As we finally kick off fight week, I'm happy to say welcome to the first Fight Night event of 2022!
Writing that year out still feels weird and makes me feel incredibly old, given that I vividly remember the turn of the century and all the Y2K panic, but it also makes me tremendously excited because after an outstanding year of action inside the Octagon in 2021 and a couple weeks off to reset, it’s time to kick off this year’s UFC campaign and I have a feel it’s going to be special.
Just like last year, the first event of this year is headlined by a highly anticipated featherweight clash and supported by a number of compelling, competitive matchups that should help set the course for various divisions once the schedule really gets rolling.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap this weekend in Las Vegas.
CALVIN KATTAR VS GIGA CHIKADZE
Calvin Kattar looks to affirm his standing as a Top 5 featherweight as he steps in for his second consecutive “Opening Night” main event against ascending hopeful Giga Chikadze.
The New England Cartel member fought just once in 2021, landing on the wrong side of the results in a slobberknocker with Max Holloway to kick off the year on Fight Island. He’s now gone “two wins, one loss” through his first nine UFC appearances, and would like nothing more than to keep that pattern in place when he makes his third straight main event appearance opposite Chikadze on Saturday.
After posting four victories in as many appearances to run his UFC record to 5-0 in 2020, the 33-year-old Georgian kickboxer established himself as an emerging contender in 2021, posting back-to-back stoppage wins over Cub Swans/athlete/brandon-royvalon and Edson Barboza. Chikadze is a lethal striker with a wide array of punishing kicks, and really seems to be coming into his own as a mixed martial artist.
This is a critical matchup for both men, as Kattar wants no part of starting off each of the last two years with main event setbacks and falling out of the Top 5, while Chikadze is bent on proving he deserves to fight for the title this year. How the durable and battle-hardened Kattar approaches the contest should have a major impact on how it plays out, and if it goes how most envision, it should be an entertaining tussle to close out the first fight card of 2022 in the UFC.
KATLYN CHOOKAGIAN VS JENNIFER MAIA
Veteran contenders and vanquished title challengers Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia renew acquaintances in the first women’s flyweight fight of the year.
Chookagian remains a steady talent and persistent presence in the upper reaches of the 125-pound weight class, having followed up her late 2020 win over Cynthia Calvillo with a similarly successful appearance against Viviane Araujo at UFC 262 in May. The 33-year-old veteran knows who she is as a fighter, sticks to what works, and has only lost to the current champion and No. 1 contender over the last three years.
Maia won a round from Valentina Shevchenko in their championship tilt at UFC 255, but she lost the fight decisively, nonetheless. She rebounded with a quality effort opposite Jessica Eye at UFC 264 in July, taking it to her fellow former title challenger as blood from a second-round clash of heads painted Eye’s face red.
Chookagian got the better of things in their first encounter at UFC 244, earning 29-28 scores across the board, winning the first and second round on all three scorecards before Maia, who missed weight ahead of the contest, rallied to win the third. The Brazilian will need to work her way inside and corral Chookagian if she hopes to draw level, but you can be sure “Blonde Fighter” will do her best to prevent that from happening.
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BRANDON ROYVAL VS ROGERIO BONTORIN
Ranked flyweights looking to get things moving in the right direction again clash in this main card matchup as Brandon Royval takes on with Rogerio Bontorin.
After earning submission wins over Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France to begin his UFC career, Royval suffered a shoulder injury and first-round stoppage loss to current champ Brandon Moreno to close out his rookie campaign. When he returned to action last summer, he was submitted by Brazilian contender Alexandre Pantoja, sending him into this one on the first two-fight skid of his career.
While Bontorin earned a victory last time out, that fight took place at bantamweight, and the Brazilian missed weight for the contest. Earlier in the year, he controlled the opening four-and-a-half minutes of his fight with Kara-France, spending most of that time on his opponent’s back searching for a choke, only to have the New Zealander shake free and collect a stoppage win in the waning seconds of the first round.
The flyweight division continues to grow and develop with each passing month, and these two are very much in the thick of the chase, despite their recent results. With opportunities to move forward and key opportunities likely available later this year, we should see the absolute best out of both men this weekend.
