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Storylines to watch from the UFC 276 early prelims

What to watch for during the UFC 276 early prelims

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On Saturday, the UFC is in Las Vegas for UFC 276. The pay-per-view card is headlined by two title fights and what might be a title eliminator.

In the main event, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya puts his title on the line against heavyweight turned light heavyweight turned middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier. In the evening’s co-headliner, featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski faces the man he took the title from in 2019 and defeated in a rematch in 2020, former 145-pound titleholder Max Holloway. As for the possible title eliminator. In that contest, Sean Strickland faces Alex Pereira in a 185-pound scrap.

UFC 276 takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ABC and early prelims on ESPN+.

Ahead of the July 2 fight card, I look at the storylines to follow on the early prelim portion of the UFC 276 fight card.

Uriah Hall vs. Andre Muniz

Uriah Hall has been an inconsistent fighter during his more than nine years with the UFC. There are times when he’s looked like a world-beater and then there are moments he looked like he did in his most recent outing, a one-sided five-round decision loss to Sean Strickland.

After that defeat, Hall, who couldn’t deal with the volume, forward pressure, takedowns and ground game of Strickland, said, “I was prepared, he was just the better man last night. This one hurts, but I’ll be back.” Saturday marks Hall’s first return to the cage since the Strickland loss (50-44, 50-45, 49-46).

Hall needs to be at his best at UFC 276. While he may have a longer history with the UFC and a higher ranking (No. 9) than his opponent, Andre Muniz, who is officially ranked at No. 13, Muniz is a dangerous fighter on the rise.

Muniz is 4-0 in the UFC with three-straight first round submission wins. The second of those stoppages came against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who had never been submitted in 37 pro MMA bouts. Muniz didn’t force Souza to tap, but he broke the grappling great’s arm. It should be noted that UFC commentator Joe Rogan (before Muniz broke Souza’s arm) dismissed Muniz’s claim that he was a better grappler than Souza as “wild talk” while his co-commentator Daniel Cormier chuckled at the hubris of the young Brazilian.

Muniz has a strong takedown game and, as evidenced by his submission of Souza, is a nasty and aggressive man on the mat. If Hall is anything less than 100 percent on Saturday, he could find himself in deep and dangerous waters very quickly.

Another thing to watch in this fight is how aggressive Muniz will be. He was not happy after the UFC denied him a “Performance of the Night” bonus for his UFC 269 submission win of Eryk Anders.

“I’m upset with Uncle Dana,” said Muniz of UFC president Dana White. “I didn’t get that dough. Uncle Dana, help me fulfill the dream of building my own house and I’ll continue to give free jiu-jitsu lessons to this division. That bonus was half of my house. Maybe he’ll give me some money in the end of the year? It was a very technical position. I took Anders down, made a nice transition and locked it in.”

Jessica Eye vs. Maycee Barber

Jessica Eye needs a win at UFC 276. Yes, she is ranked No. 10 in the official women’s flyweight rankings, but that division is not very deep. The reality is that Eye is 1-4 since Valentina Shevchenko knocked her out in a frightening manner in June 2019.

Eye has struggled with her health over the past few years and she recently said she feels good after dealing with mold in her stomach and an internal parasite. In the lead up to this fight opposite Maycee Barber, Eye is saying all the right things and seems to have an incredibly positive outlook on this bout and her future. That’s great to see, but things can change once the cage door locks on fight night.

As for Barber, who is the No. 13 ranked fighter in the 125-pound division, she too has something to prove. With her goal of becoming the youngest UFC champion in history no longer attainable, she is now 24, a weight might have been lifted from her shoulders.

My feeling about Barber is that she had been training for fights in pursuit of a UFC title instead of training to improve as a fighter. With no hard and fast date to win a belt mocking her these days, it’s on Barber and her team to focus on getting her more prepared for all aspects of MMA and giving her a more complete and well-rounded skill set. This fight won’t define Barber’s career, she is still very young, but it will help determine where her and her team need to focus moving forward.

Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Julija Stoliarenko

The UFC threw former Invicta FC bantamweight champ Julija Stoliarenko into the deep end as soon as she inked a UFC deal. Two of her three fights came against former UFC title challengers and she was an underdog in each of those bouts. Stoliarenko is not favored in her bout opposite Jessica-Rose Clark either. Stoliarenko needs to be in desperation mode at UFC 276 as she is likely fighting for her UFC career.

Clark is not fighting for her career in this matchup, but she has something to prove. Most of what she has to prove is to herself. In the lead up to UFC 276, Clark said she had been struggling with performance anxiety for some time, but since she was winning those fights, she moved on from those feelings after her hand was raised in victory. Clark’s hand was not raised after her last bout. Instead, Stephanie Egger submitted Clark and thus ended Clark’s chance at her first three-fight UFC winning streak.

Clark said she has done everything necessary outside the cage to deal with her performance anxiety. She gets to put that practice into play in the opening fight of the UFC 276 early prelims.