August 25, 2016

UFC on Fox 21: New Title Contenders Could Emerge In Vancouver

By Adam Martin

After two years away, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has returned to Vancouver with this weekend's UFC on Fox 21 offering. The promotion has put together a solid card from top-to-bottom for the fans in British Columbia, one lined with a number of Canadian fighters on the undercard, and one that features a main event and co-main event that rank among the top matchups on paper that UFC matchmakers have put together all year in any weight class.

The main event sees former UFC Interim Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit making his return to the Octagon when he takes on Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard Demian Maia. This fight has the potential to be something truly special, as it features two of the most skilled, well-respected, and violent welterweights in the sport competing for five rounds or less.

Condit is making his return roughly eight months after nearly retiring from the sport after a split decision loss to then-welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in the main event of UFC 195 in early January. It was a "Fight of the Year" candidate that was extremely competitive, and many felt that Condit did enough to win the fight, but the judges settled on Lawler, and Condit seriously contemplated walking away from the sport. "The Natural Born Killer" took a significant amount of damage in that fight, and he needed the time off to recover and reconsider his passion for fighting, but when the UFC announced he would come back to fight Maia, you started to realize why this guy is arguably one of the greatest fighters of all time. Condit has such a passion for fighting and he's so good at it that he just couldn't leave the sport after that amazing fight with Lawler, not without another run at the welterweight title. And the UFC has matched him up against a top contender in Maia in a division that is seemingly wide open following Tyron Woodley's knockout upset win over Lawler at UFC 201. A win over Maia, one of the hottest fighters in the division, would put Condit in consideration for the next title shot, or potentially an exciting fight against fellow striker Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.

A former middleweight title contender, Maia has looked unbelievable since dropping down to welterweight four years ago, going 8-2 overall in that timespan while fighting many of the best 170-pound fighters in the world. Maia has been extremely dominant over the last two years in particular, as he currently is riding a five-fight win streak with wins over Matt Brown, Gunnar Nelson, Neil Magny, Ryan LaFlare, and Alexander Yakovlev, and none of those fights were even remotely close. Maia's grappling has been otherworldy, and even though he is 38, he's clearly peaking as a fighter right now and is nearing a shot at the title. What Maia does need, however, is a win over a top-five opponent, and Condit certainly is one. With a win over Condit, particularly a submission victory, Maia would have six wins in a row and a definite argument to make for getting the next title shot. It all depends on what the UFC wants to do with Woodley and Thompson, and potentially even Georges St-Pierre, but regardless, Condit and Maia both know they need a win over the other to force themselves in that conversation, and fans can expect an incredible fight with so much on the line.

The co-main event is also a potentially huge matchup in the featherweight division, as former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis makes the drop down to 145 lbs for the first time in his career when he takes on submission specialist Charles Oliveira.

Following a five-fight win streak over top opponents where he won the lightweight belt and defended it, Pettis has fallen on hard times over the past year or so, as he's currently riding a three-fight losing streak. The good thing for Pettis is that he lost to elite competition and was able to go the distance each time, losing a competitive fight against now-champion Eddie Alvarez along with two not-so-competitive losses to Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza. Still, Pettis is only 29 and he was always a smaller lightweight. At 145 lbs, he could make a run for another title to put on his mantlepiece, and a win over a top-10 fighter like Oliviera will put him right into the title conversation in a division where the champion, Conor McGregor, may soon relinquish the belt, potentially giving Pettis a golden opportunity to make a title run at a new weight class.

The UFC has put together a really exciting matchup for the fans, as Pettis' featherweight debut comes against "Do Bronx," who is coming off of a submission win over Myles Jury. While he has battled weight issues his entire career, whenever Oliveira has fought he has put on incredible fights, and he often finishes opponents with some of the most spectacular submissions we’ve ever seen. With a 7-3 overall record since moving to featherweight four years ago, including six $50,000 post-fight bonus awards over that span, Oliveira has proven to be one of the most dangerous featherweights on the planet, and if he can get put his weight issues behind him and prove to the UFC he can make the 145-pound limit, a win over Pettis -- especially a stoppage win -- would put him in the title picture.

With Condit vs. Maia and Pettis vs. Oliveira, UFC on Fox 21 is headlined by two incredible fights that not only could have immediate title implications in the welterweight and featherweight divisions, respectively, but should also be extremely exciting to watch. When 2016 is all over, don't be surprised if we're still talking about these two fights when discussing the very best fights of the year. The UFC has done good work in putting together these two awesome fights, and now it's time for the fighters to do the work. With their track records, there's no doubt there will be some incredible displays of MMA going on in Vancouver this weekend.


UFC on FOX 21: Condit vs. Maia takes place August 27, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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