Three of MMA’s big global promotions are in action this weekend, with matchups on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday set to bring fight fans a jam-packed weekend of fights. But which matchups outside of the headline bouts are worth particular attention? We pick out a trio of interesting storylines that are flying under the radar this weekend.
Chris Wade vs. Ryoji Kudo, PFL 4
The PFL’s regular season consists of two rounds of matchups, with the top four fighters in each weight class progressing to the semi-final “Playoff” stages. Thursday night sees the featherweights and light heavyweights complete their regular season schedule with their second matchups.
In the featherweight division, 2022 champion Brendan Loughnane tops the standings after the first round of bouts, and he tops the fight card in Atlanta against Peru’s Jesus Pinedo, while 2021 champ Movlid Khaybulaev faces Tyler Diamond in the co-main event.
However, beyond those two matchups, the bouts that offer the most intrigue are those featuring fighters who need to produce significant performances to give themselves a chance of gatecrashing the division’s top four.
One such fighter is Chris Wade. His only defeats in prior seasons came to the eventual champions – the American lost to Khaybulaev in the featherweight final in 2021, and lost out to Loughnane in the semi-finals in 2022. But, after losing his grudge match with Bubba Jenkins in their opening bout of the 2023 season, Wade has his back against the wall heading into PFL 4. Victory alone probably won’t be enough to see him through to the playoffs. He needs a finish, ideally in the first round.
That’s going to be a tough ask, however. Wade takes on hard-hitting Japanese contender Ryoji Kudo, who has been finished only once in his 17-fight career. Wade will have to push the pace from the opening bell. But, with Kudo also desperately in need of a stoppage win, the Japanese 45er will be keen to meet Wade’s forward pressure with heavy strikes.
It’s a matchup between two fighters with contrasting styles – Wade’s wrestling-based attack versus Kudo’s power striking – who both need to chase not just a win, but a finish. The action should be fast and furious.
Artem Belakh vs. Kwon Won Il, ONE Fight Night 11
ONE Championship’s offering this weekend from Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok only has four fights on the 10-fight card, but among them is a crucial contest for the promotion’s bantamweight division.
The matchup between Russia’s Artem Belakh and South Korea’s Kwon Won Il pits the division’s fifth- and fourth-ranked contenders head to head in a matchup that could propel the winner toward a title eliminator, or perhaps even a title shot, in their next appearance.
Belakh is new to ONE Championship, having fought just once under their banner to date. But that appearance was a notable one, as he defeated ONE veteran and dangerous submission artist Leandro “Brodinho” Issa at ONE 162 in October 2022.
That win was enough to earn Belakh a spot in ONE’s rankings, and now he’ll face the next man listed above him in the list. Kwon has won four of his last five in the ONE Circle, with his only defeat coming to the current bantamweight champion, Fabricio Andrade, who finished “Pretty Boy” via liver-kick KO. But Kwon swiftly bounced back from that loss with an impressive TKO finish of Mark Abelardo at ONE 163 in November 2022 to maintain his remarkable run of finishes – each of his last seven victories have come via knockout or TKO.
Kwon will look to continue that finishing form against Belakh in a real striker versus grappler matchup. If the fight stays standing, the advantage would appear to be with the South Korean. But, with seven of his 10 wins coming via submission, Belakh will surely hold the edge if the fight goes to the mat.
An impressive finish for either man could position them nicely for a shot at Andrade later this year.
Dan Ige vs. Nate Landwehr, UFC 289
With MMA moving and progressing at a tremendous speed, people’s memories can be short in this sport as contenders are hyped, then written off, in just a matter of a few months.
The fact that Dan Ige was talked about as a sleeper contender in the UFC’s talent-stacked featherweight division speaks volumes of his fighting abilities. Wins over the likes of Danny Henry, Kevin Aguilar, Mirsad Bektic and Edson Barboza saw him progress to the fringes of contendership with relatively little fanfare.
Ige isn’t a trash-talker or an attention-seeker. But he is a superb technician who, after a decision loss to fellow contender Calvin Kattar, claimed a 22-second knockout of hyped prospect Gavin Tucker in 2021. Then, three consecutive decision losses in competitive bouts with Chan Sung Jung, Josh Emmett and Movsar Evloev saw him on a three-fight skid heading into 2023. Was his career at a crossroads? Had his skills started to wane?
Well, he took rounds off both “The Korean Zombie” and Emmett in very close, competitive bouts that just went his opponents’ way, so there was certainly no shame there. He was beaten more cleanly by Movsar Evloev, who might just be the trickiest opponent to deal with in the entire division, but nobody has found the formula to defeat the Russian yet. No shame there, either.
Ige has bounced back since those three losses, too. A second-round knockout of Damon Jackson in January got him back in the win column, and now he faces all-action Nate “The Train” Landwehr this weekend at UFC 289.
While Ige is looking to remind people of his quality, Landwehr wants to continue his run of exciting fights in the UFC as he bids to earn his fourth consecutive win.
“The Train” went 1-2 in his first three victories in the UFC, but that one win, a decision victory over the teak-tough Darren Elkins, showcased Landwehr’s toughness. But the two losses, both two first-round knee KOs, also showed how his headstrong approach can also be his undoing.
Since the second of those losses, to Julian Erosa, Landwehr has tightened things up and has reeled off three consecutive wins. He subbed striking specialist L’Udovit Klein, then edged the criminally underrated David Onama on the scorecards before notching another submission victory, against Austin Lingo, in March.
Those two submissions are the only ones on his record, but show how his came is evolving and becoming more well-rounded. That said, Landwehr loves nothing better than a good old-fashioned tear-up, and he’ll be keen to take the fight to Ige this weekend.
One man is looking to prove to the world that he’s still a factor at 145, while the other is looking to show he belongs in that same conversation. It should serve up a cracker of a contest. Don’t be surprised if one or both men head home from Vancouver with a bonus check…