In what has become an annual tradition for the world's leading MMA promotion in the first weekend of July, International Fight Week takes center stage in Las Vegas this weekend with a loaded.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya looks to make the fifth defense of his title against Jared Cannonier in the main event. Current and former featherweight kings Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will also meet for the third time in a much-anticipated co-main event.
The undercard could produce the next contender to the middleweight crown when Alex Pereira meets Sean Strickland in a featured bout. Pereira holds the distinction of beating Adesanya twice when both fought for Glory Kickboxing, including one by knockout. He's made just two appearances inside the Octagon but has asserted himself well against stiff competition. Strickland, meanwhile, has been a force since moving back up to 185 pounds. Strickland has won five in a row at middleweight and looks like a legitimate challenger to the title if he can get past the hard-throwing knockout artist on Saturday.
Let's take a look at the biggest storylines entering the event, which emanates from T-Mobile Arena.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including the pregame preview of UFC 276 below.
1. Are we sleeping on Jared Cannonier's chances?
A lot of the attention surrounding Saturday's headlining bout has been about the return of Adesanya, a rising global star just five months removed from edging former champion Robert Whittaker in their UFC 271 rematch. Most of those conversations, however, have stopped short of discussing further whether the 38-year-old Cannonier is a viable threat to commandeer his title. From a betting standpoint, Adesanya has remained a 4-1 favorite, largely due to his commanding control of distance and the next-level nature of his timing and striking. But Cannonier is simply not an easy out for anyone given his explosiveness and punching power. He's also far more dangerous from a one-strike standpoint than anyone Adesanya has faced in the UFC at 185 pounds.
Cannonier, who famously began his MMA career as a heavyweight before slowly moving down, is 6-1 overall since first cutting to 185 pounds in 2018. His only defeat came to Whittaker in 2020, in a fight in which Cannonier broke his arm in the opening round and still managed to rally and hurt Whittaker in the closing minutes. From a skill versus skill standpoint, Adesanya has the edge against almost every fighter on the planet. But the champion has also shown a tendency at times to take on a much more reserved posture after tasting the power of an elite slugger, most notably in his forgettable decision win over Yoel Romero. For Cannonier, this is the opportunity he has worked his entire career for and should have no reason not to let it all hang out. Anyone expecting Adesanya to make it look as easy as he did against the likes of Marvin Vettori or Paulo Costa could be in for a shocker.
2. Will the third time finally be the charm for Max Holloway?
As rare as it is throughout the 29-year history of the UFC to see a title trilogy, it's almost unheard of to stage one after one fighter, in this case Volkanovski, holds a 2-0 advantage in the series. But the disputed nature of their 2020 rematch led UFC brass to give Holloway, already considered a future Hall of Famer at just 30-years old, a third chance at solving Volkanovski's technical style. The obvious question becomes what there is left for Holloway and his team to do in order to leave no doubt with the judges. According to both fighters in recent weeks, the judges may not be necessary since each have predicted they would win by knockout. But short of an all-out brawl breaking out, the 10 rounds of action already produced by the two has shown Volkanovski as the slightly better fighter. Even though Holloway opened the rematch strong by dropping his opponent in each of the first two rounds, it was Volkanovski who made the necessary in-fight adjustments to rally in the championship rounds and sway the judges. Make no mistake, this third meeting has potential historical implications as two of the pound-for-pound best at featherweight today square off once more for 145-pound supremacy. But a strong argument can be made that the 33-year-old Volkanovski has shown the better improvement of the two in recent years, highlighted by his demolition of late replacement Chan Sung Jung in April, which saw the champ score his first stoppage victory in five fights.
3. The winner of the trilogy just might be the featherweight G.O.A.T.
The beauty, in this case, may depend upon the eye of the beholder when it comes to the 12-year history of the UFC's 145-pound division. Many will tell you the conversation of greatest featherweight begins and ends with Jose Aldo, who holds a division record of seven title defenses and was upgraded to full UFC champion following the WEC merger without having to win a fight. Then, there is the hipster debate for Conor McGregor, who went 7-0 as a UFC featherweight with wins over Aldo, Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirier and Holloway before leaving the division without making a single title defense. But with all due respect to the two legends mentioned above, the case for the winner of Saturday's trilogy bout might be even stronger. Even though Volkanovski and Holloway are both tied for second with three featherweight title defenses, each hold definitive victories over a still dangerous Aldo. Holloway, in fact, owns two of them, with both coming in devastating stoppages. For whatever Volkanovski lacks in terms of overall name power on his resume comparative to Holloway, he makes up for in that he's unbeaten in 11 trips to the Octagon. Oh yeah, not to mention that a victory at UFC 276 would give him a third win against Holloway. Case closed.
4. Alex Pereira's moment of truth is right now
Pereira, a former two-division Glory kickboxing champion, is 2-0 in the UFC since debuting last year and finds himself in an interesting position as a future Adesanya opponent considering he defeated "The Last Stylebender" twice in kickboxing (including once by knockout). But before the posters can be printed to promote a future fight between the two, the 34-year-old Brazilian is expected to have his hands full against No. 4 ranked Sean Strickland. Pereira, a training partner of former UFC champion Glover Teixeira, holds fight-ending power in both hands but is still largely a work-in-progress in terms of his full-time transition to MMA. In that sense, facing someone as technical and aggressive as Strickland could expose Pereira's lack of seasoning. Should Pereira find himself on his back for large stretches, the potential for a long night at the office is there. Even though he remains a slight betting favorite due to his upside, Pereira will need to show the merits of his ongoing evolution should he hope to cut the line and secure a title shot with a win.
5. It's time to find out how good Sean O'Malley really is
Remember that three-fight stretch where O'Malley purposely accepted fights against inferior foes while challenging the UFC to pay in order to challenge himself? Luckily, that appears to be over. A brilliant 27-year-old with an eccentric touch for marketing himself, O'Malley will step back up in competition for the first time since his 2020 loss to Marlon Vera when he takes on the battle-tested Pedro Munhoz. On paper, it's hard to overlook Munhoz's recent run of four losses in five fights. But all four of the 35-year-old Munhoz's recent defeats have come via decision against former champions and brings with him knockout power, toughness and a well-rounded game into this test against O'Malley. Although it was briefly pegged to headline the UFC 276 preliminary card, which will air live in prime time on ABC, recent changes to the card could bump it back up to the PPV portion. Either way, it's time for O'Malley to step up his game against more seasoned opposition as he closes in on title contention in the sport's deepest division.
Who wins Adesanya vs. Cannonier? And what other picks do you need to see? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed top picks on UFC 276, all from the insider who's up more than $10,000 on MMA picks the past two years, and find out.