Pular para o conteúdo principal
Alexandre Pantoja (L) of Brazil and Steve Erceg of Australia pose for photo prior to the UFC 301 at Sugar Loaf on April 29, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

The 10: Mapping Out The Must-See UFC Fights In The Month Ahead

Three Events Bring A Diverse Collection Of Contests Into The Octagon In May

May is right up there amongst my favorite months of the year, trailing only October, which is automatically in first place because that’s the month in which I was born.

What makes the fifth month of the year so appealing to me is that — at least here in Abbotsford, British Columbia — the temperature doesn’t get too high, there is often a lovely breeze, and it’s perfect “all you need is a hoodie” weather, which October parallels on the other side of summer. The sun is out longer in the evening, but not up so early in the morning as to be annoying, I can sit on my deck and enjoy a fire and a cocktail, and everything just feels pleasant.

Please enable Javascript to view this content

That sums up the way I feel about this month’s slate in the Octagon as well.

Coming on the heels of UFC 300, the May collection of events offers a nice mix of contests carrying divisional significance, including a fascinating flyweight title fight in Brazil, a few litmus tests for promising, ascending fighters, and a couple sneaky-fun pairings that are sure to surprise people.

Here’s a look at the matchups that really pique my interest in the coming weeks.

UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg — Saturday, May 4 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Elves Brener vs Myktybek Orolbai

Myktybek Orolbai of Kyrgyzstan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Myktybek Orolbai of Kyrgyzstan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

If you know me and this series, you know there is always a fight in this collection that is “one for me” — an under-the-radar pairing that feels poised to be a bout people are unexpectedly talking about when the dust settles following that particular event.

This month, that fight is this lightweight tussle between Elves Brener and Myktybek Orolbai.

Brener went 3-0 last year, earning a split decision win over Zubaira Tukhugov in his debut before orchestrating one of the better comebacks of 2023 when he rallied to finish Guram Kutateladze in July. To cap things off, the Chute Boxe Diego Lima representative returned to Sao Paulo and posted a first-round stoppage win over Kaynan Kruschewsky in November to move to 16-3 overall.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

A trio of wins under the LFA banner prompted Orolbai to get a last-minute call-up in November and the 26-year-old made the most of it, submitting Uros Medic in the second round. That fight took place at welterweight, and now the streaking fighter from Kyrgyzstan shifts down a division to test the waters in the lightweight ranks.

Both men impressed last year and left me wanting to see more from each of them, and now they’re paired off together in what should be an exciting battle early in the night in Rio de Janeiro.

Jack Shore vs Joanderson Brito

Joanderson Brito of Brazil reacts after his victory against Jonathan Pearce in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Joanderson Brito of Brazil reacts after his victory against Jonathan Pearce in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Currently residing just outside the rankings, Jack Shore and Joanderson Brito face off in what promises to be an informative featherweight battle to close out the UFC 301 prelims.

Shore suffered the first and only loss of his career to date in the summer of 2022 and returned last year as a featherweight, registering a second-round submission win over Makwan Amirkhani in London to get things moving in the right direction again. The Welsh standout looked comfortable and fit in his first appearance in the 145-pound ranks and remains someone to track in the division heading into this one.

How To Watch UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg In Your Country

The 29-year-old Brito added two more stoppage wins to his resume in 2023, bringing his record to 4-1 in the UFC and 16-3-1 overall. After making quick work of Westin Wilson in July, “Tubarao” tapped out Jonathan Pearce in November, which signaled that the Brazilian should be someone everyone is paying attention to heading as he kicks of his 2024 campaign in Rio.

This is a perfect bit of matchmaking, as how this one shakes out is going to tell us a great deal about where each man fits in the division at present and shed more light on how high each man might be able to climb in the future. Shore is the more technical grappler, while Brito boasts greater physicality and athleticism, so it will be curious to see who wins the inevitable battles along the fence and on the ground here.

Paul Craig vs Caio Borralho

Caio Borralho of Brazil reacts after his middleweight fight against Abus Magomedov of Russia during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)
Caio Borralho of Brazil reacts after his middleweight fight against Abus Magomedov of Russia during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)

Paul Craig heads to Rio for the second time in 16 months to face off with Caio Borralho in a bout that feels designed to answer some of the questions that remain unanswered about the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) standout.

Already 17 fights deep into his UFC career, Craig is a known commodity at this point — a dangerous grappler and ground fighter that is still honing his standup skills, and should remain a consistent threat in the middleweight Top 15 for the foreseeable future.

