ROB FONT VS. CODY GARBRANDT
The bantamweight division might be the most intriguing, competitive weight class in the UFC at the moment and Saturday’s action comes to a close with a barnburner in the 135-pound ranks as Top 5 contender Rob Font goes head-to-head with former champ Cody Garbrandt.
It’s been a steady climb into contention for the 33-year-old Font, who enters this weekend’s main event on a three-fight winning streak. A member of the New England Cartel alongside featherweight standout Calvin Kattar, Font returned following more than a year on the sidelines to register the biggest win of his career last December, collecting a first-round stoppage win over former title challenger Marlon Moraes on the final fight card of 2021.
Garbrandt snapped a three-fight skid in his last appearance in the Octagon, collecting a walk-off knockout win over Raphael Assuncao at the close of the second round in their clash at UFC 250. “No Love” brings an aggressive style and powerful striking into the cage with him every time out, and he has supplemented his usual training at Team Alpha Male by working with striking coach Mark Henry out in New Jersey.
While things at the top of the division are in a bit of a holding pattern as champ Aljamain Sterling recovers from neck surgery and top contenders Cory Sandhagen and TJ Dillashaw wait to get rescheduled, the winner of this weekend’s headlining clash will certainly be in the mix in the title picture heading into the second half of the year.
This one should be fireworks from the jump and thrilling for as long as it lasts.
YAN XIAONAN VS. CARLA ESPARZA
Just a few weeks after Rose Namajunas returned to the throne in the strawweight division, the two-time champ’s first challenger could be determined as surging contenders Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza meet in this weekend’s crucial co-main event.
Over the course of six fights, Yan has quietly marched her way into title contention, stringing together unanimous decision wins over the likes of Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha to extende her overall unbeaten streak to 12 and put herself in the thick of the chase in the 115-pound weight class. Constant pressure and a relentless pace have been the hallmarks of the 31-year-old’s ascent and make her a handful for anyone that shares the Octagon with her.
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Esparza was the first woman to wear the UFC strawweight title and has been trying to get back to the belt for the last five years. Sporting a 7-3 record since losing the title, the veteran grappler enters Saturday’s contest on a four-fight winning streak, having earned consecutive split decision victories over recent headliners Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez in 2020.
While there are no guarantees that a title shot will be next for the winner, each would be able to make a strong case for a championship opportunity by adding another win to their current streaks while simultaneously turning back another Top 5 contender. Where this fight takes place will be a key factor in how it plays out, and the battle to determine the terms of engagement combined with the championship implications make it a must-see matchup this weekend.
JUSTIN TAFA VS. JARED VANDERAA
Heavyweight hands will be thrown here as Justin Tafa and Jared Vanderaa each make their second appearance of 2021 looking to rebound from a loss last time out.
Just six fights into his professional career, Australia’s Tafa registered his first UFC victory in his lone appearance last year, dispatching Juan Adams in two minutes at UFC 247 in February. He returned earlier this year on ABC, losing a split decision to Carlos Felipe that dropped his record to 4-2 overall and 1-2 inside the Octagon.
After mauling Harry Hunsucker in three-and-a-half minutes on the Contender Series in November to earn his UFC contract, Vanderaa was on the wrong side of the onslaught in his promotional debut in February, suffering a second-round stoppage loss to Serghei Spivac. Now the 28-year-old Team Quest representative looks to bounce back in his sophomore showing in hopes of avoiding a two-fight skid to start his UFC tenure.
This one will not go the distance, as these two have earned all but one of their 15 combined victories by stoppage, and each enter this main card showcase with something to prove.
FELICIA SPENCER VS. NORMA DUMONT
Talented featherweights Felicia Spencer and Norma Dumont square off in this intriguing short-notice pairing in the 145-pound weight class.
Spencer returns for the first time since coming up short in her bid to unseat Amanda Nunes from atop the division last summer at UFC 250. The “Feenom” turned in another gutsy effort in defeat, going the distance with the fearsome champion much like she did in her clash with Cris Cyborg a year earlier.
