June’s arrival doesn’t just mean more hot days, evenings on the patio and weekends at the lake; it also means four fight cards from four continents are set to hit the UFC Octagon in a four-week stretch, setting the table for what should be an even more electric July.
Here’s a look at the key fights you don’t want to miss this month.
This is The 10.
UFC 212: ALDO VS. HOLLOWAY – Saturday, June 3 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Raphael Assuncao vs. Marlon Moraes
Matchmaker Sean Shelby deserves a high five for this perfect pairing as the experienced, established Assuncao welcomes the former World Series of Fighting champion into the Octagon for the first time.
Assuncao is criminally underrated – a 13-year vet who has faced off with the best at both featherweight and bantamweight during that time, splitting a pair of fights with TJ Dillashaw and entering this weekend’s contest off a victory over Aljamain Sterling. He’s a perfect litmus test for Moraes, who makes his promotional debut riding a 13-fight winning streak and looking to show right out of the gate that he’s a contender in the 135-pound weight class.
Bantamweight is one of the most competitive, exciting divisions in the UFC and this fight should be a shining example of that Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro.
Claudia Gadelha vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
This pairing of elite strawweight talents is akin to last weekend’s main event in Stockholm, Sweden between Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira – a matchup between two former title challengers still at the top of their game, hungry to earn another championship opportunity.
It has the potential to be as exciting as last Sunday’s final fight as well.
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Gadelha got back into the win column in November with a strong showing against Cortney Casey in Sao Paulo, her first bout since shifting her training camps to Albuquerque, New Mexico. A standout grappler with crisp boxing, the 28-year-old Brazilian has only tasted defeat twice, both times at the hands of current champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The reigning strawweight titleholder is responsible for Kowalkiewicz’ lone setback as well, having bested her compatriot at UFC 205 last November in New York City. It was a contest where despite coming out on the wrong side of the result, Kowalkiewicz’ stock rose, as she went shot-for-shot with Jedrzejczyk and put “Joanna Champion” on the canvas in the fourth.
Saturday’s co-main event should be a hotly contested affair from the outset and will play a major role in determining what the second half of the year in the strawweight division looks like.
Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway for the undisputed UFC featherweight title
This is as good as it gets in terms of competitive, compelling fights.
Aldo enters off a five-round win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 that reminded everyone that the quiet Brazilian is still an all-world, all-time talent, while Holloway pushed his winning streak to double digits by picking up the interim featherweight strap while stopping Anthony Pettis at UFC 206 in Toronto.
Plenty have questioned Aldo’s mindset heading into this one, but a lot of those same questions were asked heading into his fight with Edgar last summer and he looked as good as ever in that one. His footwork and takedown defense remains unmatched and the speed and crispness of his striking hasn’t waned, which is good because it will need to be on point against Holloway.
“Blessed” showed potential when he first arrived in the UFC as an inexperienced 20-year-old, but his development and rise up the rankings is still impressive to watch. One of the most complete and varied strikers in the sport, Holloway works combinations and levels from the word go, is tough as nails and has tremendous finishing instincts.
This is one of those fights where you’re going to want to make sure you’ve got a fresh beverage, ample snacks and have put your phone away before it starts because once it gets going, you’re not going to want to miss a second of the action.
UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt – Saturday, June 10 (Auckland, New Zealand)
Tim Elliott vs. Ben Nguyen
Elliott jumps right back into the fray just a couple months after collecting a victory over Louis Smolka in a wildly entertaining, Fight of the Night-winning turn as part of the April UFC on FOX event in Kansas City. Filling in for the injured Joseph Benavidez, this is another opportunity for the funky former TUF winner to cement his standing in the division and put up yet another strong showing inside the Octagon.
Nguyen has quietly racked up three wins in four appearances to establish himself as one to watch in the flyweight division, rebounding from his first loss in five years last summer with a decision win over Geane Herrera back in November. The Brisbane-based contender has only gone the distance in three of his 23 career bouts, so expect plenty of exciting exchanges and scrambles when he steps into the cage with Elliott and don’t be surprised if they steal the show in Auckland.
Derrick Lewis vs. Mark Hunt
This one doesn’t need much explanation.
Lewis and Hunt are two of the most prolific heavyweight knockout artists in the UFC and when they step into the cage together, the chances that someone is going to sleep are staggeringly high. These two behemoths will be launching cinder blocks at each other from the jump and will have everyone on the edge of their seats until the fight-ending blow finds a home.
Hunt has been involved in some memorable clashes throughout his career and Lewis is always entertaining (inside and outside of the cage), and pitting them against one another is a recipe for something really entertaining.
UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Correia – Saturday, June 17 (Kallang, Singapore)
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
Just as the matchup between Raphael Assuncao and Marloes Moraes was a perfect introductory matchup for the debuting Moraes, this is an outstanding pairing for Dos Anjos’ initial appearance in the welterweight division.
After coming out on the wrong side of the cards in his bout Tony Ferguson last fall, the former lightweight champion announced his move up in weight, where he arrives as a gigantic question mark. From a talent standpoint, Dos Anjos is the complete package – a fighter with tremendous grappling, sharp striking and a championship pedigree – but how that will translate in the talent-rich welterweight division remains an unknown.
Saffiedine is a technical, experienced fighter who has been a fixture in the Top 15 since arriving to the UFC as the final Strikeforce welterweight champion. He’s shared the cage with many of the top names in the division and should serve as a stern test for Dos Anjos in his 170-pound debut.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Colby Covington
A pairing of two fighters on the fringes of contention in the highly competitive welterweight division, this is an opportunity for both men to make a statement from the co-main event position.
Kim has collected three straight victories and is 7-1 in his last eight fights and 22-3-1 for his career, with his losses coming against (in reverse chronological order) Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia and Carlos Condit. He’s been entrenched in the Top 10 for half a dozen years and is welterweight truth serum – the kind of guy that has made a living turning back talented fighters who just aren’t quite ready or able to compete at the elite level in this shark tank of a division.
Covington has been barking about being elite for as long as he’s been in the UFC and with three wins on either side of a submission loss to Warlley Alves, he’s done a solid job of climbing within striking distance of proving he belongs among the best in the division. If he can become the fourth man to turn aside the South Korean “Stun Gun,” the American Top Team product will earn a spot in the Top 10 and the big name opportunities he’s been seeking.
Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia
Holm’s three-fight skid since toppling Ronda Rousey shows just how much a game of inches mixed martial arts can be at times.
Against Miesha Tate, she was two minutes away from victory before getting spun to the floor and choked out. Against Valentina Shevchenko, she couldn’t close the distance and was forced to spend 25 minutes on the end of the current No. 1 contender’s strikes. Against Germaine de Randamie, she came up one round shy on all three scorecards in a bout where the most devastating punches that landed came after the bell.
Now she heads to Singapore in search of a victory against Correia, the durable, spirited Brazilian who has had her own share of struggles since sharing the cage with Rousey, having gone 1-1-1 since being on the business end of things in what turned out to be the former champion’s final successful title defense.
Stylistically, this lines up as an exciting battle of strikers, with Correia’s unrelenting aggression pairing nicely with Holm’s masterful counter-striking. Both need a strong showing and that reality combined with the interplay of their approaches should make for a terrific scrap.
UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs. Lee – Sunday, June 25 (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Felice Herrig vs. Justine Kish
While Gadelha and Kowalkiewicz battle it out at the top of the list of strawweight contenders early in the month, Herrig and Kish throw down in a battle of under-the-radar talents trying to continue making waves in the 115-pound waters as the second half of 2017 approaches.
After taking a year off to rest and reassess things, Herrig returned to post back-to-back wins over Kailin Curran and Alexa Grasso, reminding everyone that she’s still a talented veteran presence to be reckoned with in this division. Kish, meanwhile, finally made her Octagon debut in 2016 after a knee injury bumped her from the competition on TUF 20 and kept her sidelined throughout 2015. The 29-year-old maintained her unbeaten record with wins over Nina Ansaroff and Ashley Yoder and gets the chance to climb the divisional ladder if she’s able to keep her win streak going against Herrig.
Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Lee
Even before things got heated between these two at the Summer Kickoff press event in Dallas a couple weeks back, this was a terrific scrap between two lightweights looking for a way to stand out in the most congested, competitive division in the UFC.
Three straight victories over Mitch Clarke, Jim Miller and Beneil Dariush had Chiesa positioned to face Tony Ferguson in the main event of last summer’s debut in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but a back injury scuttled the bout and sidelined him for the remainder of the year. The former TUF winner is 7-2 overall in the Octagon and appeared to be hitting his stride heading into the bout with Ferguson, so it will be interesting to see if he can carry that over into his headlining assignment in OKC.
The 24-year-old Lee has been showing out lately, earning stoppage victories over Jake Matthews, Magomed Mustafaev and Francisco Trinaldo to run his winning streak to four and earn a place in the Top 15. Fiercely competitive and tremendously confident, Lee believes he’s destined to wear UFC gold. Getting through a perennially tough out like Chiesa would be a great way to get others to buy into that belief.