JAKE COLLIER VS CHASE SHERMAN
Big boys that throw big hands look to get 2022 started in a big way as Jake Collier and Chase Sherman collide in this heavyweight slobberknocker.
Collier returned to the UFC after nearly three years away in 2020, showing up at heavyweight and going 1-1 before landing on the unhappy side of a questionable split decision loss to Carlos Felipe in his lone appearance last year. The 33-year-old Missouri native is a tough out and has looked better each time out following his extended hiatus, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with an early start to his 2022 campaign.
Sherman also re-emerged in the UFC in 2020, posting a victory over Ike Villanueva before dropping consecutive decisions to Andrei Arlovski and Parker Porter in 2021. The 32-year-old Mississippi native is a good athlete with more fluidity than many of his heavyweight counterparts but needs to ensure he keeps moving and mixes things up more in order to find success again this year and beyond.
BILL ALGEO VS JOANDERSON BRITO
Former Ring of Combat featherweight champ and Dana White Contender Series alum Bill Algeo welcomes DWCS Season 5 contract winner Joanderson Brito to the UFC for the first time this weekend in this featherweight fight.
After impressing in his short-notice UFC debut opposite former title contender Ricardo Lamas, Algeo earned his first victory in the Octagon towards the end of 2020, out-hustling Spike Carlyle to sweep the scorecards. His April bout with Ricardo Ramos was pulled during fight week and rescheduled to May, where Algeo landed on the wrong side of the results in a battle that was much closer than the two 30-27 scores in the Brazilian’s favor may otherwise indicate.
Brito began his career by losing two of his first three fights, but he’s undefeated since, posting an 11-0-1 record over his last dozen appearances and having won 10 straight heading into his debut on Saturday. The 26-year-old secured a technical decision win over Diego Lopes in August to secure his contract and has earned stoppages in nine of his last 11 victories.
Algeo is an experienced, well-rounded veteran who should serve as a good initial litmus test for Brito, who fought solid competition throughout his march to the Octagon but remains untested at this level. Expect a bout that offers a little of everything and leaves you coming away with a better understanding of where each man fits in the featherweight ranks going forward.
JAMIE PICKETT VS JOSEPH HOLMES
Middleweights with ties to Dana White’s Contender Series meet in this short notice pairing as Jamie Pickett welcomes Joseph Holmes to the Octagon for the first time.
It took Pickett three tries to get it right on the annual talent search series, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that “The Night Wolf” needed to stumble a couple times before finally securing his first UFC victory last time out. The 33-year-old has solid power and good speed but needs to trust his reads and be more active in order to potentially have prolonged success.
Across the cage, “Uglyman Joe” (great nickname) earned back-to-back stoppages in front of the UFC President to close out his 2021 campaign, defeating Shonte Barnes at the UFC APEX before felling Jhonoven Pati at Fury FC 53 with the Lookin’ for a Fight crew in attendance. Now 7-1 for his career, the tall, lanky 26-year-old is an intriguing new addition to the middleweight fold.
Victories over Pati propelled each man into the UFC, and now they face each other to see which one will take a step forward in the wide open 185-pound weight class to start the year.
COURT MCGEE VS RAMIZ BRAHIMAJ
The Ultimate Fighter Season 11 winner Court McGee looks to earn consecutive victories for the first time since winning his first two bouts at welterweight when he steps in this weekend against talented Fortis MMA product Ramiz Brahimaj.
One of two fighters from the middleweight competition on Season 11 remaining on the active roster, McGee has had mixed results since relocating to welterweight. While he’s continued to be an indefatigable grinder who draws the best out of his competition, “The Crusher” is 6-7 in the welterweight ranks after snapping a three-fight skid last time out with a gritty decision win over Claudio Silva.
After an injury-induced loss to Max Griffin, Brahimaj got stitched up, recovered, and returned to his winning ways in August, securing a first-round submission win over Sasha Palatnikov. A member of the United States Army for eight years, Brahimaj is now one of a number of intriguing emerging competitors representing the Dallas MMA outpost helmed by “The General” Sayif Saud.
