UFC 236 Preview & Prediction
By Alex Conway
UFC 236 touches down in Atlanta on Saturday and brings with it two interim title fights. Current featherweight champion Max Holloway attempts to become a two-division champ when takes on Dustin Poirier in the main event. In the co-main event Kelvin Gastelum will try to quell the hype behind rising superstar Israel Adesanya.
It’s an interesting pair of fights, and here are my thoughts on both bouts.
Holloway vs. Poirier
This is a rematch from 2012 but you might as well not even watch the tape. This fight will look nothing like the first, neither fighter is the same guy they were back then.
I like Holloway in this one. He’s got very good takedown defense, although an argument can be made he hasn’t faced elite wrestlers in the featherweight division. Probably the best wrestler with decent takedown offense he’s faced is Ricardo Lamas. I don’t believe Dustin Poirier is the guy who will take this aspect of the game front and centre for Holloway.
On the feet, Poirier has proven he’s a powerhouse at lightweight. He’s got several knockouts over the years and is on a streak that’s seen him knockout durable guys like Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje.
It will be interesting to see if Holloway’s power is effected by the move up in weight. He’s a big featherweight and isn’t known as a one-punch knockout artist at 145 pounds. He’s a volume puncher, a master strategist and a striker who can capitalize on moments.
Poirier loads up on his strikes and doesn’t always pay attention to his defensive footwork when doing so. I envision Holloway allowing Poirier to lead the dance early and counterstrike with his hands. When Holloway decides to go first I see him using his lead hand to set up leg kicks against Poirier’s heavy front leg, and also digging into the body at times to slow down Poirier.
I think Holloway puts Poirier away in the later rounds, possibly in the fourth or fifth.
Gastelum vs. Adesanya
Gastelum is being critically undervalued in this matchup (even though I picked against him in the fight with Whittaker that never happened).
I don’t see Gastelum winning ultimately, but I do see a path to victory. Whether he can execute will say more about the upper bound ceiling of Adesanya’s potential than the shortcomings of Gastelum, and that is why this match-up is so exciting.
Gastelum has become known as a striker since moving up to 185 pounds, but he often grappled his way to victory earlier in his career. He’s undersized against Adesanya, but he’s undersized against everyone and knows what he has to do to overcome this disadvantage. This won’t be unfamiliar territory for him.
If you want to go back in time, watch Gastelum’s fight with Uriah Hall. Adesanay is a taller and more potent version of Hall, but there technical prowess is similar. Adesanya is the better version of Hall but Gastelum is a better version of himself than when he fought Hall and the blue print for victory is clear.
Gastelum must pressure Adesanya and not allow The Last Stylebender to sit back and make reads. Still, I don’t think this will be enough as if Gastelum is too reckless, you could see a situation like where Adesanya took out a rushing in Dereke Brunson.
I believe Gastelum will have moments where he stifles Adesanya using pressuring techniques and grappling, but over five rounds Adesanya’s technique will win out. I believe Adesanya by decision is the pick here.