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Fight-by-Fight: Breaking down Sunday's action


Yair Rodriguez is the rising star of the featherweight division. BJ Penn is the Hall of Famer chasing the gold one more time. On paper, this is the coming out party for Mexico’s “Pantera,” the opportunity to put that legendary notch on his belt and continue moving toward a title shot. But BJ Penn is BJ Penn, and if anyone in the fight game can come off two years away and pull off something special, it’s “The Prodigy,” whose return just proves that while everyone says they’re fighters at their core, Penn is a living, breathing example. Win or lose, there’s no one like him.

Joe Lauzon is the bonus king of the UFC (along with Nate Diaz), but his best bet for another Performance of the Night award may require him to do it on his feet, like he did against Diego Sanchez last July. Because while Lauzon’s ground game is top notch, Held wants the fight on the mat so he can work his submission attack. Sure, fans may cheer the exchange of maneuvers on the mat, but Lauzon’s best chance of winning is to take the fight where Held doesn’t want to go if he doesn’t have to.

After a brief return to the regional scene (really brief, as he submitted Jacob Volkmann in 17 seconds), Ben Saunders is back in the Octagon to take on fellow TUF alumnus Court McGee. This is an interesting matchup stylistically, simply because McGee is a pressure fighter and Saunders does some of his best Muay Thai work at close range. Even on the mat, McGee has a strong ground and pound game, but Saunders counters with a submission attack that works best from his back. Styles make fights, folks, and they certainly will here.

Court McGee on UFC Unfiltered: I take every fight seriously

Since arriving in the UFC in 2013, Sergio Pettis has navigated stormy waters and paid his dues, going 5-2 in the process. On Sunday, it’s Pettis’ big step-up fight, the one that determines whether he’s ready for the big names at 125 pounds. Sure, John Moraga has lost two straight, but he’s a veteran who has battled it out with those big names, and he’s fighting at home. This should be a good one.

John Moraga on UFC Unfiltered: I'm prepared for this fight

It’s a battle for Arizona bragging rights this weekend, but more importantly, either Augusto Mendes or Frankie Saenz will get their 2017 off to a winning start after recent setbacks. Saenz has the Octagon experience edge by a mile, but Mendes has the kind of ground game that can even things up and get him a win in a hurry. So does the wrestler (Saenz) keep it standing, or will he look to turn a black belt into a blue belt with a little ground-and-pound?


It’s impossible not to be impressed by Aleksei Oleinik’s 50 wins and 38 submissions. It’s one of the most underrated records out there, and while he lost his last bout to Daniel Omielanczuk, Sunday’s fight against Viktor Pesta is the perfect opportunity to start a new winning streak, though Pesta, the only fighter from the Czech Republic on the current UFC roster, is hungry and confident heading into what could be a statement-making bout.

Alex White and Tony Martin haven’t had an easy road to Arizona, with both battling injuries in their quest to follow up recent wins. Those obstacles are out of their way now, setting up a match between two multi-faceted fighters who could make some noise at 155 pounds in 2017 if they can stay healthy and keep winning.

Heading up the UFC FIGHT PASS portion of the card is the Featured Bout between strawweights Nina Ansaroff and Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger. Ansaroff has been in the news a lot as the teammate and partner of bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes, but now she gets the spotlight all to herself and there’s no more important fight than this one, as she tries to snap a two-fight losing streak and pick up her first UFC win. Jones-Lybarger is in a similar 0-2 spot in the Octagon, so expect to see plenty of fireworks from these hungry 115-pounders.

Nina Ansaroff breaks down her upcoming fight on UFC Unfiltered

An intriguing clash of lightweight prospects is on the bill this weekend, and it’s a tough one to pick as unbeaten Drakkar Klose, a member of the renowned MMA Lab in Glendale, AZ, faces Maine’s Devin Powell, a BJJ black belt who impressed UFC President Dana White so much in his last fight that he was offered a contract. I’ve said it a million times before, so another won’t hurt – this is the kind of match boxing rarely has anymore, and it’s another reason why MMA fans watch cards from start to finish and don’t just show up for the top two fights on the marquee.

If this one goes three rounds, then maybe none of us know anything about mixed martial arts. Just look at the numbers: each of Chase Sherman and Walt Harris’ 17 combined wins have ended by first-round knockout, Harris ending six in two minutes or less and Sherman finishing five in 63 seconds or less. Was it against UFC-level competition? More often than not, no. But both heavyweights hit hard and look to end things quick. One of them gets their wish on Sunday.

Bojan Mihajlovic isn’t the easily discouraged type. After losing his first three bouts, he has gone on to win 10 of his next 11. Of course, the lone loss was in his UFC debut against Francis Ngannou last July, prompting the 5-11 battler from Serbia to drop to light heavyweight, where he won’t be giving up so much size. Then again, his opponent, Denmark’s Joachim Christensen, is still 6-3, so it will still be a mountain to climb for Mihajlovic this weekend.

Both Cyril Asker and Dmitrii Smoliakov got rude welcomes to the Octagon, losing their debuts to Jared Cannonier and Luis Henrique, respectively. But one of them will pick up a UFC victory this weekend, and with both being versatile finishers, it should be an exciting opener wherever the fight goes.