On the heels of another memorable night at Madison Square Garden, the action shifts back to the UFC APEX for the second to last time in 2022, for a fight card headlined by heavyweight finishers.
Familiarize yourself with the men and women set to make the walk on Saturday with the latest edition of the Fight-By-Fight Preview.
Derrick Lewis vs Serghei Spivac
Derrick Lewis looks to show he’s still a tough test to pass in order to climb into the upper tier in the heavyweight division, while Serghei Spivac aims to make that jump by turning aside the veteran from Houston in Saturday’s main event matchup.
Riding a two-fight losing streak and with just a single victory in his last four, Lewis returns to Las Vegas looking to tap into the fantastic form he’s always shown in “The Fight Capital” over the course of his UFC career. A perfect 8-0 when competing in Las Vegas, the former title threat has finished each of his last four Las Vegas assignments and will look to do the same on Saturday night.
Spivac makes his sixth consecutive start in Las Vegas, which he now calls home, this weekend, looking to build on a two-fight winning streak. Last time out, the streaking hopeful from Moldova collected a second-round stoppage win over Augusto Sakai, and if he can extend his record to 6-1 over his last seven by toppling Lewis this weekend, the division could have a new dark horse to keep tabs on.
While he’s struggled of late, it’s important to note Lewis’ losses have come against fighters at the top of the division, a caliber of opponent Spivac has yet to encounter. If he gets by “The Black Beast” on Saturday, however, he could find himself standing opposite one of those competitors in the new year.
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs Ion Cutelaba
Light heavyweights with a general dislike of allowing the judges to determine their fates meet in the penultimate fight of the night as Kennedy Nzechukwu steps in with Ion Cutelaba.
After snapping a two-fight skid last time out with a third-round stoppage win over Karl Roberson, Nzechukwu looks to start building some momentum once again. The former Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) contestant and Fortis MMA representative has the physical traits to be a menace in the Octagon, but has struggled with consistency and starting slowly, which could be a real issue against a sprinter like Cutelaba.
Still only 28 and making the walk to the Octagon for the 14th time, Cutelaba has only been to the scorecards four times in his UFC career, deploying more of a “kill or be killed” approach that has resulted in seven of his last 10 fights ending before the first round expired. Cutelaba is one of those competitors who is more dangerous than his 5-7-1 record under the UFC banner would seem to indicate, and you can be sure he’ll be charging out of the corner looking to make a quick return to the win column on Saturday.
There is a strong likelihood that someone wins this fight in vicious fashion and the process of determining if that shall come to pass should be all kinds of fun to watch this weekend.
Andre Fialho vs Muslim Salikhov
It’s a clash of welterweight strikers looking to get back into the win column on Saturday’s main card, as Andre Fialho squares off with Muslim Salikhov.
Fialho makes his fifth appearance of 2022, but first since UFC 275 in June, where his two-fight winning streak was halted in dramatic fashion by Jake Matthews. The Portuguese power-puncher impressed in his short-notice debut loss to Michel Pereira before earning consecutive first-round stoppage wins, and now looks to close out his rookie campaign by collecting a third victory and setting himself up in good position heading into his sophomore year on the UFC roster.
The 38-year-old Salikhov had his five-fight winning streak snapped by Li Jingliang in July on Long Island, marking just the second time in his UFC run and third time in his career he’s been beaten. The dynamic “King of Kung Fu” doesn’t appear to be slowing down all that much, and is more than capable of kicking off another extended run of success this weekend in what should be a competitive matchup against Fialho.
Both of these men prefer to do their work on the feet, so expect a tactical, but entertaining, striking battle for as long as this one lasts.
Charles Johnson vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Charles Johnson makes his second appearance of the year, with hopes of collecting his first UFC triumph as he takes on veteran Zhalgas Zhumagulov in what should be a competitive flyweight fight.
The former LFA flyweight champion, Johnson made his promotional debut in July in London, landing on the wrong side of the scores in a tough assignment against rising star Muhammad Mokaev. He’d won four straight prior to his UFC call-up, including a fifth-round knockout win over Carlos Mota, and should have more to offer against Zhumagulov on Saturday.
Zhumagulov is another one of those fighters whose record (1-4 in the UFC) doesn’t quite tell the whole story about what he’s done inside the Octagon. While the 34-year-old has struggled to find positive results, he’s turned in good showings in defeat against Raulian Paiva, Amir Albazi and, most recently, Jeff Molina, to whom he dropped a split decision in June.
