There is no rest for the wicked, and there are no breaks from wicked fights taking place inside the Octagon, either.
Saturday evening, business moves back to the UFC APEX for a card headlined by a re-booked lightweight battle between former champion Rafael Dos Anjos and rising star Rafael Fiziev. In addition to the title of “UFC’s Best Rafael” being up for grabs, the main event will add another layer to the ongoing discussions of how to pair fighters in the ultra-talented 155-pound ranks heading into the back half of the year.
A week after UFC 276, there are plenty of promising names poised to step into the Octagon, and a very real chance that some breakout moments take place.
Here’s a closer look at what’s on tap.
Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev
Initially slated to compete in mid-February, Rafael Dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev will finally share the cage this weekend in an intriguing five-round pairing that should tell us a great deal about where each man stands in the division at the moment.
Dos Anjos didn’t want to burn a lengthy training camp earlier this year when Fiziev was forced out, so he waited a couple weeks and stepped in opposite Renato Moicano at UFC 272, posting a unanimous decision win over his countryman. It was a second straight quality effort for the 37-year-old veteran since returning to the division he once ruled, and allowed him to shake off the rust from 16 months on the sidelines thanks to a couple injuries before stepping in opposite the streaking Fiziev.
After losing his promotional debut in 86 seconds, the 29-year-old Fiziev has posted five straight victories, really elevating his game over his last four outings. The Tiger Muay Thai and Sanford MMA representative also posted a win over Moicano during his current run of success, knocking him out in the first round at UFC 256, and followed it up with a decision win over Bobby Green and a third-round stoppage of Brad Riddell in his most recent outing.
This is a classic “Veteran vs. Prospect” battle and it’s going to be really interesting to see how it shakes out. Dos Anjos has a significant edge in experience, both in terms of the level of competition he’s faced and five-round fights, while Fiziev is eight years his junior, the superior athlete, and has looked like someone destined for contention.
Something has got to give this weekend, and determining what that is will be all kinds of fun to watch.
Caio Borralho vs. Armen Petrosyan
Caio Borralho and Armen Petrosyan clash in this meeting of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grads looking to bolt another win onto their resumes following victorious efforts in their promotional debuts.
Borralho logged a pair of wins last fall on the annual talent search series, earning a contract with his first-round finish in his second appearance. He was putting forth a tremendous effort against Gadzhi Omargadzhiev in April before hitting him with an illegal knee, prompting a premature end to the action, but he showed enough in that performance to get people interested in seeing what he can do for an encore here.
Petrosyan landed on the happy side of a split decision verdict in a bout with Gregory Rodrigues in February, a result that has aged nicely after “Robocop” went out and made quick work of Julian Marquez last month. The Armenian kickboxer is 7-1 in his mixed martial arts career and has won three straight heading into Saturday’s contest, where he looks to show he’s the top middleweight from last year’s DWCS graduating class.
Douglas Silva vs. Said Nurmagomedov
Douglas Silva and Said Nurmagomedov meet in his clash of talented bantamweights aiming to build on impressive showings earlier this year.
The Brazilian veteran Silva weathered a first-round storm against Sergey Morozov in February at UFC 271, rallying from nearly being finished to earn a second-round stoppage win over his own. It was a second straight win for the 37-year-old since returning to bantamweight, and he has gone 6-4 in his first 10 UFC appearances, with each of his setbacks coming against extremely talented foes.
Fighting for the first time in well over a year at UFC 270 in January, Nurmagomedov didn’t spend much time in the Octagon, racing across the cage and submitting Cody Stamann in 47 seconds. The 29-year-old Russian is now 5-1 in the UFC and 15-2 overall, and he stands as one of several ascending talents on the doorstep of the Top 15 in the ultra-competitive 135-pound weight class.
Silva is a non-stop berserker inside the cage, while Nurmagomedov offers a much more technical approach. Each is looking to secure a step up in competition as they look towards a potential third appearance in 2022, and a dominant performance from either man should earn them just that going forward.
Jared Vanderaa vs. Chase Sherman
Big boys sure to throw big shots meet in this main card pairing, as Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman collide in this clash between struggling heavyweights.
