Coming off an exhilarating night in Phoenix where Charles Oliveira cemented his standing as the top lightweight in the world and Carla Esparza returned to the top of the strawweight division, action shifts back to the UFC APEX for an outstanding fight card that promises to be non-stop excitement.
Headlined by a light heavyweight bout between former champ Jan Blachowicz and surging contender Aleksandar Rakic and laced with loads of compelling matchups, Saturday’s event should be electric from the word, “Go!”
Here’s a closer look at what’s on tap this weekend.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Main Event Preview | UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic
Main Event Preview | UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic
Just under a month before the light heavyweight title goes on the line again, Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic face off in a bout that could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the title.
Fighting for the first time since dropping the strap to Glover Teixeira at the end of October, Blachowicz looks to make an immediate return to the win column with a statement victory over the talented Austrian. A neck injury caused him to withdraw from the initial late-March assignment date, but now recovered and ready to go, the former champion aims to return to the form that earned him the title in the first place and produced a breakthrough win over Israel Adesanya last March.
Rakic has been happy to bide his time, waiting for this opportunity, believing that he’s one more win away from finally challenging for championship gold. The 30-year-old contender has earned consecutive unanimous decision wins over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos since his questionable split decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir at the end of 2019 and carries a 14-2 overall record into his second main event assignment this weekend.
Will Blachowicz once again display the “legendary Polish power”, or will Rakic keep racking up wins over elite competition and punch his ticket to a title shot?
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
Light heavyweights man the co-main event slot on Saturday’s fight card, as well, as Fortis MMA product Ryan Spann takes on the improving Ion Cutelaba.
The 30-year-old Spann struggled to find consistency after advancing to the point of facing Top 15 talents, squeezing a first-round stoppage win over Misha Cirkunov between first-round stoppage losses to Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. He had positive moments in each of those losses and has considerable weapons and natural gifts for the weight class; now it’s about bringing it all together and starting to string together consistent results that can carry him further up the divisional ladder.
Sporting a 5-5-1 record through his first 11 starts inside the Octagon, Cutelaba remains an uncontrollable bundle of energy tenuously held together by ever-fraying ropes. When he’s calmer and more composed, he shows flashes of being a potential nightmare in the division, but when the ropes fray and the energy gets the better of him, chaos often ensues. Cutelaba was more contained, more dialed in last time out, so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that here.
Light heavyweight is one of those divisions where three consecutive quality victories can carry you a long way, and with Spann holding down a place in the lower-third of the rankings, it might only take two big efforts for either of these men to vault into the Top 10 and land opposite an established contender. There may not be immediate divisional stakes on the line here, but this is a crucial moment in each of these men’s quest to work their way into the elite class in the 205-pound weight division.
Nick Maximov vs. Andre Petroski
Middleweight grapplers that have each started their UFC tenures with consecutive victories clash here as Nick Maximov of the Nick Diaz Academy takes on Philly product Andre Petroski.
Maximov earned a win over the much bigger, much more experienced Oscar Cota on Season Four of Dana White’s Contender Series but didn’t earn a contract. He focused on grappling for much of the next year and got the call to compete on the big stage alongside his mentor at UFC 266 last September, where he was able to grind out a win over Cody Brundage. At the start of February, the unbeaten 24-year-old edged out Punahele Soriano to push his record to 8-0 and continue gaining traction in the 185-pound weight class.
A semifinalist on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, Petroski landed an opportunity to compete on the finale and has made the most of it, securing a third-round stoppage win over fellow Team Ortega representative Micheal Gillmore before earning a similar result against Hu Yaozong two months later in Abu Dhabi. Now 7-1 for his career, the Daniel Gracie disciple looks to keep rolling and halt Maximov’s winning streak on Saturday night.
If you like grappling, you won’t want to miss this one, as both Maximov and Petroski are at their best on the canvas and will likely engage in a scramble-heavy battle inside the Octagon. The victor will be on a three-fight run of success in the UFC, which would likely mandate another step up in competition, so keep close eyes on this one to find out who will move forward and who will be forced to take a half-step backwards.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
Perennial flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian looks for her fourth consecutive victory as she welcomes Amanda Ribas back to the 125-pound weight class for an intriguing clash between ultra-talented fighters.
