Headlined by the middleweight championship rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, UFC 271 goes down Saturday night at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
There is a symmetry to the second pay-per-view of the year being headlined by a championship sequel — second event, second fight between two rivals — and after the first of each was gripping from start-to-finish, it’s time to find out if this weekend is more The Empire Strikes Back or Speed 2: Cruise Control.
The odds are stacked in favor of the former, because like Empire, this weekend’s return to pay-per-view has an all-star cast across the board, with key matchups between contenders, emerging talents facing tenured veterans, and a couple promising newcomers all making their way to the Octagon ahead of the top-billed tandem that will close things out battling for championship gold.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap for this weekend. May the force be with you!
Israel Adesanya vs Robert Whittaker
When Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker step into the Octagon on Saturday night, it will have been two years, four months, and seven days since their first clash for the undisputed UFC middleweight title.
Adesanya won the first encounter, entering as the interim champ and completing his incredible ascent to the top of the division by collecting a second-round stoppage victory at UFC 243. It was a classic Adesanya performance, as he showcased sharp striking, deft counters, and the defensive smoothness that makes him difficult to hit, even when you think you’ve got him dead to rights.
Whittaker was fighting for the first time in well over a year after having dealt with an emergency surgery earlier in the year, entering the cage frayed and feeling burnt out. He looked the part as well, forcing the action and reaching on strikes where he’s traditionally more patient and technical, resulting in his getting dropped at the close of the first and stopped just after the midway point of the second.
Since their first meeting, Adesanya has both cemented his standing as the best middleweight in the world, but also lost his aura of invincibility, having successfully defended his title three times, while also collecting the first loss of his career last year when he moved up to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title. As for Whittaker, the former champion took some time off to recharge, but has come back sharp, posting unanimous decision victories over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum to set up Saturday’s championship sequel.
The dynamic between these two on the feet remains the most intriguing piece to this fight, as each can fight going forward or looking for counters, and capitalizing on mistakes will likely dictate the final result. One interesting piece to keep tabs on is whether or not Whittaker looks to wrestle more this time around, testing out Adesanya’s takedown defense and ability to get back to his feet should he be able to put him on the canvas.
Just as the first bout between the two was a captivating, must-see battle, so too is the second chapter in what feels like a story that won’t end here.
Derrick Lewis vs Tai Tuivasa
Derrick Lewis looks to pick up a hometown victory after coming up short the last time he fought in Houston, but in order to do so, he’ll have to get through streaking Australian Tai Tuivasa.
“The Black Beast” fought for the interim heavyweight title in H-Town last summer, wilting under the pressure of headlining a pay-per-view event in his city and the pressure being applied to him by Ciryl Gane. Four months later, Lewis returned to the Octagon and walloped Chris Daukaus, re-affirming his position as a dangerous threat at the top of the heavyweight division.
Tuivasa’s UFC tenure started like a poor inning at the plate in baseball — three up, three down — as the big kid from West Sydney admittedly allowed his early success to go to his head, resulting in three straight setbacks. Since then, however, “Bam Bam” has come back with a vengeance, producing four straight stoppage wins, including a mid-December finish of Augusto Sakai.
Someone is going to get knocked out in this one, but the compelling piece is finding out whom it will be. Lewis has thrived on turning back emerging hopefuls throughout his time as a Top 10 fighter, while Tuivasa looks like he’s putting all the pieces together and ready to take on a veteran challenge once more.
The crowd will be in a lather after “Tops Drop” bumps through the arena when Lewis walks to the Octagon, and everyone will be on the edge of their seat waiting to see which one of these two heavyweights lands the fight-ending blow.
Jared Cannonier vs Derek Brunson
Before Adesanya and Whittaker battle it out for the middleweight title, Jared Cannonier and Derek Brunson face off to determine who is likely next in line to challenge the main event winner.