MORE UFC 301: A Breakdown Of Every Brazilian On The Card | Caio Borralho's Five Fights | Fight By Fight Preview

Borralho is the question mark here, and this pairing with Craig should help clarify some things.

After earning two wins on Season 5 of the annual talent search series to garner a spot on the roster, the Fighting Nerds representative posted three wins in his rookie campaign and two more as a sophomore to move to 5-0 in the UFC. He turned 31 in January and now takes a step forward to face a ranked opponent for the first time and the result of this one will obviously dictate what comes next and how far Borralho might be able to climb in the middleweight ranks.

Anthony Smith vs Vitor Petrino

Anthony Smith | Top Finishes
fight pass logo
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

This video is not available in your country

There was a problem while loading content. Please try again.

Anthony Smith | Top Finishes
/

Veteran Anthony Smith puts his place in the light heavyweight hierarchy on the line in the UFC 301 featured bout as he takes on hard-charging Brazilian prospect Vitor Petrino.

Smith has gone through cycles over the last few years, with his loss to Jon Jones beginning a 1-3 stretch before a three-fight winning streak carried him back into contention. He arrives in Rio off a stoppage loss to Khalil Rountree Jr. and having once again dropped three of four, it’ll be curious to see what “Lionheart” can dial up here.

WATCH: Victor Petrino's Best Finishes

Over his first 12 months as an active member of the UFC roster, Petrino posted a 4-0 mark to creep into the rankings in the light heavyweight division. Last time out, he registered a unanimous decision win over Tyson Pedro, and for as good as he’s looked so far, the unbeaten 26-year-old also clearly has plenty of room to grow as he continues to gain more experience.

Will the veteran be able to stave off the ascending prospect or can Petrino keep rolling and collect the biggest win of his young career?

Jonathan Martinez vs Jose Aldo

Jonathan Martinez gets a spotlight opportunity as he welcomes Jose Aldo back to the Octagon at UFC 301.

The depth of talent in the bantamweight division means Martinez has lived in the background to this point, but the Factory X man has earned six straight victories and wins in 10 of his last 12 UFC appearances heading into this one. A dangerous striker, primarily with his left leg attacks, the 30-year-old has a chance to elevate his profile with a victory over the returning legend in Rio de Janeiro.

MORE ALDO: Recap Aldo's Phenomenal UFC Career

Aldo competes in the Octagon for the first time since August 2022, when he dropped a decision to Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 278. “The King of Rio” won three straight before that, but also dropped each of his last two appearances in his adopted hometown, which gives this a “try to get one more win at home” feel as these two head into battle on May 4.

Martinez has quietly been working his way up the division ranks over the last couple years and a win over Aldo would be the kind of victory that could not be ignored as he continues to push forward.

Alexandre Pantoja vs Steve Erceg

Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil and Steve Erceg of Australia face off prior to the UFC 301 at Sugar Loaf on April 29, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)
Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil and Steve Erceg of Australia face off prior to the UFC 301 at Sugar Loaf on April 29, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

The month’s lone championship pairing is a fascinating matchup between hometown titleholder Alexandre Pantoja and Australian challenger Stephen Erceg.

Pantoja fights at home in Rio for the first time in a decade, returning on a five-fight winning streak and having won and successfully defended the flyweight title last year. The 34-year-old veteran has dialed back his aggressiveness in favor of a more tactical, grappling-heavy approach as of late, playing to his greatest strength rather than playing with fire on the feet.

MORE UFC 301: Get To Know The Challenger | Key Stats From The Main Event

It only took Erceg 10 months and three fights to establish himself as a legitimate threat in the 125-pound weight class, as “Astroboy” followed a pair of 2023 decision wins with a blistering second-round knockout of Matt Schnell back in March. He’s won 11 straight overall and has thus far appeared unflappable inside the Octagon, and it will be interesting to see if that carries over to this championship fight in what is sure to be hostile territory on the weekend.

My sense is that people still don’t know how good Erceg is because they’ve had limited exposure to him at this point, but make no mistake about it — the 28-year-old is technically sound, defensively responsible, well-rounded, and more than capable of spoiling Pantoja’s homecoming.

At the same time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the champion operating at a different level in this one as he defends his title on home turf with a partisan crowd behind him.

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento — Saturday, May 11 (St. Louis, Missouri)

Tabatha Ricci vs Tecia Pennington

Tecia Pennington warms up prior to her fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Tecia Torres warms up prior to her fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

While not officially a battle of ranked strawweights, this bout between Tabatha Ricci and the returning Tecia Pennington (nee Torres) has serious divisional implications.

