WELCOME TO THE BIG SHOW: UFC 300 PREVIEW

By E. SPENCER KYTE | Posted 2 months ago

Setting the table for the UFC’s incredible tricentennial on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

BY E. SPENCER KYTE

UFC 300 has been stood out as a massive event on the horizon for the last several years, and grown increasingly anticipated as each passing month brought it close.

When 2024 began and there were only three pay-per-view shows in front of it, this weekend’s colossal showcase of talent began feeling more real, and as the last two events took shape and delivered, expectations and buzz for what’s about to go down on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas continued ramping up.

And now we’re here.

We’ve reached the one that everyone has been waiting for and it is as spectacular as you would except an event of this magnitude to be. With 13 fights featuring a dozen current or former champions, some intriguing, emerging talents, a fascinating newcomer, and much more, shockwaves will be sent through various divisions and it will take more than a couple days for the smoke to clear following this one.

Here’s a breakdown of who and what to pay close attention to this weekend at UFC 300.

FIGHTER TO WATCH: JALIN TURNER

The 28-year-old lightweight is one of the lesser known talents on this card (at least with casual fans), but someone definitely worth keeping close tabs on both Saturday and going forward.

Turner is one of those competitors that was talked about as a prospect long before he reached the UFC, and took a minute to find his footing on the big stage, but he’s found it and he’s a genuinely intriguing figure in the 155-pound weight class. He’s gone 6-2 in his last eight fights, with all six wins coming by stoppage and the two losses being narrow, debatable split decision defeats, and back in December, he starched Bobby Green on short notice to remind everyone of his upside.

He has crazy length for this division, keen finishing instincts and the weapons to create opportunities for himself, and if he mows down Renato Moicano on Saturday evening, it will not only cement his standing as a Top 15 lightweight, but put him in a position to face one of the more established names in front of him in the second half of the year.

FIGHTER TO WATCH: DIEGO LOPES

Lopes is a live wire in the featherweight division — an all-action, attacking chaos agent who has been exciting from the first second he debuted in the Octagon last year.

Part of the Lobo Gym crew alongside flyweight queen Alexa Grasso, the Brazilian built off his gutsy effort in defeat opposite Movsar Evloev with a pair of rapid first-round wins to close out his rookie campaign last year, tapping Gavin Tucker with a flying triangle choke that transitioned into an armbar before pounding out a win over Pat Sabbatini.

He gets his first full-camp opportunity to face a Top 15 opponent this weekend, squaring off with Sodiq Yusuff, who has been a fixture in the rankings for the last couple years, but arrives off a demoralizing loss to Edson Barboza in October.

Lopes is someone that is always a safe bet for a potential Performance of the Night bonus because he’s constantly looking to press the action and attack, and if he adds to his current win streak at UFC 300, he’ll break into the rankings and have even bigger matchups to consider later this year.

FIGHTER TO WATCH: KAYLA HARRISON

Harrison touches down in the UFC for the first time and rolls right into a marquee matchup with former champ Holly Holm, which should immediately tell us where the two-time Olympic gold medalist and former PFL superstar stands in the bantamweight division.

One of the questions surrounding this fight was how Harrison would do cutting down to 135-pound for the first time in her MMA career, as she’s previously fought at either 150 or 155 pounds. She answered that by turning up shredded on Wednesday, and while she still needs to make weight Friday morning, it doesn’t look like it will be an issue.

In terms of the fight itself, it’s a fascinating matchup, as Holm is clearly the more experience and well-rounded fighter, but Harrison is a physical specimen with a particular set of skills that should make her an instant threat in the division. Beating Holm still carries big weight, and Harrison has made it clear she wants to be fighting for gold by the end of the year, so you know she’s looking to make a statement on Saturday.

Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen.

FIGHTER TO WATCH: BO NICKAL

Nickal’s inclusion on the main card this weekend irked some people, but always made complete sense to me.

The three-time National champion wrestler from Penn State is one of the most interesting, talked about prospects in the sport at the moment, and showcasing him in the opening slot on Saturday’s pay-per-view signals that he is someone fans need to pay attention to and potentially invest in, because the promotion clearly has high hopes for the unbeaten middleweight from Happy Valley.

Nickal grabbed a pair of first-round finishes in his 2023 rookie season in the UFC, and faces off with Cody Brundage this weekend in a bout that represents a smaller step up in competition than most would have liked for him at this stage of his development.

How things shake out this weekend will dictate what happens next for Nickal.

If he wins quickly and decisively, a significant push and increase in the level of competition he’s facing should follow, whereas if he wins, but has some difficulty, the UFC will surely continue to slow play him. If he loses, people are going to be idiots about it, but honestly, it won’t be the end of the world.

