COLBY COVINGTON VS. TYRON WOODLEY
After jawing at each other for a number of years, welterweight standouts Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley are finally set to share the Octagon together this weekend in Las Vegas.
For Covington, this is his first appearance since coming up short in his bid to win the welterweight belt from reigning champ Kamaru Usman last December and an opportunity to instantly put himself back in the thick of the chase by defeating a former champion. When he’s at his best, the 32-year-old Covington is an unrelenting pressure fighter who mixes high-volume striking with tenacious wrestling to drown and suffocate opponents, and he showed in the bout with Usman that he’s the kind of tenacious character that isn’t going to go away easily, ever.
The 38-year-old Woodley is making his second appearance inside the Apex after losing to Gilbert Burns earlier this spring. “The Chosen One” enters looking to snap a two-fight slide and facing myriad questions about his place in the division and his future inside the Octagon, all of which can be rendered moot with a dominant effort against the former American Top Team representative.
As much as these two have spent countless hours and numerous tweets taking verbal shots at one another — and will likely have plenty more to say this week in the preamble to Saturday’s festivities — all that really matters is how things shake out once the cage door closes and the fight begins. Covington desperately wants to remain in the thick of the chase in the welterweight division, while Woodley is aiming to show he’s still got plenty left in the tank, and the way in which this fight unfolds and the manner in which this longstanding grudge is settled will go a long way to determining which of those things transpires after Saturday evening in Las Vegas.
DONALD CERRONE VS. NIKO PRICE
Every so often there is a fight announcement that just makes me laugh out loud with excitement and this is one of those fights as veteran gunslinger Donald Cerrone faces off with all-action dynamo Niko Price.
“Cowboy” enters this one on a four-fight slide, prompting many people to wonder if Father Time is finally starting to catch up to the ultra-active competitor, who will draw level with Jim Miller for the most fights in UFC history when he makes the walk on Saturday. But it’s difficult to count the 37-year-old Cerrone out given that he went 1-4 over an 18-month stretch between January 2017 and June 2018 before rattling off three straight victories to return to contention in the lightweight division.
Price has been in 11 fights in the UFC and all 11 of them have (a) been wildly entertaining, and (b) ended inside the distance, which is a big part of why I couldn’t contain my excitement when this pairing was put together. He’s struggled to find consistent results, alternating wins and losses over his last six and sporting a 6-4 mark with one no contest inside the Octagon, but the 30-year-old Floridian has established himself as one of those fighters whose record doesn’t matter, much like Cerrone.
If they’re fighting, you’re watching; no questions asked.
Niko Price: Every UFC Finish
Niko Price: Every UFC Finish
KHAMZAT CHIMAEV VS. GERALD MEERSCHAERT
Eight weeks after posting his second UFC victory in 10 days, breakout sensation Khamzat Chimaev goes in search of his third victory as he returns to middleweight to take on 44-fight veteran Gerald Meerschaert.
Chimaev went from “relative unknown” to “The Next Big Thing” during the UFC’s first stay on Fight Island, posting back-to-back shutout victories over John Phillips and Rhys McKee in under two weeks to push his record to 8-0. The 26-year-old, who trains at Allstars Training Center in Stockholm, Sweden, has been saddled with lofty expectations following his blistering start, but has thus far shown no reason to doubt his abilities and potential inside the Octagon.
“GM3” will be looking to bring Chimaev’s hype to an end while also looking to get back into the win column as he returns to action after getting stopped by Ian Heinisch in 74 seconds last time out at UFC 250. The Roufusport product is one of the most experienced fighters in the division and dangerous on the ground, which makes him an intriguing dance partner for Chimaev this weekend, because if the unbeaten upstart gets careless, Meerschaert will attack a submission and make him pay.
This is the type of veteran test Chimaev needs to be dealing with at this stage of his career. As great as he’s looked — and he’s looked incredibly good thus far — the truth is he’s still a 26-year-old fighter with just eight professional appearances and no matter how gifted and skilled he might be, there is no substitute for experience. If he continues to ace these exams, keep moving him up the competitive ladder, but with the depth of talent present at the top of both the welterweight and middleweight divisions, there is time to bring Chimaev along at a medium pace with tough pairings each time out.
JOHNNY WALKER VS. RYAN SPANN
In a light heavyweight matchup, Brazil’s Johnny Walker looks to end a two-fight slide against Ryan Spann, the Fortis MMA product who enters on an eight-fight winning streak.
