UFC 226: 5 Burning Questions for the Fights in Las Vegas

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2018

UFC 226: 5 Burning Questions for the Fights in Las Vegas

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    UFC 226 is the crown jewel of the 2018 UFC calendar to date, and if we don't see Conor McGregor or Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones before the year is out, it may end up as the marquee event for the whole year.

    For the first time in the history of the promotion, the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion will challenge the heavyweight titleholder, when Daniel Cormier moves back up to his former stomping grounds for a shot at reigning kingpin Stipe Miocic.

    The event also features a sizzling featherweight title fight between champion Max Holloway and challenger Brian Ortega, along with big names like Francis Ngannou, Derrick Lewis and Anthony Pettis all appearing on pay-per-view.

    With names and fights like those, it’s obvious there would be some burning questions heading into the event. 

What Will Paulo Costa Be for the UFC?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The most interesting prospect Brazil has produced in quite some time, Costa has all the makings of a star. He’s a handsome, physical, aggressive wrecking ball who has been burning through middleweight competition to the tune of a perfect 11-0 professional record.

    The UFC is giving him Uriah Hall at 226—the owner of some explosive finishes of his own, and a man they once felt might be destined for stardom—in a fight that feels like something of a passing of the torch. Beating Hall would be the biggest win of Costa's career and would put him in line for a much bigger fight next time out.

    With bigger Brazilian stars like Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort leaving the promotion, the UFC needs some new blood in the picture to keep that market going. Based on his showings to this point, there's a fair chance Costa could be that guy if he keeps performing as he has so far.

    It's definitely something to watch.

Can Michael Chiesa Finally Make the Leap to Contendership?

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    Michael Chiesa has been a good lightweight for a long time, but he’s never gotten over the hump. The closest he’s been was his fight against Kevin Lee, which, though it ended with some controversy, felt like it showed he still had a gap to close on the elite of the division.

    He was booked to have a chance at closing that gap at UFC 223, where he was to fight Pettis. Unfortunately, the UFC's pre-eminent megalomaniac showed up at the event and turned the whole thing on its ear. Chiesa was pulled from the card, and his fight with Pettis now goes down this weekend in Vegas.

    Though Pettis isn’t what he once was, he's still highly dangerous and a great test for Chiesa. If "Maverick" can win this one convincingly, people will start taking him seriously as a high-end lightweight contender.

Is Francis Ngannou Truly an Elite Heavyweight?

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    UFC 220 looked as though it were preordained to be the greatest night of Francis Ngannou’s life. He’d smashed Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 and was granted a quick turnaround for a heavyweight title shot a little over a month later. He’d never lost a UFC fight and, at that point, it felt as though champion Stipe Miocic was cannon fodder for him.

    Miocic was not.

    The champ walloped the enormous Cameroonian star for five rounds, exploiting major holes in his wrestling and grappling games and teaching him the levels that exist between a champion and a talented challenger.

    Ngannou is back in action at UFC 226 against rival Derrick Lewis, and he needs a convincing win to show he wasn't all hype in the first place.

Which Great Young Featherweight Is the Top Dog?

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    For an entire generation of MMA, featherweight belonged to Jose Aldo. When McGregor came along and went through him like he was a wet napkin, things became a little unstable. McGregor refused to defend the belt, went to lightweight, went to boxing, then went on to fight a bus, and the 145-pound class was kind of never the same.

    Enter Max Holloway.

    The Hawaiian just kept winning and eventually got his chance at Aldo, who had regained the title in McGregor's absence. He beat him once, then beat him again for good measure.

    While Holloway did that, Brian Ortega was blistering his way through the ranks with a series of increasingly impressive finishes. He stopped Frankie Edgar in his last fight to cement himself as one of the two best 145ers alive and as the next challenger for Holloway’s belt.

    Both men were born in 1991, placing them both at the beginning of their respective primes, and they’ve already come this far. This feels like a guaranteed barnburner, and it's one that may set up another meeting or two down the line in MMA’s next great competitive rivalry.

DC or Stipe: Who Enters the GOAT Conversation?

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Following his UFC 220 win, Miocic began to hear his name in conversations about being the best heavyweight of all time—of course, no one has defended that belt more times in a row than Miocic, and the way his dispatched Ngannou was so impressive that no one would dare question his combat expertise.

    Cormier has always been on the fringes of such a discussion, largely because he’s never found a way to beat his greatest rival in Jon Jones. He was also impressive at UFC 220, drubbing Volkan Oezdemir and punching his ticket to a UFC 226 superfight.

    Whoever comes out on top in this one has a real case as one of the greatest mixed martial artists ever to do it. Miocic is blazing a never-before-seen trail of destruction at the top of the heavyweight class, while Cormier could wake up on Sunday as one of only five men to hold titles in multiple weight classes—alongside legends like Georges St-Pierre, McGregor, Randy Couture and BJ Penn.

    This one is worth so much more than 12 pounds of gold and a raised hand on a Saturday night.


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