A member of the DWCS Class of ’20, Vanderaa has managed just a single victory through his first five UFC starts, heading into this one on a three-fight slide. There have been positive flashes, including a debatable split decision loss to Andrei Arlovski at UFC 271, but he needs to start turning those brief moments into more sustained success in order to secure his second UFC victory this weekend.
Sherman got called back to the Octagon in April after being released following a January loss to Jake Collier, filling in on short notice for Tanner Boser opposite Alexander Romanov, but things didn’t go so well. The 32-year-old Mississippi native was submitted in the first round, extending his losing streak to four and dropping his record on the big stage to 3-9 overall.
Both these guys desperately need a victory here and that should result in Vanderaa and Sherman coming out guns blazing and chasing each other down with a profound sense of urgency on Saturday night. The results haven’t been there for either man, but hopefully that urgency produces an entertaining main card tussle between the two of them.
Michael Johnson vs. Jamie Mullarkey
Veteran lightweights coming off very different results last time out cross paths in as Michael Johnson faces off with Australian Jamie Mullarkey.
Michael Johnson Stuns Alan Patrick In Round 2 | UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic
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Michael Johnson Stuns Alan Patrick In Round 2 | UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic
The 36-year-old Johnson secured an emotional second-round stoppage win over Alan Patrick in May, halting a four-fight slide. “The Menace” has faced a litany of top lightweights over the course of his career — and a smattering of quality featherweights, too — but had landed on the wrong side of the results more often than naught prior to his victory earlier this year, which really did have a throwback feel to it.
Mullarkey entered his first appearance of 2022 on a tidy two-fight run of success consisting of stoppage victories over Khama Worthy and Devonte Smith. Unfortunately, he ran into Jalin Turner at UFC 272 and “The Tarantula” did to him what he’s done to each his last five opponents now, stopping Mullarkey inside the distance.
Johnson has been prone to mid-fight mistakes in the past, but was extremely sharp and focused against Patrick in May, while Mullarkey simply ran into an ascending threat in March. Both should be approaching this contest as a chance to establish their footing in the ever-turbulent lightweight division, and should produce and entertaining scrap.
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Nina Nunes
Cynthia Calvillo and Nina Nunes share the Octagon in this clash of veteran competitors looking to get things moving in the right direction again.
The 34-year-old Calvillo debuted in the UFC flyweight division with a main event win over Jessica Eye in the summer of 2020, but it has been downhill ever since. Losses to top contenders Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Andrade followed before her corner essentially threw in the towel after the second round of her fight with Andrea Lee last November, leaving her on a three-fight slide heading into this one.
Nunes returned for the first time following the birth of her daughter on April 10, 2021, landing in a nightmare matchup against Mackenzie Dern that ended with the Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion snatching up an armbar late in the first round. Now Nunes moves up to flyweight for the first time in her UFC career, looking to snap a two-fight skid and earn the first victory for her family this month before her wife Amanda Nunes attempts to reclaim the bantamweight title on July 30 at UFC 277.
This is one of those bouts that is extremely difficult to diagnose, as each struggled in their latest appearances, but have also had substantial time since then to address any issues and get locked in with the hopes of getting back into the win column. Each woman is experienced and prideful, so we should be treated to a spirited affair between the two.
Aiemann Zahabi vs. Ricky Turcios
Aiemann Zahabi and TUF 29 winner Ricky Turcios share the cage in this compelling clash between bantamweight hopefuls looking to secure a second straight UFC victory.
Zahabi snapped a two-fight skid in impressive fashion last time out, stopping Drako Rodriguez in three minutes to secure a Performance of the Night bonus. Unfortunately for the 34-year-old French-Canadian, he’s been out of action since that February 2021 contest, and now looks to shake off the rust and get the ball rolling against when he takes on the TUF winner this weekend.
Turcios cobbled together three straight decision wins to emerging victorious in the bantamweight competition on the most recently completed season of The Ultimate Fighter. The 29-year-old is 11-2 overall and has shown a propensity for getting into grueling battles that entertain the masses.
Antonina Shevchenko vs. Cortney Casey
Antonina Shevchenko and Cortney Casey meet in this clash of veteran flyweights looking to affirm their standing as divisional stalwarts.