After beginning his UFC career at heavyweight and a brief layover in the 205-pound weight class, Cannonier has gone 4-1 since moving to middleweight, earning victories over David Branch, Anderson Silva, Jack Hermansson, and Kelvin Gastelum. His lone setback came at UFC 254 against Whittaker, which not only underscores how talented “Bobby Knuckles” is, but also highlights that Cannonier is a quality fighter himself.
Now into his tenth year as a fixture in the UFC middleweight division, Brunson arrives in Houston on one of the best runs of his career, having posted five consecutive victories, capped by a third-round submission win over Darren Till back in September. The 38-year-old veteran has played to his strengths on the ground more during this stretch but remains an explosive athlete with the ability to settling things on the feet if necessary.
There are no guarantees that the winner gets next — what if Whittaker wins and a trilogy bout is needed? — but whomever emerges victorious should have pole position in the title chase heading into the second quarter of the 2022 UFC schedule.
Alexander Hernandez vs Renato Moicano
Lightweight staples Alexander Hernandez and Renato Moicano meet early in the evening this weekend, with each man looking to keep things moving in the right direction after stoppage victories in their most recent appearances.
Hernandez has alternated wins and losses since his surprising debut knockout win over Beneil Dariush back at UFC 222. Now based in Colorado and repping the Factory X Muay Thai squad, “Alexander the Great” has earned first-round knockout wins in each of his last two victories, but struggled in matchups like this against strong grapplers, so it will be interesting to see which pattern continues.
Moicano moved up to lightweight following a solid run as a contender in the featherweight division, registering a quick first-round submission win over Damir Hadzovic in his debut. He got stopped by Rafael Fiziev in his second lightweight appearance but bounced back with a second-round submission win over Jai Herbert last June, pushing his record to 15-4-1 in the process.
The positioning of this matchup and the fact that these two men are stationed outside the Top 15 at the moment should serve as another reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is right now. Both are eager to turn their most recent triumphs into the first of consecutive victories, so expect a highly competitive, entertaining clash when they hit the cage on Saturday.
Bobby Green vs Nasrat Haqparast
Bobby Green and Nasrat Haqparast share the Octagon in Saturday’s main card opener in the lightweight division.
Green seeks to maintain his place as one of the veteran stalwarts in the 155-pound, arriving in Houston off a dynamic first-round stoppage win over Al Iaquinta in November at UFC 268. The 35-year-old “King” has logged over 40 appearances in his career, and never been an easy or favorable assignment, making him perfectly suited to push Haqparast this weekend.
UFC 271 EMBEDDED: Episode 1
Still just 26 years old, Haqparast kicks off his fourth full year on the UFC roster looking to rebound from a loss to Dan Hooker in September. While he’s flashed upside throughout his career, the German-born lightweight of Afghani heritage has stumbled when sharing the cage with more seasoned competition, so a victory over Green on Saturday could potentially signal the closing of that chapter and a big step forward for the dangerous southpaw.
Will the veteran prevail or can the emerging hopeful finally take a big step forward in the lightweight division?
Andrei Arlovski vs Jared Vanderaa
Big fellas at different points of their careers clash in the final preliminary card fight of the evening as Andrei Arlovski and Jared Vanderaa share the Octagon on Saturday evening.
Well into his third decade as a professional fighter, Arlovski remains a valuable piece of the puzzle in the heavyweight division, serving as the veteran litmus test up-and-coming talents must pass in order to climb into the rankings. He’s 4-1 over his last five outings, having earned back-to-back wins over Chase Sherman and Carlos Felipe following his loss to Tom Aspinall last February.
While Arlovski is making his 37th UFC appearance this weekend, Vanderaa is making his fourth, hoping to bring his record level at 2-2 after landing on the wrong side of things against Alexandr Romanov last time out. The Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus is 12-6 overall and shared Fight of the Night honors with Justin Tafa in May, emerging triumphant in the entertaining back-and-forth battle.
It’s always tempting to say that Arlovski will have to stop chugging along at some point, but he’s proven to be incredibly resilient throughout his career and genuinely loves what he’s doing. Vanderaa is a mountain of a man and flashed menacing power on his way to the big stage, so it will be interesting to see if he can tap into it and register the biggest win of his career this weekend.
