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 Derrick Lewis celebrates after defeating Travis Browne in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Scotiabank Centre on February 19, 2017 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus

The Final Fight Night Of 2021 Is Packed With Intriguing Matchups. Let's Break It Down.

For the final time in 2021, the UFC APEX plays host to a Fight Night event on Saturday, with a collection of fighters eager to end the year on a high note.

Headlined by heavyweight knockout artists Derrick Lewis and Chris Daukaus and accompanied by a host of compelling, competitive matchups with divisional ramifications, this weekend’s lineup is an entertaining way to wrap up what has been an outstanding year of action inside the Octagon.

Here’s a closer look at the pairings set to hit the cage on Saturday night.

 

Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus

Derrick Lewis looks to maintain his place in the Top 5 while Chris Daukaus aims to establish himself as a legitimate championship contender as the proven finishers pair off in the final bout of the UFC’s 2021 campaign.

Saturday marks Lewis’ return to action after failing in his bid to claim the interim heavyweight title at home in Houston at UFC 265. “The Black Beast” had earned four straight victories ahead of that setback and is 12-4 dating back to the start of 2016.

ATHLETE PROFILES: Derrick Lewis | Chris Daukaus

Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis
Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis
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Daukaus has the opportunity to go from outside the UFC to inside the Top 5 in less than 18 months with a win this weekend. The former Philadelphia police officer has logged four stoppage wins in as many appearances since joining the UFC in August 2020, earning Performance of the Night bonuses for each of his last three victories.

Next year promises to be a busy one in the heavyweight ranks, with the championship unification bout between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane slated to take place in late January, with this one serving as a little “teaser trailer” for what’s to come. The victor will be in the thick of the title hunt and the vanquished will still maintain a place in the Top 10, and figuring out who will occupy each role promises to be exhilarating.

Stephen Thompson vs. Belal Muhammad

Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson poses for a picture during UFC 264 media day (photo by Braydon Jackson/Zuffa LLC)
Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson poses for a picture during UFC 264 media day (Photo by Braydon Jackson/Zuffa LLC)

Good dudes and Top 10 welterweights Stephen Thompson and Belal Muhammad clash in the co-main event of the evening.

After closing out 2020 with a main event victory over Geoff Neal, “Wonderboy” looks to end 2021 on a high note as well by getting back into the win column this weekend. The 38-year-old karate stylist was out-grappled by Gilbert Burns last time out, but remains a permanent presence in title conversations in the 170-pound weight class.

Watch The Fights On ESPN+

2021 has already been a breakout year for Muhammad, who climbed into the Top 10 on the strength of victories over Dhiego Lima and Demian Maia, and a high-profile pairing with Leon Edwards that ended with an accidental eye poke. Unbeaten in his last six outings, a win over Thompson would be the biggest of the Chicagoland native’s career and lift him to new heights in the welterweight division.

Amanda Lemos vs. Angela Hill

Amanda Lemos of Brazil reacts after her victory over Montserrat Conejo of Mexico in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Amanda Lemos of Brazil reacts after her victory over Montserrat Conejo of Mexico in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Streaking Brazilian Amanda Lemos looks for her third win of the year, while Angela Hill aims to halt her momentum by getting back in the win column in this matchup of Top 15 strawweights.

Lemos is now 4-0 since moving to the strawweight division, but has used 2021 to catapult herself into the rankings. After battering Livinha Souza in March at UFC 259, the 34-year-old delivered one of the prettier finishes of the year in July, hitting Montserrat Conejo with a step-back right hand that stopped her dead in her tracks.

HIGHLIGHT: Lemos Gets The 2nd Fastest KO In Strawweight History

Entering the year off a pair of frustrating split decision losses, Hill got back in the win column in March with a unanimous decision win over Ashley Yoder. Five months later, she finally landed the Tecia Torres rematch she’d been chasing for some time, only to once again drop a decision to her fellow TUF 20 alum, leaving her with a 1-3 record over her last four heading into this one.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Ricky Simon

Chris Daukaus Sits Down With Megan Olivi | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus
Chris Daukaus Sits Down With Megan Olivi | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus
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Veteran stalwart Raphael Assuncao and former Contender Series competitor Ricky Simon square off in a meeting of bantamweights.

Assuncao arrives back in Las Vegas mired in the first three-fight losing streak of his career, having suffered consecutive defeats in marquee assignments opposite Marlon Moraes, Cory Sandhagen, and Cody Garbrandt. The 39-year-old has been a permanent presence in the Top 15 for nearly a decade and remains the dangerous veteran test hopefuls need to pass in order to land a spot in the rankings and take a big step forward in the talent-rich 135-pound weight class.

Simon touches down at the APEX on a three-fight winning streak, building on his win over Ray Borg from last year with victories over Gaetano Pirrello and Brian Kelleher at the start of this year. The former LFA champ is 6-2 inside the Octagon, but stumbled the last time he faced a test like this, so it will be interesting to see what that initial experience taught him and how he applies those lessons here.

Bantamweight is absolutely brimming with talent at the moment and competition for the 15 spots in the rankings is rugged, with each of these men focused on having a number next to their name as we head into 2021.

Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Gamrot

Diego Ferreira hopes to halt a two-fight skid and secure his footing in the Top 15, while Mateusz Gamrot aims to close out an already impressive 2021 campaign with a third straight victory as these two meet in a compelling lightweight battle on Saturday’s main card.

