Do you know how long it has been since the UFC brought an event to Columbus? On the weekend of the last show at Nationwide Arena — UFC 96 — Taken was No. 3 at the box office.
Think about how many times you have made reference to having “a particular set of skills” or how many different movies you’ve watched where Liam Neeson has sought vengeance, kicked ass, and killed a few people (or wolves).
Now understand that the last time the UFC touched down in the hometown of Jesse Owens, Simone Biles, and “The Godfather of Ground-and-Pound,” Mark Coleman, no one had “a particular set of skills” and Liam Neeson was still the dramatic actor from Schindler’s List.
So yeah, it’s been a minute, and the UFC is making up for that extended absence with a banger of a card this weekend.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus
Chris Daukaus | Top Finishes
Chris Daukaus | Top Finishes
Heavyweights looking to cement their place in the divisional hierarchy headline this weekend’s fight card as Curtis Blaydes squares off with Chris Daukaus.
Blaydes was Derrick Lewis’ first conquest of 2021, landing on the wrong end of an uppercut from “The Black Beast” in February that halted his four-fight winning streak in a hurry. Seven months later, the Elevation Fight Team member returned to the Octagon and the win column with a unanimous decision victory over fellow Top 10 fixture Jairzinho Rozenstruik to get himself moving in the right direction again.
Daukaus also saw his four-fight UFC run of success fade away at the hands of Lewis, getting roughed up by the perennial contender in the final bout of 2021. Prior to that, the former Philadelphia police officer had earned stoppage wins over Aleksei Oleinik and Shamil Abdurakhimov to push his overall winning streak to five and put himself on the brink of title contention.
Things are fluid at the top of the heavyweight division at the moment, with champion Francis Ngannou set to undergo knee surgery, which gives added importance to this already compelling clash on Saturday. The winner will firmly establish themselves as a Top 5 fighter in the division, and should be in the mix for a marquee assignment in the second half of the year, while the vanquished competitor will need to regroup quickly in order to fend off challenges to their place in the pecking order in the future.
Joanne Wood vs. Alexa Grasso
Top 10 flyweights meet inside the Octagon on Saturday as perennial contender Joanne Wood takes on ascending standout Alexa Grasso.
Now 14 fights into her UFC tenure, Wood arrives in Columbus on a two-fight losing streak and having dropped three of her last four. She’s been a staple in the championship picture since moving up to the 125-pound weight class and fought nothing but top competition throughout her career, making her a formidable threat regardless of her recent results.
It’s taken a little longer than most likely expected, but the 28-year-old Grasso appears to finally be making her way into contention after long being viewed as a potential championship threat. Like Wood, she too relocated from strawweight after struggling to consistently make the 115-pound limit, and has posted back-to-back unanimous decision wins since moving up.
There is the potential for this to be a back-and-forth battle on the feet, with Wood relying on her Muay Thai skills and Grasso looking to showcase her sharp boxing. Each woman needs a victory here for different reasons, which should bring out the best in both of them on Saturday and make for an exciting co-main event clash.
Askar Askarov vs. Kai Kara-France
Much like the fight between Wood and Grasso, this too is a clash of top contenders in the flyweight division, as Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France face off with a shot at championship gold potentially hanging in the balance.
Unbeaten in 15 career appearances and coming off consecutive victories over Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Benavidez, Askarov has been established as one of the top title threats in the division for a couple years now. Wrist surgery slowed his ascent, but he’s fully healed and ready to continue moving forward towards a championship opportunity with a win over Kara-France on Saturday.
Through his first six UFC appearances, Kara-France’s “Don’t Blink” nickname didn’t seem apt, as the City Kickboxing representative when 4-2 with all his victories coming on the cards. But over his last two outings, the 28-year-old from New Zealand showed why he carries that moniker, connecting with big shots that stopped Rogerio Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt in the first round.
Askarov and Kara-France are already on the short list of potential challengers for reigning flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo, and a dynamic effort from either man this weekend could secure them an opportunity to fight for the title later this year. This should be an absolute banger for as long as it lasts.
Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena
Highlight: Matt Brown's "Right Hand From Hell" KO | UFC Fight Night: The Korean Zombie vs Ige
Highlight: Matt Brown's "Right Hand From Hell" KO | UFC Fight Night: The Korean Zombie vs Ige
Originally scheduled to take place back in December, Matt Brown and Bryan Barberena will finally share the cage this weekend in what stands as the early favorite to earn Fight of the Night honors on Saturday night.
A Columbus native, Brown is one of two men to have fought the last time the UFC rolled through his hometown still on the active roster (Jim Miller is the other) and will look to add a second straight win to his resume here. After dropping two straight and considering retirement, “The Immortal” earned a second-round TKO win over Dhiego Lima last time out, and now gets the chance to compete at home again.
