For a number of years, whenever members of the UFC PR team would ask “When are we going to see you again?” I would always answer, “Come to Vancouver and I’ll be there.”
When the UFC announced its return to Vancouver in the fall of 2019, many of those people excitedly reached out, eager to get to see me again, which made me feel loved and wanted and missed…and terrible, because I wasn’t going to be there — I was going to be in Hawaii, on a vacation that had been several years in the making.
But now, the UFC is coming back to my neck of the woods and I will indeed be in attendance, catching up with old friends, conducting all kinds of interviews, having loads of conversations, and watching some face-punching from media row for the first time in far too long.
And the greatest female fighter of all time is headlining the action to boot!
Here’s a look at what’s on tap this weekend at UFC 289.
Main Event: Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana
Location: Rogers Arena
Where to Watch: ESPN+
Other Main Card Matches:
- Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush
- Mike Malott vs. Adam Fugitt
- Dan Ige vs. Nate Landwehr
- Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Eryk Anders
- David Dvorak vs. Stephen Erceg
- Miranda Maverick vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius
- Nassourdine Imavov vs. Chris Curtis
- Kyle Nelson vs. Blake Bilder
- Aiemann Zahabi vs. Aoriqileng
- Diana Belbita vs. Maria Oliveira
Amanda Nunes vs Irene Aldana
After regaining the bantamweight title last summer, Amanda Nunes looks to successfully defend the belt once more as she takes on dangerous challenger Irene Aldana in the UFC 289 main event.
Nunes’ two-fight series with Julianna Pena is a solid illustration of both how anyone can have a bad night and not to put too much stock in one bad outing. “The Lioness” roared back to the top of the division by dominating Pena from start to finish last summer in Dallas after suffering her first loss in more than seven years, maintaining her unreal stat of having beaten every single fighter to previously hold the bantamweight title in the process.
Aldana was initially preparing to face off with Raquel Pennington in a title eliminator atop the May 20 fight card in Las Vegas, but Pena’s injury opened the door for the Mexican contender to make her way into the championship pairing. The 35-year-old has earned consecutive stoppage wins and won four of her last five while profiling as someone with the style to match up well with Nunes on the feet.
With all due respect to Pena, this is a more compelling matchup — it’s new, it’s fresh, and Aldana potentially presents some challenges for the champion that ratchet up the intrigue surrounding this matchup. Additionally, 2023 has already seen Yair Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso join Brandon Moreno as Mexican fighters to carry UFC gold, and now Aldana has the chance to become the fourth.
This profiles as an explosive pairing and should be an entertaining way to wrap up the night at Rogers Arena.
Other Main Card Fights:
Charles Oliveira vs Beneil Dariush
Newark’s loss is Vancouver’s gain as the lightweight pairing between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush originally slated for UFC 288 slides back to the co-main event spot this weekend.
Oliveira’s incredible run of success that produced a lightweight title victory, a successful title defense, and 11 consecutive victories overall was brought to a halt last fall in Abu Dhabi by Islam Makhachev. This weekend, the Brazilian takes the first step in what he hopes is a journey back to the top of the division by stepping in against the surging Dariush.
For a couple years, it seemed like Dariush might be snakebitten because injuries scuttled marquee assignments and there was always someone else jumping ahead of him in the queue to challenge for championship gold. But through it all, he’s kept winning and kept pushing forward, and if he departs Vancouver with a victory over Oliveira in tow, it’ll be difficult to deny the 34-year-old the next shot at the lightweight title.
Will “Do Bronx” bounce back or can Dariush keep rolling and finally punch his ticket to a championship opportunity?
Mike Malott vs Adam Fugitt
Welterweight finishers meet in the feature bout on Saturday’s main card as “Proper” Mike Malott takes on Adam Fugitt.
Malott has quietly picked up a first-round stoppage win in each of his first two appearances inside the Octagon, running his record to 9-1-1 overall with each of those victories coming in the first five minutes. Now permanently re-settled in the Greater Hamilton Area, the 31-year-old Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grad has a potential breakout opportunity in front of him if he can maintain his quick finishing ways this weekend.
Fugitt made his promotional debut on short notice last summer at UFC 277 in Dallas, suffering a third-round stoppage loss to Michael Morales after giving a good accounting of himself against the undefeated prospect. He looked like a different fighter in his sophomore effort in February, taking the fight to Yusaku Kinoshita and dispatching the Japanese newcomer in the closing moments of the opening frame.
Both of these boys can crack and they have just one decision win between them, so expect fireworks from the jump and for this fight to end with someone looking up at the lights wondering what happened.
Dan Ige vs Nate Landwehr
Dan Ige and Nate Landwehr face off in this battle of featherweights jockeying for position in the ultra-competitive 145-pound ranks.
Hawaii’s Ige snapped a three-fight slide last time out, collecting a second-round stoppage win over Damon Jackson. Through 13 UFC appearances, the Xtreme Couture product has established himself as a Top 15 fixture and a tough out for anyone that steps into the Octagon across from him, as evidenced by the fact that each of his setbacks have come on the scorecards.
