UFC 300: 5 burning questions before UFC’s tricentennial celebration


UFC 300 is the definition of a can’t-miss event.

Featuring one of the most stacked lineups in the promotion’s history, Saturday’s tricentennial celebration lives up to the promises made by Dana White and the UFC brass. So with a card littered with storylines and significant bouts, what are five of the biggest questions ahead of UFC 300?

Join MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, and Jed Meshew as they set the table for a historic weekend.


MMA-UFC-BRA-TEIXERA-HILL

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1. Which of the four championship headliners has the most to prove?

Al-Shatti: Jamahal Hill is the only correct answer.

If ever there was a headliner with something to prove, it’s the guy who was plucked from the periphery and thrust straight into a title fight as the UFC’s self-admitted fourth option, beat a 43-year-old champion with a proficiency unlike any seen from him prior, then promptly dropped the belt after tearing his Achilles in a pick-up basketball game. Extra bonus points if only nine months have passed since the injury and the individual in question has repeatedly shown a complete inability to reckon with even the slightest hint of cynicism about the fortuitous path that short-cutted him to the front of the line for title contention.

To be clear, Hill very much could be him. He looked sensational against Glover Teixeira. If that leveled-up version from UFC 283 is simply who the ex-champ is now, he’s problem for anyone in the world at 205 pounds. But just the same, it’s entirely possible Hill is just the lucky soul who happened to be in the right place at the right time, who took advantage of a geriatric champion less than six months removed from one of the most grueling fights of all-time. In other words, it’s entirely possible Hill isn’t too far removed from being the periphery contender whose arm was broken in less than two minutes by Paul Craig.

Either scenario would be entirely unsurprising, which is why UFC 300’s main event opposite Alex Pereira is so damn intriguing.

Lee: The one that’s least expected to win: Yan Xiaonan.

Currently the biggest underdog on the card not named Cody Brundage, you’d think Yan was a late-notice replacement to challenge Zhang Weili as opposed to a legit contender who has clawed her way to this opportunity. Understandably, it’s difficult to shake the visual of Yan being thoroughly dominated by Carla Esparza, but outside of that, Yan has rarely looked outclassed. If anything, she’s shown in her past two wins over Jessica Andrade and Mackenzie Dern that she’s ready to spoil Zhang’s reign.

Yes, this fight should be happening in China, and it loses some luster being randomly thrown onto a loaded Las Vegas card in which it isn’t even one of the five most talked-about matchups. For me, that makes it even more important for Yan to show that she’s the real deal and wasn’t just chosen because she comes from the same country as the champ.

If Zhang easily dispatches of Yan as expected, then Yan becomes a footnote in the strawweight history books and a number to be tallied when we’re taking account of Zhang’s impressive stats someday. But if Yan pulls off the upset, she instantly crafts a new legacy for herself and joins the ranks of the UFC’s great underdog champions.

Meshew: Since and Shaun and AK have already argued for Hill and Yan, that leaves me with either Pereira or Weili. But Pereira exists outside the normal spectrum of MMA fighters. He’s a universe unto himself, capable of doing things in months that few others achieve in a lifetime. He has nothing to prove because he is the proof. All things bend to the will of “Poatan.”

So that leaves Weili, and while there are many out there who think she has little to prove, those people are just simple farmers, people of the land, the common clay of the New West. You know, morons.

Weili is currently the top pound-for-pound female fighter in the world, but that’s more a result of retirements, turmoil, and weak women’s divisions than it is a statement of her greatness. Her two losses to Rose Namajunas hang like a guillotine over her GOAT argument, and a loss to Yan would cut the rope holding it. On top of that, even her claim as the greatest Chinese fighter in MMA history becomes suspect, because Yan is her countrywoman.

Weili has the most to lose this Saturday, and thus the most to prove.


UFC 280: Oliveira v Makhachev

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

2. Who’s fighting for the lightweight title after UFC 300?

Lee: The champion has a name … and it’s Islam Makhachev. But it could be Charles Oliveira again!

