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Fight by Fight Preview: May 30th Edition

Go deep into the May 30th Fight Night card with this edition of Fight by Fight
TYRON WOODLEY VS. GILBERT BURNS

A crucial pairing in the welterweight division headlines this weekend’s fight card as former champ Tyron Woodley returns to the Octagon to face off with surging Brazilian Gilbert Burns.

Woodley has not competed since losing the welterweight title to Kamaru Usman last March in a contest that halted the former titleholder’s two-and-a-half-year reign atop the division. Though the outcome wasn’t necessarily surprising, the manner in which Usman dethroned Woodley was, as “The Chosen One” was coming off his most dominant performance since claiming the title at UFC 201 and hadn’t lost since the spring of 2014.

The 33-year-old Burns was one of the breakthrough stars of 2019, posting a trio of victories capped by a pair of short-notice sojourns to the welterweight division where he knocked Aleksei Kunchenko from the ranks of the unbeaten and topped Gunnar Nelson by unanimous decision. Earlier this year, Burns continued his push towards contention in the 170-pound weight class with a first-round stoppage victory over former title challenger Demian Maia.

The UFC matchmakers have put together an outstanding matchup for this week’s main event as both men enter Saturday’s final contest with something to prove and the victor having a strong claim to a place on the short list of potential title challenges once the second half of the year gets underway.

Woodley’s last appearance left many wonder how much the 38-year-old still has left in the tank and this is a tremendous opportunity to re-affirm his standing as an elite talent in the division, while Burns gets the chance to prove he’s deserving of a place in the upper tier of contenders by knocking off the former champ.

Will Woodley deliver the blistering performance he’s been promising or can Burns extend his winning streak to six by earning the biggest victory of his career for the third straight fight?

Tune in Saturday night to find out.

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BLAGOY IVANOV VS. AUGUSTO SAKAI

Heavyweights jockeying for position in the Top 15 collide in the co-main event as Blagoy Ivanov goes toe-to-toe with Augusto Sakai.

After just under two years competing in the UFC, Ivanov sports a 2-2 record in the Octagon with victories over Ben Rothwell and Tai Tuivasa sandwiched between setbacks to Junior Dos Santos and Derrick Lewis, with the latter of those two losses coming by split decision in his most recent appearance last November. Calling the Bulgarian big man tough and resilient doesn’t quite do him justice, and the fact that his three career losses have come against three men currently positioned in the Top 10 of the UFC heavyweight division indicates how talented Ivanov is inside the cage.

The 29-year-old Sakai has gone 3-0 since landing a spot on the UFC roster and is coming off a first-round knockout win over Marcin Tybura last September but remains an unheralded member of the heavyweight ranks. Sporting a 14-1-1 record overall and three years removed from his lone setback, the Brazilian is already a dark horse in the division and could force his way into the Top 10 with a strong showing against the highly regarded Ivanov this weekend.

KEVIN HOLLAND VS. DANIEL RODRIGUEZ

Just two weeks after scoring a first-round stoppage win at middleweight, Kevin Holland is climbing back into the cage and moving down to welterweight to square off with Daniel Rodriguez in what has all the makings of an action-packed clash.

Holland has spoken about his interest in staying active and jumping between divisions for several years, and gets the opportunity to do both here, doing so after the most impressive performance of his UFC career. Two weekends ago in Jacksonville, the 27-year-old “Trailblazer” tore through Anthony Hernandez, needing just 39 seconds to dispatch ‘Fluffy” and turn in the kind of dominant showing he’s teased throughout his three prior successful trips into the Octagon.

After missing out on a contract after scoring a victory on Season 3 of the Contender Series, Rodriguez got a short-notice opportunity to join the UFC roster in February, subbing in for Ramazan Emeev and subbing out Tim Means in his home state of New Mexico. The victory pushed Rodriguez’ winning streak to seven and if he can spoil Holland’s quick turnaround, the 33-year-old veteran could find himself with another step up in competition and a little more buzz behind his name next time out.

BROK WEAVER VS. ROOSEVELT ROBERTS

Contender Series alums looking to make some headway in the loaded lightweight division meet in this one as Season 2 graduate Roosevelt Roberts takes on Season 3 standout Brok Weaver on Saturday evening.