Roxanne Modafferi vs Casey O’Neill
Much like the fight that will follow it on this weekend’s prelims, this pairing between Roxanne Modafferi and Casey O’Neill is a clash between competitors moving in very different and very distinct directions.
After 18-plus years, Modafferi is calling it a career following Saturday night, going out, win or lose, after competing in her 46th professional fight. “The Happy Warrior” has been a pioneering figure in the sport and a perennial contender in the flyweight division for the last eight years, and while the results haven’t always been there, Modafferi’s heart, drive, and passion for the sport has always shone through.
By contrast, O’Neill is just eight fights into her professional career and climbing the ranks in a hurry, having posted three stoppage victories last year during her UFC rookie campaign to establish herself as one of the top prospects in the promotion. She earned finishes over Shana Dobson, Lara Procopio, and Antonina Shevchenko in February, June, and October, respectively, and could catapult herself into the Top 10 if she’s able to add a similar finish over Modafferi to her resume this weekend.
Will the veteran go out on a high note by handing the emerging prospect her first career loss or will O’Neill send Modafferi off into retirement with a defeat.
Kyler Phillips vs Marcelo Rojo
Exciting bantamweights Kyler Phillips and Marcelo Rojo look to get things moving in a positive direction as they square off in what should be a main card firefight on Saturday night.
The 26-year-old Phillips had an up-and-down year in 2021, beginning his campaign with a unanimous decision victory over Song Yadong at UFC 259 that briefly catapulted him into the Top 15. But a little more than four months later, he started well, but faded, dropping a majority decision to Raulian Paiva in a bout that garnered Fight of the Night honors.
Rojo was ticketed to make his short-notice debut in February against Raoni Barcelos before the bout was scrapped, leading to the Argentine moving up a division two weeks later and dropping a competitive fight against Charles Jourdain. He had three different matchups fall apart between August, September, and October, and has to be chomping at the bit to get back in there and show what he can do on a full camp this weekend.
Bantamweight is flush with talent right now and the competition to crack the Top 15 and simply make meaningful progress up the ranks is steep. Each of these men are exciting, action-oriented competitors on their own, so pairing them together should produce something thrilling this weekend in Houston.
Carlos Ulberg vs Fabio Cherant
Light heavyweight finishers line up across the cage from one another here as Carlos Ulberg returns to take on Fabio Cherant.
A member of the City Kickboxing team, Ulberg debuted amidst much fanfare last March, punching himself out before getting punched out by Kennedy Nzechukwu at UFC 259. The former kickboxer has limited experience, but with clear power and a tremendous group around him, a bounce-back effort this weekend would not be surprising in the least.
Cherant is 7-0 against non-UFC talent and 0-3 against current UFC competitors, having lost to Aleksa Camur on Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series and both Alonzo Menifield and William Knight after being called to the Octagon last year. The 27-year-old showed promise throughout his ascent to this level, and if he can tap back into it this weekend, he could come away with his first UFC victory.
Mana Martinez vs Ronnie Lawrence
High-energy bantamweights clash in the final early preliminary card tilt this weekend, with local favorite Mana Martinez squaring off against Tennessee native Ronnie Lawrence.
Martinez registered an emotional split decision victory over Guido Cannetti at the end of August, collecting the win in his promotional debut soon after the unexpected passing of his coach and Texas MMA icon Saul Soliz. The 25-year-old is a “kill ore killed” fighter, having gone the distance just twice in 11 bouts while putting together a 9-2 record to begin his career.
Lawrence earned high praise from UFC President Dana White while earning a contract on Season 4 of the Contender Series, then backed it up with a third-round stoppage win over Vince Cachero in his promotional debut last February. Medical issues forced him from a July assignment against Trevin Jones at the 11th hour, resulting in “The Heat” spending nearly a year on the sidelines in advance of this one on Saturday.