The 33-year-old Chookagian is a Top 3 fixture in the division who sports a 17-4 mark overall and an 8-3 record since relocating to flyweight. She’s posted three straight wins over Top 10 opponents, and victories in six of her last eight appearances, with those setbacks coming against champion Valentina Shevchenko and Brazilian dynamo Jessica Andrade.
Ribas rebounded from a loss to Marina Rodriguez at the start of last year with a quality performance opposite Virna Jandiroba at the end of October and was scheduled to face Michelle Waterson in a strawweight fight before the veteran was forced to withdraw. Rather than wait too long to get rescheduled, Ribas opted to bounce up to flyweight, where she previously earned a first-round submission win over Paige VanZant and will test herself against Chookagian.
Because of Chookagian’s presence as the No. 2 fighter in the division behind Shevchenko, it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out and what a win for Ribas would mean for the Brazilian competitor. She’s ranked in the Top 10 at strawweight, but could a win this weekend jump her to the front of the line in the 125-pound weight class?
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Jake Hadley makes his highly anticipated promotional debut this weekend, stepping with dangerous Brazilian Allan Nascimento in this exciting flyweight matchup.
The undefeated Hadley caused quite a stir last fall on the annual talent search series, missing weight for his bout with Mitch Raposo. He dominated the former TUF 29 contestant, securing a second-round submission win, but seemed destined to be told “Sorry” at the end of the night because of his miscue on the scale.
White inked the former Cage Warriors champ to a contract nonetheless, and now the flyweight from Birmingham looks to show that decision was the right one by picking up a win this weekend.
Nascimento gave Tagir Ulanbekov all he could handle — and arguably more — in his promotional debut at UFC 267, going move-for-move and attack-for-attack with the talented Russian on the canvas. He landed on the wrong side of a questionable split decision verdict but proved he’s more than capable of handling himself amongst the best flyweights in the world, and would like nothing more than to spoil Hadley’s debut on Saturday.
This is a terrific initial test for the 8-0 Hadley, as Nascimento is someone who should, in theory, be able to match his efforts on the canvas. The Brazilian has considerably more experience, but the British newcomer is an intriguing prospect with considerable upside, so expect a competitive fight that answers a great many questions about where each man stands in the division.
Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick
Michael Johnson and Alan Patrick meet in this clash of veteran competitors desperate to get back in the win column.
More than a dozen years after making his promotional debut, Johnson steps into the Octagon on Saturday looking to halt a four-fight slide and collect his first win since beating Artem Lobov in October 2018. “The Menace” has consistently fought top competition but has gone 0-3 since returning to the lightweight ranks, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Clay Guida last February.
Patrick hasn’t fought since his June meeting with Mason Jones was halted prematurely due to an accidental eye poke. Prior to that, the Brazilian had dropped consecutive contests to Scott Holtzman and Bobby Green, leaving him, like Johnson, searching for his first victory since 2018.
Something has got to give when these two square off on Saturday, and there should be an increased sense of urgency from each man to avoid another setback, which should make for an exciting scrap between these struggling veterans.
Virna Jandiroba vs. Angela Hill
Former Invicta FC titleholders Virna Jandiroba and Angela Hill share the Octagon on Saturday in a clash of Top 15 strawweights looking to get things moving in the right direction to start their respective 2022 fight campaigns.
Jandiroba split her two appearances in 2021, earning a second-round stoppage win over Kanako Murata in June before dropping a decision to Ribas at UFC 267. The 33-year-old has settled into life in the Octagon and a place in the rankings following her first three years on the roster, and now she looks to find the consistency needed to climb into the Top 10 and push towards contention in the talent-rich 115-pound weight class.
Officially, Hill is 1-4 in her last five fights, but she could very easily be 4-1, as three of her four losses have come by split decision. The most recent of those narrow defeats came on last year’s final fight card, where the TUF 20 alum again fell on the wrong side of the verdict in a competitive, entertaining clash with Amanda Lemos.
This profiles as a classic “grappler vs. striker” matchup, but Jandiroba has improved her hands and Hill’s takedown defense has always been solid, so this could play out any number of ways. All we know for sure is that it is going to be fast-paced, competitive, and exciting, so make sure not to miss it.
Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka
After coming away from 2021 without a win between them, veteran bantamweights Davey Grant and Louis Smolka share the Octagon together this weekend in a Fight of the Night candidate that will most likely result in one of them finally tasting sweet victory again.
