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Conor McGregor of Ireland prepares to fight Dustin Poirier during the UFC 264 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Fight Coverage

The 10 | Explosive Summer Gets Underway In June

Detailing The Outstanding Pairings Headed Into The Octagon In The Month Ahead

Summer is just about here, and, unlike previous years, June is the signature month for the UFC in 2024, as International Fight Week shifts to the final week of the month, capping an outstanding slate of action inside the Octagon.

While the summer ramp-up is always exciting, there is something even more exhilarating about it this year.

Order UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier

Maybe it’s because we’re starting with a pay-per-view on the first day of the month. Maybe it’s because the three shows that follow, including the UFC’s first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, all feature captivating matchups that catch my attention. Or maybe it’s because the month wraps with UFC 303 and the return of Conor McGregor.

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Whatever it is, I’m excited for the slate ahead, and these 10 fights are at the top of my can’t miss list.

How To Watch UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier From Your Country

UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirer — Saturday, June 1 (Newark, New Jersey)

Sean Strickland vs Paulo Costa

This is the kind of matchup with the potential to bring the absolute best out of both men, and if things play out that way, it should be an exhilarating fight.

Paulo Costa of Brazil kicks Robert Whittaker of New Zealand in a middleweight fight during the UFC 298 event at Honda Center on February 17, 2024 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Paulo Costa of Brazil kicks Robert Whittaker of New Zealand in a middleweight fight during the UFC 298 event at Honda Center on February 17, 2024 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Strickland returns for the first time since losing the middleweight title in January by split decision, eager to get right back into the win column and cement his standing as a top-tier contender in what is a currently fluid division. For the first time since 2019, Costa competes twice in the same year, stepping back in four months after his entertaining loss to Robert Whittaker at UFC 298 in Anaheim, looking to avoid a 1-4 run over his last five fights.

RELATED: Middleweight Title Picture Comes Into Focus In June

Stylistically, we should be in for a quality dust-up here, as Strickland’s high-volume approach generally forces the attack, and his constant forward pressure should provide Costa with ample opportunities to fire on an advancing target. Mix in the pre-fight banner and likely in-fight verbal exchanges between the two and you have the makings of a highly anticipated co-main event at UFC 302.

Islam Makhachev vs Dustin Poirier

Lightweight champion Islam Makhachev puts his title on the line against veteran challenger Dustin Poirier, who looks to make the most of what is likely his final chance to claim championship gold.

Makhachev earned a pair of impressive victories over Alexander Volkanovski in 2023, out-lasting the former featherweight champion in an instant classic in February before stopping him in the first round in their short-notice rematch in October. He’s now won 13 consecutive contests and continues to look better each time out, which is a scary thought for Poirier and all other lightweight hopefuls.

“The Diamond” garnered this opportunity by stopping Benoit Saint Denis in March and hopes that the third time fighting for the undisputed lightweight title really is the charm. The challenge for Poirier is that in each of his two previous attempts to claim the belt, he’s been submitted by superior grapplers, and that will be the fate he’ll have to avoid here, as well.

There is a really cool interplay of archetypes here, as Poirier is the beloved underdog and Makhachev has a chance to further cement his standing as the icy standout that just keeps beating everyone’s favorite fighters. Will the champion retain or can the challenger finally reach the lightweight summit?

UFC 302: Dustin Poirier's Top Finishes | Islam Makhachev UFC Connected

UFC Fight Night — Saturday, June 8 (Louisville, Kentucky)

Jared Cannonier vs Nassourdine Imavov

Former title challenger Jared Cannonier faces off with ascending French talent Nassourdine Imavov in the main event of the UFC’s return to Louisville later this month.

Jared Cannonier punches Marvin Vettori of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jared Cannonier punches Marvin Vettori of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Cannonier enters on a two-fight winning streak, having wrapped 2022 with a win over Strickland before getting the better of things in a clash with Marvin Vettori last June. The 40-year-old remains a power threat and one of the top contenders in the 185-pound ranks, and will be looking to re-affirm that here.

After a frustrating 2023, Imavov began his 2024 campaign with a messy win over Roman Dolidze in February that included a point deduction for an illegal kick and shouting match with former opponent Chris Curtis, who was in Dolidze’s corner. The 29-year-old has always flashed title contender upside, and a win over Cannonier would put him in that position.

