Fresh off an electric night of fights in Houston, the action shifts back to the UFC APEX for a dozen bouts on Saturday night, capped by a compelling matchup in the light heavyweight division.
Originally headlined by a lightweight showdown between former champion Rafael Dos Anjos and surging hopeful Rafael Fiziev, visa issues forced the bout to be pushed back a couple weeks, where it will serve as the five-round co-main event at UFC 272. That shift resulted in the light heavyweight matchup between Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill being promoted to the main event spot, and though they’ll have five rounds to work, most agree that they probably won’t need them all.
This is another post-pay-per-view card featuring a number of newcomers and prospects looking to gain traction and make headway, and it has the potential to be one of those events that exceeds expectations.
Here’s a closer look at what’s on tap this weekend.
Johnny Walker vs. Jamahal Hill
Originally positioned as the penultimate fight on Saturday’s card, light heavyweights Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill will now close out the show instead, bringing even greater attention to their pivotal clash.
Walker has struggled since earning three first-round finishes and three Performance of the Night bonuses to start his UFC tenure, entering this weekend’s contest with just one win in his last four appearances. He showed his impressive finishing abilities in his come-from-behind victory over Ryan Spann in September 2020, but was uncharacteristically hesitant in his loss to Thiago Santos this past October.
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One of the top emerging talents on the roster, Hill suffered the first loss of his career last year at UFC 263, walking away with a dislocated elbow following his bout with Paul Craig. The setback snapped a nine-fight unbeaten streak — but thankfully not his arm — and “Sweet Dreams” rebounded emphatically, dropping fellow Dana White’s Contender Series alum and light heavyweight hopeful Jimmy Crute in just 48 seconds at the start of December.
Walker and Hill meet here in what is a prototypical crossroads fight. Either the more established veteran will get right by turning back the up-and-coming contender or Hill will send Walker down the road by taking another step forward at his expense.
Both have gnarly power and a nose for the finish, so don’t be surprised if it ends with a bang and plenty of time left on the clock.
Jamie Pickett vs. Kyle Daukaus
Fresh off earning his second UFC win in January, Jamie Pickett steps up on short notice looking to extend his winning streak to three when he steps in opposite star-crossed Kyle Daukaus on Saturday.
Pickett needed three attempts to earn a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series and then needed three attempts to register his first UFC victory, finally accomplishing the task last October with a unanimous decision win over Laureano Staropoli. The 33-year-old “Night Wolf” collected a second straight win on the opening card of the year, out-hustling newcomer Joseph Holmes, and aims to keep moving forward by doing the same to Daukaus here.
Daukaus had a miserable year in 2021, dealing with multiple fight cancellations and coming away from his two appearances without a victory. After dropping a decision to Phil Hawes in May, the Philadelphia native shared the Octagon with Kevin Holland in October, submitting the boisterous Texan late in the opening round. But the result was overturned on the spot and deemed a no contest due to an accidental clash of heads earlier in the fight, stripping the former CFFC middleweight champion of his first UFC finish.
Each of these two have shown flashes of upside during their DWCS appearances and since matriculating to the Octagon, and there are always greater opportunities for advancement at middleweight than in some other divisions. Pickett is riding high and Daukaus is looking to start building some momentum, so it will be interesting to see which one will be able to dictate the terms of engagement and collect a victory on Saturday.
Parker Porter vs. Alan Baudot
Heavyweights from different sides of the Atlantic get after it on Saturday’s main card, as American Parker Porter squares off with France’s Alan Baudot.
Porter, who shared the cage with some kid named Jon Jones back when they were both just getting started, dropped his promotional debut to Chris Daukaus, but has since bounced back with consecutive decision wins over Josh Parisian and Chase Sherman. The Connecticut native has won four of his last five and has shown his durability, grit, and overall toughness in grinding out his first two UFC victories.
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A teammate of former interim heavyweight champ Ciryl Gane, Baudot has yet to experience the joys of winning inside the UFC cage. He was mauled by rising star Tom Aspinall in his short-notice debut, and then landed on the wrong side of the results against Rodrigo Nascimento last summer, though the loss was ruled a no contest after the Brazilian failed his post-fight drug screening.
Will Porter keep things rolling or can “The Black Samourai” secure his first UFC triumph?
Jim Miller vs. Nikolas Motta
Veteran Jim Miller continues in his quest to fight literally everyone in the lightweight division this weekend as he welcomes newcomer Nikolas Motta to the Octagon for the first time.