A pair of failed weight cuts in as many bantamweight opportunities has Dumont returning to the featherweight division, where she lost her promotional debut to Megan Anderson. Filling in on short notice for newcomer Danyelle Wolf, this is an opportunity for the Brazilian to chart a new course for herself in the UFC if she’s able to step in and defeat the recent title challenger Spencer on Saturday.
RICARDO RAMOS VS. BILL ALGEO
Featherweights Ricardo Ramos and Bill Algeo clash in this sneaky-good matchup that carries Fight of the Night potential.
Ramos relocated to the 145-pound weight class towards the end of 2019, earning a first-round submission win over Eduardo Garagorri in his divisional debut. Last summer on Fight Island, the Brazilian ran into unbeaten British upstart Lerone Murphy, and after having his bout with Zubaira Tukhugov scratched earlier this year, the 25-year-old is champing at the bit to get back into the Octagon and back into the win column this weekend.
A fixture on the East Coast regional circuit, Algeo finally got the call to the Octagon last summer, filling in on short notice opposite Ricardo Lamas in the former title challenger’s retirement fight in August. Two months later, “Senor Perfecto” outworked Spike Carlyle over the course of three rounds to sweep the scorecards and collect his first UFC victory.
JACK HERMANSSON VS. EDMEN SHAHBAZYAN
Recent middleweight headliners looking to get back to their winning ways meet here as Jack “The Joker” Hermansson takes on “The Golden Boy,” Edmen Shahbazyan.
Hermansson emerged as a new name in the championship picture on the strength of a four-fight winning streak featuring a trio of stoppage victories and a lopsided decision win over Souza in the April 2019. A loss to Jared Cannonier set him back a step, but a quick submission win over Kelvin Gastelum moved him right back into the mix before he landed on the wrong side of the results against hard-charging impending title challenger Marvin Vettori last time out.
Shahbazyan literally punched his ticket to the UFC with a 40-second TKO victory over Antonio Jones on Season 2 of the Contender Series before rattling off four straight victories to begin his time on the roster. After making quick work of Charles Byrd, Jack Marshman, and Brad Tavares, the Glendale Fighting Club product lined up across from Derek Brunson last summer and was handed his first loss as a professional.
There has been a ton of activity in the middleweight division through the first four months of 2021 with even more already on tap for the summer, making this a vitally important fight for each man if they want to remain in the title picture.
BEN ROTHWELL VS. CHRIS BARNETT
It’s a clash of experienced heavyweights on Saturday’s preliminary card as Ben Rothwell squares off against Chris Barnett.
A true veteran of the sport with more than 50 professional appearances to his name, Rothwell split a pair of fights in 2020, edging out Ovince Saint Preux in May before dropping a decision to Marcin Tybura in October. The 39-year-old “King of Kenosha” has a crafty submission game, a funky style, and a granite chin, making him a tough out for anyone that shares the Octagon with him.
The 34-year-old Barnett has been a regional fan favorite for quite some time and has shared the cage with a host of fighters with UFC ties, including handing Walt Harris the first loss of his career way back in 2011. “Beastboy” is unbeaten in his last six MMA contests and brings his own unique style into this matchup with Rothwell, brandishing the power you’d expect from most heavyweights, but also much more athleticism and better conditioning than one would anticipate from a man of his stature.
This has the potential to be a riveting, chaotic affair, so you won’t want to miss it.
COURT MCGEE VS. CLAUDIO SILVA
Veteran welterweights looking to get back in the win column meet here as former TUF winner Court McGee takes on Claudio “Hannibal” Silva this weekend.
McGee enters on the longest losing streak of his career, having dropped three straight and five of his last six. “The Crusher” has built a career off being a tireless worker and tough assignment for whoever is stationed across from him in the Octagon, but with only three wins in his last nine appearances, the 36-year-old needs a quicker start and a more complete performance this weekend in order to have his hand raised for the first time since October 2018.
Heading into his last appearance, Silva was the owner of one of the longest, most unique winning streaks in the division, having earned five straight victories stretched out over a seven-year period that included a win over Leon Edwards. James Krause halted his run of success last October, and now the Brazilian looks to start another winning streak on Saturday.
BRUNO SILVA VS. VICTOR RODRIGUEZ
Bruno Silva looks to build off his impressive showing earlier this year as he steps up on short notice to face Victor Rodriguez in this preliminary card pairing.