GABRIEL BENITEZ VS TJ BROWN
Gabriel Benitez looks to get back into the win column following a Fight of the Night-winning scrap in his only appearance last year, while TJ Brown aims to keep things trending in the right direction in this featherweight clash.
A fixture in the 145-pound weight class for the past seven years, the 33-year-old Benitez has struggled to find consistent success over the last couple of years, entering Saturday’s event with just one victory in his last four appearances. He scored an impressive stoppage win over Justin Jaynes towards the end of 2020 but missed weight for his first assignment of last year before getting stopped by Billy Quarantillo in the third-round of their competitive battle in July.
Brown graduated from the third season of Dana White’s Contender Series, earning his contract with a third-round submission finish that pushed his winning streak to four. He dropped each of his first two UFC assignments, but finally cracked the win column with a debated split decision triumph over Kai Kamaka in May.
DAKOTA BUSH VS VIACHESLAV BORSHCHEV
Elite camps are represented on both sides of this lightweight battle as Dakota Bush takes on Viacheslav Borshcev.
Fighting out of Glory MMA & Fitness, Bush debuted on short notice in April, landing on the wrong side of the results against Austin Hubbard. He’d won four of five ahead of that one, and after being forced out of a September assignment, the 27-year-old is likely chomping at the bit to get back in there and potentially chase down his first UFC win.
Though he’s just six fights into his pro career, Team Alpha Male’s Borshchev is an intriguing new addition to the 155-pound ranks, having earned three straight stoppage wins and punched his ticket to the UFC with a vicious knockout of previously undefeated Scotsman Chris Duncan. With both boxing and kickboxing experience in the past, “Slava Claus” is one of the more technical and polished new strikers to join the UFC ranks through the Dana White’s Contender Series and should look to put that on display here.
It’s not impossible to overcome early struggles indie the Octagon — Rafael Dos Anjos lost his first two fights and went on to win lightweight gold — but neither Bush nor Borshchev are entering this one entertaining thoughts of rebuilding following a setback. Expect a spirited back-and-forth right out of the chute as each man looks to find a way to stand out in the stacked 155-pound weight class.
BRIAN KELLEHER VS SAIDYOKUB KAKHRAMONOV
Bantamweights coming off quality efforts meet early in the evening as veteran Brian Kelleher faces promotional sophomore Saidyokub Kakhramonov on Saturday.
“Boom” moved up to featherweight for a handful of fights through the first stretch of “The COVID Era,” but returned to the 135-pound ranks and the win column in August, outworking Domingo Pilarte to earn a unanimous decision win. Always entertaining and possessing solid finishing instincts, the 35-year-old Kelleher has been up and down through his 12-fight UFC run but will look to build some consistency with a second consecutive victory this weekend.
Kakhramonov tagged in to face Trevin Jones at the outset of Fight Week last August, then weathered the Guam resident’s early barrage before securing a third-round submission finish. It was one of the more underrated outstanding debuts in a year full of outstanding debuts, and now the 26-year-old hopes to showcase his full complement of skills with a full training camp under his belt ahead of Saturday’s clash with Kelleher.
SILVANA JUAREZ VS VANESSA DEMOPOULOS
Strawweights looking to rebound following disappointing results in their respective debuts meet in the first fight of 2022 as Silvana Juarez squares off with Vanessa Demopoulos.
The 37-year-old Argentine Juarez, who trains out of the Entram Gym in Tijuana, suffered a first-round submission loss to Loopy Godinez in early October, prior to her scheduled appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series. Before that setback, “La Malvada” had earned four straight victories and 10 wins in her first 12 starts.
A fixture for Legacy Fighting Alliance, Demopoulos has not been able to replicate her success there in a pair of appearances in Las Vegas, coming up short in her DWCS date with Cory McKenna in 2020 and again in August when she filled in for Tracy Cortez opposite JJ Aldrich. The 33-year-old grappler should be buoyed by the success her former opponent Godinez had against Juarez and could really use a victory as she enters her sophomore appearance.