Of all the fighters who garnered contracts during last summer’s run of the Contender Series, few shone as bright as Weaver, who impressed the UFC brass and MMA observers with his tenacity and talkative approach inside the cage in his win over Devin Smyth. But it’s been a challenging journey for the Alabama-based hopeful since then, as his debut was delayed before his first appearance inside the Octagon was cut short after Weaver landed on the wrong end of an illegal knee in February against Rodrigo Vargas.

The opposite of Weaver in terms of personality, the soft-spoken Roberts was one of the most promising contract recipients during the second season of the annual summer talent search, pushing his record to 6-0 with a second-round submission win over Garrett Gross. He followed it up with consecutive victories in his first two Octagon appearances before running into Vinc Pichel, who handed Roberts his first career loss last summer.

To his credit, “The Predator” shook off the setback and ventured to Moscow five months later, returning with a victory over Russian veteran Alexander Yakovlev.

The lightweight division is always amongst the deepest and most competitive in the UFC, which makes every fight crucial, especially for fighters like Roberts and Weaver as they try to carve out a lane for themselves in the loaded weight class.

Free Fight: Tyron Woodley vs Robbie Lawler
Free Fight: Tyron Woodley vs Robbie Lawler
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MACKENZIE DERN VS. HANNAH CIFERS

The main card action begins in the strawweight division as Mackenzie Dern and Hannah Cifers look to rebound after suffering setbacks in their most recent trips into the UFC cage.

Highly touted following a standout career on the jiu-jitsu mats, Dern earned victories in each of her first two Octagon appearances, pushing her record to 7-0 in the process. She pressed pause on her career following her win over Amanda Cooper to start a family, welcoming a baby daughter named Moa with husband Wesley Santos last June. Five months later, the decorated black belt returned to the cage, landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict in a clash with fellow prospect Amanda Ribas.

After making her promotional debut in a hard-fought loss to highly regarded upstart Maycee Barber, Cifers posted consecutive wins over Polyana Viana and Jodie Esquibel to start building a little momentum in the 115-pound weight class. But her run of success came to an end in January following a run-in with rising contender Angela Hill, leaving “Shockwave” to go in search of a return to the win column this weekend against Dern.

KATLYN CHOOKAGIAN VS. ANTONINA SHEVCHENKO

Katlyn Chookagian returns to action less than four months after facing Valentina Shevchenko for the flyweight title in a showdown with the champion’s older sister, Antonina, that serves as the final preliminary card matchup of this weekend’s fight card.

The 31-year-old “Blonde Fighter” was on the wrong end of things in her UFC 247 title matchup, but has otherwise been an ultra-consistent, ultra-competitive presence since debuting in the Octagon a little under four years ago. Sporting a 6-3 record in the UFC and a 13-3 mark overall, Chookagian’s first two setbacks both came by split decision, while she’s posted victories over Lauren Murphy, Irene Aldana, Joanne Calderwood, and Jennifer Maia along the way.

The elder of the Shevchenko sisters earned her way onto the roster with a second-round stoppage win on Season 2 of the Contender Series and pushed her record to 7-0 with a victory in her debut. A decision loss to veteran contender Roxanne Modafferi halted her unbeaten run, but “La Pantera” bounced back with a submission win over Lucie Pudilova last summer to solidify her place in the division.

Chookagian remains in the thick of the title chase, while Shevchenko is looking to break into the Top 10 with a victory over the recent title challenger. Can she replicate her sister’s performance and hand Chookagian a second straight defeat or will the Pennsylvania native emerge victorious in the second half of her back-to-back against the UFC’s first sister act on Saturday?

BILLY QUARANTILLO VS. SPIKE CARLYLE

Natural featherweights Billy Quarantillo and Spike Carlyle meet in a catchweight contest at 150 pounds that is dripping with Fight of the Night potential.

A member of Team Faber on Season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter, Quarantillo earned his way onto the UFC roster last summer with a dominant effort against Kamuela Kirk on the Contender Series, then pushed his winning streak to six with a submission win over Jacob Kilburn in his promotional debut. Now 7-1 since his time on the long-running reality TV show, the 31-year-old is looking to continue his hot streak and add to his collection of strong performances as he squares off against Carlyle this weekend.

The 27-year-old “Alpha Ginger” made a splash earlier this year with an upset win over Aalon Cruz in Norfolk, Virginia. Despite entering as the underdog and giving up considerable height and reach, Carlyle stung the Contender Series graduate and finished him from mount in less than 90 seconds, extending his winning streak to five in the process.

Both men are all-action fighters and the fact that they’ve agreed to eschew the extra five-pound weight cut means we should be in for a spirited contest once the cage door closes behind them on Saturday night.

