Nick Peet: UFC 276 and Joyce v Hammer Previews

June 30, 2022

UFC International Fight Week is in full swing in Las Vegas and culminates in Saturday’s double world title main event featuring the game’s most ingenious striker and a trilogy fight that has Planet MMA divided.

Israel Adesanya defends his middleweight crown for the fifth time, taking on the #1 contender and the 185lb KO king Jarod Cannonier at the T-Mobile Arena.

And in the co-main event, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanvski and Max Holloway contest GOAT status at 145lb.

Adesanya vs Connonier

Adesanya, 32, has been nothing short of a sensation since arriving in the Octagon in 2018; bagging 11 wins, seven bonuses, 185lb riches and even chased greatness at 205lb too.

‘The Last Stylebender’ is one of the most creative strikers ever to compete in mixed martial arts and become a global crossover star; the New Zealander with Nigerian roots is in the midst of a Hall of Fame legacy.

Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman is considered the pound-for-pound best in MMA today. But Adesanya’s sole career defeat was chasing gold at a second weight, something that Usman is yet to attempt, and shouldn’t overshadow Izzy’s run at middleweight.

Aged 38, this weekend’s challenger Cannonier has had to be patient to earn his UFC title shot. A former heavyweight, he transitioned down through two weight classes to find the best version of himself and arrives armed with a strong mindset and predatory instincts.

The Texan based out of Arizona has 10 knockouts in his 15 wins and although he’s suffered five defeats in his career, three were against former champions and one of the others was on his UFC heavyweight debut.

The first test in fighting an opponent as cerebral as the champ is a strong positive mindset, something ‘The Killa Gorilla’ is never short of.

What he can’t do is stand there and allow Izzy to get into his flow state early. Cannonier has to make him work from the opening bell and look to tie Adesanya up and close that distance.

Timing will be everything. Pull the trigger to soon and Cannonier is toast. But wait too long and Israel will be styling his way to another unanimous decision and routine defence.

Volkanovski vs Holloway

Despite seeing Volkanovski and Holloway go at it for 50 minutes – 10 rounds over two title fights – previously, the co-main is a much harder matchup to call.

Volkanovski, 33, from New South Wales, may have had his hand raised twice already. But both fights with Hawaii’s ‘Blessed’, 30, have been fiercely debated over for the past two years.

The Aussie champ – a former rugby league prospect who once weighed 240lb – has appeared superhuman inside the Octagon. His capacity to simply out-work, out-punch, out-grapple and out-persevere his opponents has granted him a formidable reputation.

His sole defeat in 25 fights was up at 170lb and a decade ago. Now the best 145lb’er on the planet, ‘Alex The Great’ could be the greatest featherweight the sport has ever seen.

Two men stand out as rivals to that title; Jose Aldo – who was king at 145lb for a decade before running into Conor McGregor’s left hand – and, of course, Holloway.

Max looked untouchable in the early stages of his featherweight reign, with two wins over Aldo and a run of 14 straight wins at 145.

But, similar to Adesanya, he tried to enhance his legacy with a failed switch up in weight, then bounced back down almost straight into the rise of Volkanovski.

I’d like to say the trilogy fight will end all the questions about who is best. And, indeed, should Volk win in style then that really should be the case.

But these are the best two featherweights in earth and more likely is another close fight that leaves us salivating for number four!

TIPS: Adesanya TKO (33/10) and Holloway Points (11/4)

Joyce vs Hammer

He may well have a Fine Arts degree and an Olympic silver medal, but Joe Joyce is a simple man with a simple dream; to one day become heavyweight champion of the world.

The problem is, the 38-year-old ‘Juggernaut’ is the dude with his face pressed up against the glass watching others define their careers amongst heavyweight riches. And there are no plans to let him in.

Next month in Saudi Arabia, Oleksander Usyk and Anthony Joshua will joust again for the lion’s share of the division’s riches. Whilst Tyson Fury is being afforded a sabbatical in his position as world number one to await the outcome.

Most likely, Fury will return to face the winner in six months time. Which will undoubtedly lead to a second a perhaps third fight featuring one or both money-spinning rivals.

Realistically, despite being the highest ranked heavyweight yet to contest a world title belt, Joyce could be as far as two years away from his shot. If the division plays out like it’s being orchestrated, he’ll be 40 years of age!

Joyce simply can’t afford for that to happen. He must perform in and out of the ropes this weekend and start campaigning like a lunatic for a chance.

After putting down German Christian Hammer for the final time on Saturday night at Wembley Arena – it’ll be over pretty quick – it’s critical Joyce lights up on the microphone and starts making headlines to create real debate.

Joyce has got to start demanding his shot; questioning why Fury, who announced his retirement in April, is being allowed to sit out and stall the division; and think smartly about his next move. His legacy could depend on it.

At 13-0 with 12 KO’s, Joyce is way beyond opponents like Hammer, whose 27-9 card highlights how he’s consistently lost against anybody in the top 20.

‘Keeping busy’ is a dangerous term if there is nothing on the horizon, especially when you’re fast approaching 40.

Former champ Joe Parker was supposed to be in the opposing corner. But after going nose to nose with Joyce at Wembley the night Fury knocked out Dillian Whyte, the Kiwi flipped to Sky Sports taking him in a completely different direction.

Daniel Dubois, the other prominent heavyweight contender who, like Joyce, is aligned to BT Sport, has just picked up a big win in Miami against a soft touch but prominent previously unbeaten American.

You could argue he’s now better placed to fight for a heavyweight belt, despite the fact Joyce TKO’d him in style back in 2020.

Few will be watching when Joyce knocks out Hammer on Saturday and less still will be talking about pushing him into the heavyweight title picture in the aftermatch.

So Joyce must try and force a big fight by calling out Fury or demanding a final eliminator with former champ Deontay Wilder.

The Wilder fight makes most sense. Two of the biggest punches in the modern heavyweight division colliding would generate huge box office sales and produce a legitimate contender.

The stage is yours Joe, don’t fluff your lines.

TIP: Joyce by KO rounds 4-6