LAS VEGAS — Israel Adesanya had a look into a proverbial crystal ball Thursday at the UFC 276 news conference. Behind him on the dais were Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira, a pair of middleweights on the undercard this weekend.
The winner of that fight will likely be next in line for Adesanya’s middleweight title — and “The Last Stylebender” spent more time going back and forth verbally with Strickland and Pereira than his actual next opponent.
Before Adesanya can open up the door to his next challenge, he has to successfully defend his UFC middleweight title Saturday night against Jared Cannonier in the UFC 276 headliner at T-Mobile Arena. And the hard-hitting Cannonier is not one to look past, even if Adesanya is a -490 favorite, per Caesars.
Adesanya is one of the best fighters in the world. ESPN ranks him No. 3 in the world on its pound-for-pound list. At middleweight, Adesanya is ranked No. 1 and Cannonier is No. 3.
Adesanya (22-1) is undefeated at 185 pounds, a perfect 11-0 in the UFC in that weight class. The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident is coming off a unanimous decision win over rival Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 in February. Adesanya, 32, has four successful middleweight title defenses after unifying the belt with Whittaker in 2019. His lone pro MMA loss was up in weight, for the UFC light heavyweight title against Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in March 2021.
Cannonier (15-5) has won two in a row and five of his past six. The Arizona resident is coming off a second-round knockout of Derek Brunson at UFC 271. Cannonier, 38, has finished fights in three different weight divisions: heavyweight, light heavyweight and middleweight. His only middleweight loss came against Whittaker in 2020.
In the co-main event at UFC 276, Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight title against former champion Max Holloway in a trilogy bout. Volkanovski and Holloway are among the best featherweight fighters in UFC history. ESPN has Volkanovski ranked tied for No. 4 in the world pound-for-pound rankings and Holloway is No. 6 on that list.
Volkanovski (24-1) has won 11 straight UFC fights and 21 in a row overall. The Australia native has three successful title defenses after winning the belt from Holloway in 2019. Volkanovski, 33, has beaten Holloway twice, the most recent a close, split decision victory at UFC 251 in July 2020.
Holloway (23-6) has won two straight following back-to-back losses to Volkanovski. Holloway, 30, held a version of the UFC featherweight title from 2016 to 2018 with three successful title defenses.
Also on the card, Strickland and Pereira will meet in what is likely a middleweight title eliminator. Strickland is one of the most prolific trash talkers in the division, while Pereira is 2-0 against Adesanya in kickboxing, including a knockout victory. In addition, former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler takes on Bryan Barberena, and top bantamweight prospect Sean O’Malley takes on veteran Pedro Munhoz in O’Malley’s toughest test to date.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi recap the action in Las Vegas or watch the fights live on ESPN+ PPV.
Fight in progress: Welterweight: Ian Garry (9-0, 2-0 UFC, -175) vs. Gabe Green (11-3, 2-1 UFC, +150)
UFC 276 results
Middleweight: Dricus du Plessis (17-2, 3-0 UFC) def. Brad Tavares (19-8, 14-7 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
The last year has been a series of starts and stops for Du Plessis. He’s had four scheduled fights canceled for various reasons since last December, but he reminded everyone in the Octagon on Saturday that he’s still a serious prospect at 185 pounds.
Du Plessis bested Tavares via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a back-and-forth, bloody battle on the UFC 276 prelims. After a strong Tavares first round that saw Tavares drop Du Plessis with a right hand late, Du Plessis rallied, cut up Tavares’ face in the second round and put a stamp on things with a big third.
It seemed early on that Du Plessis was looking to take the fight to the ground. When he couldn’t get Tavares down, he stuck with the standup game to great success. Tavares landed a big shot late in the first, but Du Plessis got off with boxing combos and front kicks in the second round, leaving Tavares’ nose busted and blood pouring down his face. The third round was more of that, though Tavares showed life late with some hard right hands.
Du Plessis, 28, is a perfect 3-0 now in the UFC. The South African fighter has won five straight overall, going back to his time in EFC and KSW. Tavares, a 34-year-old Hawaiian fighting out of Las Vegas, had a two-fight winning streak snapped.