It’s been a tale of two runs for Walker thus far in his UFC career. He started with three straight first-round stoppage wins, showcasing vicious power and undeniable charisma while laying out Khalil Rountree Jr., Justin Ledet, and Misha Cirkunov to climb the rankings and generate buzz as a potential threat to Jon Jones. Since then, however, the towering 28-year-old has lost two straight, first getting stopped by Corey Anderson, and then being out-wrestled by Nikita Krylov, to tumble back to the lower third of the light heavyweight rankings.
Spann’s journey to the UFC started with a 15-second loss on the first season of the Contender Series, which turned into the catalyst for his current run of success. The talented Texan posted three straight victories on the regional circuit, scored a quick finish of his own in his second appearance on the summer talent search in Las Vegas, and has since added four more triumphs inside the Octagon to his ledger, including a first-round knockout win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 237.
With the division in the midst of a major shift, this is a crucial matchup for both men, as the victor will have the opportunity to climb into the Top 10 and begin to position themselves for a charge towards the top of the division in 2021.
Can Walker halt his slide and return to the form that had people buzzing about him earlier in his career or will Spann hand him another defeat while bringing his winning streak to nine on Saturday night?
MACKENZIE DERN VS. RANDA MARKOS
Just a few months after etching her name in the UFC record books, Mackenzie Dern returns to face her most experienced opponent to date as she squares off with former TUF standout Randa Markos in this critical strawweight engagement.
Dern became the first female to earn a submission finish via leg lock a couple months back when she forced Hannah Cifers to tap to a kneebar, and now goes searching for a second straight victory on Saturday. Everything about her game beyond her skills on the ground remains a work in progress, but the 27-year-old jiu-jitsu standout is so far ahead of her peers when the fight hits the canvas that it only takes one scramble for Dern to find a submission and secure a victory.
A fixture in the Top 15 for a number of years following her unexpected run to the semifinals on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, Markos has fallen out of the rankings, but remains an experienced veteran presence in the 115-pound weight class. The 35-year-old Canadian has been consistently inconsistent throughout her UFC tenure, never winning or losing consecutive fights, and enters this one off a decision loss to Amanda Ribas.
This is a perfect matchup for both women at this stage in their respective careers, as Dern needs to prove she can handle herself against a well-rounded, seasoned veteran and Markos can turn things around by defeating a highly touted rising star.
KEVIN HOLLAND VS. DARREN STEWART
Middleweights with designs on cracking the Top 15 before the year is out clash as Contender Series alum Kevin Holland squares off with no-nonsense Brit Darren Stewart.
Holland is 2-for-2 in 2020 and has won five of six after losing his short-notice promotional debut against Thiago Santos two summers back. The talented “Trailblazer” started his year by blasting through Anthony Hernandez in May, then followed it up with a third-round finish of Joaquin Buckley last month, earning a Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts, and now looks to make it three in a row as he locks horns with Stewart on Saturday.
Stewart feels a long way removed from breaking down into tears following his initial UFC victory over Eric Spicely in the spring of 2018. He’s won five of six inside the Octagon, beginning with that victory over Spicely, with the only other blemish coming in a bout with Bartosz Fabinski that ended up taking place on a Cage Warriors show in March when the UFC was forced to cancel its annual event in London.
This will be “Game 7” in Stewart’s personal series against Contender Series alums, as he’s rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to draw level at 3-3 heading into this showdown with Holland.
There is room for advancement in the lower third of the middleweight rankings and an impressive victory for either man will likely bring them into consideration for a place in the Top 15. At the very least, it should position the victorious party to face a ranked opponent next time out, which means both Holland and Stewart will bring their best to the table on Saturday night.
MIRSAD BEKTIC VS. DAMON JACKSON
A shuffling of the deck creates an intriguing pairing in the featherweight division as Mirsad Bektic welcomes Damon Jackson back to the Octagon.
Once viewed as a can’t-miss prospect and potential future champion, Bektic has struggled upon reaching the deep end of the talent pool in the 145-pound weight class. After rebounding from his first career setback with consecutive victories, the Tristar Gym representative has dropped back-to-back contests to Josh Emmett and Dan Ige, and heads into this win searching for his first win in over two years.