Will Martinez thrill the partisan crowd at Toyota Center or will Lawrence earn his fifth straight victory and leave them sitting in silence when the results of this one are read?
AJ Dobson vs Jacob Malkoun
AJ Dobson makes his promotional debut opposite Jacob Malkoun in this preliminary card matchup on Saturday.
A member of the DWCS Class of ’21, Dobson carries a 6-0, 1 NC record into his UFC debut. The Ohio native has earned finishes in all but one of his first six victories, including his contract-winning triumph over Hashem Arkhagha in September.
Malkoun trains alongside Robert Whittaker and makes his third trip into the Octagon here. After losing his debut to Phil Hawes in Abu Dhabi, “Mamba” collected a victory in his sophomore appearance, out-wrestling Abdul Razak Alhassan last April to push his record to 5-1.
Douglas Silva vs Sergey Morozov
Veteran bantamweights collide here as Douglas Silva and Sergey Morozov meet to see which of them will pick up a second consecutive UFC victory.
The 36-year-old Silva has been on the UFC roster since 2014, posting a 5-4 record while splitting time between bantamweight and featherweight. He moved back to the 135-pound weight class in his second appearance of 2021, registering a first-round knockout win over Gaetano Pirrello to advance his record to 27-4 with one no contest overall.
Morozov went 1-1 in his rookie year in the UFC, suffering a second-round submission loss to Umar Nurmagomedov in their joint debuts last January before responding with a unanimous decision victory over Khalid Taha in July. The former M-1 challenge champion is 17-4 for his career, including splitting a pair of bouts with TUF 29 semifinalist Josh Rettinghouse.
This should be a high-energy, back-and-forth battle between two well-rounded, ultra-tough competitors looking to make headway in the talent rich bantamweight ranks.
Jeremiah Wells vs Blood Diamond
Jeremiah Wells aims to build off his impressive debut victory as he welcomes Blood Diamond to the Octagon to the first time in Saturday’s opener.
A veteran of the rugged East Coast regional circuit, Wells made an instant impact on short notice last spring, rolling into the cage and registering a second-round knockout win over former TUF: Brazil winner Warlley Alves. The 35-year-old Wells, who trains with fellow Philadelphia standouts Sean Brady and Pat Sabatini, has won six of his last seven and three straight heading into this one.
Another member of the City Kickboxing crew, Diamond has garnered high praise from his teammates and coaches, but has a limited resume to look at in order to assess what he brings to the table ahead of his debut. He’s earned victories in all three of his MMA fights to date, so it will be curious to see how he handles this step up in competition and serving as the opening act for his team this weekend in Houston.
Can Wells register another victory or will Diamond get things moving in a positive direction for the New Zealand outfit right out of the gate?
William Knight vs Maxim Grishin
William Knight steps in for Ed Herman and takes on Maxim Grishin.
Knight has gone 3-1 since matriculating to the UFC following a pair of victories on Dana White’s Contender Series, bouncing back from a decision loss to Da-un Jung in April with consecutive triumphs over Fabio Cherant and Alonzo Menifield. The Connecticut native is a mass of power and explosiveness, and has gone 11-2 and reached the biggest stage in the sport in just three-and-a-half years as a mixed martial artist.
Grishin is a 37-year-old veteran with 42 fights under his belt that arrived in the UFC with a 30-7-2 record. He dropped a decision to fellow veteran Marcin Tybura at heavyweight in his debut, rebounded with a second-round stoppage win over Gadzhimurad Antigulov in his sophomore outing, and then landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict while facing Dustin Jacoby last February.
This is a big step up in competition for Knight and one he’s taking on short notice. His rare blend of athleticism, power, and overall ruggedness makes him an intriguing figure in the 205-pound weight class, while Grishin is a crafty vet that will surely be looking to rely on guile and savvy to stifle his ascent on Saturday.
UFC 271: Adesanya vs Whittaker 2 took place on Saturday, February 12, 2022, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.