But that isn’t likely to happen.

FIGHT TO WATCH: CHARLES OLIVEIRA VS. ARMAN TSARUKYAN

One of two fights on this weekend’s card that will have an impact on how things line up in the lightweight division going forward, the final bout at UFC 300 without a title on the line is an absolute banger between former champ Charles Oliveira and surging contender Arman Tsarukyan.

Each is coming off a first-round stoppage win over Beneil Dariush — Oliveira in June, Tsarukyan in December — and each has a case for being the logical “next in line” to challenge for the lightweight title with a win here. Oliveira was supposed to rematch Islam Makhachev in October, but suffered a cut before the fight and was forced to withdraw, while Tsarukyan has won eight of nine since debuting with a decision loss to the current champ five years ago, so a victory for either one could get them over the line and into a championship fight.

Stylistically, this one is compelling because both are dangerous on the feet, but even better on the ground, though from very different bases; Oliveira favors submissions and Brazilian jiu jitsu while Tsarukyan is a wrestler and happy to rough you up on the canvas.

There is a little bit of “changing of the guard” potential here as the former champion has been in the mix for a while now, and the streaking 27-year-old Tsarukyan represents the best of the next wave of talent pushing forward in the division, but beating Oliveira isn’t easy.

Honestly, this is the fight I’m most interested in on Saturday night, hands down.

BMF TITLE FIGHT: JUSTIN GAETHJE VS. MAX HOLLOWAY

Gaethje and Holloway battle for the BMF title and maybe an opportunity to inject themselves into the lightweight title conversation as well in the middle fight on the UFC 300 pay-per-view main card.

Gaethje won the BMF (Baddest Mother shut your mouth!) title in July when he knocked out Dustin Poirier at UFC 291, and becomes the first man to defend the symbolic belt. Holloway, the long-time featherweight ruler, moves up a division after his path back to gold in his familiar stomping grounds appeared blocked, only for Alexander Volkanovski to be dethroned and the road to clear.

This should be an absolute demolition derby of action for as long as it lasts, which could be 25 minutes, though it isn’t likely to go the distance.

Both men have been in a number of wars over the years, are adept at handing out punishment, and pretty good at taking it too, so there is a real possibility that these two meet in the center of the Octagon, start throwing and don’t stop until one man falls or the round ends, at which point they’ll retreat to their corners for a minute and pick up where they left on the restart.

One interesting wrinkle: Holloway ventured up to lightweight once before and struggled with the power of Poirier, so I’m curious to see how he does now that he’s bulked up a little this time around.

STRAWWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: ZHANG WEILI VS. YAN XIAONAN

Not only is the strawweight title on the line here, but history is being made as well, as Zhang and Yan face off in the first all-Chinese championship bout in the UFC.

Zhang posted the first successful defense of her second reign last summer, out-working power hitter Amanda Lemos over five rounds in Boston. She’s 8-2 in the UFC, 24-3 overall, and remains the most complete fighter in the division. Yan cemented her standing as a top contender last May with a first-round knockout win over former champ Jessica Andrade, and probably should have gotten a shot ahead of Lemos, but that isn’t how things came together.

The time between fights and the gulf of experience in marquee matchups like this are the two major points of interest in this one, as six of Zhang’s last seven fights have been title bouts and she fought more recently of the two, while Yan is coming off an 11-month absence and fighting on pay-per-view for just the fourth time in her career, and first in a championship bout.

A win for Zhang will likely bring some “super fight” talk to the fore, while a victory for Yan would likely result in an immediate rematch, and cause havoc within the divisional structure.

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: ALEX PEREIRA VS. JAMAHAL HILL

Things on Saturday night wrap in the light heavyweight division, as Brazilian champion Alex Pereira defends against Jamahal Hill, the former champ who relinquished the belt last year due to injury.

“Poatan” has been tremendously impressive in his first two years in the UFC, posting a 6-1 record with title wins at both middleweight and light heavyweight, as well as victories over four former champions. He’s a menacing presence with ferocious power, and feels like the kind of guy that could go on an extended run at the top of the division; something we haven’t seen since Jon Jones’ heyday.

Hill won the belt in January 2023, out-hustling Pereira’s lead coach, Glover Teixeira, in Rio de Janeiro to push his overall winning streak to four. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in July playing hoops, and returns here, looking to reclaim the title he never lost in competition and reclaim the throne he feels his opponent has been keeping warm for him in his stead.

More than anything, I expect to come away from this fight with a greater understanding of where each of these men stand in the division and what their respective futures might hold once this one is in the books. There are so many different ways it could play out that I just want to sit back, lock in, and draw my conclusions once the dust settles.

It should be fun and a fitting way to wrap up the biggest card in UFC history.

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