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JAMAHAL HILL VS. KLIDSON ABREU

Relative newcomers looking to build some momentum in the always turbulent 205-pound weight class meet in this one as Jamahal Hill squares off with Klidson Abreu.

Through his first three trips into the Octagon, Abreu has alternated between results. The glass half empty way of looking at that fact is that he’s 1-2 during that stretch, but the glass half full version means if the pattern holds, he’s in line for a victory.

After defeating Sam Alvey last summer, the 27-year-old dropped a split decision to undefeated Russian Shamil Gamzatov last November in Moscow. Now he looks to get back into the win column and start building some consistency inside the UFC cage in this clash with Hill.

Following a dominant showing on Season 3 of the Contender Series, the 29-year-old Hill made his Octagon debut earlier this year, earning a unanimous decision win over Darko Stosic with scores of 29-27 across the board. Now 7-0, the Grand Rapids representative is aiming to add to his unbeaten record by collecting a second consecutive victory and establish himself as someone to watch in the light heavyweight division in the process.

TIM ELLIOTT VS. BRANDON ROYVAL

The action should be frantic in this one as flyweight stalwart Tim Elliott welcomes Brandon Royval to the UFC.

A former title challenger and permanent fixture in the 125-pound weight class for the last four years, Elliott enters Saturday’s event on a two-fight slide and is just 2-3 overall in his second stint with the promotion. But the results don’t paint a full picture of things, as Elliott’s most recent setbacks have come against recent title fight participant Deiveson Figueiredo and unbeaten contender Askar Askarov, and he’s faced a non-stop diet of ranked opponents since his championship engagement with Demetrious Johnson at the end of 2016.

While Eliiott has made the walk to the Octagon numerous times, Royval will be crossing the threshold into the UFC cage for the first time this weekend. The Colorado native and Factory X Muay Thai representative has been a staple in the LFA prior to getting called up to the UFC, serving as the main event in each of his last three appearances. He’s faced very good competition on his way to the biggest stage in the sport and has a chance to make a splash in his new surroundings this weekend with a victory over Elliott.

LOUIS SMOLKA VS. CASEY KENNEY

Ironically, the last man to beat Royval will be part of the tandem setting the table for his debut, as Casey Kenney looks to get back in the win column in a bantamweight clash with Hawaiian Louis Smolka on Saturday.

Kenney appeared twice on Season 1 of the Contender Series, grinding out a win over CJ Hamilton before dropping a split decision to Adam Antolin. He rattled off four straight victories under the LFA banner following that setback, including his victory over Royval, claiming gold at both flyweight and bantamweight along the way.

That run of success earned him a short-notice call-up to the UFC, where he toppled Ray Borg before handing Manny Bermudez the first loss of his career five months later. Casey’s winning ways came to an end last time out, however, as he dropped a decision to Merab Dvalishvili in February.

Once viewed as a potential contender in the flyweight division, a four-fight losing streak cost Smolka his place on the roster. Three wins in six months outside of the promotion after getting his life in order earned the Hawaiian a return to the Octagon, where he’s gone 2-1 with a pair of submission victories since, including a first-round finish of Ryan McDonald in September.

Both men are looking to improve their standing in the ultra-competitive bantamweight ranks, so expect a fast-paced, scramble-heavy affair once things get rolling in this one.

CHRIS GUTIERREZ VS. VINCE MORALES

Business kicks off in the featherweight division as tough out Vince Morales aims to get back into the win column against Chris Gutierrez, who enters on a two-fight winning streak.

Another member of Marc Montoya’s Factory X crew, Gutierrez has won five of his last six and each of his last two appearances in the Octagon after dropping his debut to Raoni Barcelos towards the end of 2018. The 29-year-old faced solid competition on his way to the UFC and has started to find his footing in the promotion over his last two appearances, registering decision victories over McDonald and Geraldo de Freitas Jr. in 2019.

Morales is another one of those guys whose recent results don’t necessarily provide a clear picture of what he brings to the table. The Tony Fryklund-trained battler has gone 2-3 in his last four outings, losing a dogfight against Domingo Pilarte on the Contender Series and close decisions to Team Alpha Male reps Song Yadong and Benito Lopez with victories over Justin Hugo and Aiemann Zahabi mixed in between.

With a lot on the line for both fighters, don’t be surprised if Gutierrez and Morales try to tear the house down in the opener in an effort to start Saturday’s festivities off right.

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