JARED CANNONIER VS. KELVIN GASTELUM
Middleweight stalwarts aiming to get things moving in the right direction again clash in Saturday’s main event as Jared Cannonier makes his 2021 debut opposite Kelvin Gastelum.
After earning stoppage victories in each of his first three appearances in the 185-pound weight class, Cannonier landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict last time out against Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 on Fight Island. To make matters worse, the 37-year-old also came away with a broken arm, leaving him stuck on the sidelines recovering until now.
Gastelum is also entering off a unanimous decision loss to Whittaker, having gone five rounds with the former champion in April. He filled in for Paulo Costa that night and does so again here, hustling in against Cannonier with designs on halting a five-fight run that has produced just a single victory and left the former interim title challenger on the brink of falling out of the Top 10 for the first time in a number of years.
Cannonier was on the cusp of title contention heading into his bout with Whittaker, while Gastelum has battled for championship gold in the past, and both men want to get back there, but only one will take a step in that direction this weekend. It’s another gutsy call by Gastelum to fill in for Costa, and it will be interesting to see if the former Ultimate Fighter winner can make the most of this second short notice main event opportunity after coming up short last time around.
CLAY GUIDA VS MARK O. MADSEN
A clash of lightweights with very different levels of experience inside the Octagon occupies the co-main event position this weekend, as 53-fight veteran Clay Guida competes in his 31st UFC bout against unbeaten Olympic medalist Mark O. Madsen, who makes his third UFC appearance and fights for the 11th time in his career.
The indefatigable Guida got back into the win column last time out, earning a clean sweep of the scorecards in a February fight against Michael Johnson, pushing his record to 16-14 in the UFC and 36-17 overall. One of the most beloved fighters on the roster, the 39-year-old UFC Hall of Famer remains a tough assignment for anyone with ambitions of climbing the lightweight ladder and easily represents the most accomplished and experienced fighter Madsen has faced thus far.
A silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling in the 2016 Summer Olympics, Madsen has been all-in on his MMA dreams since 2018, registering eight wins in as many starts, including a pair of victories inside the Octagon, to push his record to 10-0 overall. The 36-year-old from Denmark has been out of action since UFC 248 due to injuries and some private, family matters, but welcomes the opportunity to share the cage with such a veteran of Guida’s standing while continuing to figure out where he stacks up in the loaded lightweight division.
Guida is the perfect dance partner for Madsen at this point in his career, while a win over “The Olympian” would serve as a further reminder that even though “The Carpenter” is getting on in years, he’s still young at heart and more than capable of handling his business inside the Octagon. Expect a high octane, scramble-heavy affair for as long as it lasts.
PARKER PORTER VS CHASE SHERMAN
Big fellas that throw heavy leather lock up in the middle of this weekend’s fight card as finishers Parker Porter and Chase Sherman share the smaller Octagon at the UFC APEX in what should be a combustible affair.
The 36-year-old Porter, who fought some skinny kid named Jon Jones in his third professional bout, rebounded from a debut loss to Chris Daukaus with a unanimous decision triumph over Josh Parisian last time out. On the other side of the cage, Sherman enters off a unanimous decision loss to Andrei Arlovski after securing a second-round stoppage win over Ike Villanueva in his return to the Octagon last spring in Jacksonville, Florida.
Even though they each went the distance last time out, chances are this one won’t need the judges as those bouts are two of the only six times in 39 combined appearances that Porter and Sherman have seen the scorecards. With a tandem finishing rate a hair under 85 percent and a main card opportunity, you best believe these boys will be looking to make a statement and end things in a hurry on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
TREVIN JONES VS. SAIDYOKUB KAKHRAMONOV
Explosive finisher Trevin Jones battles newcomer Saidyokub Kakhramonov in a sneaky-good bantamweight pairing early in evening on Saturday night.
Athlete Profile: Jones
After having his bout with Ronnie Lawrence scrapped at the 11th hour a couple weeks back, Jones jumped at the chance to replace Jesse Strader here, and looks to deliver a third straight impressive showing inside the Octagon.
Fighting out of Guam, “5 Star” stopped Timur Valiev in his short notice debut, only to have the fight ruled a no contest after Jones tested positive for marijuana in his post-fight drug screening. But the 31-year-old showed it was no fluke by starching Mario Bautista last time out and looks to extend his unbeaten streak to five with a victory over Kakhramonov on Saturday.
Standing across from Jones will be Kakhramonov, who has finished five of his eight wins in the first round and won three of his last four on his way to his UFC debut.