The affable and ever-positive Grant fell on the wrong side of the results in a pair of bouts that earned Fight of the Night honors last year — one against surging contender Marlon “Chito” Vera, and the other opposite rising star Adrian Yanez. The Bishop Auckland man has scored bonuses in four straight appearances and developed into a textbook tough out on the fringes of the Top 15 in the bantamweight ranks since returning to full health and a regular schedule a couple years back.
Inconsistency has been the only constant for Smolka throughout his tandem UFC stints, as the Hawaiian veteran has alternated wins and losses in his six fights since returning to the Octagon after going 5-5 in his first 10 appearances earlier in his career. Last time out, “Da Last Samurai” got dropped and finished by Vince Morales, so it will be interesting to see if Smolka can maintain his “win one, lose one” pattern this weekend.
Because of their respective styles and willingness to wade into the fire, don’t be shocked if this one sets the Fight of the Night bar good and high early in the evening on Saturday.
Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee
Talented flyweight contenders Viviane Araujo and Andrea Lee face off on Saturday’s prelims as they continue to jockey for position in the always-competitive 125-pound weight class.
Araujo fights for the first time since dropping a unanimous decision to Chookagian at UFC 262 last May. She had earned consecutive victories over Montana De La Rosa and Roxanne Modafferi prior to that to establish herself as a Top 10 talent in the division, and now she looks to start another winning streak by getting the better of Lee this weekend.
With her life outside the cage finally settled down and structured to her liking, Lee turned in the best year of her UFC career in 2021, earning consecutive stoppage wins over Antonina Shevchenko and Cynthia Calvillo to rekindle talk of her being a title contender in the flyweight ranks. It’s never been a question of talent with Lee, but rather application and earning the necessary results, and if the intensity and aggressiveness she showed in her drubbing of Calvillo is her new normal, the 33-year-old could very well work her way into position to potentially challenge for the title before the year is out.
Can Araujo bounce back and halt Lee’s ascent or will “KGB” keep earning finishes and moving forward in the rankings?
Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Fan favorite Frank Camacho makes his return to the Octagon this weekend, squaring off with DWCS alum Manuel Torres in an intriguing lightweight contest.
The 32-year-old Camacho has been sidelined since the middle of 2021 after suffering back and neck injuries in a car accident ahead of his UFC 263 fight with Matt Frevola. Finally able to return, “Frank the Crank” will look to get back to the form that produced three straight Fight of the Night bonuses at the outset of his UFC run and secure his first victory in nearly three years.
One of several fighters representing the Entram Gym to earn UFC contracts last summer on Dana White’s Contender Series, Torres looks to have success where his teammates have previously failed when he steps into the Octagon for the first time this weekend. “El Loco” laid out Kolton Englund with strikes in just over two minutes last fall, pushing his winning streak to three and his record to 12-2 overall, and should get the chance to throw hands this weekend.
Camacho has a considerable edge in experience, but Torres has obviously been the more active of the two as of late, so it’s hard to know how things will shake out when they step in opposite one another on Saturday evening.
Tatsuro Taira vs. Carlos Candelario
After originally being scheduled to compete late last month only for the fight to be scratched at the last minute, Shooto champion Tatsuro Taira and Dana White’s Contender Series grad Carlos Candelario will once again attempt to make their joint promotional debuts this weekend.
Unbeaten in 10 professional appearances after a 9-0 run as an amateur, the 22-year-old Taira is arguably the best Japanese prospect to matriculate to the UFC since Kyoji Horiguchi. With good size for the division, a solid strength of schedule, and finishes in eight of his 10 wins, Taira is definitely one to watch going forward in the 125-pound weight class.
Candelario didn’t earn a contract following his victory on the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series, but he made history in Season 5, becoming the first fighter to lose, but still be called to compete in the UFC following his debated split decision loss to Victor Altamarino on last year’s opening week. The 30-year-old New England native is 8-1 overall and should serve as a tremendous test for the promising Japanese prospect on Saturday night.
The flyweight division is flush with talent at the moment, but each of these men is worth keeping tabs on long term. This weekend’s victor should take a solid step forward, but whomever is vanquished will likely still be heard from in the future as well.
UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic took place on Saturday, May 14, 2022 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.