UFC 236: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Atlanta

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2019

UFC 236: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Atlanta

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    The April 13 UFC 236 card was without a main event for some time, but just prior to UFC 235 in Las Vegas, the UFC put together a strong double-main event with two interim title fights.

    Max Holloway will move up to 155-pounds to face Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight championship in the evening's main event. Helping to stack the event will be an interim middleweight title tilt between Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya.

    Both fights will provide fans at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta with amazing action.

    The entire card is still not complete, but the fights that will sell it to fans are booked. Intrigue and fisticuffs help tell the tale of what the UFC has already put together.

    Ready to find out what's in store next month? Here is a primer for UFC 236 and its two interim championship matchups.


    UFC 236 Fight Card

    • Interim UFC Lightweight Championship: Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier
    • Interim UFC Middleweight Championship: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya
    • Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov
    • Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
    • Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath
    • Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja
    • Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha
    • Poliana Botelho vs. Lauren Mueller

The Main Event: Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier

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    On the evening of April 13, the lightweight division will have a new (interim) champion atop the division.

    Suspensions to Conor McGregor and undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov put the lightweight division in a state of uncertainty. Per John Morgan of MMAJunkie.com, Nurmagomedov will be eligible to return on July 6. However, he will observe Ramadan and take a break during that time.

    With Nurmagomedov on the shelf until the fall, the UFC decided it was time for an interim title. The rightful choice for the honor would have been Tony Ferguson, the current No. 1-ranked lightweight contender.

    According to ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto, Ferguson turned down the opportunity. The other fighter chosen was the reigning featherweight champ Max Holloway.

    Holloway accepted the fight. But the UFC needed opposition. Next up after Ferguson was the No. 3-ranked contender Dustin Poirier.

    That's how we got here.

    And after the dust settles, fans should be excited that they will get an incredibly high-level fight setting up a major title unification later in the year.

    Holloway has developed into a phenomenal fighter. Battering and outclassing Jose Aldo is all the proof to that pudding. Meanwhile, Poirier has been undefeated since 2017 with four wins to his credit, including three straight TKO stoppages.

    These are two warriors who perform at a high level. It is what a title fight should be and will be regardless of the interim tag.

    Fans will get their money's worth with Holloway and Poirier. Often times the word fireworks is overused, but that is exactly what they will deliver inside the Octagon in the main event. It is a fight worthy of much ballyhoo. We could be looking at a Fight of the Year contender in Atlanta.

The Co-Main Event: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya

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    The interim title train will keep on rolling into the co-main event.

    Kelvin Gastelum was supposed to challenge Robert Whittaker for the undisputed belt at UFC 234, but an emergency medical situation forced the champion off the card. Whittaker appeared on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show and stated he anticipates an August return (h/t Forbes.com's Trent Reinsmith).

    Israel Adesanya outpointed Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 234 with the title fight off the bill, and the win put him position for a title shot. The UFC likely could have waited for Whittaker's return, but why not use the interim tag to have a five-round title eliminator?

    Adesanya has breezed through UFC competition en route to this title shot, but Gastelum is a huge test for his complete MMA game.

    Gastelum has true one-punch KO power and a credible ground game. His preference is to strike, but with Adesanya's sizable technical advantage and long reach will likely force Gastelum to utilize his wrestling.

    It is an area of Adesanya's game yet to be tested. It will go a long way to determining Adesanya's longevity as a top-tier fighter. He does not need to be an amazing wrestler or submission artist, but he does need to have good takedown defense in a division ladened with grappling talent.

    Gastelum has proved himself against the elite already. He knows what it takes. Realizing his dream would likely come at the detriment to the UFC's business hopes as Adesanya is a growing global star. The New Zealander has called his shots to date and backed them up in the cage with exciting accuracy.

    Whittaker will be waiting in the wings for the winner, but this fight could well determine the future of the middleweight division.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja

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    After Demetrious Johnson was defeated and traded to ONE Championship, the UFC's flyweight division has been a major question mark.

    Henry Cejudo defended the belt with a swift knockout over T.J. Dillashaw, and that could have saved the entire division. But Cejudo immediately began campaigning for a shot at Dillashaw's 135-pound title. Where does that leave the flyweights?

    No one really knows. But if the UFC retains the division, the Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja fight could help determine the next title contender.

    Reis has already fought and lost to Cejudo. Even with a victory over Pantoja, the talented Brazilian would likely need another impressive performance to garner a rematch. Pantoja is in a much better position with back-to-back victories and a 4-1 overall UFC record to ask for a title shot.

    This fight may have big implications on the state of the flyweight division. If Reis wins, the UFC could see that there aren't many viable contenders for Cejudo in the first place and still look to shut the doors on the 125-pound classification. Pantoja may have more pressure on his shoulders than he even realizes.

    A title shot and proof of the division's depth is possibly on the line at UFC 236. Big stakes for the smallest male fighters in the big leagues.

The Best of the Rest

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    Ovince Saint Preux vs. Nikita Krylov

    It's no secret the light heavyweight division is thin, but with the inclusion of Dominick Reyes, Johnny Walker, Thiago Santos and others, it is getting deeper by the day. That puts pressure on both Ovince Saint Preux and Nikita Krylov to make their move at UFC 236.

    Their window to move into title contention is closing. OSP fought Jon Jones back in 2016 for the interim title, and he has gone 4-4 since. Krylov worked his way back into the UFC with a four-fight win streak but was immediately upended by Jan Blachowicz last September.

    The bloom is off the rose for both men, but there are still opportunities to quickly move back into the title picture with a big win. It starts at UFC 236.


    Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.

    Here are two men who were on the brink of breaking out before the wheels came flying off the bus.

    The reason to watch this fight is no longer about potential future contenders, but more so because this matchup is almost assuredly going to bring violence into your living rooms.

    Eryk Anders and Khalil Rountree Jr. will sling wild, heavy strikes at one another. And someone will fall.

    The Knockout of the Night is likely going to come from this fight.


    Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha

    Boston Salmon shined on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series in the summer of 2017. Injuries have prevented him from making his official UFC debut. That will change next month.

    He draws Khalid Taha, who has a 12-2 overall MMA record. No easy introduction.

    After nearly two years away, this is the perfect chance to see if the talent we saw back in 2017 is still there.

    If so, Salmon is an interesting bantamweight addition to the UFC ranks. Keep an eye on this fight to see if there is another prospect to behold, or if it is another failure from the UFC's Contender Series show.