This feels like the kind of matchup that will tell fans and observers what to expect from Johnson going forward, as it takes a certain caliber of fighter to get the better of Zhumagulov. Every division needs or has its own Zhumagulov, and how Johnson navigates this weekend’s test will give folks a clearer understanding of where he fits in the flyweight hierarchy heading toward the end of the year.
Jack Della Maddalena vs Danny Roberts
Jack Della Maddalena and Danny Roberts face off in a welterweight pairing that comes complete with loads of post-fight bonus potential.
A member of the DWCS Class of ’21, Della Maddalena has made quite an early impression inside the Octagon, picking up a pair of first-round stoppage wins. Running through late-replacement Pete Rodriguez in January is one thing, but last time out, the streaking Australian pushed his winning streak to an even dozen with a dynamic finish of Russian veteran Ramazan Emeev, showing he’s definitely one to watch in the 170-pound weight class.
Roberts edged out Emeev in his fight prior to facing Della Maddalena, but then followed it up by getting out-worked and nearly finished by Brazilian veteran Francisco Trinaldo. The British stalwart has struggled to find real consistency throughout the course of his UFC career, but halting the ascent of the emerging Aussie could be a very good way to right the ship and set a new course heading into 2023.
Both men like to strike and don’t mind taking one to land one, so don’t be surprised if they use the first couple minutes of the opening frame to get their reads and then start launching darts at each other for the remainder of the contest.
Jennifer Maia vs Maryna Moroz
Former title challenger Jennifer Maia looks to close out the year with a victory, while Maryna Moroz aims to build on her grudge match victory in March in this intriguing flyweight pairing.
After arriving to the UFC with a 15-4-1 record, the Invicta FC flyweight title over her shoulder, and riding a six-fight winning streak, Maia heads into her third appearance of 2022 on a two-fight slide and sporting a 4-5 mark through her first nine Octagon appearances. Now, those losses have all come against top-of-the-division talents, including champ Valentina Shevchenko, longtime No. 2 Katlyn Chookagian, and French contender Manon Fiorot, but with just one win in her last four outings, it’ll be interesting to see if Maia can work her way back into the win column in this one.
Moroz made a splash in her promotional debut seven years ago by submitting Joanne Wood and calling out then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who was sitting in the front row in Krakow. She lost her next outing and went 3-3 over her first six fights overall, but since then, the 31-year-old has strung together three straight victories, culminating with her second-round submission finish of Mariya Agapova earlier this year.
Can Maia show she’s still a level ahead of her Ukrainian opponent or will Moroz just keep marching forward towards the top of the division?
Vince Morales vs Miles Johns
Talented bantamweights looking to end the year on a winning note meet on Saturday, as Vince Morales faces off with Miles Johns.
Morales snapped out of a rough 2-5 run with consecutive wins over Drako Rodriguez and Louis Smolka in 2021 to enter the year with a little forward momentum. That came to a halt when he landed on the wrong side of a one-sided decision against Jonathan Martinez in May, leading “Vandetta” looking to rebound here.
Johns earned back-to-back Performance of the Night bonus for third-round stoppage wins over Kevin Natividad and Anderson Dos Santos ahead of his clash with John Castaneda in February, but after a good opening round, he faded and was ultimately submitted in the third. While he’s 12-2 for his career, Johns is just 3-2 inside the Octagon, and like Morales, doesn’t want to wrap up the year in a slump.
Bantamweight remains the deepest, most competitive, division in the UFC, so wins are at a premium and don’t come easy. Both of these men are well aware of those facts and, as such, should be firing on all cylinders when they stand across from one another this weekend in Las Vegas.
Chase Sherman vs Waldo Cortes Acosta
A late addition to the fight card, Chase Sherman jumps into the fray after a recent fight-day cancellation, taking on recent DWCS grad Waldo Cortes Acosta, who fights for the second time in four weeks.
The 32-year-old Sherman was slated to face off with Josh Parisian two weeks back, but the fight was scuttled when Parisian was forced out due to medical reasons following an overnight trip to the hospital after weighing in on Friday morning. Last time out, Sherman halted a four-fight slide with a third-round, come-from-behind stoppage win over Jared Vanderaa, and hopes to collect a similar result here.
Cortes Acosta collected a first-round stoppage win earlier this year on Dana White’s Contender Series to punch his ticket to the UFC and maintain his unbeaten record. At the end of last month, the Dominican heavyweight defeated Vanderaa in his promotional debut, pushing his record to 8-0 with the victory while showing he could remain active and aggressive for three full rounds.