The elder Shevchenko has struggled to find the success her younger sister Valentina has enjoyed inside the Octagon, entering Saturday’s contest with a 3-4 record in the UFC and in the midst of a two-fight skid. She’s only lost to ranked opponents, but at age 37, with a wealth of combat sports experience in the rearview mirror, you have to start wondering if Father Time is beginning to catch up with Antonina.
Casey is in the running for being the best sub-.500 fighter in the UFC, entering her bout with Shevchenko sporting a 6-8 record in the UFC that includes a smattering of close decision losses that certainly could have gone the other way. After landing on the wrong side of another one of those verdicts to begin last year, the Arizona-based fighter closed out her 2021 campaign with a unanimous decision win over Liana Jojua.
This will be an interesting clash that should clarify not only where each woman stands within the 125-pound hierarchy, but also where they’re at in their respective careers. Each could greatly benefit from a dominant performance, while if either lands on the business end of that kind of showing, it may signal that their best days are behind them.
Cody Brundage vs. Tresean Gore
Middleweights arriving from different directions meet in Las Vegas on Saturday, as Cody Brundage looks to build on his first UFC victory, and Tresean Gore aims to rebound from his first career loss.
Brundage earned solid marks for a hard-fought, short-notice loss to Nick Maximov at UFC 266 last September before collecting a first-round submission win earlier this year against Dalcha Lungiambula. The former DWCS contestant has earned a finish in six of his seven career victories and enters this one buoyed by having his hand raised inside the Octagon last time out.
After advancing to the middleweight finals on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, a knee injury delayed Gore’s debut until February, where he faced off with the man he was supposed to meet in the finals, Bryan Battle. The 28-year-old got out-hustled, with Battle landing roughly twice as many significant strikes as Gore to claim the unanimous decision win and defend his position as the top middleweight from last season.
Brundage has shown some grit and toughness through his first two fights, while Gore remains someone with the raw materials to potentially develop into an impact talent down the line. Each man will be looking to make a statement in this one, and it would not be the least bit surprising if the judges were not needed.
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Karl Roberson
Light heavyweights and DWCS grads Kennedy Nzechukwu and Karl Roberson meet in a battle of fighters looking to move on from recent defeats and get things moving in the right direction again.
After losing his promotional debut in the final seconds to Paul Craig, Nzechukwu rattled off three straight wins, establishing himself as someone to keep tabs on in the 205-pound weight class. Since then, the Fortis MMA product has suffered consecutive losses, more recently dropping a split decision to Nicolae Negumereanu at UFC 272 in a fight where he was docked a point for repeated eye pokes.
Roberson arrives in Las Vegas looking for his first victory since a November 2019 win over Roman Kopylov in Moscow. Following back-to-back first-round submission losses to Marvin Vettori and Brendan Allen, he moved up to light heavyweight in March, where Khalil Rountree Jr. stopped him in the second round with a hellacious kick to the body.
Both guys need a victory in a major way, which should send each into the Octagon with a heightened sense of urgency. Neither has been too fond of going to the scorecards in their respective careers, and they most likely won’t be needed this weekend either given what is at stake and their individual track records.
Ronnie Lawrence vs. Saidyokub Kahkramonov
Ronnie Lawrence and Saidyokub Kahkramonov get things started in a clash between promising bantamweights looking to take another step forward in the ultra-competitive weight class.
Lawrence has posted two wins in as many starts since graduating to the UFC as a member of the DWCS Class of 2020. After securing a third-round finish over Vince Cachero in his debut, the Sanford MMA representative returned from a year on the sidelines to start quick against Mana Martinez before holding off the durable Texas native down the stretch at UFC 271.
The 26-year-old Kahkramonov turned in an impressive performance in his short-notice debut last August, flying from his native Uzbekistan to Las Vegas at the start of fight week before posting a third-round submission win over Trevin Jones. He was scheduled to return in January opposite veteran Brian Kelleher, but was scratched due to a positive COVID test, setting up this even more compelling pairing with Lawrence on Saturday.
The level of talent in the bantamweight ranks has never been higher and the number of emerging names pushing forward is astounding. Each of these men are a part of that field, and the winner of this one will take a major step forward within that group on Saturday.
UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs Fiziev, took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 9, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!