Even as an admitted “Do Bronx” stan, I’ve waffled over whether we ever need to see Makhachev and Oliveira run it back. Their first fight was so definitively in Makhachev’s favor that it left zero doubt as to who the best fighter in the world is at 155 pounds. At the very least, it felt like Oliveira had to pick up a couple of wins to get back to Makhachev. We can assume the MMA gods agreed, as their UFC 294 rematch this past October was struck down before Oliveira could step foot on the flight to Abu Dhabi.

Lo and behold, with a post-championship drubbing of Beneil Dariush under his belt and a meeting with lightweight boogeyman Arman Tsarukyan ahead of him, Oliveira is poised to string together the kind of back-to-back performances that would make his title fight candidacy undeniable.

Who knows? Makhachev could have Oliveira’s number and a second fight between the two could be one-sided, forgettable, or worst of all, pointless. Maybe he can’t touch Makhachev. All I can say for sure is that if Oliveira stops the Tsarukyan hype train, he’s earned the right to find out.

Al-Shatti: Unfortunately for the many lightweight contenders competing on Saturday, the answer belongs off the board: It’s Dustin Poirier.

Blame this one on the UFC’s poor short-term planning more than any sort of meritocratic logic, but those are just the cards we’ve been dealt. Islam Makhachev appears dead-set on defending his belt sometime in June, and every lightweight who has a better claim than Poirier is already busy with UFC 300. Realistically, what are the chances any of Justin Gaethje, Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan, or even Max Holloway escape this bloodbath of a weekend healthy enough to turn around and fight again in two months? Considering the proclivity for extreme violence all four of them share, that answer isn’t looking promising.

That leaves Poirier as the most obvious leftover name to swoop in and fill the summer spot. The timeline works out too well and the seeds have already been planted. The champ wants it. Makhachev’s team wants it. Poirier wants it. And don’t act as if the UFC wouldn’t be thrilled to give its biggest non-McGregor star in the division one last chance to win gold.

Unless someone in that Gaethje/Holloway/Oliveira/Tsarukyan quartet makes it unassailable with a 41-second knockout on Saturday, the next lightweight title shot is Poirier’s to lose.

Meshew: Poirier seems like the right answer, but take a moment and dream with me.

Everybody is out here talking about how they want to see Max Holloway face Ilia Topuria (and if you’re not saying that, you’re one of those farmers I was talking about for the previous topic), when instead they should be talking about Holloway finally finishing his story.

Once upon a time, Holloway was going to step in on short notice to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. Everyone was excited, even though it almost certainly would have gone poorly for Holloway. But some weight-cutting weirdness led to Holloway being disallowed from the fight, and instead Al Iaquinta got the call. Now, almost six years to the day since that incident, Holloway has the chance to stake his claim to a title shot against Nurmagomedov’s own chosen successor. That’s some storybook stuff.

If Holloway goes out there on Saturday and does Max things against Justin Gaethje, I think he jumps to the front of the lightweight title line. He’s a beloved fighter, there’s a story there, and it’s Max Freaking Holloway. Of course he’d be down to fight Islam Makhachev with only two months of prep.


UFC 298 Ceremonial Weigh-in

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

3. Who not in a championship fight at UFC 300 will be in one next?

Al-Shatti: The most boring answer (and probably most prophetic one) is Kayla Harrison, but for the sake of not spending the next 200 words waxing poetic about the disaster that is women’s bantamweight in 2024, let’s play out a different scenario instead.

Y’all realize that Aljamain Sterling, the man who was being hailed as potentially the greatest bantamweight of all-time just eight months ago, is fighting on Saturday’s undercard — and doing so in a brand new weight class? Just checking, because there’s been absolutely zero buzz about it. Sterling’s prospects at 145 pounds have been debated since Merab Dvalishvili emerged as a potential guy at bantamweight in 2021. Now, we’ll finally get our answer!

