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Five for Fighting: What to watch at UFC 276 to cap International Fight Week

UFC 276 News Conference

Steve Marcus

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, left, poses with challenger Max Holloway during a UFC 276 news conference at T-Mobile Arena Thursday, June 30, 2022. UFC 276 takes place at the arena on Saturday.

In the 10 years since the inception of the UFC’s International Fight Week, held annually around the Fourth of July in Las Vegas, the event has hosted some of the biggest bouts in mixed martial arts history.

That won’t be the case this year when UFC 276 commences at 3 p.m. on Saturday July 2 at T-Mobile Arena because of a confluence of factors like schedule-timing and injuries, but the card is nonetheless highly anticipated. What it lacks in a bona fide blockbuster will be made up for in depth and intrigue throughout.

It should be nonstop action to directly follow UFC X, the new version of the promotion’s ever-popular fan expo. UFC X will include fighter meet-and-greets, interactive activities and other attractions, along with world-class boxing, jiujitsu, esports and weightlifting tournaments, all taking place on July 1 and 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

But the pay-per-view card is always the primary attraction, so here are five things to watch spanning all the way from the preliminaries to the title fights at UFC 276.

1. A Trilogy Topper

The third fight between the top two featherweights in the world—champion Alexander Volkanovski and longtime former champion Max Holloway — isn’t the main event, but that’s only because the UFC always defaults to the bigger weight classes. A middleweight bout between heavily favored champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Jared Cannonier should bring kickboxing fireworks as the headliner, but there’s more anticipation for Volkanovski vs. Holloway III in the co-main event.

The Australian Volkanovski has outpointed the Hawaiian Holloway twice—by unanimous decision in 2019 and split decision in 2020—but both were controversial. An impassioned case could have been made for either fighter winning either fight, given how evenly they exchanged strikes and big moments on the feet.

Their rivalry is now etched into UFC history as one of the most significant of all-time and might not even end at three fights like similar combat-sports feuds, especially if Holloway pulls the slight upset this time around.

2. Tate’s (Now-Delayed) Return

Miesha Tate, the locally based women’s mixed martial arts pioneer, was memorably thrust into the main event of International Fight Week at UFC 200 in 2016 on three days’ notice when planned headliner Jon Jones failed a drug test.

The night didn’t end as planned for her; she lost her bantamweight title to Amanda Nunes via first-round submission and then retired after another loss a few months later. But Tate is in the middle of a comeback now, and ironically, she’s perhaps more famous than she was six years ago when she was at the top of one of the best-selling cards of all-time.

Tate stayed visible as a mixed martial arts commentator and ambassador during her time away from competition, and she recently crossed over into reality television by winning the latest season of Celebrity Big Brother.

In her third fight since unretiring, Tate was slated to drop to the 125-pound flyweight division to take on Lauren Murphy on the main card of UFC 276. But Murphy tested positive for COVID-19 less than a week before the fight, leaving the UFC searching for a new opponent to take on Tate at press time.

The promotion ultimately decided not to go that route, and re-scheduled Tate vs. Murphy for the UFC on ABC card scheduled for July 16 in Long Island, N.Y.

3. The ‘Suga Show’

As an outspoken personality with lethal finishing ability, “Sugar” Sean O’Malley has been tabbed for stardom since he entered the UFC more than three years ago.

Now is the time for the 27-year-old, who is riding a streak of three straight knockout victories, to prove whether he’s ready for title contention. In veteran 35-year-old Pedro Munhoz, O’Malley will meet the most experienced opponent of his career to open the pay-per-view card.

There’s no doubt O’Malley already has the fanbase to merit headlining bouts, but he also has detractors who say he has been coddled and put into favorable matchups by the UFC. This could be another example: Munhoz has lost four of his last five fights, though it should be noted that all the defeats came to current or former champions.

4. Climb of ‘The Tarantula’

No fighter on preliminary cards has electrified T-Mobile Arena over the past year more than Jalin “The Tarantula” Turner.

The lanky lightweight upset Uros Medic via first-round submission at UFC 266 in September, then knocked out Jamie Mullarkey in the second round at UFC 272 in March. His reward comes in an elevated placement this time: Turner will cap the ESPN-televised portion of the card in a fight against Brad Riddell.

Unlike O’Malley’s hype, no one is accusing Turner’s rise of being manufactured. It has come of out nowhere for the avid spider collector from San Bernardino, California, and will reach new heights if the 27-year-old can secure a fifth-straight stoppage victory at UFC 276.

5. The Iron Men

Lightweights Jim Miller and Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone sit first and third in the UFC record book for all-time fights, with totals of 39 and 37, respectively. An injury to fellow veteran Bobby Green, who was slated to fight Miller, means two of the most active fighters in promotional history will meet for the second time at UFC 276.

Cerrone defeated Miller via headkick knockout in 2014, but the former's all-out-war style has aged less gracefully than the latter's grappling-heavy approach. Miller, who has won two straight, is favored this time over Cerrone, who's on the verge of retirement after five consecutive losses.

There's a chance that the next time either of these two fighters appears at International Fight Week, they'll be there for induction into the UFC Hall of Fame.

This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.