After a 9-0 start to his career, Jackson got the call to the Octagon, where he registered a loss, a draw, and a no contest result in three starts before getting released. He’s 8-2 in his 10 fights since.
While certainly not a make-or-break fight for Bektic, this one will determine what the next couple years of his career look like, as a victory keeps him on the fringes of the Top 15 and with the potential to make a move up the rankings by stringing together a couple wins, while another setback will drop him into the middle of the pack in the talent-rich 145-pound weight class, making the climb back to contention longer and more daunting. For Jackson, this is another chance to embark on an overdue and deserved opportunity to show his complete range of skills at the highest level.
There is a great deal on the line here for each man, which should mean we get a spirited affair from these two proud competitors once the cage door closes on Saturday night.
MAYRA BUENO SILVA VS. MARA ROMERO BORELLA
Flyweights looking to right the ship meet in this preliminary card pairing as Mayra Bueno Silva makes her third trek into the Octagon to face Mara Romero Borella, who takes her third crack at collecting her first victory in 2020.
Silva looked like one to watch in the 125-pound weight class at the outset of her UFC run, building on her Contender Series triumph with a first-round submission finish of Gillian Robertson in her debut. But an 18-month stay on the sidelines followed by a decision loss to Maryna Moroz in her return to action cooled those initial impressions and send her into this one as a bit of an enigma in the flyweight division.
It’s been a string of frustrating results for Borella since she handed Taila Santos the first loss of her professional career in February 2019, as the Italian has suffered three straight losses, the most recent coming in May against Cortney Casey. Prior to her current slide, the 34-year-old had gone 7-1 with one no contest in her previous nine fights, establishing herself as an intriguing new addition to the flyweight ranks.
JORDAN ESPINOSA VS. DAVID DVORAK
Flyweights looking to continue making headway in the wide open 125-pound weight class face off in this prime preliminary card pairing as Contender Series alum Jordan Espinosa meets UFC sophomore David Dvorak.
Espinosa earned victories on each of the first two seasons of the Contender Series, adding a win over fellow alum CJ Hamilton in between, to earn his invite to compete in the Octagon. But after securing a decision win in his debut, the Albuquerque native lost back-to-back contests by first-round submission to Top 10 fighters Matt Schnell and Alex Perez. Back in June, the 30-year-old got back in the win column with a dominant effort opposite Mark De La Rosa and looks to build on that effort as he squares off with Dvorak here.
Dvorak turned in an impressive performance in his promotional debut, taking the fight with Bruno Silva on a little over a month’s notice in Brazil, making the trip to Brasilia and earning 29-28 scores across the board to claim the victory. The win pushed the 28-year-old Czech fighter’s winning streak to 14 and instantly established him as someone to watch in the 125-pound ranks going forward, and another victory this weekend could very well carry him into the Top 10.
The flyweight division is wide open at the moment, with contenders and hopefuls jockeying for position up and down the rankings. There are infinite fresh and exciting matchup combinations waiting to be made throughout the division and whoever emerges victorious here should be featured in one of those critical pairings next time out.
JESSICA-ROSE CLARK VS. SARAH ALPAR
Bantamweights with similar records, but varying levels of experience, clash in this one as Jessica-Rose Clark welcomes Sarah Alpar to the Octagon for the first time.
A pro since 2012, the Australian veteran has shared the cage with a host of familiar female talents over the course of her career and carries a 2-2 record inside the Octagon into this one. She returned to bantamweight at the end of last year, losing a decision to Pannie Kianzad, but has spent the last several months settling into a future competing in the 135-pound ranks by transforming herself into a compact powerhouse.
Alpar punched her ticket to the UFC with a second-round submission win over Shanna Young last summer, but had her debut pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Oklahoma native has won five of her last six outings, but has struggled against more experienced opponents throughout her career.
The lower half of the bantamweight Top 15 feels rather fluid and malleable at the moment, and while each of these women would need more than a single victory to crack the rankings, their clash on Saturday would be a good starting point. This should be a spirited back-and-forth between a pair of fighters eager to begin working their way up the divisional ladder as 2020 winds to a close.
JOURNEY NEWSON VS. RANDY COSTA
Bantamweights coming off big performances collide in this under the radar bonus contender as Journey Newson goes head-to-head with Randy Costa on Saturday night.