A blue-collar battler who navigated a pair of serious injury threats over the last couple years, Barberena stayed on the December fight card after Brown was scratched, collecting a unanimous decision win over Darian Weeks. “Bam Bam” is tough as nails and difficult to put away, making him an ideal dance partner for an aggressive, no-nonsense fighter like Brown.
Whether this one lasts 15 seconds or 15 minutes, it’s going to be action-packed and grimy as both Brown and Barberena are allergic to being in boring fights. Get your popcorn ready for this one.
Ilir Latifi vs. Aleksei Oleinik
Every UFC Submission By Aleksei Oleinik
Every UFC Submission By Aleksei Oleinik
Veterans Ilir Latifi and Aleksei Oleinik meet here in hopes of getting their 2022 campaigns underway with a victory on Saturday night.
Latifi returned to the heavyweight division for the first time in more than a decade at UFC 247, dropping a debated split decision to Derrick Lewis. He remained at heavyweight for his lone appearance of last year, edging out Tanner Boser on the scorecards, and looks to secure a second straight victory in the big boy ranks by toppling Oleinik this weekend in Columbus.
Oleinik has been stuck on 59 professional wins since defeating former champion Fabricio Werdum by split decision in the spring of 2020, and hopes the fourth time is the charm this weekend. The 44-year-old dropped a decision to Serghei Spivac last time out, marking one of the few times in his lengthy career that he’s gone more than a year without a victory.
Will Latifi earn his second consecutive heavyweight win and continue to move forward in the division or can Oleinik finally reach the 60-win milestone?
Jennifer Maia vs. Manon Fiorot
Former title challenger Jennifer Maia looks to halt the ascent of French standout Manon Fiorot as the two square off in another compelling flyweight clash on Saturday’s fight card.
Maia has alternated wins and losses over her last six fights, posting victories over Roxanne Modafferi, Wood, and Jessica Eye while dropping decisions to Katlyn Chookagian (twice) and champ Valentina Shevchenko. The Brazilian looks to solidify her spot as a Top 5 fixture and maintain that pattern this weekend by handing Fiorot the first loss of her UFC career.
A former IMMAF World Champion, Fiorot went 3-0 in her 2021 rookie campaign inside the Octagon, posting second-round stoppage wins over Victoria Leonardo and Tabatha Ricci before collecting a unanimous decision victory over Mayra Bueno Silva in October. The 32-year-old is a physically imposing fighter and her karate background makes her a unique threat in the 125-pound weight class.
This is a major test for the streaking Fiorot, who has earned eight straight wins after dropping her professional debut, but also a dangerous assignment for Maia. How this one plays out should tell us a great deal about where each woman stands in the division at the moment, and help chart a course for the top tier of the weight class in the second half of the year.
Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin
Rankings fixture Neil Magny takes on streaking veteran Max Griffin in this compelling welterweight affair.
Traditionally one of the most active fighters on the roster, Magny only fought twice in 2021, dropping a unanimous decision to Michael Chiesa in January before rebounding with a decision win of his own over Geoff Neal in May. The former Ultimate Fighter contestant has been a permanent presence in the Top 15 for the last several years, and remains one of the more underrated fighters on the UFC roster.
After struggling to produce consistent results through his first nine UFC appearances, Griffin has strung together three straight wins heading into this clash with Magny in Columbus. He scored a third-round stoppage win over Ramiz Brahimaj towards the end of 2020, following it up with a first-round knockout of Song Kenan last March before out-dueling Carlos Condit at UFC 264.
Because of his length, gas tank, and the steady stream of jabs he throws your way, Magny is a difficult matchup for anyone aspiring to land a place in the welterweight Top 10. He is the toughest test Griffin has faced since his promotional debut against Colby Covington, and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his winning ways when the two share the cage on Saturday.
Marc Diakiese vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Marc Diakiese looks to break out of a mini-slump in his first start of the year, while Viacheslav Borshchev looks to collect his second win in 2022 in this lightweight gem.
Still just 28 years old, Diakiese has struggled to find success since beginning his UFC tenure with three straight wins, posting just two victories in his last seven starts. He’s lost to quality competition and remains a plus athlete with dynamic striking, which means he’s capable of bouncing back at any time.
Borshchev impressed on Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series and then collected a first-round stoppage victory in his promotional debut on the opening card of the year. The Team Alpha Male representative has far more combat sports experience than his 6-1 record suggests and his win over Dakota Bush was just a glimpse of how dangerous “Slava Claus” can be inside the Octagon.
Diakiese needs a win to get things back on track, while Borshchev is aiming to expedite his climb up the divisional ladder. Who will get the critical victory they’re looking for this weekend?
Sara McMann vs. Karol Rosa
Bantamweights at different stages of their careers clash here as former title challenger Sara McMann takes on emerging Brazilian Karol Rosa.