MORE UFC 302: Islam Makhachev's Win Streak | Five Islam Makhachev Fights To Watch

Middleweight is in a cool spot at the moment, with a fun mix of established names and emerging contenders jockeying for position in the rankings. The three divisional clashes on tap in June should help set up an exciting back half of the year in the division.

UFC Fight Night — Saturday, June 15 (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Tagir Ulanbekov vs Joshua Van

Joshua Van of Myanmar punches Felipe Bunes of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Joshua Van of Myanmar punches Felipe Bunes of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

This month’s “one for me” fight is a flyweight pairing between Tagir Ulanbekov and Joshua Van that feels like a perfectly timed matchup between a pair of competitors angling to take another big step forward.

Ulanbekov is 4-1 in the UFC and 15-2 overall, but his sporadic schedule has resulted in his failing to build any serious momentum. He’s earned submission finishes of Nate Maness and Cody Durden in his last two outings, currently sits just outside the Top 10, and has the grappling acumen to be a potential contender if he can just string together enough appearances and wins to really get the ball rolling.

How can you not love Van? The 22-year-old debuted in the promotion just under a year ago, earning a split decision win over Zhalgas Zhumagulov. He’s since added two more victories, raised his hand for multiple opportunities that haven’t come together, and now takes a considerable step up in competition as he tries to expedite his rise into the rankings.

This is both “grappler versus striker” and “veteran versus prospect” and the interplay between those styles and standings is always fascinating to me. Both have the skills to be threats in this division, but only one will establish themselves as such here.

Alex Perez vs Tatsuro Taira

Tatsuro Taira of Japan reacts after his knockout victory against Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tatsuro Taira of Japan reacts after his knockout victory against Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

It’s a flyweight double-dip midway through the month as Alex Perez makes his second main event appearance of the year opposite unbeaten rising star Tatsuro Taira.

Perez snapped a three-fight slide with a dominant effort on short notice against Matheus Nicolau in May, boxing up the Brazilian before shutting off his lights midway through the second round. It was a blistering effort from the former title challenger and a reminder of how dangerous he can be when he’s dialed in and healthy.

Just 24 years old, Taira has passed every test he’s been handed to date, touching down in his first UFC main event with a perfect 4-0 mark inside the Octagon and 15 consecutive wins overall to begin his career. The Japanese standout showed improved striking in his win over Carlos Hernandez, which should be a concern for all in the division, as he’s already proven himself to be an excellent grappler.

Alex Perez reacts after his knockout victory against Matheus Nicolau of Brazil in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 27, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Perez reacts after his knockout victory against Matheus Nicolau of Brazil in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 27, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

This is a classic “Are They Ready?” matchup between an entrenched contender and an undefeated fighter whose ceiling has yet to be defined. Perez looked so sharp in May and could very well prove to be too much, too soon for Taira, but there is a real possibility that the surging fighter from Okinawa is the genuine article and ready to be a contender right now.

UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs Chimaev — Saturday, June 22 (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Farid Basharat vs Montel Jackson

This month’s entry in the “Man, Bantamweight is Deep!” collection is this clash between unbeaten prospect Farid Basharat and fellow DWCS graduate Montel Jackson.

The 26-year-old Basharat has posted three wins in as many UFC appearances to advance to 12-0 overall to begin his career, beginning his sophomore season on the roster with a unanimous decision win over a very game, very experienced Taylor Lapilus in January. Now he’s facing another step up in competition, hoping to avoid the stumbles his brother has encountered in his last two outings as he keeps working forward in the division.

Montel Jackson punches Rani Yahya of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 22, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Montel Jackson punches Rani Yahya of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 22, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Jackson is another one of those “Do you understand how good he’s been?” types for me, where people don’t seem to recognize that he’s 7-2 in the UFC, riding a four-fight winning streak, and his two losses came in his debut against Ricky Simon and a July 2020 bout with Brett Johns. Last time out, “Quik” needed less than four minutes to dispatch Rani Yahya, and if he hands Basharat his first defeat, the Milwaukee native will move another step closer to cracking the rankings.

It’s rugged trying to get ahead in the 135-pound ranks, which, for my money, remains the deepest, most talented collection of competitors on the roster, but the winner of this one has to be taken seriously as a dark horse in the division moving forward. Both are looking for that opportunity to prove just how good they are against the most established names in the weight class, and whoever emerges victorious here should get that chance in the second half of the year.

