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Dustin Poirier punches Justin Gaethje in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at the Gila Rivera Arena on April 14, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
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The 10: Fun Fight Season Is Here

Detailing The Most Pivotal And Entertaining Clashes Set To Grace The Octagon In The Month Ahead

In terms of weather, July isn’t really my favorite — the sun, the heat, the destructive fires; it’s all a bit much for me. When it comes to seasons, I’m much more of a fall guy — warm, sunny days mixed with a crisp autumn air, leaves changing colors, hoodies and cardigans coming back into rotation; that’s my jam.

But the good thing about not being all that jazzed for July to roll around is that historically, each and every Saturday features a UFC event and those events have traditionally feature some of the best fight cards of year.

HALF-YEAR AWARDS: The Newcomers | The Upsets | The Submissions | The Knockouts | The Fights | The Fighters

July is Fun Fight SZN inside the Octagon, and that is something I am 100 percent on board with this year and every year.

Here’s a closer look at the 10 most pivotal and entertaining scraps on tap over the next 31 days.

UFC Fight Nigh: Strickland vs. Magomedov — Saturday, July 1 at UFC APEX (Las Vegas)

Sean Strickland vs. Abus Magomedov

Sean Strickland and Abus Magomedov of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC Apex on June 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Sean Strickland and Abus Magomedov of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC Apex on June 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

One of two middleweight bouts where one of the participants is, in theory, being thrown into the deep end of the talent pool this month, Saturday’s first main event of July is a fascinating matchup.

Strickland is a known commodity — a 32-year-old marauder headlining for the third straight fight and fourth time in five appearances. Sporting a 6-2 record since returning to action in the fall of 2020, the Xtreme Couture representative is entrenched in the Top 10 and the kind of established presence in the middle of the rankings that anyone with hopes of becoming a contender needs to pass in order to feel legitimate.

Magomedov is the question mark.

RELATED: Who Is Abus Magomedov? | Main Event Spotlight | Sean Strickland Always Steps Up

Also 32, the Russian-born fighter is 25-4-1 overall and coming off a 19-second knockout win over Dustin Stoltzfus in his promotional debut last September in Paris. While some folks bristle at a sophomore being hustled into a headlining opportunity, Magomedov has a wealth of experience, a well-rounded skill set, and could prove himself to be a worthy contender with a win this weekend.

Personally, I’d like to see more bookings like this, where emerging names with undetermined ceilings face off with divisional stalwarts in order to get a better understanding of where they fit, rather than having them slowly make their way through the ranks in matchups where they’re considerable favorites, especially with experienced competitors.

This weekend, we’ll find out more about where Magomedov stands in the middleweight division.

Damir Ismagulov vs. Grant Dawson

Damir Ismagulov of Russia and Grant Dawson face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC Apex on June 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Damir Ismagulov of Russia and Grant Dawson face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC Apex on June 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Ranked lightweights face off in the co-main event of this weekend’s initial July event as Damir Ismagulov and Grant Dawson share the Octagon.

The 32-year-old Ismagulov won each of his first five UFC appearances, including victories over tough outs Joel Alvarez, Thiago Moises, and Guram Kutateladze before dropping a decision to top-ranked talent Arman Tsarukyan. Sporting a 24-2 record overall and fresh off having his incredible 19-fight winning streak snapped, the Russian veteran not only wants to defend his place in the pecking order this weekend, but also show he’s capable of climbing further up the division ladder, as well.

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Dawson has been one of the most successful graduates from Dana White’s Contender Series to date, amassing a 7-0-1 record in eight UFC appearances, capped by consecutive third-round submission wins over Jared Gordon and Mark O. Madsen. Training at American Top Team for the last few fights, the 29-year-old is 19-1-1 overall and positioned to force his way into a deeper conversation with the talent-rich 155-pound weight class if he can hand Ismagulov a second consecutive loss on Saturday.

This is a classic encounter between a seasoned veteran and an ascending talent looking to take the next step, and should not only be a dynamic appetizer to this weekend’s main event, but also one of the best fights of the month.

UFC 290: Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez — Saturday, July 8 at T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas)

Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus Du Plessis

Robert Whittaker vs Dricus Du Plessis Preview | UFC 290
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Robert Whittaker vs Dricus Du Plessis Preview | UFC 290
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The second of three middleweight pairings to make this month’s list, the final non-title matchup at UFC 290 could have immediate title fight ramifications depending on how it plays out.

Whittaker remains the silver medalist in the 185-pound weight class for the time being — a former champion whose only losses since relocating to the division at the tail end of 2014 have come against Adesanya. Other than the two times he’s shared the Octagon with “The Last Stylebender,” the 32-year-old has left with his hand raised, including two championship fights with Yoel Romero, headlining tilts against Darren Till and Kelvin Gastelum, and bouts with recent headliners Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori.