Earlier this year at UFC 247 in Houston, Newson needed just 38 seconds to put Domingo Pilarte down for the count, connecting with an overhand right that halted their fight in a flash. The result was shifted to a no contest after Newson tested positive for marijuana following the contest, but that result doesn’t alter the impressiveness of his performance inside the cage.
Last fall, Costa earned his first UFC victory in similarly impressive fashion, halting Contender Series grad Boston Salmon in a little over two minutes to get back into the win column after dropping his debut at UFC 236. The Massachusetts native is now 5-1 in his professional career and looked far more comfortable in his second Octagon appearance than he did the first time out.
Both Newson and Costa profile as interesting additions to the bantamweight ranks given their finishing abilities and overall aggressiveness inside the cage now that they’re getting acclimated to the level of toughness and talent present in the UFC. The winner of this one should take a big step forward and the battle to determine which man emerges victorious has the potential to deliver a Fight of the Night contender or a highlight reel finish.
ANDRE EWELL VS. IRWIN RIVERA
Hopefuls in the 135-pound weight class looking to build off split decision triumphs last time out clash here as Andre Ewell squares off with Irwin Rivera.
Ewell has alternated wins and losses since starting his UFC tenure with a victory over former champ Renan Barao. The victories have come on the cards and the losses have come inside the distance to divisional upstarts Nathaniel Wood and Marlon Vera, making him a difficult fighter to figure out at this stage. Last time out, the Riverside, California-based bantamweight earned a debated split decision nod over Jonathan Martinez to push his record to 16-6 overall.
Rivera impressed in his short notice debut up a division against Giga Chikadze in May, then returned less than three months later to land on the happy side of a split decision verdict against Ali Al-Qaisi. Representing the Sanford MMA crew, “The Beast” is 10-5 overall and has won four of his last five, including winning and defending the Titan FC bantamweight title prior to being signed by the UFC.
Both men have shown flashes of promise during their respective Octagon appearances to date and although the bantamweight division is brimming with top-end talent, there is ample opportunity to climb the ladder and continue to deliver entertaining performances outside of the Top 15. Each man could use a definitive victory in order to propel themselves forward in the 135-pound division, so don’t be surprised if this turns into a fun back-and-forth affair early on Saturday’s fight card.
DARRICK MINNER VS. TJ LARAMIE
Midwest regional veteran Darrick Minner takes a second crack at collecting his first UFC victory as he welcomes recent Contender Series grad and top Canadian prospect TJ Laramie to the Octagon for the first time.
The 30-year-old Minner has been slinging hands professionally since 2012, racking up a 24-10 record that includes several encounters with current or former UFC competitors. Unfortunately for Minner, he’s come out on the wrong end of the results in his most high-profile engagements, and comes into this one after being forced out of a rematch with Jordan Griffin at the 11th hour.
Laramie turned pro prior to his 18th birthday and has been highly regarded on the Canadian scene for the last several years, as he’s racked up regional titles and strong performances, including a unanimous decision win over current UFC featherweight Charles Jourdain. The 22-year-old looked impressive in dispatching Daniel Swain on the Contender Series earlier this summer and immediately becomes a new name to track in the talent-rich featherweight division going forward.
TYSON NAM VS. JEROME RIVERA
Tyson Nam was originally slated to face Matt Schnell last weekend, but when Schnell’s weight-cutting issues forced the cancellation of the bout, Nam was quickly rebooked for this weekend’s fight card opposite Contender Series alum Jerome Rivera.
Now a 36-year-old veteran, Nam was a hyped upstart at one time, but just couldn’t seem to ever string together enough wins to really capitalize on his blistering power and entertaining fighting style. His UFC tenure got off to a rocky start with consecutive losses to ranked fighters Sergio Pettis and Kai Kara-France, but the Hawaiian showed why he’s been a hardcore favorite for years last time out when he stopped Zarrukh Adashev in just 32 seconds.
Rivera competed on the first episode of this year’s edition of the Contender Series at the start of August, registering a unanimous decision victory over Luis Rodriguez. While the victory wasn’t enough to earn him a contract, it did put him squarely on the UFC radar and now the New Mexico product will put his three-fight winning streak on the line in this short-notice, high-reward opportunity.
This should be an electric affair from the outset as Nam has always been willing to trade with anyone and rely on his hands, while Rivera has nothing to lose as he steps up on just over a week’s notice to face an experienced veteran competitor coming off a highlight reel performance.