Sergei Pavlovich vs Alexander Volkov

Russian heavyweight contenders Sergei Pavlovich and Alexander Volkov meet in a pivotal divisional pairing in Riyadh in the back half of the month.

Sergei Pavlovich of Russia reacts after defeating Derrick Lewis in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Sergei Pavlovich of Russia reacts after defeating Derrick Lewis in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Pavlovich returns for the first time since his short-notice title pairing with Tom Aspinall last November at Madison Square Garden. That contest snapped his six-fight winning (and finishing) streak in the UFC, and you can be sure the powerhouse has no intention of embarking on the first losing streak of his career heading into this one.

Volkov has been on a tear since his own first-round stoppage loss to Aspinall in the summer of ’22, registering consecutive stoppage wins over Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Alexandr Romanov, and Tai Tuivasa to re-establish himself as a contender in the heavyweight division.

Robert Whittaker vs Khamzat Chimaev

The third and final marquee middleweight pairing of the month features Robert Whittaker taking on Khamzat Chimaev in a five-round main event matchup to wrap the UFC’s first venture to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

After losing to current champ Dricus Du Plessis last summer when the South African was still an ascending contender, Whittaker picked himself up, dusted himself off, and out-hustled Costa over three rounds at UFC 298 in February. True to his history, “The Reaper” is right back at it, taking on another nasty challenge, hoping to get himself back into the title conversation with a second critical victory in the first half of 2024.

Khamzat Chimaev of the United Arab Emirates punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in a middleweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Khamzat Chimaev of the United Arab Emirates punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in a middleweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Chimaev earned three wins in 10 weeks to begin his UFC tenure but has registered just four appearances since. He’s won each of those pairings, but Chimaev hasn’t looked as dominant as he did early on as he’s worked in against tougher competition. Last time out, he eked out a majority decision win over Kamaru Usman in a bout the former welterweight titleholder took on short notice.

This is the kind of matchup each man desperately needs to win at this point in order to further their title ambitions. If Whittaker hands Chimaev his first loss, he’ll move to the top of the list of contenders heading into the back half of the year, while if “Borz” gets the better of the ex-champ, he could very well finally secure the title shot he’s been chasing for the last couple years.

UFC 303: McGregor vs Chandler — Saturday, June 29 (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Mayra Bueno Silva vs Macy Chiasson

Who doesn’t love a “Something to Prove” fight between a pair of contenders?

Macy Chiasson reacts after her submission victory over Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 16, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Macy Chiasson reacts after her submission victory over Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 16, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Bueno Silva started strong but faded fast in her UFC 297 bout for the vacant bantamweight title opposite Raquel Pennington at the start of the year. On paper, it should have been a massive learning experience for the somewhat green Brazilian, who is just 15 fights into her career, and now she gets the opportunity to show what she learned from that outing in another dangerous matchup at UFC 303.

Chiasson has been a person of interest in the bantamweight division since dropping down following her victory over Pannie Kianzad on Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter. While she’s stumbled at times, the Fortis MMA representative turned in her best performance to date last time out, running through Kianzad in March to move to 10-3 overall.

Conor McGregor vs Michael Chandler

After circling one another for some time, Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler will finally share the Octagon to close out UFC 303.

Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler face off during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter at UFC APEX on March 3, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler face off during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter at UFC APEX on March 3, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Nearly three years removed from his injury stoppage loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC 264, McGregor returns seeking his first victory since beating Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. He had his moments in each of his twin 2021 bouts with “The Diamond” and there is no denying that a locked-in McGregor remains a dangerous opponent for just about anyone.

RELATED: Michael Chandler Never Wavered

Chandler has been biding his time, waiting for this opportunity since the two coached opposite one another last season on The Ultimate Fighter. He too dropped his last outing against Poirier and enters with a 1-3 mark over his last four trips into the Octagon.

This one isn’t necessarily about divisional position or recent form — it’s a grudge match between two proud, battle-hardened competitors looking to taste victory again. Stylistically, it should be thrilling, as McGregor is a marksman than can be drawn into extended exchanges and Chandler has never been shy about engaging in a good punch-up.

Order UFC 302: Makhachev vs Poirier

Don't miss a moment of UFC 303: Pereira vs Procházka 2, live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prelims start at 8pm ET/5pm PT, while the main kicks off live on PPV at 10p ET/7pm PT.