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Five fights into his UFC career, Du Plessis has worked his way into a clash with the final level boss before you face the big boss at the end of the video game by striking together wins over Markus Perez, Trevin Giles, Brad Tavares, Till, and Derek Brunson. Now “Stillknocks” steps in with “Robert J. Knuckles, Esq.” in hopes of earning himself a date with Adesanya later this year.

Despite his run of success, many still wonder aloud if Du Plessis is the genuine article, and the only way to answer that question is to stick him in the Octagon with someone as tried, tested, and certified dangerous as Whittaker in the middle of a massive pay-per-view card and see what happens.

Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja

Brandon Moreno of Mexico reacts after his victory over Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 283 event at Jeunesse Arena on January 21, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)
Brandon Moreno of Mexico reacts after his victory over Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 283 event at Jeunesse Arena on January 21, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

Flyweight gold is on the line in the UFC 290 co-main event and it’s a pairing that comes packed with intriguing history and explosive potential.

Brandon Moreno just wrapped a four-fight series with Deiveson Figueiredo in January — with a win over Kai Kara-France mixed in there for good measure — but now he’s right back into a date with a familiar foe as he takes on Alexandre Pantoja. The two met when they were contestants on The Ultimate Fighter and again as members of the UFC roster, with Pantoja emerging victorious both times.

Order UFC 290: Volkanovski vs Rodriguez

The last encounter took place five years ago, and in the time since, Moreno has sharpened all his weapons and the mental aspects of his game, rising to the top of the division twice, while the Brazilian challenger has remained a Top 5 fixture with eyes on a championship showdown against Moreno.

Individually, they’re dynamic fighters with a penchant for putting on thrilling performances, and each of their first two joint ventures were tremendously enjoyable to watch, so there is no reason to think that the third fight between these two will be anything less than exhilarating, especially since there is UFC gold hanging in the balance this time around.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Yair Rodriguez

Alexander Volkanovski poses during a UFC 290 media opportunity with Alexander Volkanovski on June 22, 2023 in Windang, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Zuffa LLC)
Alexander Volkanovski poses during a UFC 290 media opportunity with Alexander Volkanovski on June 22, 2023 in Windang, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Zuffa LLC)

The closing act for International Fight Week is a featherweight title unification bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez and it has the potential to go a million different ways.

Volkanovski returns to the division he’s lorded over since winning the title at the end of 2019 following a venture up to lightweight to give champ Islam Makhachev a real run for his money in February. While no longer undefeated in the UFC, Volkanovski is still unbeaten inside the Octagon at 145 pounds, and that’s with having faced some of the absolute best names to pass through the division in the last five years.

Rodriguez claimed the interim title with a second-round submission win over Josh Emmett right before Volkanovski faced Makhachev at UFC 284 in Perth, forcing the tenured contender to tap while stuck in a triangle choke late in the round. Tabbed as a future champion from the time he touched down on the roster nearly a decade ago, “El Pantera” finally gets his opportunity to establish himself as the best featherweight in the world on July 8.

View The Entire UFC 290 Card

Because of what each man brings to the table, this is one of those fights where every possible outcome and every possible way things could play out feel like legitimate options.

Fight of the Year? Maybe. Domination from either side? Can’t rule it out. Close to start before becoming clear later? A definite option. A freaky comeback? Don’t rule it out. A sudden finish? It could happen.

This fight can’t get here soon enough.

UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Bueno Silva — Saturday, July 15 at UFC APEX (Las Vegas)

Holly Holm vs. Mayra Bueno Silva

Holly Holm walks to the Octagon before her bantamweight fight against Yana Santos of Russia during the UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center on March 25, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Holly Holm walks to the Octagon before her bantamweight fight against Yana Santos of Russia during the UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center on March 25, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

In a division where the title was just vacated by Amanda Nunes, a meeting between the fighters stationed at No. 3 and No. 10 in the rankings is absolutely a critical pairing and deserving of inclusion in this collection.

There are some folks out there that bemoan Holm becoming a much more complete, well-rounded fighter in the years since she dethroned Ronda Rousey. There are also people out there that don’t like puppies, and you can’t please everyone.

While she’s struggled in championship matchups since winning the bantamweight title, Holm has continued to thrive in non-title bouts, earning victories in five of her last six such contests while showcasing much more of her grappling and wrestling.

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After gong 2-2-1 in five appearances at flyweight, Mayra Bueno Silva has gone 3-0 since moving to the 135-pound weight class, earning wins over Wu Yanan, Stephanie Egger, and Lina Lansberg. The 31-year-old collected finishes in each of her last two outings and stands as an intriguing new name on the horizon in a division that could always use fresh faces.

The winner of this one is going to be in the title conversation after things at the top of the division get sorted out, and any fight that carries those kinds of stakes makes it must-see TV for me.

UFC Fight Night: Aspinall vs. Tybura — Saturday, July 22 at The O2 Arena (London)

Tom Aspinall vs. Marcin Tybura

Tom Aspinall of England prepares to fight Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tom Aspinall of England prepares to fight Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Tom Aspinall returns to headline in London again, taking on Marcin Tybura, one year after his knee injury, in what should be an influential heavyweight matchup.