The Olympic silver medalist McMann was hustled into a championship fight with Ronda Rousey in her second UFC appearance and has never really found stability since, posting a 5-5 record in the more than eight years since that bout. She remains a powerful athlete and solid on the canvas, yet has lost three of her last four by submission.
The 27-year-old Rosa is 4-0 in the UFC and 15-3 overall, standing as one of the few up-and-coming fresh talents in the 135-pound weight class. She’s gone the distance in each of her last four outings and is taking a big step up in competition here after dispatching Bethe Correia last time out.
McMann continues to have moments in all of her fights, but has struggled to carry them through from round-to-round, while Rosa has looked sharp, but never faced anyone as strong or experienced as the Olympian. This should be an interesting clash of styles that tells us where each woman fits in the division heading into the second quarter of the 2022 fight calendar.
Chris Gutierrez vs. Batgerel Danaa
Unheralded bantamweight standouts Chris Gutierrez and Batgerel Danaa clash in what should be a solid Fight of the Night contender early in the evening.
Gutierrez pushed his unbeaten streak to six with a pair of wins in 2021, and is 8-1-1 over his last 10 fights overall. The 30-year-old Factory X Muay Thai representative has had moments where he’s looked really sharp, and others where he’s struggled to get out of the blocks and let go with his offense, so it will be interesting to see which version turns up this weekend in Columbus.
Since dropping his promotional debut to fellow newcomer Alatengheili in the summer of 2019, Batgerel has rattled off three straight first-round finishes. He needed just three minutes to put away Guido Cannetti in 2020, and then logged less than three minutes of combined cage time stopping Kevin Natividad and Brandon Davis last year while showcasing the work he’s done with Brandon “Six Gun” Gibson in Albuquerque.
Neither man has any interest in being the one leaving Ohio with their lengthy run of success in the rear view mirror, but the process of determining who will suffer that fate should be wildly entertaining to watch.
Matheus Nicolau vs. David Dvorak
While Askarov and Kara-France potentially battle for a flyweight title shot later in the evening, Matheus Nicolau and David Dvorak will do battle over position in the Top 10 early in the night.
Nicolau has picked up a pair of narrow decision wins since returning to the UFC one year ago, edging out Manel Kape and Tim Elliott in March and October, respectively. The 29-year-old Brazilian is 5-1 inside the Octagon and 17-2-1 overall, but it feels like we still haven’t seen him at his best just yet, which should be scary for the rest of the division to ponder.
After running his winning streak to 15 with decision wins over Bruno Silva and Jordan Espinosa in 2020, Dvorak wasted little time picking up his 16th consecutive victory against late replacement opponent Juancamilo Ronderos last May. The “Undertaker” has excellent boxing and a ground game to match, making him one of the top dark horse contenders in the 125-pound weight class.
This is an outstanding fight between two tenured members of the flyweight Top 15, and the winner should find themselves standing across the cage from an even bigger name with a higher ranking later in the year.
Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Denis Tiuliulin
After several false starts, DWCS grad Aliaskhab Khizriev finally makes his promotional debut this weekend, taking on fellow Russian and fellow newcomer Denis Tiuliulin.
Unbeaten in 13 professional appearances, Khizriev earned his contract on Season 4 with a first-round mauling of Henrique Shiguemoto, giving him four first-round finishes in his last five appearances. He had multiple fights fall through last year for various reasons and is on his second opponent here, so it will be interesting to see how “The Black Wolf” has dealt with the last 18 months of adversity when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday.
A pro since 2013, Tiuliulin has won four of his last five heading into this short-notice opportunity, most recently collecting a first-round stoppage win under the UAE Warriors banner. The 33-year-old is 10-5 overall for his career and gets a chance to make an instant impression on the biggest stage in the sport if he can upset Khizriev this weekend.
Luis Saldana vs. Bruno Souza
Featherweights Luis Saldana and Bruno Souza have been tasked with getting the action underway on Saturday.
Another member of the DWCS Class of ’20, Saldana edged out Jordan Griffin in his promotional debut last April, but landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in his sophomore effort opposite Austin Lingo four months later. The loss snapped a five-fight winning streak for the 31-year-old who looks to start a new run of success this weekend.
Souza was tagged in on short-notice to face Melsik Baghdasaryan last November and suffered a unanimous decision loss. The Lyoto Machida disciple had won 10 straight prior to dropping his debut, including a victory over current UFC competitor Kamuela Kirk, and should have a better performance in his sophomore appearance this weekend.
Both men are looking to avoid starting the year with a second straight loss, so expect each of them to come out aggressively when they hear the word “Go” this weekend.
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Daukaus took place on Saturday, March 26, 2022, live from a sold out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.