An interim featherweight title fight it is, as Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis headline the UFC 206 fight card this Saturday, December 10, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
And while the main event may not be the originally scheduled title rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson, the Holloway vs. Pettis fight is one of the more intriguing bouts to materialize during the last few months.
A kickboxing force at just 25 years of age, Max Holloway (16-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) has already cemented his place as the UFC's all-time winningest featherweight. Holloway also happens to be in the midst of a divisional-best, nine-fight win streak, which has him on the cusp of his first title.
Last seen topping Ricardo Lamas at UFC 199, Holloway has looked better with every outing. Tremendous balance and takedown defense have helped Holloway evolve into one of the division's most feared strikers. He's also shown a solid submission game during his undefeated run, which dates back to January 2014.
Pettis (19-5 MMA, 6-4 UFC), a former UFC lightweight champion, looks to add a second belt to his collection, becoming the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two different weight classes. And while an 0-3 skid ended his run at lightweight, Pettis looked good in his featherweight debut, submitting BJJ black belt Charles Oliveira in August.
A fight to determine the next challenger to Jose Aldo's featherweight belt, this bout between Holloway and Pettis is likely to play out on the feet for the entire 5 rounds. Both fighters have demonstrated an uncanny ability to go the distance and batter opponents with flashy and powerful strikes.
And while both Holloway and Pettis have the submission skills to threaten on the ground, the grappling game will likely be a tactic to open up holes on the feet, as both athletes look to land punches and kicks.
After 25 minutes, look for Max Holloway to have the hotter hand and take the interim strap on account of his crisp punches and ability to dictate the pace of the action.
Co-main event: Donald Cerrone vs. Matt Brown
An important welterweight bout co-headlines the UFC 206 fight card. And while the matchup is a straight up fantasy bout between two of the sport's most action heavy fighters, it's only due to a weight-cutting mishap that this pairing between Cerrone and Brown was even made.
Originally slated to face Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 205, Cerrone (31-7 MMA, 18-4 UFC), the UFC's fifth-ranked welterweight, was bumped to the Toronto card after Gastelum was unable to make weight.
Veteran Matt Brown (20-15 MMA, 13-9 UFC), who sits at fourteenth in the standings, was pulled away from a UFC 207 bout against Tarec Saffiedine to take on Cerrone, a winner of three-straight at 170 pounds.
In his last bout, a UFC 202 knockout of Rick Story, Cerrone delivered perhaps the most impressive fight-ending combination of his 10-year professional MMA career. Looking better at welterweight than he did en route to a lightweight title shot, Cerrone continues to impress at 170. And although Brown is the most formidable opponent the "Cowboy" has faced at welterweight, Cerrone will continue his run up the division on account of his slick kickboxing and diverse striking attack.
Brown will threaten Cerrone and press forward with the sharp boxing skills that once earned "The Immortal" five-straight knockouts. But after 15 minutes, Cerrone will edge out the decision.
Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi
Having never fought for the UFC featherweight belt, perennial top-10 fighter Cub Swanson could find himself nearing title contention with a big win at UFC 206.
The UFC's fourth-ranked featherweight, Swanson (23-7 MMA, 8-3 UFC) takes on the "Korean Super Boy" Doo Ho Choi (14-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) in a featured bout. And while Choi looks unassuming, the eleventh-ranked featherweight has been nothing short of menacing during his three bouts inside the Octagon.
Recording three-straight first-round knockouts, including a Performance of the Night-winning KO of Thiago Tavares at The Ultimate Fighter Season 23 Finale, Choi has quickly become one of the division's hottest prospects.
It was Choi who initially called Swanson out, and for good reason. The taller and longer Korean will be able to implement his gameplan quite handily on Swanson, who likes to rush in close and box at his range.
Swanson is dangerous in every aspect of MMA, but the likeliest scenario is that Choi thwarts a few early takedown attempts. And after Swanson is unable to find a way to move in close or bring Choi down, the Korean will cut off the cage and land the knockout blow.
Cub Swanson is a tremendous fighter, but Choi earns another first-round KO/TKO here.
Tim Kennedy vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Much like his Jackson-Wink MMA teammate Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy only makes his UFC 206 appearance after some behind-the-scenes action took place at UFC 205. It's just sheer irony that Kennedy will face Kelvin Gastelum, the very man who took away Cerrone's chance to compete at Madison Square Garden when he failed to make weight in New York City.
The mishap led to Gastelum's removal from the welterweight division and permanent exile at middleweight.
For Tim Kennedy (18-5 MMA, 3-1 UFC), the UFC's tenth-ranked middleweight who last competed at UFC 178, the key will be top control and taking Gastelum to the ground. Gastelum (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC), who last competed at UFC 200 will have his work cut out for him, as Kennedy is famous for making good fighters look out of place.
And while it may not be pretty, Tim Kennedy earns the unanimous decision win by simply controlling the pace of the fight.
Nikita Krylov vs. Misha Cirkunov
Headlining the FOX Sports 1 preliminary card are a pair of heavy-hitting light heavyweights from the Eastern Bloc, as eighth-ranked Nikita Krylov (21-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) looks for his sixth win in a row against thirteenth-ranked Misha Cirkunov (12-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC).
A born finisher, Krylov has never gone the distance during his 25-fight professional career. And, at just 24 years old, the mixed martial artist from the Ukraine has plenty of time to work his way up the divisional rankings. Cirkunov, who hails from Latvia and has finished all three of his bouts inside the Octagon, presents a unique challenge, as he's significantly faster than Krylov's last opponent, Ed Herman.
In the end, this fight will come down to the submission game. And while Krylov and Cirkunov will both do damage on the feet, Krylov will find his opening on the ground and sink in the late submission.
Lando Vannata vs. John Makdessi
There may be no other 0-1 UFC fighter with as much hype behind them as "Groovy" Lando Vannata. But after a wild and impressive performance against Tony Ferguson in July that has him on the shortlist for Round of the Year contenders, Vannata makes his return to the Octagon for the UFC Fight Pass Prelims.
Vannata (8-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) is an unpredictable and unorthodox lightweight who keeps his hands low and takes risks to gain position. John Makdessi (14-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC), who was last seen during a winning effort at UFC Fight Night 90, is a patient and methodical kickboxer, who engages at distance and avoids exchanges up close.
The story of the fight is likely to be Vannata's footwork, as he shuffles in and out of Makdessi's preferred range. And while Makdessi owns the experience edge in this one, Vannata will secure his first UFC win, recording a TKO in the later rounds.