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 Giga Chikadze of Georgia prepares to fight Cub Swanson in a featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 01, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Chikadze

We're Back In Vegas Saturday With Another Stacked Card. Let's Break It Down.

EDSON BARBOZA VS. GIGA CHIKADZE

Saturday’s fight card wraps with banger in the featherweight division as Edson Barboza and Giga Chikadze collide in an absolute gem of a contest.

Barboza enters on a tidy two-fight winning streak, having rebounded from his debated split decision loss to Dan Ige last summer with a decision win over Makwan Amirkhani and a third-round stoppage victory over Shane Burgos earlier this year. The Brazilian veteran has shown no signs of slowing down or struggling with the move to the 145-pound ranks, and showed in May that he remains one of the most dangerous strikers south of welterweight.

Chikadze is unbeaten in six UFC starts, literally improving with each successive appearance, going from twin split decision wins to tandem unanimous decision victories to a pair of first-round finishes, the latest coming in 63 seconds against divisional stalwart Cub Swanson. The former Glory Kickboxing standout has won eight straight overall since coming up short in his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series three summers back to crack the Top 10, and has his sights set even higher heading into this one.

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Thinking about this fight makes me giddy because it’s just perfect on so many levels.

Not only do we have a pair of ranked featherweights clashing in a crucial divisional matchup, but it’s also the step up in competition Chikadze needs in order to cement his standing as a legitimate contender, while Barboza gets the opportunity to turn back an emerging new name while thrusting himself into the title conversation.

Plus, the kicks are going to be powerful and plentiful, so sit back, put down your phone, and just enjoy this.

BRYAN BATTLE VS. GILBERT URBINA

The middleweight tournament for Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter wraps up in a clash between Team Volkanovski representatives Bryan Battle and Gilbert Urbina.

Battle was the Kelvin Gastelum of the season — an unsung, raw talent who thrived due to his well-rounded skill set, adaptability in the cage, and being highly coachable, which resulted in a dominant win over Kemran Lachinov and a submission finish of Andre Petrovski. Riding a four-fight winning streak into his UFC debut, “Pooh Bear” has the opportunity to join Gastelum as the latest fighter selected to win the competition, as both were the penultimate picks of their respective seasons.

Urbina gets a second chance to make his Ultimate Fighter dreams come true, tagging in for Tresean Gore, who stopped him in the semifinals, but has been sidelined by a knee injury. The third member of his family to compete on the long-running reality TV competition, the 25-year-old has only lost once in his career (to unbeaten standout Sean Brady) and was one of the favorites to win it all heading into the house.

Will Battle complete his impressive run through the competition, or will Urbina make the most of this surprise opportunity to claim the victory for himself?

Bryan Battle Discusses Advancing To The TUF Finale | The Return of The Ultimate Fighter
Bryan Battle Discusses Advancing To The TUF Finale | The Return of The Ultimate Fighter
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RICKY TURCIOS VS. BRADY HIESTAND

Ricky Turcios and Brady Hiestand worked their way through the competition to each land a spot in the bantamweight finals, and now the Team Volkanovski fighters go head-to-head to determine who will join the roll call of Ultimate Fighter winners.

The mercurial Turcios won a pair of hard-fought battles to reach the final pairing, edging out Dan Argueta and Liudvik Sholinian to land opposite Hiestand this weekend. A 12-fight veteran whose only two losses have come to Boston Salmon and Mana Martinez, the 28-year-old is a hard-nosed battler with more experience and a more complete arsenal than his adversary this weekend.

RELATED: Meet Ricky Turcios

Hiestand looks to join Michael Chiesa and Julianna Pena as the third Sikjitsu representative to earn the title of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The 22-year-old gutted out a split decision over steely veteran Josh Rettinghouse in the quarterfinals before dominating Vince Murdock to punch his ticket to the finale, and profiles as the kind of untested, but clearly talented, fighter with the potential to be the next big breakout competitor to emerge from the series.

Both men looked good in their respective semifinals appearances, and it will be very interesting to see how this one plays out when these two touch gloves and get after it this weekend.

KEVIN LEE VS. DANIEL RODRIGUEZ

Fighting for the first time in well over a year and moving back to the welterweight division, Kevin Lee makes his return against active veteran Daniel Rodriguez.

It’s been an up and down couple of years for Lee, who lost his lone UFC appearance in the 170-pound ranks opposite Rafael Dos Anjos by submission in the spring of 2019. He then moved back to lightweight and bounced Gregor Gillespie from the ranks of the unbeaten before missing weight for a clash with current lightweight champ Charles Oliveira in the final bout before last year’s temporary shutdown, missing weight by a couple of pounds

Healthy and ready to return, Lee was initially scheduled to face unbeaten rising star Sean Brady, but will now face Rodriguez instead, as the Philadelphia-based brick house was forced out of the contest due to a foot injury.