Featherweight is in an odd place right now with no clear-cut No. 1 contender. Alexander Volkanovski was just badly knocked twice in a row and likely needs a break, Max Holloway is about to fight Justin Gaethje and could become a legitimate lightweight contender, and the UFC seemingly has zero interest in throwing Movsar Evloev any sort of bones. You’re telling me if the most successful bantamweight champion in UFC history goes out there on Saturday and chokes out Calvin Kattar in three minutes, then cuts a mean promo about flying to Spain to challenge Ilia Topuria, the powers that be wouldn’t be interested?

Don’t rule it out, is all I’m saying.

Lee: I am so, so sorry for what I’m about to speak into existence.

It’s Holly Holm.

(Ducks.)

(Runs.)

I swear I’m not just doing this for the memes. It’s true that Holm receiving half a dozen title shots (give or take) has become a running gag at this point, but this time there may be no stopping UFC matchmakers from granting her one more chance to become champion again. Let’s look at the facts:

  • If Holm wins on Saturday, she spoils Kayla Harrison’s long-awaited debut and claims another win over an Olympic judoka (a two-time gold medalist, this time) and a former PFL featherweight champion (illustrious!).
  • Since her submission loss to Mayra Bueno Silva was erased from history due to Bueno Silva being jacked up on that dastardly ADHD medication, Holm will technically have won four of her past five fights with a victory Saturday. In the women’s 135-pound division, that’s roughly equal to winning 10 straight fights.
  • Holm has two convincing, if utterly unwatchable wins over current champion Raquel Pennington.

Do the math. Holm is fighting for that UFC title.

Meshew: Boo this man! Boo Alexander with all your verve and vigor. There are a million good answers to this question and he chose the worst one. Boo, I say.

To offset AK’s terrible answer, I will choose the most fun answer. (For what it’s worth, Kayla Harrison is the correct answer.) It’s our guy Jiri Prochazka!

Yes, Prochazka just lost to Pereira in his last fight, but here’s the thing: Who cares? Prochazka is one of the most fun fighters in MMA, and after Saturday, the only other option for a light heavyweight contender is Magomed Ankalaev. And despite Ankalaev clearly deserving a title shot, the UFC has no interest in putting this man near a title.

If Jamahal Hill beats Pereira, that’s a straightforward title fight to make next. If Pereira wins, we can still rock with Jiri because f*** it, we ball! UFC 301 needs some help, so Pereira and Jiri can just fight each other next month down in Rio. All problems are solved, maximum fun is achieved.


UFC 298 Ceremonial Weigh-in

Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

4. Who on the prelims is most likely to steal the show?

Lee: Calvin Kattar, this is your moment.

Kattar’s UFC run has been marked by incredible highs and disappointing lows, the latter typically occurring when he’s come up against the best of the featherweight division. There’s no shame in losing fights to Max Holloway, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Josh Emmett, but those setbacks have put a ceiling on the 36-year-old’s career. Or so we thought.

If Kattar is ever to score a win over a fighter with UFC champion credentials, his best chance is this Saturday when he takes on former bantamweight king Aljamain Sterling.

We don’t know how Aljo is going to look up a weight class. His athletic gifts and elite grappling could translate beautifully to 145 and Kattar could be the first step in a fast track to Ilia Topuria. Frankly, as Shaun so eloquently laid out, Sterling could be the answer to Question 3 if he submits Kattar in under a minute and plays his cards right.

I don’t see that happening though. Kattar’s takedown defense makes him a nightmare for Sterling, and if there’s one thing we learned about “Funk Master” in his most recent fight, it’s that his standup adventures can end in calamity. This has an inspiring 29-28 Kattar performance written all over it.

Al-Shatti: Folks, the Jim Miller nostalgia hour is nearly upon us, and I am very ready to inject the good vibes that’ll accompany his third straight centennial showcase into my veins.