Ricci had her four-fight winning streak snapped last time out at UFC 295, dropping a split decision to Loopy Godinez. It was a close, competitive battle where the Brazilian talent continued to show her improvements on the feet, and the setback didn’t cost her any real ground in the rankings.

MORE UFC 301: Fighters On The Rise | The Best Fights To Happen In Rio

Pennington competes for the first time since landing on the unhappy side of a split decision verdict opposite Mackenzie Dern at UFC 273, having given birth to her first child with wife and UFC bantamweight titleholder Raquel Pennington last June. “The Tiny Tornado” has been a fixture in the rankings since the division’s inception, and has all the talent and experience to return to the Top 15 straight away.

This feels like one of those bouts where we’re going to learn exactly where each of these women stand heading into the second half of the year depending on how things play out. Can Ricci get right back into the win column and turn back the returning veteran or will Pennington pick up a victory in his first bout in two years, reminding everyone that she’s still a factor in the 115-pound ranks?

Joaquin Buckley vs Nursulton Ruziboev

St. Louis native Joaquin Buckley gets the chance to compete at home, occupying the co-main event slot of the May 11 event in a bout against streaking divisional newcomer Nursulton Ruziboev.

After a 5-4 run at middleweight to begin his UFC tenure, Buckley shifted to welterweight last year and posted quality wins over Andre Fialho and Alex Morono. At the end of March in Atlantic City, “New Mansa” collected his biggest win to date, stopping Top 10 staple Vicente Luque in the second round to move to 3-0 in the division and climb into the rankings.

View The Whole UFC St. Louis Card

Ruziboev earned a victory that evening on the Jersey Shore, as well, stopping Sedriques Dumas in the first to collect his second straight first-round finish in the UFC and extend his winning streak to 10 overall. But each of his first two UFC outings and eight of his last nine bouts were in the middleweight division, and now he drops down for the first time since early 2021 to take on a Top 10 opponent for the first time.

I love fights like this and commend Buckley for rolling the dice against a former middleweight on a solid run of success fresh off the most important victory of his career. No matter how this one shakes out, we’ll be left with a streaking talent to pay close attention to in the welterweight division going forward, and those kinds of situations are always intriguing.

Derrick Lewis vs Rodrigo Nascimento

Don't Miss A Moment Of UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento, Live From Enterprise Center In St. Louis, Missouri On May 11, 2024

Derrick Lewis has always been must-see TV and now he steps in against an ascending Brazilian looking to take a major step forward in Rodrigo Nascimento.

Last time out, Lewis was controlled on the canvas for five rounds by Jailton Almeida, dropping him to 1-4 over his last five and just 2-5 over his last seven. But the man with the most knockout wins in UFC history is always capable of regrouping quickly and remains an outstanding measuring stick in the big boy ranks, especially in situations like this one.

Nascimento pushed his winning streak to three with a second win over Don’Tale Mayes on that same November fight card in Sao Paulo where Lewis was defeated by Almeida. The 31-year-old is 11-1 overall with one no contest and finally gets the opportunity to prove he’s a Top 10 talent in the heavyweight ranks by stepping in with the former title challenger here.

UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs Murphy — Saturday, May 18 (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Edson Barboza vs Lerone Murphy

Don't Miss A Moment Of UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs Murphy, Live From UFC APEX In Las Vegas, Nevada On May 18, 2024

The May slate wraps in the featherweight division with a pairing between Edson Barboza and Lerone Murphy at the UFC APEX.

Last time out, Barboza rallied from the brink of being finished early in his fight with Sodiq Yusuff to post a commanding unanimous decision win. It was the second straight triumph for the 39-year-old veteran, who continues to show he’s got plenty left in the tank and remains an all-action fighter now more than a dozen years into his UFC career.

Unbeaten in 14 pro appearances and riding a five-fight winning streak, Murphy finally shares the Octagon with a ranked opponent for the first time as he looked to really make a push towards the top of the division in 2024. He was solid in a pair of London starts last year that produced wins over Gabriel Santos and Joshua Culibao, but now it’s time to find out how “The Miracle” manages against a tenured talent like Barboza.

This is the precise type of pairing and opportunity Murphy needs at this stage of his career if he’s going to add his name to the growing list of contenders in the 145-pound weight class. Even greater opportunities will open up for him if he’s able to make the most of his first UFC main event assignment, but Barboza has only ever lost to serious talents, and showed last time that he’s still not easy to put away.

UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg took place live from Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 4, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!