This will be Rodriguez’s third appearance of 2021, sixth appearance since Lee last competed, and seventh UFC assignment in the last 20 months. He enters on a two-fight winning streak, following his unanimous decision victory over Mike Perry in April with a first-round stoppage win over late replacement Preston Parsons in July, inheriting the mantle as the most active fighter on the roster from his good friend and frequent training partner Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the process.

Darren Till Sits Down With John Gooden

After more than a year on the sidelines, this is a critical assignment for Lee, who has always been viewed as a championship-level fighter but has managed just two wins in his last six starts. Rodriguez is the kind of durable, high-volume veteran that few are eager to share the Octagon with, and since this is another short-notice assignment, “D-Rod” is playing with house money heading into this one, with the opportunity to secure the biggest win of his career.

ANDRE PETROSKI VS. MICHEAL GILLMORE

Team Ortega middleweights Andre Petroski and Micheal Gillmore square off on Saturday in the lone pairing between Season 29 contestants outside of the two tournament finals bouts.

The 30-year-old Petroski was one of the early picks to win the middleweight competition and validated those expectations in his first appearance on the show, running through Aaron Phillips in the first fight of the season. But the grappler got submitted by Battle in their semifinal matchup and enters this weekend’s contest looking to get back in the win column after losing to Canadian prospect Aaron Jeffrey in his final appearance of 2020.

Gillmore was tabbed to replace Miles Hunsinger during Season 29 when the Team Ortega member was forced out of his fight with a knee injury. “The Gentleman” was quickly taken down and submitted by Urbina in the quarterfinals but looks to build on his three-fight winning streak when he makes the walk to the Octagon this weekend to square off with Petroski.

MAKHMUD MURADOV VS. GERALD MEERSCHAERT

Streaking middleweight Makhmud Muradov takes another step up the divisional ladder in hopes of securing a fourth straight UFC triumph. Standing in his way is veteran grappler Gerald Meerschaert.

The 31-year-old Muradov enters on a 14-fight winning streak, the last three of those victories amassed inside the Octagon. After grinding out a win over Alessio Di Chirico in his promotional debut, “Mach” has earned back-to-back Performance of the Night bonuses in third-round stoppage victories over Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez.

In addition to being the best saxophone player in the UFC, Meerschaert is also a 46-fight veteran whose last 13 appearances have come inside the Octagon. While he’s struggled to find consistent results during that run, “GM3” has faced a steady diet of strong competition throughout his career and enters Saturday’s contest with Muradov off a slick first-round submission win over Bartosz Fabinski in April.

Muradov has flashed upside throughout his three-fight run of success in the UFC and this feels like one last date with a divisional stalwart before another step up in competition. Conversely, Meerschaert enters with the opportunity to dash his streaking opponent’s dreams and further cement himself as a key figure in the middle of the middleweight ecosystem going forward.

ALESSIO DI CHIRICO VS. ABDUL RAZAK ALHASSAN

Alessio Di Chirico of Italy celebrates his knockout victory over Oluwale Bamgbose in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Bell MTS Place on December 16, 2017 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Alessio Di Chirico of Italy celebrates his knockout victory over Oluwale Bamgbose in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Bell MTS Place on December 16, 2017 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Italian Alessio Di Chirico looks to build off the most impressive performance of his career on Saturday night when he steps in with veteran banger Abdul Razak Alhassan in a bout that has seriously explosive potential.

Six years and nine fights into his UFC tenure, Di Chirico arrives in Las Vegas off a first-round knockout win over Joaquin Buckley in January that halted the 2020 breakout fighter’s momentum and got “Manzo” moving in the right direction again after three straight decision losses. The 31-year-old has always exhibited toughness and grit, but he’s starting to display a much better feel for how to put his weapons together inside the Octagon now, as well, which makes him an interesting figure to track in the middleweight ranks moving forward.

After missing weight in consecutive welterweight assignments last year, Alhassan moved up to middleweight in April and landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision result opposite Jacob Malkoun in April. The 36-year-old from Ghana won 10 of his first 11 bouts, all in the first round, but has dropped three straight since, and is in dire need of a bounce-back effort here.

Both have far more finishes than decisions on their respective ledgers, so don’t be shocked if this one starts fast and ends in a hurry on Saturday night.

SAM ALVEY VS. WELLINGTON TURMAN

Middleweights looking to make their way back into the win column clash this weekend as veteran Sam Alvey makes his second start of 2021 in a showdown with 25-year-old Brazilian Wellington Turman.

It has to be hard for even the perpetually ebullient Alvey to smile at times these days, as he enters Saturday’s contest on a six-fight run without a victory, having earned five losses and one draw during the time. The last time he had his hand raised was more than three years ago, and despite his perpetually positive nature, the 50-fight veteran and former Ultimate Fighter cast member has to be feeling the pressure heading into this one.

After amassing a 15-2 record on the regional circuit capped by a first-round submission win over UFC alum Marcio Alexandre, Turman has gone just 1-3 in his first four trips into the Octagon. Last time out, he started well against Bruno Silva, taking his returning countryman down multiple times and taking his back momentarily before “Blindado” shook free and smashed out a stoppage win.