Let’s be real, few of us thought we’d actually get here. I remember sitting backstage at two different events — UFC 200 in 2016 and UFC 228 in 2018 — where it palpably felt as if we may be watching Miller’s retirement fight. In both cases, that was a Miller saddled with career-worst slumps and hosts of health problems related to his battle with Lyme disease. Yet each time, Miller improbably turned back the clock and scored quick finishes — first over Takanori Gomi, then over Alex White — to ward off the reaper for a little while longer.

If you would’ve asked either version of those Shauns whether Miller would still be fending off youngbloods six years later while riding a 4-1 hot streak, I never would’ve believed it. Doubly so if you would’ve asked me whether his dream of becoming the only fighter to compete at all three UFC centennial events could actually one day come true.

But that’s why he’s Jim F****** Miller and I’m just some dork with keyboard.

Meshew: I’ve spilled too much digital ink on my love for Deiveson Figueiredo and Cody Garbrandt to do so again here, just know that it’s perfect and beautiful and all things good in this harsh world. So with that being said, I’m going WAY off the board and taking Kayla Harrison.

When Harrison successfully makes 135 pounds (on the dot, to prove a point!), the intrigue level for this fight will skyrocket. Then, come Saturday, Harrison will do the impossible and make a Holly Holm fight interesting, because she’s going to obliterate the future Hall of Famer. At which point, Harrison will get on the mic, talk her s***, call out soon-to-be-dead-woman Raquel Pennington, and lay the foundation for an Amanda Nunes un-retirement superfight.

Harrison is going to make a big splash on Saturday and revitalize the women’s bantamweight division when it’s at its most dire.


UFC Fight Night: VanZant v Ostovich

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

5. Will this card sell 1 million pay-per-views?

Lee: Under-delivering on main event announcements? No proven pay-per-view draws? A poster that doesn’t feature a single fighter on it and —p ardon my French — looks like pee-pee? No matter. There’s no stopping the machine right now.

UFC 300 clears a million buys easy, even if it doesn’t sniff the numbers of the most-watched events in company history. There’s simply too much investment from the fan base to miss out on celebrating the big three-double-zero. Nobody wants to be the geek at the water-cooler Monday morning telling their cool friends how they didn’t watch the event live. You’ll pay your $79.99 and like it!

My answer goes with my theory that, at this point, your average fight fan has to earmark certain events ahead of time to budget their UFC viewing for the year. UFC 300 has been on every fan’s radar since last year, and unless Uncle Dana trotted out a truly odorous lineup, there’s no reason that this would exit anyone’s shortlist.

People love big, round numbers and good-enough fight cards, so the UFC can once again just sit back and watch the money roll in.

Meshew: No, I actually think it doesn’t.

One of the things we’ve learned clearly over combat sports history is that stars drive pay-per-view consumption. UFC 100 sold 1.6 million pay-per-view with Brock Lesnar at the top of it and Georges St-Pierre in the co-main. Then UFC 200 just barely broke 1 million, with Lesnar in a featured bout and Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes as the headliner. That’s not a coincidence.

The UFC brand is enough to establish a clear floor for pay-per-views, but the ceiling is created by individual stars, and for as good as UFC 300 is, there’s no superstar on the card, just a bunch of B+ players.

It’s a simple rubric, but heading into UFC 299, I had non-MMA friends asking about the event and Sean O’Malley. Heading into this weekend, those same friends are talking about The Masters. The casual interest is not there without big names, so I think we’re looking at a great event that still doesn’t clear the 1 million buy number.

Al-Shatti: I hear everything Jed is saying, and my friend, you’re right about all it.

But simply put: It does not matter.

UFC 300 will clear 1 million pay-per-view buys for three simple reasons. One, the sport is a monstrously bigger beast compared to what is was for its last centennial celebration. Two, as AK suggested, people love nice, round numbers, and thus the novelty of UFC 300 (like UFC 200 before it) will do enough of the heavy lifting. And three, by Saturday, the FOMO of not being part of something special will be in full affect among the casual sports audience once ESPN and Dana White give UFC 300 the all-out promotional blitz it’s about to receive.

My guess: 1.1 million buys and one gloating ESPN press release in my inbox within the next two weeks.



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