Despite having the most appearances in UFC history (38 and counting), Miller was still experiencing firsts last September, when he was forced to withdraw from this bout’s original date after testing positive for COVID-19. The 38-year-old made a quick recovery and was back in action a couple weeks later, snapping a two-fight skid with a second-round knockout win over Erick Gonzalez.
Motta looks to finally get his UFC career started after dealing with multiple fight cancellations last year. The 29-year-old claimed the vacant CFFC lightweight title in his final fight of 2019, and followed it up by earning a contract with a unanimous decision win over Joseph Lowery a year later on Season 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series, pushing his record to 12-3 in the process.
This is the fighting equivalent of the old head at the YMCA playing one-on-one with a younger, more athletic baller, and it will be interesting to see if Miller’s veteran savvy, guile, and overall experience will be enough to carry him to victory over the more explosive, dynamic Motta this weekend.
Joaquin Buckley vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan
Make sure you’re sitting down and paying close attention once this one gets underway because middleweights Joaquin Buckley and Abdul Razak Alhassan have a penchant for ending things quickly.
After a breakout 2020 campaign that included his Knockout of the Year finish of Impa Kasanganay, Buckley’s sophomore season in the Octagon got off to a rocky start, as he was knocked out by Alessio Di Chirico in January. The 27-year-old St. Louis native rebounded with a third-round stoppage win over Antonio Arroyo in September and looks to add another Performance of the Night bonus to his bank account this weekend when he takes on Alhassan.
Currently training with the Elevation Fight Team in Denver, Colorado, Alhassan started his career at welterweight, earning 10 first-round stoppage wins through his first 11 fights before missing weight in consecutive losses to Mounir Lazzez and Khaos Williams. He debuted at middleweight last April, dropping a decision to Jacob Malkoun, but collected his first win in the 185-pound ranks four months later, dropping Di Chirico with a single, solitary head kick 17 seconds into their fight.
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Buckley has earned 10 of his 13 career wins by knockout or technical knockout, while each of Alhassan’s 11 career victories have come by way of first-round stoppage. Individually, they are must-watch middleweights, and paired off together this weekend, their bout carries more explosive potential than the giant piles of dynamite Wile E. Coyote used to use to try and catch The Roadrunner.
Bonus Résumé | Jim Miller
Bonus Résumé | Jim Miller
Jonathan Pearce vs. Christian Rodriguez
Dana White’s Contender Series alums clash in the featherweight division as Jonathan Pearce welcomes short-notice replacement Christian Rodriguez to the Octagon for the first time.
A member of the Class of ’19, Pearce has found his footing in the featherweight ranks after losing his promotional debut at lightweight against veteran Joe Lauzon, in Boston no less. He battled hard to score a second-round stoppage win over Kai Kamaka III in his return to ’45, and then submitted Omar Morales in the second in his return to action last fall, and looks to make it three straight here.
Rodriguez earned a win over Junior Cortez last fall at the UFC APEX, but didn’t get signed, with the UFC President telling the 24-year-old he would reach the big stage at some point. So the Roufusport representative went back home, got a dominant, and now gets the chance to step in and replace Austin Lingo in a matchup that should instantly show if he’s ready to compete at this level or not.
Pearce has looked very good in his two featherweight outings in the UFC and is definitely one to keep an eye on in the division, while it’s tremendously difficult to know what to expect from Rodriguez. He’s unbeaten throughout seven fights, so this should be a good chance to get a better read on what he brings to the table and what kind of future he could have inside the Octagon.
Gabriel Benitez vs. David Onama
It’s “veteran vs. prospect” in the featherweight division, as TUF Latin America alum Gabriel Benitez takes on UFC sophomore David Onama.
A fixture in the featherweight division since late 2014, Benitez makes his 12th appearance in the Octagon this weekend, looking to rebound from a third-round stoppage loss to Billy Quarantillo in July. The 33-year-old from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico is 6-5 in the UFC, 22-10 overall, and known for being a tough night at the office for anyone and everyone that stands across from him inside the cage.
Despite landing on the wrong side of the results in his debut, Onama still turned heads last October when he stepped in on short notice and went three hard rounds up a division against Mason Jones. Now moving back down to his natural weight class, the 27-year-old Glory MMA & Fitness representative aims to show the full extent of his arsenal and get back on the winning track this weekend.
Benitez holds a serious advantage in terms of experience and the strength of competition he’s faced, however Onama showed real promise in his grimy battle with Jones and had earned eight straight stoppage victories before that. It’s an intriguing pairing in a consistently exciting division, and how this one plays out should provide further insights into what to expect from each man going forward.