Highlight: Nate Landwehr Snags Third-Round Anaconda Choke Submission | UFC Fight Night: Ladd vs Dumont
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!
Highlight: Nate Landwehr Snags Third-Round Anaconda Choke Submission | UFC Fight Night: Ladd vs Dumont
Landwehr is a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and a charismatic, blue-collar everyman from Tennessee — a bundle of constant action and output mixed with sharp promos on the microphone and a toughness that only comes from having gone through some things at one point or another. Last time out, “Nate the Train” scored a second-round submission win over Austin Lingo, pushing his winning streak to three.
With each of his last four setbacks coming against fighters currently stationed ahead of him in the rankings, Ige profiles as the veteran presence you have to get past if you want to claim a spot in the rankings, and Landwehr strikes me as someone that is always up for that kind of challenge. This one has Fight of the Night written all over it.
Marc-Andre Barriault vs Eryk Anders
Marc-Andre Barriault and Eryk Anders open the main card in the middleweight division, with each man looking to build off solid efforts last time out.
Barriault has struggled to find consistent success since joining the UFC roster following an outstanding run under the TKO banner back home in Quebec. Sporting a 4-5 record with one no contest through his first 10 appearances, “Powerbar” aims to use the momentum from his second-round stoppage win over Julian Marquez at UFC 285 to propel him to victory in his first appearance in Canada since his first two UFC starts.
Like his opponent this weekend, Anders has also struggled to string together positive results, carrying a 7-7 record with one no contest into the main card opener in Vancouver. After suffering back-to-back losses to Andre Muniz and Junyong Park, “Ya Boi” got things moving in the right direction again on the final card of 2022, collecting a second-round stoppage win over Kyle Daukaus in Orlando.
Can the French-Canadian kick off the pay-per-view with a victory on home soil or can the former collegiate linebacker make it two straight?
Nassourdine Imavov vs Chris Curtis
Ranked middleweights close out the prelims as No. 12 Nassourdine Imavov takes on No. 14 Chris Curtis in what should be a combustible affair. Imavov parlayed three straight wins over Ian Heinisch, Edmen Shahbazyan, and Joaquin Buckley into his first headlining assignment at the start of the year, only to falter in a pairing with Curtis’ teammate Sean Strickland. The 35-year-old “Action-Man” is a technically sharp fighter, entering off a frustrating decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum last time out. Whether we get a technical battle, a gritty brawl, or anything in between, this one should be fun for as long as it lasts.
Miranda Maverick vs Jasmine Jasudavicius
Miranda Maverick and Jasmine Jasudavicius face off in a competitive flyweight clash that carries ranking implications on Saturday’s prelims. Maverick currently occupied the No. 15 spot in the division, entering on a two-fight winning streak after earning victories over Sabina Mazo and Shanna Young last year, while St. Catharines, Ontario’s Jasudavicius has alternated wins and losses through her first three UFC appearances, besting Kay Hansen in her debut before dropping a decision to Natalia Silva and rebounding with a victory over Gabriella Fernandes earlier this year.
Kyle Nelson vs Blake Bilder
Fighters entering on different waves cross paths in this one as Kyle Nelson and Blake Bilder share the Octagon together this weekend in Vancouver. Nelson has gone 1-4-1 in six UFC appearances, salvaging a majority draw against “The Korean Superboy,” Dooho Choi last time out. A member of the DWCS Class of ’22, Bilder bested Canadian Alex Morgan to earn his UFC contract, then outlasted Shane Young to win his debut in February.
David Dvorak vs Stephen Erceg
David Dvorak stays on the fight card following a late opponent change, facing off with promotional newcomer Stephen Erceg. The “Undertaker” remains a Top 15 talent despite consecutive losses to Manel Kape and Matheus Nicolau, while Erceg looks to make a splash by hustling into action as a replacement for Matt “Danger” Schnell. The flyweights are always entertaining and this one shouldn’t be any different.
Aiemann Zahabi vs Aoriqileng
It’s a clash between bantamweights looking to run their winning streaks to three as Aiemann Zahabi returns against Aoriqileng. Montreal’s Zahabi snapped a two-fight slide with a first-round knockout win over Drako Rodriguez two fights back before out-working the ever-awkward Ricky Turcios last time out. After dropping each of his first two fights inside the Octagon, Aoriqileng enters having posted consecutive wins over Cameron Else and Jay Perrin.
Diana Belbita vs Maria Oliveira
Strawweights will be the first to make the walk on Saturday as Diana Belbita takes on Maria Oliveira. Born in Romania, but fighting out of Stoney Creek, Ontario, Belbita has gone 1-3 in her first four UFC appearances, with her most recent appearance coming in February 2022 when she dropped a decision to Gloria de Paula. Oliveira has gone 1-2 to begin her UFC tenure, sandwiching a split decision win over de Paula between losses to Tabatha Ricci and Vanessa Demopoulos.