Sherdog’s Top 10: Can’t-Miss Fights of Summer 2021

By: Brian Knapp
May 28, 2021

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Conor McGregor’s place as a household name and status as a box-office superstar may be secure, but the result of his next assignment could have lasting ramifications for what remains of his career.

The former two-division Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder will face a rubber match and all the associated consequences when he completes his trilogy with Dustin Poirier in the UFC 264 main event on July 10 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Poirier evened their head-to-head series—McGregor scored a technical knockout on the Louisianan in 2014—at 1-1 in January, when he crippled the Irishman with kicks to the lower leg and then put away the John Kavanagh protégé with punches in the second round of their UFC 257 headliner. Neither man has fought since.

Poirier-McGregor 3 is but one can’t-miss fight during the months of June, July and August. Here are nine more:

Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Miguel Baeza
UFC Fight Night 189
June 5 | Las Vegas

Baeza used Dana White’s Contender Series as his springboard to the UFC and emerged as one of the more intriguing prospects on the roster. The 28-year-old MMA Masters export boasts a perfect 10-0 record with eight finishes. Baeza last appeared at UFC on ESPN 18 in November, when he choked Takashi Sato unconscious with a second-round arm-triangle. Ponzinibbio, meanwhile, saw his rise through the welterweight ranks slowed by injuries. The American Top Team rep sports a 9-3 mark in the UFC that includes victories over Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson and Sean Strickland. Ponzinibbio returned from more than a two-year absence at UFC on ABC 1 in January, only to have his seven-fight winning streak snapped in a knockout loss to Jingliang Li.

Claressa Shields vs. Brittney Elkin
Professional Fighters League 4
June 10 | Atlantic City, New Jersey

All eyes figure to be on Shields when she makes her professional mixed martial arts debut under the Professional Fighters League banner. The two-time Olympic gold medalist went 11-0 in pro boxing and became the first boxer, male or female, to hold all four major titles—WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO—in two weight classes simultaneously. She began her formal mixed martial arts training at Jackson-Wink MMA and signed a three-year contract with the PFL in November. Winless since June 2016, Elkin enters the cage on the heels of a three-fight losing streak. She has not competed in the Professional Fighters League since she submitted to an armbar from Kayla Harrison on June 21, 2018.

Douglas Lima vs. Yaroslav Amosov
Bellator 260
June 11 | Uncasville, Connecticut

The next mountain could not be any steeper for Lima, as he defends the undisputed Bellator MMA welterweight crown. Operating out of an American Top Team affiliate in Atlanta, the 33-year-old Brazilian has rattled off 11 victories across his past 14 outings, emerging as one of Bellator’s most consistent performers. Lima last fought at Bellator 250, where he dropped a unanimous decision to Gegard Mousasi in a showdown for the vacant middleweight title and failed in his bid to become a simultaneous two-division champion on Oct. 29. Amasov, meanwhile, owns an eye-popping 25-0 record that includes Bellator victories over Ed Ruth, David Rickels, Erick Silva and Gerald Harris. The undefeated Ukrainian last appeared at Bellator 252 in November, when he eked out a split decision over four-time NCAA All-American wrestler Logan Storley.

Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno
UFC 263
June 12 | Glendale, Arizona

When five rounds failed to settle the score between them, a rematch was seen as a must. Roughly six months after their first encounter—a “Fight of the Year” contender at UFC 256—resulted in a majority draw, Figueiredo and Moreno will once again lock horns to decide the fate of the Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight crown. Figueiredo retained his title but walked away disappointed on Dec. 12, as a third-round point deduction for a groin strike cost him a win on the scorecards and snapped his run of consecutive victories at five. Moreno, meanwhile, has gone six outings (4-0-2) and more than three years since suffering his last setback. The Entram Gym export has never been finished in his 25-fight career.

Ray Cooper III vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin
Professional Fighters League 5
June 17 | Atlantic City, New Jersey

Cooper yet again appears poised to make a run at the $1 million prize being offered to divisional winners at the end of the Professional Fighters League’s 2021 campaign. The brick-fisted Hawaiian kicked off his latest push at PFL 2, where he submitted Jason Ponet with an arm-triangle choke just 83 seconds into their April 29 encounter. Cooper, the PFL’s 2019 tournament winner, will carry a three-fight winning streak into the cage with him. Aleksakhin saw his run of consecutive victories stopped at seven at PFL 2 in April, when his battle with Sadibou Sy ended in a no contest due to an accidental eye poke in the second round. The 30-year-old Russian has delivered 13 of his 24 career wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

Ciryl Gane vs. Alexander Volkov
UFC Fight Night 190
June 26 | Las Vegas

Gane appears to be on the fast track to stardom in the UFC’s heavyweight division. The unbeaten Frenchman debuted in the promotion as an unproven prospect with only three pro bouts under his belt. Gane now sits at 8-0 after defeating Raphael Pessoa, Don’Tale Mayes, Tanner Boser, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in succession, and at just 31 years of age, he seems well-equipped to front the weight class for the better part of the next decade. Perhaps only the 6-foot-7 Volkov stands between “Bon Gamin” and his being minted as the next No. 1 contender. The seasoned and well-versed Russian last competed at UFC Fight Night 184, where he cut down Alistair Overeem with second-round punches on Feb. 6.

Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez
UFC Fight Night 191
July 17 | Las Vegas

Nearly five months after it happened, people still talk about the violent beating Holloway administered to Calvin Kattar in the UFC on ABC 1 main event. The Hawaiian landed 445 significant strikes and connected at an almost-unimaginable 59% clip in his lopsided unanimous decision over Kattar on Jan. 16, the comprehensive performance putting a charge in the MMA universe. As he waits for the Alexander Volkanovski-Brian Ortega situation to play out in front of him, Holloway will take his swings at one of the division’s young guns. Rodriguez, 28, has not tasted defeat in nearly four years. However, activity has been an issue for “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” winner. Rodriguez last fought at UFC on ESPN 6, where he took a three-round unanimous decision from Jeremy Stephens on Oct. 18, 2019.

Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw
UFC Fight Night 192
July 24 | Las Vegas

Stock in Sandhagen soared to new heights after he scored devastating knockouts against Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar in back-to-back outings. However, the Elevation Fight Team standout has at least one more hurdle to clear before he challenges either Aljamain Sterling or Petr Yan for the UFC bantamweight championship. Fresh off his 28-second flying knee finish of Edgar, Sandhagen sets his sights on a former champion who has not set foot inside the Octagon since January 2019. Dillashaw returns at the age of 35 following a two-year suspension levied by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. He has won eight of his past 10 fights, losing only to Dominick Cruz and Henry Cejudo.

Jose Aldo vs. Pedro Munhoz
UFC 265
Aug. 7 | TBD

Aldo still has a few chapters left to write in his story. The former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion appears to have breathed new life into his career with an unexpected move to 135 pounds. Aldo closed the book on a three-fight losing streak on Dec. 19, when he laid claim to a three-round unanimous decision over Marlon Vera in the UFC Fight Night 183 co-main event. His road to true relevance in the bantamweight division now runs through Munhoz. The American Team-trained Brazilian improved to 9-5 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC Fight Night 186, where he was awarded a unanimous decision over Jimmie Rivera on Feb. 27. Munhoz, 34, has never been finished in 25 professional outings. Advertisement

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