Will Sherman hand “Salsa Boy” his first career loss or will Cortes Acosta maintain his undefeated record by picking up his second win in four weeks on Saturday night?
Ricky Turcios vs Kevin Natividad
TUF 29 bantamweight winner Ricky Turcios and Kevin Natividad meet here, each looking to rebound from disappointing results last time out.
Turcios won the bantamweight competition on The Return of The Ultimate Fighter last fall, but dropped a unanimous decision to Aiemann Zahabi in his post-TUF return this summer. The Texan, who trains with Team Alpha MMA in Sacramento, is 11-3 overall and has never lost consecutive contests, and hopes to maintain that through the weekend.
A five-fight winning streak and 9-1 run on the regional circuit to start his career earned Natividad a call to the Octagon, but it’s been a tough go of things since touching down in the Octagon. Entering off back-to-back stoppage defeats, the 29-year-old looks to snap out of his current skid and collect his first UFC victory on Saturday night.
Turcios was involved in a number of competitive, back-and-forth fights during his TUF 29 run, so it was surprising to see him struggle to engage last time out. He should have a willing dance partner in Natividad, but it remains to be seen if he wants to wade out into the center of the dance floor or not.
Vanessa Demopoulos vs Maria Oliveira
Strawweights looking to keep things moving in a positive direction meet in this one, as Vanessa Demopoulos takes on Maria Oliveira.
After dropping her short-notice debut up a division against veteran JJ Aldrich, Demopoulos has collected consecutive wins since returning to the 115-pound weight class. She followed up her first-round submission win over Silvana Gomez Juarez with a split decision victory over Jinh Yu Frey in June, elevating her record to 8-4 in the process.
Oliveira also dropped her first appearance inside the Octagon, though it wasn’t up in weight, as she landed on the wrong side of the cards in a clash with “Baby Shark” Tabatha Ricci last October. The Brazilian bounced back with a split decision win of her own over Gloria de Paula in June, giving her three wins in her last four starts.
There was another change atop the division last weekend and the pecking order feels as unsettled as it has been in quite some time in the 115-pound weight class, so this is a quality opportunity for either of these women to secure another victory and take another step forward as we head towards 2023.
Brady Hiestand vs Fernie Garcia
The first of three bantamweight fights on Saturday’s prelims features TUF 29 runner-up Brady Hiestand taking on DWCS grad Fernie Garcia.
Hiestand dropped a split decision to Turcios last August in the finals of the bantamweight competition for Season 29 but showed in that fight and throughout his time in the house that he’s a solid prospect. The 23-year-old Sikjitsu representative has good size for the division, trains with a quality squad, and has a quality mix of foundational skills and the kind of grit and toughness you can’t teach that should serve him well as he looks to gain more experience while competing at the highest level.
A first-round stoppage win last October on the Contender Series catapulted Garcia onto the UFC roster, but the Fortis MMA man landed on the wrong side of the scores in his promotional debut against Journey Newson in May at UFC 274. The 30-year-old had won five straight prior to that setback, and like Hiestand, comes from a great camp with sound fundamentals, and will be chomping at the bit to get back onto the win column this weekend.
This could turn into a classic “Grappler vs. Striker” battle if Hiestand looks to wrestle, but no matter how it ends up playing out, expect this one to be highly competitive from start to finish.
Natalia Silva vs Tereza Bleda
Natalia Silva looks to build on her impressive promotional debut when she welcomes unbeaten Czech prospect Tereza Bleda to the UFC cage for the first time in this weekend’s opener.
Fighting for the first time in 18 months, Silva rolled into the Octagon and ran through Jasmine Jasudavicius in June, battering the recent DWCS grad en route to a unanimous decision win. The 25-year-old Brazilian is now 13-5-1 overall, but is riding a seven-fight winning streak since losing to current strawweight contender Marina Rodriguez, and looks like someone to keep close tabs on going forward, regardless of how this one plays out.
Just 20 years old, but already 6-0 as a pro, Bleda dominated Nayara Maia inside the UFC APEX in early September on Dana White’s Contender Series, and makes her debut here despite not earning a contract that night. The former Oktagon MMA flyweight champ went 9-0 as an amateur, including a win over current UFC competitor Lucie Pudilova, before turning pro, and hasn’t missed a beat since making the switch.
This is an outstanding clash to open the show, as both Silva and Bleda have impressed thus far, while still having plenty of room to grow and develop. No one should be surprised if these two cross paths for a second time as ranked competitors a few years from now.