Middleweight: Andre Muniz (23-4, 5-0 UFC) def. Uriah Hall (18-11, 10-9 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Muniz, of Brazil, picked up his first win of 2022 — and fifth in a row inside the UFC — in a one-sided decision over Hall. The submission ace failed to secure a finish despite regularly working into dominant position, but earned unanimous 30-27 scores.
Hall, who fell to 0-2 in his last two appearances, couldn’t keep the fight off the ground, as Muniz took him down in the first half of every round. Even when Hall was standing, he looked timid and cautious of Muniz’s wrestling.
Muniz is riding some good momentum in the Octagon, with wins now over the likes of Hall, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Eryk Anders. He has three first-round submissions in the UFC as well.
Women’s flyweight: Maycee Barber (11-2, 6-2 UFC) def. Jessica Eye (15-11 1 NC, 5-10 1 NC UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch on ESPN+)
Maycee Barber is once again a factor in the UFC women’s flyweight division.
The former top prospect has lost some luster from that blue-chipper label in recent years, but she is back on track now following a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) win over the former title challenger Eye.
Afterward, Barber said this was the last fight on her UFC contract and she looks forward to sitting down with UFC president Dana White and chief business officer Hunter Campbell to discuss a new deal – and a future title shot.
Eye took off her gloves following the bout and announced her retirement in her postfight interview with Joe Rogan.
“I think it’s time,” Eye said. “I’ve been a pro since 2009. I’ve had plenty of UFC fights.”
Barber was able to keep the aggressive Eye at bay for all three rounds. Eye’s strategy was clear – initiate a clinch and try to get Barber to the ground. Barber was able to fend her off with elbows and punches in the clinch, as well as knees and high kicks late in the fight. Eye did get Barber down in the second round and spent most of that frame in top position, though she didn’t do much damage. Barber landed a big elbow in the first round that caused a large hematoma over Eye’s right eye.
Barber, 24, has won three straight following a two-fight losing streak. The Colorado native seems to have found a proper home at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, after bouncing around different camps. Eye, a 35-year-old Ohio native, has lost four in a row and five straight.
Women’s bantamweight: Julija Stoliarenko (10-7-2, 1-3 UFC) def. Jessica-Rose Clark (11-8, 4-4 UFC) by submission (Watch on ESPN+)
Stoliarenko, of Lithuania, earned her first win in four attempts inside the Octagon, as she made quick work of Clark via first-round armbar. The finish came just 42 seconds into the fight. Stoliarenko is known for a wicked armbar, and she wasted no time finding it against Clark, as she took her down immediately. Clark quickly tapped, but not fast enough. The armbar was applied so aggressively that Clark’s left elbow appeared to be dislocated before referee Chris Tognoni could intervene.
It’s Stoliarenko’s first win since March 2020. Clark 4-4 overall in the UFC.
Still to come:
Middleweight championship: Israel Adesanya (c) (22-1, 11-1 UFC, -490) vs. Jared Cannonier (15-5, 8-5 UFC, +370)
Men’s featherweight championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) (24-1, 11-0 UFC, -210) vs. Max Holloway (23-6, 19-6 UFC, +175)
Middleweight: Sean Strickland (25-3, 12-3 UFC, -120) vs. Alex Pereira (5-1, 2-0 UFC, +100)
Welterweight: Robbie Lawler (29-15, 14-9 UFC, -120) vs. Bryan Barberena (17-8, 8-6 UFC, +100)
Men’s bantamweight: Pedro Munhoz (19-7 1 NC, 9-7 1 NC UFC, +250) vs. Sean O’Malley (15-1, 7-1 UFC, -310)
Lightweight: Brad Riddell (10-2, 4-1 UFC, +125) vs. Jalin Turner (12-5, 5-2 UFC, -150)
Welterweight: Jim Miller (34-16, 23-16 UFC, -190) vs. Donald Cerrone (36-16 2 NC, 23-13 1 NC UFC, +160)
(c) = defending champion