Something has got to give in this one — either Alvey is halting the longest slide of lengthy career or Turman has handing him another setback while snapping out of his two-fight slide — and figuring out which of those things is going to happen should be entertaining to watch.

DUSTIN JACOBY VS. DARREN STEWART

Veterans clash in this preliminary card affair as Dustin Jacoby puts his five-fight unbeaten streak on the line against dangerous British banger Darren Stewart.

Jacoby has been one of the low-key cool stories of the last 12 months, earning a second chance to compete on the UFC stage last summer with a victory on Dana White’s Contender Series and parlaying that into a 2-0-1 record inside the Octagon since. He rallied to secure a split draw verdict after getting battered early against Ion Cutelaba last time out and will look to get back to the form that produced a first-round stoppage win over Justin Ledet in his return to the UFC last Halloween this time out against Stewart.

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A long-time middleweight who ventured to the 205-pound ranks for the first time in a number of years last time out, “The Dentist” sticks around the light heavyweight ranks here, looking to end a three-fight run without a victory. Stewart is better than his 5-7 record (with two no contest verdicts) inside the Octagon suggests, battling to split decision losses with the likes of Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland in the last couple years while earning impressive stoppages in three of his five victories.

JJ ALDRICH VS. VANESSA DEMOPOULOS

Flyweight stalwart JJ Aldrich makes her second start of the year, welcoming late replacement Vanessa Demopoulos to the Octagon for the first time.

A cast member on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, Aldrich has made eight appearances under the UFC banner thus far, registering five wins and three losses, starting her run in the bantamweight ranks before shifting to the 125-pound weight class four fights back. Following a year on the sidelines recovering from a broken hand that required surgery, the Colorado native landed on the happy side of a split decision verdict at the end of her March clash with Cortney Casey and looks to finally start building some momentum as she returns to action this weekend.

In camp and initially scheduled to compete on Friday’s LFA event, the 32-year-old Demopoulos shuffles up a division to make the walk to the Octagon for the first time, replacing the injured Tracy Cortez. Prior to her first start of this year, each of Demopoulos’ previous three fights came against current UFC competitors, as she defeated Sam Hughes before landing on the wrong side of the cards in a Dana White’s Contender Series bout with Cory McKenna and an LFA bantamweight title fight with Loopy Godinez.

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This is a win for everyone involved, as Aldrich stays on the card after losing her initial opponent, Demopoulos gets the chance to face an established veteran in her promotional debut, and this injury-marred fight card doesn’t lose another fight. Stylistically, this one should be interesting as Aldrich has smooth boxing highlighted by a crisp jab, while the incoming “Lil’ Monster” is more of a grappler.

JAMALL EMMERS VS. PAT SABATINI

Featherweights Jamall Emmers and Pat Sabatini square off early in Saturday night’s fight card with each man looking to build off their initial UFC triumphs.

It’s been a long, strange road to third trip into the Octagon for Emmers, who faced short-notice replacements in each of his first two outings and then had his bout against Chas Skelly pulled at quite literally the last minute in February when he suffered back spasms backstage before walking out. Emmers battled headliner Giga Chikadze to a split decision in his debut and looked good in a win over Vince Cachero last time out, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table this time around.

A veteran of the rugged East Coast regional circuit, Sabatini had his initial debut delayed when his first opponent missed weight in a division above where they were intended to compete, but made the most of “Take Two,” grinding out a good win over Canadian veteran Tristan Connelly in April. The two-time CFFC featherweight champ has won six of his last seven and sports a 14-3 record overall, positioning him as someone with the potential of making a quick run up the divisional ladder in the 145-pound weight class.

JJ Aldrich punches Polyana Viana in the third round of their straw weight bout during UFC 227 at Staples Center on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
JJ Aldrich punches Polyana Viana in the third round of their straw weight bout during UFC 227 at Staples Center on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

MANA MARTINEZ VS. GUIDO CANNETTI

Mana Martinez and Guido Cannetti kick off the festivities this weekend in a bantamweight clash that has the potential to start the evening with a bang.

Martinez came up short on his quest to claim a contract last summer on Dana White’s Contender Series, but rebounded earlier this year with consecutive stoppage wins under the Fury FC banner, the last coming in front of the UFC President and the Lookin’ for a Fight crew. The 25-year-old is 8-2 overall and has only been to the cards once in his career, with all of his wins coming inside the distance, including a first-round finish of TUF bantamweight finalist Ricky Turcios.

A graduate of the first season TUF: Latin America, Cannetti ended an extended absence last March, returning to action at UFC 248, where he landed on the wrong side of a first-round stoppage result against Danaa Batgerel. The 41-year-old Argentine has just two wins in six UFC appearances, but always comes to scrap, which makes him a perfect dance partner for the like-minded newcomer Martinez this weekend.