UFC 226 Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas?

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2018

UFC 226 Preview: What Are the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas?

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    Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic (above) faces light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier in the main event of the evening.
    Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic (above) faces light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier in the main event of the evening.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The first half of 2018 has been a rough one for the UFC and its fans, but things have finally started to turn a corner. After five months of underwhelming pay-per-views, the UFC is set to follow the stacked UFC 225 with a similarly loaded UFC 226.

    The full card stands as follows (bout order TBA):

    • Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier
    • Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega
    • Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis
    • Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis
    • Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
    • Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Costa
    • Yancy Medeiros vs. Mike Perry
    • Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font
    • Curtis Millender vs. Max Griffin
    • Dan Hooker vs. Gilbert Burns

    Topping the card is the closest thing the UFC has mustered to a superfight, as heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic takes on light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. The co-main event, meanwhile, is an exciting featherweight title bout between dominant champion Max Holloway take and unstoppable contender Brian Ortega.

    The action doesn't stop there, however, as the card is studded top to bottom with intriguing prospects, high-end contenders and former champions.

    So what are the biggest and best fights slated for UFC 226? Read on to find out!

The Main Event: Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier

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    Daniel Cormier would carve out a special place in UFC history with a win at UFC 226.
    Daniel Cormier would carve out a special place in UFC history with a win at UFC 226.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier's entire athletic career has been defined by being second-best. In wrestling, he was elite...but he wasn't quite as good as Cael Sanderson. In MMA, he's one of the most extraordinary talents seen in the heavier weight classes...but he hasn't been able to get it done against Jon Jones. He'll ultimately hang up his gloves and shoes as a heavily decorated competitor, but all-time-great status seems out of reach.

    Unless, of course, he manages to beat Stipe Miocic.

    Miocic is already recognized by many as the greatest heavyweight fighter in UFC history. Since winning the title in dramatic fashion in 2016 against Fabricio Werdum, he has defended it three times and encountered very little difficulty in the process, smashing Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou. While his style isn't glamorous, his natural athleticism, solid wrestling base and crisp boxing make him a tough man to beat at any stage of a fight.

    Cormier, despite lacking in size, poses an interesting threat to Miocic. Few in MMA can match his wrestling skills, and he used those tools to carve out a strong run at heavyweight in the early stages of his MMA career. Though he won't be as big or as tall as the heavyweight champ, his grappling, savvy and speed make him an interesting challenger.

    The stakes are high for both men, as Miocic looks to pad his record for title defenses while Cormier attempts to become the second man in UFC history to hold two belts at the same time. What's more, a huge money fight with Brock Lesnar could be waiting in the wings for whoever wins this.

    Miocic is the favorite, but Cormier is too good to ignore here, and his story is hard to look past. If he pulls off the upset, he carves out a special place in UFC history and completely redefines his legacy.

The Co-Main Event: Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega

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    Featherweight champion Max Holloway could become a breakout star for the UFC.
    Featherweight champion Max Holloway could become a breakout star for the UFC.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The UFC in 2018 is a strange thing for longtime followers of the company.

    Contendership queues are gummed up because fighters are holding out. Champions are becoming increasingly choosy with whom they face. Promotions seem preoccupied with creating celebrities and social media influencers, rather than developing in-cage talent.

    The featherweight title bout between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega feels special—simply because it feels so normal.

    Holloway stands as a throwback champion. Easily the best fighter in his weight class and willing to take on anyone, anywhere, he has endeared himself to hardcore fans and terrorized the 145-pound division with his diverse striking game. He is riding a stunning 12-fight winning streak and is tantalizingly close to cleaning out his division.

    Ortega, meanwhile, is a bona fide top contender unlike anyone else in the UFC right now. Owning an undefeated 14-0 (1) record, he has finished every opponent he has faced in the Octagon, with his most recent win being a brutal knockout of former champion Frankie Edgar. His ability to quickly and, for the most part, easily dispatch enduring veterans makes it easy to wonder if he is on an unstoppable roll.

    On paper, this is one of the best matches the UFC could make, and it’s hard to imagine it being anything but a barnburner. Holloway is the favorite given his lengthy stretch of dominance, but this one should be seriously competitive.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis

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    Francis Ngannou (left) will look to rebound from his loss to Stipe Miocic with a KO victory.
    Francis Ngannou (left) will look to rebound from his loss to Stipe Miocic with a KO victory.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    The main and co-main events of UFC 226 are likely to be technical marvels featuring well-rounded mixed martial artists looking to impose their wills on one another with well-honed skills and almost unparalleled savvy.

    Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis is not that kind of fight. Ngannou vs. Lewis will be two big, bad dudes punching the heck out of each other.

    Granted, these two are not simply hard-nosed sluggers. Ngannou is one of the fastest-developing and most athletic talents in the UFC, and he is the most exciting heavyweight in modern MMA. On the flip side, Lewis has become a steady presence in the heavyweight top 10 and remains one of the toughest fighters in the division today.

    That said, there is only one likely outcome to this pairing of power-punching specialists; an absolute slobberknocker.

    Though Ngannou is the better overall fighter, he faces a tough test in Lewis, who should be able to match him in punching power and physicality. Ngannou remains the likely winner, but somebody is getting put to sleep here, and there is no guarantee it will be Lewis.

The Best of the Rest

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    Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis was rescheduled for UFC 226 after the Conor McGregor dolly-throwing incident.
    Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis was rescheduled for UFC 226 after the Conor McGregor dolly-throwing incident.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Michael Chiesa vs. Anthony Pettis: This bout fell apart a few days before UFC 223 because of the Conor McGregor hand-truck-throwing incident and was quickly rescheduled for UFC 226. Even after a long wait, this remains a high-stakes affair and an intriguing stylistic matchup.

    Picking a winner is tough because both men have unique grappling games, with Chiesa owning the wrestling advantage and Pettis being the better striker. The former champ earns the slightest nod here based on his stronger finishing skills, but this one is close to a pick'em.

    Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree: Another previously scheduled bout that was scrapped (though this one was because of injury) but remains super-compelling. Gokhan Saki is an exceptional kickboxer with extraordinary power, while Khalil Rountree is just one big, tough, hard-hitting brawler.

    These two were paired off because both men can be expected to swing for the fences, but Saki is the clear favorite. While Rountree is downright ferocious, his lack of technical acumen should be easily exploited for the more refined ex-kickboxing champion.

    Raphael Assuncao vs. Rob Font: Rob Font keeps looking to break out of the middle of the bantamweight pack, and he has a great opportunity to do so against enduring veteran Raphael Assuncao.

    That's easier said than done, however, as Assuncao is 10-1 over his last 11 fights. It's possible that Font will be able to land something big, but the Brazilian should pick up a workmanlike win to keep his spot near the top of the division.

    Uriah Hall vs. Paulo Costa: The UFC has Paulo Costa earmarked as a potential top star in Brazil and has been grooming him for a run to the top of the middleweight division. Coming off three consecutive knockout wins, the UFC has given him a relatively favorable matchup in Uriah Hall.

    Hall has long been a perplexing commodity for MMA fans, given his penchant for delivering either sensational knockouts or snoozers—with no middle ground. Hall's recent weight-cutting scare and tendency to shut down both suggest he's about to lose his long-held spot near the top.