The final month of the first half of the UFC’s 2023 slate is upon us, bringing about the start of an extended run of weekends featuring action inside the Octagon that is sure to have an impact on not only a number of divisions, but the year-end awards races, as well.
June’s schedule features two events on ESPN, one on ABC, and a pay-per-view that also serves as the company’s return to Canada, as UFC 289 touches down in Vancouver, British Columbia, marking the first time the promotion has been to “The Great White North” since September 2019.
This month’s collection of highlighted fights not only features the lone championship bout on the schedule and all four main event pairings, but also a couple key matchups between talented contenders, pivotal tests for emerging talents, and a featherweight tussle that is sure to be fireworks.
Here’s a closer look at my selections for June’s most anticipated matchups.
This is The 10.
UFC on ESPN: Kara-France vs. Albazi — Saturday, June 3 (Las Vegas, NV)
Kai Kara-France vs. Amir Albazi
The first main event of the month is an absolute scorcher in the flyweight division.
Kara-France returns for the first time since coming up short in his bid to claim the interim title last summer and is seeking to defend his spot in the Top 5. The City Kickboxing man had won three straight prior to falling to current champ Brandon Moreno, brandishes big power and tremendous takedown defense, and carries a considerable experience advantage into the Octagon in this one.
Thus far, Albazi has been perfect under the UFC banner, registering four wins in as many starts to propel himself into the Top 15. From the outset of his time on the big stage, the 29-year-old Iraqi-born talent has been calling for the opportunity to face the top names in the division, steadfast in his belief that he’s just as good — if not better — than all of them.
Now he finally gets that chance.
This is a fascinating matchup that is not only going to help clarify where Albazi fits in the flyweight hierarchy, but it could also have an impact on the title picture going forward. They’ve got five rounds to work, and it should be wildly entertaining for as long as it lasts.
UFC 289: Nunes vs. Aldana — Saturday, June 10 (Vancouver, BC)
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Chris Curtis
The Paris-based prospect entered the year on a three-fight winning streak, scheduled to face Kelvin Gastelum in 2023’s first main event, only for the former Ultimate Fighter winner to withdraw and be replaced by Sean Strickland. Imavov moved up to 205 pounds, lost the fight by unanimous decision, and now returns against one of Strickland’s chief training partners; an interesting wrinkle to an already compelling pairing.
Curtis has gone 3-2 since turning up in the UFC after raising his hand for a short notice fight with Phil Hawes a couple years back. The 35-year-old “Action-Man” is coming in off a loss to Gastelum in a bout where a clash of heads seemed to have an impact on the outcome, and is looking to make a quick return to the win column.
Curtis is the quintessential tough veteran out — a guy with a wealth of experience, sound fundamentals, and enough pop to get you out of there is you’re not careful, all of which makes him a terrific dance partner for Imavov here. The rangy Imavov has shown flashes of top-end talent, but is 4-2 through his first six UFC appearances and could really benefit from a big win in this one.
Dan Ige vs. Nate Landwehr
May I interest you in some explosive featherweight action?
Ige snapped a three-fight skid (against elite competition) in January with a second-round knockout win over Damon Jackson, solidifying his place in the Top 15 in the process. The Xtreme Couture representative has been a fixture in the rankings for the last several years, and he gets the chance to entrench himself as the man to beat if you’re hoping to enter the rankings.
Simply put, Landwehr is an agent of chaos — a pressure-based, all-action dervish that genuinely loves to step into the Octagon and mix things up. Currently riding a three-fight winning streak, “Nate the Train” not only registered a second-round submission win last time out against Austin Lingo, but he also cut the best post-fight promo of the year, as well.
This is one of those fights that far too many people will either overlook or dismiss and I’m trying to reduce that number by including it here. There is no way this won’t be captivating, whether it goes 15 seconds or 15 minutes, and with the added piece that the winner should continue facing ranked opponents going forward, it feels like a can’t-miss contest on this month’s pay-per-view.
Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush
Oliveira vs Dariush Co-Main Event Preview | UFC 289
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Oliveira vs Dariush Co-Main Event Preview | UFC 289
Newark’s loss is Vancouver’s gain as last month’s lightweight tussle between Oliveira and Dariush lands in the penultimate spot on the UFC 289 lineup card.
The Brazilian hasn’t fought since dropping the title to Islam Makhachev last October, which also snapped his 11-fight winning streak. “Do Bronx” went four years without a defeat, and you best believe he has zero interest in making a habit out of exiting the Octagon without getting his hand raised first.
Dariush has been itching for an opportunity like this for years, with several scheduled bouts of this magnitude going by the boards due to injuries along the way. He’s won eight straight, most recently defeating Mateusz Gamrot the night Oliveira faced Makhachev, and should secure himself a championship opportunity with a victory in Vancouver.
Will the former champion get right back into the thick of the chase or will the surging contender take that final step and punch his ticket to a title shot next time out?
Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana
Who will leave Canada with the bantamweight title in their carry-on?
After re-claiming the title last summer with a five-round decision win over Julianna Pena, Nunes was initially slated to complete the trilogy with “The Venezuelan Vixen,” but now gets a new test in the form of Aldana. While she’s widely considered the greatest female fighter of all time, her last two performances have left some questioning whether she’s still a dominant force in the 135-pound division, a question she’ll surely be looking to answer in definitive fashion at UFC 289.
Aldana went from preparing to face Raquel Pennington to being selected to fight for the bantamweight title and will look to make the most of the short-notice opportunity at Rogers Arena. The 35-year-old has earned back-to-back stoppage wins, victories in four of her last five, and has the power profile to pose a real threat to the reigning champion.