The British standout was cruising towards a potential championship opportunity heading into his main event pairing with Curtis Blaydes last summer — he’d won each of his first five UFC appearances, only venturing beyond the first round once and finishing all five foes, including making quick work of Alexander Volkov at The O2 in March. But 15 seconds into their July encounter, Aspinall suffered a knee injury and his ascent was put on pause.

View The Full London Fight Card

Tybura is one of those fighters that when I tell you he’s 7-1 over his last eight fights, you’re going to say you don’t believe me before scurrying to Wikipedia or Tapology to check out his resume and see that I’m right. The 37-year-old has leaned into his experience, savvy, and well-rounded skill set to cement his standing as a tough out for anyone in the division and the perfect opponent for Aspinall to face in his return to action.

Will the Briton bring the house down by earning an emphatic victory to wrap up his triumphant homecoming? Or will Tybura spoil the fun and continue his unexpected run of quality results?

UFC 291: Poirier vs. Gaethje II — Saturday, July 29 at Delta Center (Salt Lake City)

Paulo Costa vs. Ikram Aliskerov

Paulo Costa of Brazil is introduced prior to facing Luke Rockhold in a middleweight fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Paulo Costa of Brazil is introduced prior to facing Luke Rockhold in a middleweight fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Strickland and Magomedov was the first of the two middleweight fights where a sophomore was getting a “sink or swim” opportunity, and this is the second.

Paulo Costa remains a dangerous and mercurial figure in the middleweight division, having rebounded from back-to-back losses to Adesanya and Vettori with a grueling, hard-fought win over Luke Rockhold last summer in SLC. Now he returns to Utah looking to cement his standing as a championship contender by showing Aliskerov he’s not ready for this level of competition just yet.

The 30-year-old Russian UFC sophomore earned a contract with a first-round submission win over Mario Sousa last fall on Dana White’s Contender Series, and then followed it up by shutting down Phil Hawes with a devastating combination of punches two minutes into their clash at UFC 288. Sporting a 14-1 record where the one loss came against Khamzat Chimaev, Aliskerov feels like the perfect candidate for this type of jump up in competition, and it will be interesting to see how he does when the Octagon returns to Salt Lake City at the end of the month.

We could potentially come out of the month with three viable new contenders in the middleweight division, which isn’t a sentence I’ve written in some time. Of the three potential new names in the mix, Aliskerov feels like the highest upside guy to me.

Jan Blachowicz vs. Alex Pereira

Alex Pereira of Brazil prepares to fight Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 287 event at Kaseya Center on April 08, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Pereira of Brazil prepares to fight Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 287 event at Kaseya Center on April 08, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

It’s a critical clash at the top of the light heavyweight division, as former champion Jan Blachowicz welcomes ex-middleweight boss Alex Pereira to the 205-pound ranks.

Blachowicz had an odd year in the Octagon as he tried to work his way back to the top of the division. In May, he defeated Aleksandar Rakic by TKO when the Austrian suffered a knee injury just over a minute into the third round. He was then paired off with Magomed Ankalaev in a short-notice bout for the vacant title at UFC 282, battling the Russian to a split draw in a fight where he started well, but struggled down the stretch.

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After entering the year as the reigning middleweight champion, Pereira heads up a weight class following his knockout loss to Adesanya at UFC 287 in April. While a third bout between the former kickboxing rivals will always be appealing, seeing the colossal human being from Brazil compete in the light heavyweight division is a fascinating attraction of its own.

A win for either man puts them firmly in the center of any and all discussions about potential dance partners for current titleholder Jamahal Hill, who has yet to have his first title defense booked. It’s a compelling clash that should give us a greater understanding of where each man stands heading into the final five months of the year.

Dustin Poirier vs. Justin Gaethje

Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje touch gloves in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at the Gila Rivera Arena on April 14, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje touch gloves in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at the Gila Rivera Arena on April 14, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The month wraps with what has to be considered the on-paper, pre-fight favorite to earn Fight of the Year honors come December.

Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje are both allergic to being in boring fights, and their initial encounter in April 2018 garnered Fight of the Year honors from a number of outlets. They’re damn near perfect opponents for each other, quite honestly, as each has gone 6-2 since they last met, with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira being the two men to get the better of each of them, with each of those bouts coming with the UFC lightweight title hanging in the balance.

Everything You Need To Know About UFC 291: Poirier vs Gaethje 2

They have a dozen post-fight bonuses between them in their 14 combined bouts since their clash in the desert five years ago, and there is no reason to believe this one won’t produce some extra pocket money for one or both of them.

This is guaranteed excitement to close out the month, and the kind of matchup every fight fan should have circled on their calendars… or noted in their phones since no one uses actual calendars any more these days.

UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 1, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!