“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”
For the final time in 2022, combatants will make the walk to the Octagon, crossing the threshold into the caged proving ground in a quest for victory and the spoils that come with it.
Following an exciting night of action at UFC 282 that ended with a pair of hotly debated results, Saturday’s fight card at the UFC APEX should pick up right where things left off at T-Mobile Arena, as the card offers a combination of critical matchups across numerous divisions and a collection of all-action pairings that should provide fireworks.
It’s the final fight card of the year; here’s a closer look at the matchups.
Jared Cannonier vs. Sean Strickland
The men that lost to fighters involved in the most recent middleweight championship pairing share the Octagon in the last UFC bout of 2022, as Jared Cannonier takes on Sean Strickland in a rescheduled main event matchup.
Cannonier returns for the first time since coming up short in his bid to unseat Israel Adesanya from the middleweight throne in July. The loss halted the 38-year-old’s two-fight winning streak, and now “Tha Killa Gorilla” looks to close out the year with a victory that cements his position in the Top 5 in the division.
Prior to Cannonier losing to Adesanya, Strickland was knocked out by new champ Alex Pereira, which ended the Californian’s six-fight winning streak and overall unbeaten run in the 185-pound weight class. Like his opponent on Saturday, Strickland enters this one eager to end the year on a positive note and avoid the first two-fight skid of his career.
Originally scheduled to take place in mid-October, the bout was pushed back when Strickland suffered an infection in one of his fingers. While this should play out exclusively on the feet, it will be a clash of approaches, as Cannonier is the more diverse and more powerful striker, while Strickland favors a high-volume, highly technical approach.
In three of the last four years, the final contest on the UFC calendar has ended inside the distance. Will this one follow suit or will the judges be needed to determine the winner?
Arman Tsarukyan vs. Damir Ismagulov
Lightweight standouts Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov meet in this critical clash between ranked talents in the always competitive 155-pound weight class.
After extending his winning streak to five with a second-round stoppage win over Joel Alvarez in February, Tsarukyan paired off with Mateusz Gamrot in June, combining with the Polish contender to deliver one of the best fights of the year. The judges scored the bout for Gamrot, but many felt like Tsarukyan did enough to win, and his stock continued to rise despite the unfavorable result.
The 31-year-old Ismagulov enters on an incredible 19-fight winning streak, which includes victories in each of his first five UFC appearances. Ismagulov edged out Guram Kutateladze in his most recent effort and holds previous wins over the aforementioned Alvarez and Thiago Moises, and looks to secure a 20th consecutive victory in the biggest fight of his career.
Will Tsarukyan bounce back and maintain his place in the lightweight hierarchy or can Ismagulov continue his winning streak and catapult himself ahead of his opponent and potentially into the Top 10 on Saturday?
Amir Albazi vs. Alessandro Costa
It’s an interesting battle in the flyweight division as Top 10 fighter Amir Albazi welcomes Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) alum Alessandro Costa to the Octagon for the first time midway through Saturday’s main card.
Albazi returned to action after well over a year on the sidelines in August, securing a first-round submission win over Francisco Figueiredo to extend his record to 3-0 in the UFC and his winning streak to four. “The Prince” looked outstanding against Figueiredo and was originally expected to face someone stationed above him in the rankings, but after two opponents were forced to withdraw, he’ll now face Costa in his promotional debut instead.
“Nono” secured a split decision win in his DWCS appearance earlier this year, edging out Andres Luna Martinetti in the first fight of the season, and gets the call to the Octagon after returning to the Lux Fight League and registering a 12-second knockout win. The 26-year-old is 12-2 for his career and riding a seven-fight winning streak, but is diving straight into the deep end of the talent pool in this one.
The flyweight division should be a major topic of conversation in the early part of 2023 with the title on the line in Brazil. A big effort from Albazi would ensure he’s part of those discussions, while an upset win would put Costa on the radar as someone to watch going forward.
Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa
Alex Caceres and Julian Erosa meet in this clash of veteran featherweights that should be an all-action affair from the opening seconds.
Following a number of years of inconsistent results, Caceres entered 2022 on a five-fight winning streak, only to have that run halted by up-and-coming contender Sodiq Yusuff in March. Now 26 fights deep into his UFC career, the former Ultimate Fighter cast member will be focused on getting back to his successful ways to close out the year on Saturday.
Now in his third stint on the UFC roster, this one has easily been the best for the veteran Erosa, who enters his bout with Caceres on a three-fight winning streak. After beginning this latest stay on the roster with a 1-4 record inside the Octagon, “Juicy J” has won five of his last six to bring his record to 6-5 under the UFC banner and 28-9 overall.
Each of these men have been consistently involved in entertaining clashes throughout their careers independent of one another, and putting them together should only ensure that trend continues the weekend in Las Vegas.
Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green
Drew Dober goes in search of his third consecutive win, while Bobby Green looks to get things moving in the right direction again following a short-notice loss to the current champion last time out in this quality pairing between veteran lightweights.
Dober kicked off his 2022 campaign with a wild one-round battle with Terrance McKinney in March, and followed it up with a third-round stoppage win over Rafael Alves at UFC 277 in Dallas at the end of July. After suffering a pair of setbacks last year that knocked him out of the rankings, the 34-year-old Nebraska native is back knocking on the door of the of the Top 15 and could gain entry with another win this weekend.
Green wrapped up last year with a dynamic first-round stoppage win over Al Iaquinta at Madison Square Garden, and then built on that effort with a unanimous decision victory over Nasrat Haqparast three months later at UFC 271. Two weeks later, he stepped in for Beneil Dariush and was stopped by current champ Islam Makhachev, and now he looks to pull the same “finish strong” routine from last year in his matchup with Dober on Saturday.
This should be an entertaining, competitive affair, as both men prefer to keep things standing and put on a show for the crowd. While neither is currently ranked, Dober and Green remain essential members of the lightweight ecosystem, and the victor should remain in the mix for key matchups once their 2023 campaign gets underway.
Cody Brundage vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Middleweights angling for greater opportunities next year and beyond meet in the main card opener, as Cody Brundage takes on Michal Oleksiejczuk.
After giving a good accounting of himself in his short-notice debut loss at UFC 266, Brundage has responded with a pair of first-round stoppage victories in 2022. First, he clamped onto a guillotine choke against Dalcha Lungiambula in March before following that up by knocking out Tresean Gore with an overhand right the recent TUF alum never saw coming in July.
Oleksiejczuk made his first eight UFC appearances at light heavyweight, managing a 4-3 record with one no contest, but opted to relocate to the 185-pound ranks ahead of his last outing. The 27-year-old from Poland looked sharp in his middleweight debut, dispatching Sam Alvey in less than two minutes, and will look to build on that performance here.
Will Brundage continue his run of success and stoppages or will Oleksiejczuk collect another finish of his own?
Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Cory McKenna
The final preliminary card fight of the year takes place in the strawweight division, as Cheyanne Vlismas faces off with Cory McKenna in a battle of DWCS alums.
Vlismas dropped her promotional debut in March 2021 to Montserrat Conejo in a fight where she was largely controlled on the canvas, but rebounded with consecutive wins over Gloria de Paula and Mallory Martin after returning to Las Vegas last year. She’s been out of action since that December victory over Martin, having withdrawn from an August assignment opposite Tabatha Ricci, so it will be interesting to see how she looks after a little over a year on the sidelines.
Like Vlismas, McKenna is a member of the DWCS Class of 2020. She won her debut against Kay Hansen, spent more than a year on the sidelines healing some injuries and working on her game, and lost a close fight to Elise Reed in March before collecting a second-round submission win over Miranda Granger in August. Now the Wales native looks to finish the year by collecting a second straight victory over Vlismas.
Both women were forecasted to be potential impact additions to the 115-pound ranks when they earned their way onto the roster, and now they meet on Saturday night to determine which one will take another step towards meeting those expectations.
Jake Matthews vs. Matthew Semelsberger
Jake Matthews and Matthew Semelsberger square off in this meeting of welterweight hitters that could very well end with one of these men looking up at the lights.
Matthews ended a 15-month absence in impressive style at UFC 275, blowing out Andre Fialho to register his fourth win in five starts. The former TUF Nations cast member was all over the streaking Portuguese fighter, showcasing his athleticism and dynamic all-around offensive game.
Semelsberger earned a 16-second and a 15-second win while going 2-1 in 2021, and kicked off his 2022 campaign with a hard-fought decision win over AJ Fletcher in March. But he ran into the more experienced and polished Alex Morono at UFC 277, and now looks to get things moving in the right direction again in this clash with Matthews.
Despite having a vast edge in experience — both overall and in the UFC — Matthews is two years the junior of Semelsberger and still just now coming into his athletic prime. Can the Australian use those things to his advantage or will “Semi” secure the biggest win of his career this weekend?
Julian Marquez vs. Deron Winn
Middleweights Julian Marquez and Deron Winn face off in a matchup between two fighters looking to salvage a .500 record in 2022.
Following a strong comeback year in 2021, Marquez was on the wrong side of a one-sided contest in June, catching a loss at the hands of Gregory “Robocop” Rodrigues. The burly DWCS alum has earned each of his nine career wins inside the distance, and will surely be looking to continue that streak on Saturday against Winn.
Since winning his promotional debut to move to 6-0 overall, Winn has managed just one victory in his last four appearances to fall to 7-3 overall. He was defeated by Phil Hawes on that same June fight card in Austin, Texas, where Marquez lost to Rodrigues, and will be pressing to make sure he’s the one that rebounds this weekend.
