UFC 236: The Dirty “I” Word
Ladies and gentlemen, legal bloodshed is on the way in the form of UFC 236 taking place this Saturday, April 13. We will be treated to a duo of interim title fights with Max Holloway taking on Dustin Poirier for the lightweight title and Israel Adesanya squaring off against Kelvin Gastelum for the middleweight title. If you're wondering why both fights are competing for the dirty “I” word, it's because Khabib Nurmagomedov, the true lightweight champion, is serving his suspension for the brawl after UFC 229 and Robert Whittaker, the true middleweight champion, is currently sidelined due to injury. In an effort to bring a hint of order to the chaos, the winners of these interim matches will become next in line for each respective title upon the return of each champion.
Before I dive into these match-ups, it's important to note that this pay-per-view marks the start of a a new direction for the UFC. The UFC has been “shacking up” with ESPN since the start of 2019, but UFC 236 is where they tie the proverbial knot. To legally watch this event, you have to sign up for ESPN+ and watch it exclusively through that streaming service. This is the case for all pay-per-views moving forward through the end of this ESPN deal in 2025. Personally, I'm not a fan of this move (as I expressed on my podcast, Dojo Talk, that you should be listening to) even though I understand it from the UFC's perspective. Holloway vs Poirier is a match-up that guarantees blood and relentless chaos and from a fight quality standpoint, this couldn’t be a better first pay-per-view for ESPN+ to have. With that being said, let's dive into these interim title fights shall we?
Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway fought for the first time in 2012 at UFC 143. At the time of that fight, Poirier was a rising featherweight star and Holloway was a professional MMA baby sporting a 4-0 record. While Holloway showed tons of potential, it was Poirier who walked away with an impressive first round submission victory. Since that time, both fighters have undergone an amazing evolution. Poirier moved to up to lightweight in 2015 and has been on a murderous tear ever since while Holloway has been on a relentless war path during his ascension to the top of the featherweight division as champion. The raw potential seen in Holloway back in 2012 has finally been harnessed and unleashed.
What makes this match-up so great (but nearly impossible to predict) is that we've witnessed both fighters vastly improve since the last time they met. So now we must ask the following questions: who has improved more and can Holloway be effective moving up a weight class?
Offensively, Holloway is a nightmare to deal with. He's great at picking his shots and knowing when to let loose and when to go for blood. Whether it be his jab, his right hook, a step in elbow—he's creative and his pace seems to only get stronger as the fight goes on. In addition to his stellar offense, he also does a great job defensively. Holloway uses footwork and stance switches to throw off his opponents while being having an uncanny ability to make reads of his opponents in order to ready his defense when he knows return fire is coming. While he doesn't have one punch knockout power, his relentless pace can break anybody over the course of a five-round fight. I think his path to victory over Poirier is to keep that relentless pace pushing until he can slow Poirier down while taking advantage at any sliver of an opportunity to unleash and go for the kill. But of course, all of this is much easier said than done.
One of the biggest improvements in Poirier since moving up to lightweight in 2015 has been his increased power and finishing ability. Even if you don't go down from one of those thunderous punches, Poirier is tremendously skilled at putting together great combinations. I don't believe that he's as defensively sound as Holloway, but I would argue that Poirier has shown more resilience than Holloway to bounce back from shots thrown by quality hard hitters. While I believe Holloway to be the more talented fighter, I would say that Poirier is more well-rounded, given his threat of submissions if the fight ends up on the ground. If Poirier can land some power shots and use his combinations well, I could see him possibly getting a finish in the earlier rounds. This is one hell of a main event that you definitely need to watch because no matter the outcome, it's going to be pure insanity from start to finish.
Prediction: This is such a toss up for me. As I stated earlier, I think that Holloway is more talented but Poirier is more well-rounded...so by the smallest percentage, I'm going to lean toward Poirier. If he can survive an animal like Justin Gaethje, then I think he'll be able to survive an onslaught from Holloway. It's going to be a war, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Poirier gets a TKO finish in round three.
Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum are two middleweights who have both found themselves one step closer to a championship thanks to impressive wins and availability. I love this matchup simply because of the style contrast between both fighters. Adesanya is a showman that brings an elite kickboxing pedigree with pinpoint creative striking into every MMA bout. His masterful control of distance and defensive abilities make him a hard target to get a hold of. Compared to many of his opponents, including Gastelum, he lacks in MMA experience but he makes up for it by not fighting outside of himself. It's no question that Adesanya's wrestling is his weak point, but no one to date has been able to capitalize on that long enough for it to be of any significance. Adesanya sticks to exactly what he's good at and does it to perfection; he's never rattled, never startled, and never nervous.
It’s not a stretch to say that Gastelum has potential to present a number of issues for Adesanya. The most obvious advantage Gastelum has in this fight is power. Every time Gastelum throws a punch, it seems like there's a chance that his opponent's head might fly out of the octagon and into the front row of the arena like a Mortal Kombat fatality. Gastelum’s striking relies on his boxing, for the most part. While he’s somewhat one dimensional, he has quick hands and is good at putting pressure on opponents to get inside—which he’s done a lot more since moving up to middleweight to combat his smaller frame. Since Adesanya is one of the smaller middleweights on the roster, the strength difference between the two won't be as a large as it is with some of the other middleweights that Gastelum has faced. Don't be surprised to see Gastelum go for a takedown, especially if he can tie Adesanya up against the cage. Even if he can't keep Adesanya down, just making him work and exert energy will help his chances to pull off the win. The toughest obstacles Gastelum will have to overcome are closing distance without getting picked apart and having enough stamina if this fight goes the distance. I think Gastelum has the tools to win, but execution will be key.
Prediction: My prediction for this match is similar to the one I made for the main event. I feel like this is a toss up but I'm going with the betting underdog (don't listen to me if you're a betting wo/man). It's very possible that Adesanya could drag Gastelum into the matrix and have him chasing something that he can't hit but I'm going to put my faith in Gastelum's power and pressure. I think he'll be able to clip Adesanya one good time which is all he'll need to get a finish.
I don't think UFC 236 is the most stacked card, but it does have solid match ups throughout that will be worth the watch. The main event and co-main event are really what push it to pay-per-view quality and I'm sure that this will be a fun card. From the prelims and onto the main card, there's going to be enough quality violence to go around that should make this worth it. And if all else fails, Holloway and Poirier are going to bring the house down come fight time, so make sure that you're witnessing it live.
Fights to look out for:
Eryk Anders vs.Khalil Rountree
Max Griffin vs.Zelim Imadaev
Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad
Main Card: 10:00 PM on PPV (ESPN+) Preliminary Card: 8:00 PM On ESPN Early Prelims: 6:15 PM on UFC Fight Pass
Michael "CerealSensei" Williams is the host of the Dojo Talk Podcast. He is an avid fight fan, author, hip hop enthusiast, and part-time gamer. You can find him roaming the Twitter streets at @CerealSensei and you can listen to the Dojo Talk Podcast on Soundcloud.