VINC PICHEL VS AUSTIN HUBBARD
Talented lightweights residing in the crush of competitors stationed just outside the Top 15 clash this weekend as Vinc Pichel looks for a third consecutive victory when he takes on Elevation Fight Team member Austin Hubbard.
A cast member on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, the 38-year-old Pichel has made just eight appearances since the start of 2012, posting a 6-2 record inside the Octagon, including winning four straight at one point. Injuries have frequently stalled his momentum, but coming off back-to-back impressive wins over Roosevelt Roberts and Jim Miller, “From Hell” is once again on a nice little run in the 155-pound ranks and another victory on Saturday could position him for a date with a Top 15 opponent next time out.
After amassing a 10-2 record on the regional circuit, Hubbard has alternated losses and wins since arriving in the UFC, posting victories over Kyle Prepolec, Max Rohskopf, and Dakota Bush while suffering setbacks against Davi Ramos, Madsen, and Joe Solecki. A hard-nosed, durable fighter with plenty of room to still grow, this is a chance for “Thud” to secure a second straight win and start building some momentum of his own in the lightweight division.
ALEXANDRE PANTOJA VS BRANDON ROYVAL
A Top 10 flyweight matchup with potential championship implications hits the Octagon this weekend, as Brazilian Alexandre Pantoja squares off with Brandon Royval in what should be an action-packed affair.
Pantoja is 7-3 through his first 10 UFC appearances, most recently posting a unanimous decision win over Manel Kape and holding a previous victory over current champ Brandon Moreno, whom he also defeated when both were contestants on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter. The 31-year-old has fought the best the division has to offer from Day One on the roster and is the type of dangerous, experienced hand that could quick string together two or three wins and land himself a championship opportunity.
Royval had a dynamic start to his UFC career last year, earning second-round submission wins and Fight of the Night bonuses in matchups against Top 10 stalwarts Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France. That earned the Factory X Muay Thai product a date with Moreno at UFC 255, where his run came to an end when he suffered a shoulder injury, presenting the current titleholder with an opportunity to pound out the finish.
Moreno’s first title defense has yet to be scheduled and things are a little sluggish atop the division at the moment, but that only creates an opportunity for one of these two to collect an impressive victory this weekend and inject themselves into the thick of the chase in the 125-pound weight class.
AUSTIN LINGO VS LUIS SALDANA
After earning the first UFC win of 2021, Austin Lingo looks to build on that effort as he returns to action against Dana White Contender Series grad Luis Saldana in what should be an exciting featherweight clash on Saturday’s prelims.
Another member of the Fortis MMA crew who had tremendous success under the LFA banner, Lingo dropped his promotional debut to fellow newcomer (and LFA staple) Youssef Zalal in February 2020. After nearly a year away, he made his second walk to the Octagon in the first UFC bout of 2021, posting a unanimous decision victory over Jacob Kilburn on Fight Island.
Representing the Fight Ready crew, the 30-year-old Saldana punched his ticket to the UFC with a third-round stoppage win over Vince Murdock last November, and then registered a unanimous decision win over Jordan Griffin in his maiden voyage into the Octagon five months later. With the first one out of the way and a riding a five-fight winning streak, Saldana looks to get back to the form that produced nothing but stoppage victories prior to going the distance last time out.
Aggressive, active fighters from outstanding teams, clashing in the close confines inside the UFC APEX — sounds like the recipe for an absolute banger to me!
BRIAN KELLEHER VS. DOMINGO PILARTE
Brian Kelleher KOs Hunter Azure
Brian Kelleher KOs Hunter Azure
Brian Kelleher makes his second start of 2021, eager to get business booming again as he steps in opposite a member of the Class of 2018 on Dana White’s Contender Series, Domingo Pilarte, this weekend.
Excitable and likable, Kelleher went 3-1 in 2020 with his lone loss coming in a fight up a division against perennially ranked bantamweight Cody Stamann. He landed in the Octagon for a friendly grudge match with Ricky Simon earlier this year and came away on the wrong side of the scorecards, dropping his record to 6-5 in the UFC and 22-12 overall.
Pilarte picked up a split decision win over Adrian Yanez in his final regional circuit appearance and landed a UFC contract with a second-round submission win over Vince Morales three summers back, but it’s been tough sledding since. After landing on the disappointing side of a split decision verdict in his debut, the 31-year-old “Son of Fire” was stopped by Journey Newson in just 38 seconds last time out, with the bout ruled a no contest after Newson tested positive for marijuana in his post-fight drug screening.