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov
This should be an absolute banger in the bantamweight division on Saturday as Said Nurmagomedov takes on Saidyokub Kakhramonov.
Despite a 3-1 record inside the Octagon heading into the year, Nurmagomedov began 2022 a little under the radar in the bantamweight division, having last competed in October 2020. But consecutive victories over Cody Stamann and Douglas Silva de Andrade have extended his winning streak to three, his record to 16-2 overall, and earned the 30-year-old a place in the Top 15.
All Kakhramonov has done through two UFC starts is earned back-to-back impressive wins over Trevin Jones and Ronnie Lawrence to push his record to 10-2 overall. After scoring a third-round submission win over Jones in his short-notice debut, the Spokane-based bantamweight completely out-hustled the highly regarded Lawrence in July, usurping his standing as one to watch in the 135-pound weight class.
Rafa Garcia vs. Maheshate
Rafa Garcia and Maheshate face off in an intriguing matchup between lightweight fighters looking to make headway in the loaded division.
Garcia dropped his first two UFC appearances but drew level with back-to-back wins over Natan Levy and Jesse Ronson, the latter of which came by submission in April. He jumped at the chance to fill in for Diego Ferreira opposite Drakkar Klose at UFC 277 in July but landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in a bout that served as a reminder that experience can be a big factor inside the Octagon.
After dominating Battlefield Fight League lightweight champ Achilles Estremadura to earn a contract on Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series, Maheshate clocked Steve Garcia with a clean counter right to collect a first-round knockout win in his promotional debut at UFC 275 in June. Just 23 years old, the Chinese prospect has now won seven straight, and will look to make it back-to-back victories against Garcias on Saturday.
This should be an interesting stylistic battle, as Garcia will be giving up considerable height, but not much reach, against Maheshate, and may look to use his wrestling to neutralize the youngster’s obvious power on the feet. It should come down to who is able to dictate the terms of engagement, and watching that battle play out should be entertaining for as long as it lasts.
Bryan Battle vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov
After claiming victory in the middleweight competition on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter and dispatching the man he was original scheduled to face in the finale in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, Battle dropped to welterweight last time out and debuted with a bang, collecting a 44-second knockout win over Takashi Sato. Now 9-1 for his career, Battle remains a developing work-in-progress with intriguing upside in the 170-pound weight class.
The 31-year-old Fakhretdinov made his promotional debut in June, grinding out a unanimous decision win over Andreas Michailidis to extend his winning streak to 15 and counting. He promised a better showing next time out following his successful debut, so it will be interesting to see if the Russian “Gladiator” can make good on his promise this weekend.
Battle, who steps in for Michael Morales, will earn “the biggest win of his career” with each subsequent victory, while Fakhretdinov is aiming to expedite his climb up the divisional ladder by earning a second UFC victory this year. Both have upside, and now it’s just a matter of finding out which one is ready to take another step forward this weekend.
David Dvorak vs. Manel Kape
This is an outstanding matchup poised to hit the Octagon early in the day as Top 15 flyweights David Dvorak and Manel Kape meet in what should be an explosive contest between 125-pound talents.
Dvorak had his lengthy winning streak snapped earlier this year by Matheus Nicolau, who has since further cemented his standing as a legitimate contender in the flyweight division with his recent stoppage win over Matt Schnell. The Czech “Undertaker” is a well-rounded competitor who hadn’t lost in nearly a decade prior to his last outings, so you can be sure he has no interest in dropping two straight.
The flamboyant and confident Kape stumbled out of the gate upon arriving in the UFC, dropping consecutive decisions to Alexandre Pantoja and Nicolau in his first two outings. He’s subsequently responded with first-round finishes of Ode’ Osbourne and Zhalgas Zhumagulov to bring his record inside the Octagon to level, and now looks to force his way into the Top 10 with a third consecutive victory.
Sergey Morozov vs. Journey Newson
Bantamweights get the show underway this weekend, as Sergey Morozov takes on Journey Newson in what should be an entertaining opener.
The 33-year-old Morozov has alternated losses and wins through his first four UFC appearances, dropping fights against Umar Nurmagomedov and Douglas Silva de Andrade, while collecting victories over Khalid Taha and Raulian Paiva. The American Top Team representative is 18-5 overall and should have an advantage on the ground over Newson if he can get it there this weekend.
Consistency has eluded Newson through his first four UFC appearances, as well, as the 33-year-old enters with a 1-2 record with one no contest. But he earned that solitary victory last time out at UFC 274 by thoroughly outworking Fernie Garcia in his first bout in 18 months, so it will be curious to see if he can build on that momentum here.
Bantamweight remains the most competitive and consistently entertaining division in the UFC, and this should be an exciting way to kick off the final card of 2022.
UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs Strickland took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on December 17, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!