Joaquin Buckley: The Kick Heard Around The World
Joaquin Buckley: The Kick Heard Around The World
Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Stephanie Egger
Veterans coming off good victories in October clash here as Jessica-Rose Clark and Stephanie Egger square off to see which one of them will keep moving forward in the bantamweight division.
Clark returned from an ACL repair last October, showing an improved wrestling attack in grinding out a victory over Joselyne Edwards. It was the second consecutive win for the popular Australian, who looked sharp collecting a third-round finish over Sarah Alpar before being sidelined, and she profiles as an intriguing, experienced addition to the pack of hopefuls looking to push towards the Top 15 in the 135-pound weight class.
Roughly a year after dropping a unanimous decision to Tracy Cortez in her promotional debut, Egger made her sophomore appearance inside the Octagon, coming away with a second-round stoppage victory over Shanna Young. The 33-year-old from Switzerland holds earlier career wins over Mara Romero Borella and Reina Miura, and looked sharp against Young, sending her into this one full of confidence.
Prelim Action Kicks Off At 4pm/1pm ETPT on ESPN+
It feels like Julianna Pena’s championship victory created an opportunity for tremendous changes to take place in the bantamweight division this year, and you best believe each of these women are eager to take full advantage of that. Whomever emerges victorious this weekend should be in line for a step up in competition next time out.
Chas Skelly vs. Mark Striegl
Chas Skelly looks to end his MMA career on a high note as he makes the walk for the final time against Mark Striegl in this compelling featherweight clash.
One week after Roxanne Modafferi bid adieu to the sport, Skelly will do the same this weekend, regardless of whether he wins or loses on Saturday. The 36-year-old owns an impressive 18-3, 1 nC record with one no contest verdict, and was a tough out on the fringes of the Top 15 from the day he arrived in the UFC nearly nine years ago, but he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career and is finally at a point where he ready to walk away.
But only after sharing the Octagon with Striegl this weekend.
“Mugen” landed on the wrong side of the results in his promotional debut in October 2020, getting stopped by Said Nurmagomedov in under a minute. He was stuck on the sidelines for all of last year, and now moves back to featherweight, where he looks to send Skelly into retirement on a sour note.
This should be an entertaining matchup, as both men do their best work on the ground, with Skelly brandishing a collegiate wrestling background and a resume littered with submission finishes and Striegl having earned the majority of his victories the same way.
Will “The Scrapper” ride off into the sunset on a victorious note or will Striegl spoil his retirement party?
Diana Belbita vs. Gloria de Paula
Young strawweights looking to make headway in the division battle it out on the prelims this weekend, as Diana Belbita goes toe-to-toe with Gloria de Paula.
After starting her UFC career with consecutive losses, the 25-year-old Belbita made the drop down to the 115-pound weight class last time out and came away with her first UFC win, collecting a unanimous decision victory over Hannah Goldy. Born in Romania and currently training out of House of Champions MMA in Stoney Creek, Ontario, “The Warrior Princess” has shown flashes of promise, especially with her hands, and will look to build on the momentum of his first triumph this weekend.
Brazil’s de Paula turned in a dominant effort against Pauline Macias on Season 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a UFC contract, but has struggled since. She dropped a decision to former Invicta FC atomweight champ Jinh Yu Frey in March, and then got knocked out by Cheyanne Vlismas at the end of July, catching a kick to the face as she clambered to her feet a minute into the fight.
Chad Anheliger vs. Jesse Strader
Business gets underway in the bantamweight division this weekend, as DWCS graduate Chad Anheliger takes on Jesse Strader.
The 35-year-old Anheliger pushed his winning streak to nine with a split decision victory over Muin Gafurov in September, earning a UFC contract in the process. “The Monster” was a two-division champion in British Columbia’s Rise FC, claiming both the flyweight and bantamweight straps, including a third-round stoppage win over TUF 29 finalist Brady Hiestand, and looks to push his run of success into double digits in his promotional debut on Saturday.
Strader got his first taste of UFC action last March, running into emerging bantamweight Montel Jackson. He was forced out of a sophomore appearance opposite Mana Martinez last August, and aims to get things moving in the right direction again here by ruining Anheliger’s long-awaited UFC debut.
Both these men like to push the pace and are dangerous in all facets, which means this weekend’s fight card should get off to an electric start.
UFC Fight Night: Walker vs Hill took place on Saturday, February 19, 2022, live from 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.