The 31-year-old “Bulldog” earned his first UFC win and a Performance of the Night bonus back in March for his second-round stoppage victory over JP Buys. Having recently inked a new contract, the Fight Ready MMA representative is aiming to show his last effort was more representative of what he brings to the table and secure a second consecutive victory before the midway point of the year when he makes the walk again this weekend.
Rodriguez made his promotional debut last Halloween in a short-notice assignment against rising bantamweight star Adrian Yanez. Now he drops down to the flyweight division with a chance to make an immediate impact and designs on recapturing the form that propelled him to four straight victories prior to his UFC debut.
DAVID DVORAK VS. JUANCAMILO RONDEROS
Flyweights looking to advance in the title chase collide here as David Dvorak puts his lengthy winning streak on the line against talented last second replacement Juancamilo Ronderos.
Dvorak registered unanimous decision wins over Bruno Silva and Jordan Espinosa in 2020 to announce his presence as someone to watch in the 125-pound weight class and push his winning streak to 15. The 28-year-old Czech standout had earned 10 consecutive finishes before arriving in the UFC last year, and if he can secure a stoppage this weekend, he should elevate his standing in the flyweight division heading into the second half of the year.
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Just before official weigh-ins it was announced that Ronderos would replaced Raulian Paiva. Colombia's Ronderos (4-0) fights out of Las Vegas' own Xtreme Couture and has an immediate chance to catapult himself into the mix at flyweight with a win over the highly touted Dvorak.
Things are wide open in the flyweight division at the moment, with contenders jockeying for position as everyone awaits the championship rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno next month. A strong showing from either man here could move them into the Top 10, where an even more established opponent would await.
JOSH CULIBAO VS. SHAYILAN
Australian Josh Culibao welcomes China’s Shayilan to the Octagon for the first time in this featherweight matchup.
After beginning his career with seven consecutive victories, Culibao suffered a stoppage loss to Jalin Turner in his promotional debut last February, and then battled Charles Jourdain to a draw seven months later. The 26-year-old from Sydney will look to parlay his edge in UFC experience and familiarity in the Octagon into his first UFC victory this weekend.
Shayilan arrives in the UFC on a two-fight winning streak and having earned victories in seven of his last eight appearances. He fought six times in 2020, posting five victories, and has logged 21 appearances over the last four years, including a staggering 10 fights in 2017, giving him considerably more experience and cage time than a typical newcomer.
YANCY MEDEIROS VS. DAMIR HADZOVIC
Veteran lightweights with a penchant for putting on exciting fights share the Octagon on Saturday as Yancy Medeiros and Damir Hadzovic make their first appearances of 2021.
Hawaii’s Medeiros has competed once in each of the last three years, landing on the wrong side of the results in matchups with Donald Cerrone, Gregor Gillespie, and Lando Vannata dating back to 2018. The 33-year-old is an all-action fighter with wins over John Makdessi and Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira under his belt, and he should be locked in and ready to let fly from the outset this weekend.
Like his opponent on Saturday, Hadzovic enters this weekend’s contest looking to halt a losing streak, having dropped consecutive bouts to Christos Giagos and Renato Moicano. He is ultra-tough and dangerous at all times, which makes him a tricky opponent to prepare for and a perfect dance partner for Medeiros on Saturday evening in Las Vegas.
RAFAEL ALVES VS. DAMIR ISMAGULOV
Contender Series alum Rafael Alves squares off with the returning Damir Ismagulov in this intriguing early lightweight pairing.
Alves secured a UFC contract with a second-round submission win over Alejandro Flores last summer on the Contender Series, while pushing his winning streak to five. Initially slated to debut in February, the former Titan FC featherweight champ missed weight for his 145-pound matchup with Pat Sabatini by a considerable margin, and now moves up a division in order to make the walk to the Octagon for the first time.
Sidelined for nearly two years due to back-to-back injuries, Ismagulov looks to get back into the thick of the lightweight chase as he puts his 17-fight winning streak on the line against Alves. Already 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Joel Alvarez and Thiago Moises, the 30-year-old Ismagulov is a dark horse to track in the 155-pound weight class going forward, provided he can stay healthy.