UFC 236 Preview: The Battle For The Interims
April 10, 2019
2019 could well go down in being the greatest year in UFC history. Not only has the sport received an influx of new viewers, due to its lucrative ESPN+ media deal, but fans are continuously being treated with UFC cards that are worthy of being a proper PPV event.
This year already, we have witnessed an active Jon Jones back in the Octagon, a new Welterweight champion be crowned, a legendary heavyweight fall, plus, a whole bundle of action-packed Fight Night cards. Up next? A night of interim battles between some of the most hyped names in the sport. We have a Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier rematch, whilst Kelvin Gastelum will be taking on Israel Adesanya.
These two headline fights will act as the core subject of this UFC 236 preview, with the event scheduled to take place on April 13th in Atlanta, Georgia. Take a read below for a lowdown on the action taking place inside the cage.
A Night Of Interim Champions
The term ‘interim’ sends a little shudder through the majority of UFC fans, as despite the notion being a rather simple concept, interim champions and contenders just seem to only cause further confusion and chaos amongst the rankings. Many have called for ‘interim fights’ to simply be scrapped, but in theory, they should remain, but they should also be utilised in the correct manner.
Never too far away from the word itself is Tony Ferguson, who we can guarantee is more sick of the term than everybody involved with the sport combined. Ferguson’s scenario epitomises exactly what is wrong with Dana White’s ‘interim bouts’, as his failure to gain a Championship shot all but debunks the entire point of the fight in the first place.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lengthy ban did throw a spanner in the works but when Ferguson refused another interim challenge, Dana White had no other option than to cook up the clash between the no.3 ranked Poirier and Featherweight Champion Holloway. Whoever wins this bout looks destined to fight Khabib when the Russian returns from his suspension, where the Lightweight belt will then be on the line. Ferguson will no doubt voice his irritation on the matter, but the structure of future fights looks destined to be shaped from the events in UFC 236.
The exact same format looks intended to follow in the middleweight bout, where the winner between Adesanya and Gastelum will be lined up to face the ‘existing champion’ Robert Whittaker. Over the last few years, the middleweight rankings has undergone a turbulent period, with the belt failing to find a secure home due to injuries, fighters missing weight catches and undisputed champions.
Hopefully, the upcoming event can not only streamline contenders, put hand pick them for the next set of Championship bouts.
Holloway vs Poirier – Old Foes Meet Again
So, if a bout with Khabib is on the line, the headline event of UFC 236 certainly has a lot riding on it. It will, of course, not be the first time that the two fighters will be stepping into the cage together, as the clash will be a repeat of UFC 143. Only the die-hard followers of the sport will be able to recall the events that took place back in 2012, where the more experienced Poirier controlled the fight and finished Holloway in round one.
It was certainly a hard welcoming into the UFC for the Hawaiian, as he struggled against the Diamond’s grappling, who quickly took the fight to the floor and won via a mounted triangle armbar. Fast forward seven years though and the two men have experienced similar fates in the sport, in the sense that both fighters have established a popular following with fans through their dynamic displays and likeable personalities. Both Holloway and Poirier boast impressive records in the UFC, but only one has felt a belt draped around their waist – the man who continues to feel ‘blessed.’
Perhaps no other fighter in the organisation has done more to justify their position at the top over the last two years than Holloway himself, as he has overcome every obstacle thrown his way. The Hawaiian handed Jose Aldo 50% of his career losses in the space of six months, before dispatching the all-rounded and promising Brian Ortega last December. This victory marked a 13 fight winning streak for Holloway, who is now eyeing up the proposition of becoming a ‘champ champ’.
Poirier, who has never been granted a title shot, can now see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. After defeating the ex-champion Eddie Alvarez in emphatic fashion last July, all that lies between the Salon Quality and that Championship bout is his old foe Holloway. The stakes have been raised and calling a winner is not an easy task.
From a fan’s perspective, I will always find it difficult to look past Holloway. For those who are not familiar with the Hawaiian’s attributes, he is considered one of the most efficient strikers in the sport, with a gas tank that never seems to empty. His footwork and constant prowling of his opponent makes him such an awkward fighter to deal with, as his lightning quick counters and combinations make it a dangerous job to try and close the distance on him.
Aldo felt the wrath of Blessed in ferocious fashion, with Holloway picking apart and putting away the Brazilian like we have never seen anybody do to the ex-champ before. Similarly, against Ortega, the 27-year-old’s striking was too much to handle, as he handed T-City the first loss of his MMA career. There is no secret to Holloway’s fight tactics but managing to formulate a plan to prevent the onslaught is a different proposition altogether.
The Diamond has stated that he can defeat the Hawaiian on either the mat or standing up, but the latter point is certainly up for debate. Poirier possesses significant power in his singular straight hits, but I would contest anybody who thinks they can match the stand-up work of Max Holloway. Instead, the American has to utilise his wrestling skills and try to grapple Holloway onto his back, just like their first match-up all those years ago.
In terms of takedown defence, Blessed showcased his impressive capabilities against Ortega, so it would be far too simplistic to state that taking the fight to the ground wins Poirier the fight. This is often the general debate leading up to UFC cards, particularly when one fighter specialises so heavily in either their standing or grappling game. Over his last few fights, Holloway has looked too strong with his striking power and his combinations should be too much for Poirier to take.
Despite not possessing more of the ‘power punch’, I’m predicting for persistence to prevail in the shape of Max Holloway via TKO –
Gastelum vs Adesanya – A Contrasting Match
With Adesanya standing at 6’4 in comparison to Gastelum at 5’9, whilst also boasting a nine inch reach over him, the physical appearance will certainly look a contrasting match when the two fighters stand opposite each other inside the Octagon.
Their physical stances do, therefore, give us a huge insight into how the fight will be played out. Despite having only made his UFC debut last year, the Last Stylebender has impressed fans with his dominating displays inside the cage, too which he looks to take control of his opponent by shutting off all angles. He picks his opponent off so efficiently, quickly mixing up his style from long side-kicks to a bombardment of knees close up.
Despite not looking so physically imposing, Adesanya will still be wary of Gastelum’s power and boxing stance. The American has one of the best one-twos in the sport – just ask Michael Bisping. Being the smaller man won’t faze the 27-year-old, who will stay lively on his feet and wait for the perfect moment to pounce. Dan Hardy has specifically highlighted Gastelum’s bouncing technique in the past, to which he loves to stay on his toes and spring forward with an attack.
Adesanya will need to keep the distance as with Kelvin having the more natural power, I believe the Nigerian born fighter would struggle to recuperate after a couple of clean hits. Gastelum is a hard man to stop and he is definitely the most talented fighter that the Last Stylebender has come across so far (given that Anderson Silva was past his prime).
It’s clear that this will be a close encounter, with the UFC 236 odds reflecting this matter. There is barely anything to split the two fighters in the betting markets, with Adesanya edging it slightly. So far in his short UFC career, we have seen the New Zealander flourish in maintaining the distance and keeping his opponents at bay. For me, this is where the fight is won or lost.
Preserving a healthy gap between himself and Gastelum is a pivotal tool for Adesanya to utilise, as there is very little chance of his opponent leaving the cage with a points decision. Damage will be key in the fight too, as despite defeating Silva, the Last Stylebender didn’t look like finishing the bout at UFC 234. His strategy of waring his opponent down is an effective one, but Gastelum will always hold that potential of a knock-out punch.
Only a fool would make an official prediction for this fight, but I’m going to opt for the hype train in Adesanya. It’s his biggest test so far and I think over the course of the fight, he’ll outland and outscore Gastelum on points.
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.