UFC 231: 5 reasons to check out the world title double-header in Toronto
The UFC heads to Canada for UFC 231, as a card packed with crowd-pleasing fighters gets set to light up the octagon on Saturday night in Toronto.
The event may not feature any of the so-called A-listers of the sport, but the fight card contains two world title bouts featuring four of the most exciting fighters in the UFC, plus a host of other competitors whose aim on Saturday night is to bolster their highlight reels and push themselves closer to a world title shot in 2019.
Here are five reasons why it's well worth your time on Saturday night:
1. THE MAIN EVENT IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS
The featherweight title clash between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega should have taken place at UFC 226 in International Fight Week, but illness to Holloway forced the match-up to be postponed. Now it's back on, and Holloway will look to extend his reign at the top of the UFC's 145-pound division at the expense of Ortega's undefeated record.
Holloway pushes the pace like no other fighter in the UFC, and his pressure striking has proved too much even for all-time great Jose Aldo, who he stopped twice in each of his last two contests.
Ortega, meanwhile, is a grappling phenom who showed the world his previously unseen one-punch knockout power when he starched former UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in his last bout.
Both men are riding long winning streaks, both are young and approaching their prime, and both have an exciting, fan-friendly style. Their main event bout on Saturday night can't do anything but entertain.
2. THE RIVALRY IS BACK ON
Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk know each other well. They've fought three times before in Muay Thai competition, with "Bullet" Shevchenko winning all three contests.
Since then, the pair went their separate ways, transitioned to MMA and joined the UFC, where Shevchenko became a title contender at bantamweight, and Jedrzejczyk became a dominant world champion at strawweight.
Now, thanks to the creation of the women's flyweight class, both women can compete at their natural weight, and we're all set for a titanic fourth clash between the two, this time under the unified rules of MMA.
The bookies have Shevchenko as the favorite, but Jedrzejczyk has a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove.
It should be a classic contest.
3. GUNNAR NELSON IS BACK
The coolest man in MMA returns to the octagon on Saturday, as Gunnar Nelson makes his comeback against dangerous Brazilian Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira.
Iceland's Nelson is a supreme grappler with deceptively effective striking, and his laid-back style makes for a unique challenge for anyone in the welterweight division.
He faces Oliveira, who has shown he's more than happy to throw hands, or test his grappling, against anyone in the world.
Whoever wins will make a big step towards the welterweight Top 10, and a win for Nelson could see him in a prominent contest on a fight card or two over in Europe later in 2019.
4. FEATHERS WILL FLY
Featherweights Hakeem Dawodu and Kyle Bochniak love nothing more than to stand and bang, so their pairing on the main card on Saturday means we could be set for fireworks long before we reach the two title fights.
Dawodu is young, prodigiously talented and has excellent striking, while Bochniak is as tough and gritty as they come. The American's recent loss to Zabit Magomedsharipov won him respect and fans from across the world after he pushed the super-talented Russian all the way to the scorecards in a thrilling contest.
Now matched with Canadian hot prospect Dawodu, Bochniak will be looking for a repeat performance, but with a better result, this time around.
5. DON'T BLINK
The main card opener between Britain's Jimi Manuwa and Brazil's Thiago Santos could just deliver the knockout of the night.
Both men are incredibly powerful, especially Manuwa, whose ability to wreck opponents with his devastating strikes has seen him finish all but one of his wins so far.
Santos, meanwhile, has made his way up through the weight classes to light-heavyweight, where he may have the speed advantage over the Brit. But it remains to be seen whether he has the ability to avoid, or absorb, the sort of powerful punishment the "Posterboy" dishes out at light-heavyweight.
Manuwa has been knocked out before, too, and that will encourage "Marreta" (translation: Sledgehammer) to fight fire with fire in a bid to catch Manuwa before he gets his big shots away.
There's a very good chance somebody's going to sleep in this fight, and it almost certainly won't be the crowd.