BEA MALECKI VS JOSIANE NUNES
Unbeaten prospect Bea Malecki welcomes Brazil’s Josiane Nunes to the Octagon for the first time in this intriguing clash in the bantamweight division.
A veteran of Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter, Malecki has made the most of her UFC opportunities thus far, securing victories over Duda Santana and Veronica Macedo to establish herself as an intriguing name in the 135-pound weight class. A Muay Thai practitioner, the Swedish hopeful has tremendous size and a long reach for the division, which should serve her well on Saturday against Nunes and in the future.
The 27-year-old Nunes is one of those newcomers that is difficult to read, as she carries a 7-1 record into her promotional debut but has faced a host of competition with limited experience, losing to the lone recognizable name on her list of opponents, current Top 15 flyweight Taila Santos. To her credit, “Josi” has earned finishes in each of her last four outings, and a comparable effort against Malecki would not only answer the questions about what to expect from the Brazilian newcomer, but also potentially put her in the fast lane towards the Top 15 by taking out her unbeaten foe.
WILLIAM KNIGHT VS FABIO CHERANT
Short on experience, but long on potential, light heavyweights William Knight and Fabio Cherant clash in a preliminary card matchup that has the potential to be fireworks.
The 33-year-old Knight earned a developmental deal with a victory in his first appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series and then punched his ticket to the UFC roster with a first-round stoppage win on the summer talent search series one year later. After outworking Aleksa Camur in his promotional debut, Knight got out-wrestled and out-hustled by Da-un Jung last time out, suffering just the second loss of his mixed martial arts career.
Six weeks after claiming the LFA light heavyweight title with a hard-fought win over Myron Dennis, Cherant stepped up on short notice to face off with Alonzo Menifield at UFC 260, falling to the Fortis MMA representative by submission a little more than a minute into the opening stanza. Just 26 years old, Cherant has shown flashes of potential over his brief nine-fight career, and is the kind of dynamic, explosive fighter that could make major strides between each appearance as he continues to garner more experience.
Both Knight and Cherant have only been to the scorecards twice in their respective careers, so there is a very solid possibility that this one ends inside the distance, and even if it doesn’t, it should be an entertaining all-action affair.
ROOSEVELT ROBERTS VS IGNACIO BAHAMONDES
Lightweights battle it out on Saturday as graduates of Dana White’s Contender Series Roosevelt Roberts (Class of ’18) and Ignacio Bahamondes (Class of ’20) go toe-to-toe.
Roberts has struggled with consistency through the first seven fights of his UFC career, walking away with four wins, two losses, and one no contest verdict, but stumbling each time it felt like he was about go on a little run. Some of that comes down to the competition he’s faced, as those twin setbacks came against Vinc Pichel and Jim Miller, veteran stalwarts with far more experience and savvy.
Bahamondes was an intriguing figure heading into his promotional debut in April, but despite a considerable height and reach advantage, he could build and consistent, sustained offense against John Makdessi and landed on the wrong side of a split decision verdict. Just 23 years old, the Mike Valle protégé has already logged 15 fights and should continue to improve as he logs more time training with seasoned pros and gets more reps against quality competition inside the Octagon.
SASHA PALATNIKOV VS. RAMIZ BRAHIMAJ
Welterweights looking to make headway in the talent-rich 170-pound ranks clash in this one as Sasha Palatnikov takes on Ramiz Brahimaj.
After orchestrating one of the bigger upsets of 2020 with his come-from-behind, third-round stoppage win over Orion Cosce in November, Palatnikov landed on the business end of a finish last time out in his clash with Impa Kasanganay. A well-traveled combat sports veteran, the 32-year-old from Hong Kong is now based in Las Vegas and trains with a dangerous crew at Syndicate MMA, including surging middleweight Sean Strickland, welterweight banger Daniel Rodriguez, and CFFC titleholder Aaron Jeffrey.
The 28-year-old Brahimaj finally made his UFC debut last November after a serious health scare the previous year and a bout with Takashi Sato was postponed at the last minute. Paired off with Max Griffin, the fight was halted two minutes into the third round when Brahimaj was halted due to an ear injury.
RELATED: Brahimaj Doesn't Mind Dark Places
Stitched up, healed up, and ready to return, the Fortis MMA product looks to build on the success his teammates Miles Johns and Alonzo Menifield enjoyed two weeks back in Houston and secure his first UFC victory this weekend.