion Charles Oliveira and the streaking Beneil Dariush as the most intriguing fight of the night. A surefire banger for as long as it lasts, one can only hope that the UFC will do the right thing and grant the winner of this one a title shot in the near future.
In other main card action, Canadian welterweight prospect Mike Malott fights Adam Fugitt, Dan Ige and Nate Landwehr clash in a featherweight bout designed to generate fireworks, and middleweight veterans Marc-Andre Barriault and Eryk Anders open the pay-per-view lineup.
What: UFC 289
Where: Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.
When: Saturday, June 10. The card begins with a two-fight early prelims portion on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET, with continuing coverage of the four-fight prelim card on ESPN and ESPN+ beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana
If you’ve been paying attention to any of the media punditry in the leadup to the UFC 289 main event — heck, you’ll hear it from MMA Fighting when you listen to the preview show above — you’ll definitely have noticed a ton of support for the challenger Irene Aldana. Her path to a title shot has definitely been strange (since May 2019, Aldana only has one win in an official bantamweight bout, the others have come in a scheduled catchweight bout, two fights where Aldana’s opponent missed weight, and one fight where Aldana missed weight), but she’s been viewed as a potential opponent for Amanda Nunes for so long that there were few complaints when she was called in to replace Julianna Peña.
And I get it, Aldana has good size for the division, great cardio, and if you’re going by tape, she’s the better striker. Even the power differential isn’t all that wide as Aldana packs plenty of pop in her punches. The glaring question that everyone has is how Aldana is going to deal with Nunes’ grappling.
Aldana isn’t a sitting duck on the ground by any stretch, but she’s a better offensive grappler than she is a defensive grappler. If someone with Nunes’ skills gets her down, it could be over fast. Or Nunes could neutralize her like she did Germaine de Randamie, who isn’t a bad stylistic comparison to Aldana. The best chance Aldana has is to use her reach and distance control to prevent Nunes from ever getting in close because any round that this goes to the mat is a round that Nunes wins.
For me, the only remaining question is whether Nunes can put Aldana away or if this goes to a decision. I think Aldana toughs it out for the moral victory, with Nunes tacking on another title defense and leaving us to continue to wonder what challenges are left for her.
Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush
This is going to be a wild one.
First things first, for you gamblers out there (never gamble on MMA!), take the under. Beneil Dariush has been in his fair share of compelling three-round wars, but Charles Oliveira has gone the distance just once in the past eight years. These two want that lightweight belt and they’re going to definitively take the other guy out to do it.
Selfishly, I’d love to see this matchup go the distance because both men are truly masters of mixing the martial arts and at finishing in a variety of ways. Oliveira is the most accomplished submission artist in UFC history, but Dariush is right up there as one of the best ground fighters at 155 pounds. And Oliveira has been more susceptible to tapping out than Dariush, let’s not forget.
On the feet, neither man ever shies away from a brawl, often to their detriment, so if it comes down to swangin’ and bangin’ they’re going to stand in the pocket and fire away. My brain tells me that Dariush is slightly better from a technical standpoint, but that doesn’t matter much when you have “do Bronx” marching forward and breathing fire.
Listen, I was at the front of the Oliveira bandwagon all throughout his run to the title, his reign, and even predicted he’d beat Islam Makhachev and lure Khabib Nurmagomedov out of retirement (they can’t all be winners, folks) and I’m not ready for this ride to end yet. Give me Oliveira by knockout, Round 2.
Mike Malott vs. Adam Fugitt
Mike Malott, this is your moment.
It’s not a coincidence that the UFC booked Malott as the highest Canadian fighter on the card. He’s allergic to decisions, he’s looked good in two UFC appearances so far, and he has what it takes to be a player in the 170-pound division. He’s probably one fight away from getting a serious step-up in competition.
That’s no disrespect to Adam Fugitt, whose Oregon home base actually places him closer to Vancouver than the Ontario-born, California-based Malott. But if Malott projects to be a real contender in the UFC, he shouldn’t only beat Fugitt, he should make quick work of him.
It might take a round or two to figure out the rangy and awkward Fugitt, but Malott deals well with adversity and just when Fugitt thinks he has the advantage, watch for Malott to turn the tables on him. He’s cool under fire and that will benefit him as he lures Fugitt into danger.
Malott cracks Fugitt with a counter and puts him away in the first round.
Dan Ige vs. Nate Landwehr
Could this be a breakthrough fight for Nate Landwehr? Does it matter?
I’d be as thrilled as anyone if Landwehr beat his first ranked UFC opponent and then went on to climb the charts all the way to a title shot, but that’s not why I watch this man fight. I just want to see Landwehr go in there and slug it out for 30 seconds or 15 minutes, whatever The MMA Gods decide, and I’m happy.
It just so happens that he has an opponent in Dan Ige who is both a willing dance partner and a featherweight with legitimate name value. We had a lot of folks on On to the Next One calling for this matchup and the UFC delivered.
For Ige, he has to avoid falling into the trap that has cost him a couple of wins, that being his tendency to be too precise at times. As great as it is to rack up those significant strike stats, he’s lost some decisions simply because his opponent hits harder and that’s exactly the kind of threat Landwehr presents. It may seem counterintuitive, but I’d actually like to see Ige try to beat Landwehr at his own game rather than just outpoint him.
Part of me is curious to see if Ige eschews a brawl in favor of the ground game, where he excels even if it isn’t always his No. 1 option. Then again, maybe he doesn’t want to risk it against “ADCC Nate,” who has scored submission finishes in his two of his pass three fights (the first two submission wins of his career).
I’m assuming these two will live up to the hype and score a Fight of the Night bonus, with Ige eking out a decision over a dangerous Landwehr.
Eryk Anders vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
I was in attendance for Marc-Andre Barriault’s UFC debut. It was in May 2019 at UFC Ottawa and there was plenty of hype around the physically impressive Quebecer, who was fresh off a champ-champ run with Montreal’s TKO promotion (the same Canadian promotion that spawned the likes of Georges St-Pierre, David Loiseau, and Patrick Cote, among many others). Media from his home province had made the trip to watch his first steps in the octagon and they were left crestfallen when he lost an uninspiring decision to Andrew Sanchez, which meant he wouldn’t receive a mandatory post-fight scrum (the reporters later spoke to him on their own). The Next Great Canadian Hope wasn’t to be found on that day.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons: 1) This is Barriault’s third time fighting in Canada as a UFC middleweight and both previous visits ended in decision losses 2) I’m optimistic that he breaks that streak this time against Eryk Anders.
It’s near impossible to make this pick with any sort of confidence given that this is about as middleweighty as a middleweight matchup is legally allowed to be (seriously, does either fighter have an A-plus skill and if you were asked to name a favorite fight for either fighter, could you?), but I’m going with Barriault to outlast Anders here. This is going to be one of those shapeless striking battles where both guys seem to be landing hard, yet neither actually looks anywhere close to finishing.
That is until Barriault pours it on in Round 3 and simply brute forces his way to a stoppage. It won’t be pretty, but middleweight rarely is.