In a month with two pay-per-views, and several title fights, it’s easy to focus on the major UFC bouts taking place in March. But beyond those bouts are several match-ups that also deserve your attention.
There’s no denying the drawing power of much of the UFC’s PPV main event slate to begin 2021. March itself is making a decent argument for shelling out $140 for two events, and five title fights.
There are couple of events between the PPVs, too. They, along with the non-title fight match-ups at UFC 259 and UFC 260, offer plenty in addition to the battles for big gold belts throughout the month.
These fights, while not main events, stand-out among the rest on the promotion’s March slate. Of course, that’s as of this writing. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a fight isn’t happening until (both of, see: Chas Skelly) the fighters are locked in the cage.
Depending on the shade of glasses, every fight could be considered interesting on paper. But these are non-main event match-ups that stand-out from the rest, checking all of the boxes that make us tune in each week.
UFC 259: Blachowicz-Adesanya on March 6
You’re going to be hearing a lot about UFC 259. Breaking news: It’s real, real good. Yeah, any event with three title-fights has an edge on nearly every other UFC event in the promotion’s history. But, the aspect of March’s first pay-per-view that puts it over the top is the incredible depth throughout the card.
How does a battle between striking-centric top-five ranked light heavyweights sound? In a bout that could decide who gets the winner of the main event of UFC 259 at some point, Thiago Santos is slated to fight Aleksandar Rakic. While Santos is coming off of back-to-back losses, he does hold a win over current champion Jan Blachowicz. For Rakic, it’s another test to see if he’s ready to join the title-picture. The 29-year-old is 5-1 in the UFC, going 2-1 in his last three bouts, most recently defeating Anthony Smith last August.
All of this is very disrespectful to Glover Teixeira, who is currently the #1 ranked UFC light heavyweight. He’ll be serving as the backup for Blachowicz-Adesanya, but the odds of the promotion putting the 41-year-old in a title-shot in 2021, with other solid options available, seem slim.
The pandemic didn’t slow down bantamweight Casey Kenney. The former two-division LFA champion fought four times in 2020, ending the year on a three fight winning streak. Former UFC 135-pound title holder Dominick Cruz has been much less active, to put it lightly.
Cruz, 35, has fought once in the last four-plus years. That one fight was a second-round TKO loss to fellow former champ Henry Cejudo at UFC 249. The match-up is a major step-up for Kenney, who is currently outside the bantamweight rankings. It’ll be Cruz’s first non-title fight since UFC 178 in 2014.
Bantamweight is great, but lightweight might be the promotion’s deepest division. Evidence: Drew Dober isn’t ranked, and is fighting #14 Islam Makhachev. In other divisions, their current runs would have them well within the rankings.
Makhachev has won six straight bouts, earning a 7-1 record in the UFC. He didn’t fight in 2020, after COVID disrupted a match-up with Rafael Dos Anjos. Then, Makhachev had to get over a staph infection in November. His return to action comes against Dober, who is in the best form of his career. Dober has won three straight fights, earning back-to-back Performance of the Night bonuses. He’s recorded a 6-1 record in his last seven fights, with the lone loss coming against Beneil Dariush in March of 2019.
After consecutive title-fight losses to Deiveson Figueiredo in 2020, fan-favorite Joseph Benavidez is back at UFC 259. Still holding on to the #2 spot in the flyweight rankings, Benavidez is looking for a quick return to the title-picture with a win over third-ranked Askar Askarov.
The undefeated Askarov wants into the title-picture himself, after being passed over for title-fights throughout 2020. The former ACB flyweight champ is 2-0-1 since joining the promotion, earning back-to-back victories over Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja in 2020, after drawing with Brandon Moreno in his promotional debut in September of 2019.
Again: this card is good.