One of the biggest stories of the year thus far has been the rise of two Mexican champions, as both Yair Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso have already claimed gold, joining their compatriot, Brandon Moreno. Will Aldana become the fourth Mexican athlete to win a UFC title in 2023 or will Nunes silence her doubters and successfully defend her belt?
UFC on ESPN: Vettori vs. Cannonier — Saturday, June 17 (Las Vegas, NV)
Arman Tsarukyan vs. Joaquim Silva
If you read this series routinely, you know I like to include a “One for Me” fight in every list, and this is that one.
Tsarukyan was scheduled to face Renato Moicano in April, but the Brazilian withdrew and the 26-year-old Armenian-Russian standout instead lands opposite Silva here. Since dropping his debut to current champ Islam Makhachev, Tsarukyan has gone 6-1, with that lone setback coming in an ultra-competitive, debated decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot last year.
After battering Jesse Ronson last October to snap a two-fight skid, Silva gets the chance to potentially shake things up in the lightweight division by stepping in against the highly regarded and eighth-ranked Tsarukyan here. The Brazilian has established power and a good grappling base to work from but will certainly have his hands full as he takes a sizeable step up in competition here.
It feels like there are parallels between Makhachev’s rise and the trajectory Tsarukyan is now starting to form, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue his push towards the top of the division or whether he’ll stumble in what is an all-upside fight for Silva midway through the month.
Marvin Vettori vs. Jared Cannonier
Middleweight veterans and recent title challengers cross paths on the road back to the top of the division here.
Vettori started his UFC career going 2-2-1 in his first five fights, but is 7-2 since, with his losses coming to Israel Adesanya in a championship bout at UFC 263 and Robert Whittaker last fall in Paris. “The Italian Dream” cemented his standing as a top contender in the division with a unanimous decision win over Roman Dolidize in March at UFC 286 and will look to build on that effort when he jumps in with Cannonier.
Just like his dance partner on June 17, Cannonier has only lost to Whittaker and Adesanya since moving to middleweight, bouncing back from his setback against the current champ with a split decision win over Sean Strickland in the final UFC fight of 2022. He has big power but can get a little too patient and methodical at times, but the aggressiveness of his Italian counterpart should force him to let loose a little more, or risk being run over.
At the moment, the title picture in the middleweight division is a little blurry, as Adesanya reclaimed the throne in April and has already vanquished several of the top contenders. The winner of this one will lock themselves into a place in the Top 5, but what comes next could hinge on how things play out here.
UFC on ABC: Emmett vs. Topuria — Saturday, June 24 (Jacksonville, FL)
Tabatha Ricci vs. Gillian Robertson
Streaking strawweights with strong grappling pedigrees find themselves sharing the Octagon in this one, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Ricci has posted three straight victories since debuting up a division with a loss to top contender Manon Fiorot. Last time out, “Baby Shark” locked up a second-round armbar finish over Jessica Penne in a thoroughly dominant performance that showed she’s one to keep close tabs on in the 115-pound weight class.
One of the most active fighters on the roster, Robertson returned to strawweight in April and secured her second consecutive stoppage win, submitting Piera Rodriguez to add to her record-setting run of victories inside the Octagon. “The Savage” has registered nine wins in 14 UFC starts since competing on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, and if she were to pick up No. 10 here, it would be the biggest of her career.
Not only does this have the potential to be a tremendous grappling contest, but it also carries divisional significance, as Ricci forced her way into the rankings with her win over Penne, and Robertson could do the same if she halts her run of success while continuing her own in Jacksonville.
Amanda Ribas vs. Maycee Barber
Flyweights coming off quality wins and looking to continue forging ahead land opposite one another in this one.
Ribas picked up a unanimous decision win over Viviane Araujo in March at UFC 285, steadying herself following a split decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian in her previous appearance. The bubbly Brazilian looked better than ever against her countrywoman earlier this year, showing improved power and better pressure on the feet, which could be a sign a major step forward is in the offing.
The 25-year-old Barber has won four straight heading into this one, most recently posting a split decision win over Andrea Lee towards the end of March. She’s really started to play to her strengths and find herself as a fighter since taking up residence with Team Alpha Male and will look to collect the biggest win of her career when she steps in with Ribas.
Alexa Grasso’s title win shook the foundation of the flyweight division, but it also created intriguing possibilities going forward, especially if she remains on the throne through her anticipated rematch with Valentina Shevchenko. For now, Ribas and Barber will be locked in on taking the other out and further establishing their place in the pecking order heading into the second half of 2023.
Josh Emmett vs. Ilia Topuria
It’s “established versus emerging” in the featherweight division to wrap up the month and it should be an absolute banger!
The 38-year-old Emmett had his five-fight winning streak snapped by Yair Rodriguez in February when they battled for the interim title in Australia. Prior to that, the Team Alpha Male representative had posted wins over Calvin Kattar, Dan Ige, and Shane Burgos, and he will serve as the most experienced and dangerous opponent Topuria has faced to date inside the Octagon.
Unbeaten in 13 professional bouts, including five UFC appearances, Topuria profiles as a future contender, but actually achieving that status is the hard part. He looked outstanding against Bryce Mitchell at UFC 282 last December, and registered three straight knockout wins before that, establishing himself as the top ascending talent in the division and one of the best fighters under 27 years of age in the entire promotion.
Can the veteran rebound and fend off the advances of his younger, emerging foe or will Topuria dispatch Emmett and continue his march towards the top of the division?
UFC Fight Night: Emmett vs Topuria took place live from the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on June 24, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!