Six months on from his mesmerising striking display to blast past a gamely Calvin Kattar effort in Abu Dhabi, former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway again defends his #1 ranking against Yair Rodriguez (#3) on July 16 – 21 months after the latter’s last Octagon appearance.
Holloway an arduous task to navigate for returning Rodriguez
Initially scheduled to face Russia’s Zabit Magomedsharipov (18-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) last August, UFC promoter Dana White confirmed he sustained an ankle injury and wouldn’t feature on Aug. 4.
USADA, the UFC’s anti-doping administrator, announced Yair was serving a six-month suspension for failing to notify them of his whereabouts and being unavailable for drug testing.
He was eligible to resume fighting in early March, as the ban had been retroactive to September 8, and considering how the division has shaken out since his last fight, Holloway appeared the only real step-up in competition he could face.
After all, titlist Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega (#2) were to duel for the featherweight strap at UFC 260 – before the champion’s positive COVID-19 test delayed things unexpectedly, opening a chance for them as opposing coaches for The Ultimate Fighter’s return this summer.
Rumblings of retirement have circled on social media surrounding Zabit, so Rodriguez took his #3 place in the 145-lb rankings last month when the promotion stripped him for inactivity.
Holloway knows he’ll have to wait for Volk-Ortega before getting another shot at gold and in the meantime, facing another ambitious contender who wants what he has is always appreciated.
After his boxing brilliance blasted Calvin Kattar into submission in mid-January, Rodriguez doesn’t need telling that the division’s trickiest challenge possible awaits him here.
As I reported at the time, this card also features Miesha Tate’s surprise return after a five-year retirement. The former bantamweight champion, who agreed terms on a six-fight contract earlier this year, is slated to face veteran Marion Reneau in the latter’s own retirement matchup.
Although subject to change, this card also features the returns of highly-rated lightweight contender Islam Makhachev (#9) and Jeremy Stephens at 155lbs – who has losses against Holloway, Zabit, Yair and most recently a second-round knockout by Kattar last year.
Scheduled bouts for July 17 card, as it stands
Running order to be decided:
Featherweight main event: Max Holloway (#1) vs Yair Rodriguez (#3)
Lightweight: Islam Makhachev (#9) vs Thiago Moises
Women’s bantamweight: Marion Reneau vs Miesha Tate
Flyweight: Ode Osbourne vs Amir Albazi (#15)
Middleweight: Phil Hawes vs Deron Winn
Lightweight: Mateusz Gamrot vs Jeremy Stephens
Featherweight: Billy Quarantillo vs Herbert Burns
Welterweight: Daniel Rodriguez vs Abubakar Nurmagomedov
Lightweight: Guram Kutateladze vs Don Madge
Bantamweight: Khalid Taha vs Sergey Morozov
Women’s Strawweight: Amanda Lemos vs Montserrat Ruiz
Bantamweight: Cameron Else vs Aaron Phillips
Flyweight: Malcolm Gordon vs Francisco Figueiredo
Bantamweight: Miles Johns vs Anderson dos Santos
Middleweight: Rodolfo Vieira vs Dustin Stoltzfus
Heavyweight: Rodrigo Nascimento vs Alan Baudot
Picture source: MMAJunkie, Getty Images