UFC 286: 10 reasons to watch

UFC 278: Usman v Edwards 2
UFC 278: Usman v Edwards 2 / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages
5 of 6

7. The rise of a 'new' middleweight contender

The UFC’s middleweight division has finally experienced some shake-ups. After essentially lapping his competition, former middleweight king Israel Adesanya lost the belt to arch-nemesis Alex Pereira in a fight that many had Adesanya ahead on the scorecards prior to getting knocked out in the final round of their main event bout at UFC 281. This meant that all the previous top contenders who couldn’t figure Adesanya out are all back in contention with a new champion, and could potentially be further in the title mix if Pereira defeats Adesanya for a second time at UFC 287 next month. 

That’s where this pair of middleweight contenders find themselves. The no. 9-ranked 185-pounder Roman Dolidze (12-1) is looking to continue his hot streak when he faces off against no. 4-ranked Marvin Vettori (18-6-1). Ok, I might have cheated a little when I said ‘new’ contenders since Vettori challenged for the belt, and lost, against Adesanya, however, if Pereira were to win the rematch next month, and Vettori snaps Dolidze’s four-fight win streak, it wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility to see him in the title picture once again. 

On the other side, Dolidze is facing the biggest test of his career but a win would comfortably solidify him in the top five of the rankings and most likely put him a fight away from challenging for the belt. Not only has he won his last four in a row but he’s coming off three straight ‘performance of the night’ bonuses, including a TKO victory over Jack Hermansson in December of 2022. Whoever manages to leave this tight clash with their hand raised will cement themselves in the title picture, even more so if Pereira wins in April.

8. A UFC record is on the line

Fan-favorite Gunnar Nelson (18-5) returns to the octagon for his first fight of 2023, facing off against the allergic-to-a-boring-fight Bryan Barberena (18-9) for the main card’s third clash of the evening. Whilst many people who are unfamiliar with Nelson’s game might find it surprising that he fights after more recently established names such as Marvin Vettori, Nelson is on the verge of UFC history. 

If he were to win this bout by submission, Nelson would be the outright record holder for most submission wins in the 170-pound division, taking his total to seven. Luckily for him, all signs point towards him being the sole record holder. Not only is he a comfortable betting favorite at -430 on FanDuel but he also holds a 5-1 record when fighting in the UK under the UFC banner. Three of the five victories were by submission and his opponent’s latest loss? By rear-naked choke back in December of 2022. 

Nelson might have not reached the potential many thought he’d achieved but the former no.8 ranked welterweight has still made himself a key part of the welterweight division during the 2010s. He might not finish his career with a belt but he can be a UFC record holder.