Fortis MMA’s Ferreira entered the year on a six-fight winning streak before landing on the sour side of a split decision verdict in a rematch with Beneil Dariush that won Fight of the Night honors in February. While that setback wasn’t so bad, his follow-up effort in May stood out for all the wrong reasons, as the veteran missed weight by a considerable margin before fading hard and being finished by Gregor Gillespie in the second round.

After dropping a split decision to Guram Kutateladze in his promotional debut last fall on Fight Island, Poland’s Gamrot got things moving in the right direction again with a beautiful second-round knockout win over Scott Holtzman in April. As an encore, the former two-weight KSW world champion welcomed Jeremy Stephens back to the lightweight ranks in July, submitting the veteran in just 65 seconds to earn his 19th victory in 21 career starts.

This is a tremendous matchup where each man has an opportunity to make a statement with a victory. Everything about Ferreira’s fight with Gillespie feels like an outlier compared to what he’s shown in the past, while Gamrot returned to the form that made him such a highly regarded new arrival when he first debuted with the UFC last year, setting the stage for this critical showdown in the stacked 155-pound weight class.

Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins

Cub Swanson punches Kron Gracie of Brazil in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Cub Swanson punches Kron Gracie in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Featherweight veterans with a combined 44 UFC appearances finally cross paths on Saturday night as Cub Swanson and Darren Elkins share the Octagon in what is guaranteed to be an entertaining scrap.

“Killer Cub” steps into the UFC cage for the 21st time this weekend looking to rebound following a first-round stoppage loss to Giga Chikadze earlier in the year. A long-time purveyor of beautiful violence, the 38-year-old earned a victory over Daniel Pineda last December and closed out 2016 with a victory over Dooho Choi in the eventual Fight of the Year, and will look to earn a similar result against Elkins this weekend.

RELATED: Cub Swanson Career Retrospective

There are no words to accurately describe the kind of toughness, heart, and drive Elkins possesses; they are intangible qualities that are at the core of what makes the veteran such an undeniable fan favorite. In each of his last two fights, Elkins did what Elkins does, rallying while bloodied to earn stoppage wins over Eduardo Garagorri and Darrick Minner.

It’s surprising these two haven’t crossed paths before, given their shared standing as two of the longer tenured fighters in the division. Both men are incapable of being in a boring fight and Saturday’s clash should be no different. Make sure your drinks and snacks are replenished before this one starts because you’re not going to want to miss a second of the action.

Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Gerald Meerschaert

It’s a meeting of middleweights whose intended opponents were unavailable as Contender Series graduate Dustin Stoltzfus takes on submission ace Gerald Meerschaert on Saturday night.

Entering on a two-fight skid, Stoltzfus had two different opponents fall out of this weekend’s booking, as both Anthony Hernandez and Caio Borralho were slated and then scratched from Saturday’s fight card. The 30-year-old middleweight, who lives and trains in Germany, is still searching for his first UFC victory after punching his ticket to the Octagon by pushing his winning streak to 10 with a win over Joseph Pyfer in the summer of 2020.

Meerschaert has enjoyed a nice bounce-back year after ending 2020 with a pair of quick losses, earning submission wins over Bartosz Fabinski and Makmud Muradov in April and August, respectively, collecting a Performance of the Night bonus each time. It’s been more than eight years since Meerschaert won a fight by decision and only two of his 33 career wins have come on the cards, so you best believe “GM3” will be hunting for a finish from the word “Go” on Saturday night.

Will Stoltzfus get his first UFC victory in his third appearance, against his third opponent or will Meerschaert make it three straight in 2021?

Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker

Heavyweights looking to get things moving in the right direction to close out the year clash in this preliminary card fight as Justin Tafa makes his fifth UFC appearance opposite returning sophomore Harry Hunsucker.

The 27-year-old Tafa has stumbled out of the gate to start his UFC career, entering this weekend’s contest on a two-fight skid and sporting a 1-3 record inside the Octagon. While his split decision loss to Carlos Felipe in January was questionable, Australia’s “Bad Man” needs a big effort in a bad way this weekend.

After appearing on Season Four of Dana White’s Contender Series, Hunsucker got a short-notice opportunity under the UFC banner in March, filling in for Don’Tale Mayes opposite Tai Tuivasa. That outing didn’t go particularly well for “The Hurricane,” who looks to avoid a second consecutive defeat at the hands of an Australian heavyweight when he steps in with Tafa on Saturday.

Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto

Eubanks vegas 32

After impressive performances in the summer, Sijara Eubanks and Melissa Gatto meet this weekend looking to build off those efforts and establish themselves as competitors to watch in the flyweight division in 2022.

Eubanks returned to the 125-pound weight class in July following a 2-4 stint at bantamweight, looking dominant while securing a first-round stoppage win over newcomer Elise Reed. Struggles making the flyweight limit is what got “SarJ” shipped to bantamweight in the first place, but if she can hit the mark reliably, the former TUF standout could be an intriguing contender next year having already beaten divisional stalwarts Roxanne Modafferi and Lauren Murphy.

More than two years after her initial UFC appearance was booked, Gatto finally crossed the threshold into the Octagon for the first time in August, securing a second-round stoppage win over Victoria Leonardo in a bout she dominated from start to finish. Just 25 years old and sporting a 7-0-2 record, a similar effort this weekend against Eubanks could put the promising Brazilian in position to challenge for a place in the Top 15 in the first half of next year.

There have been different question marks hovering around each woman for a number of years, but both looked outstanding in their victories earlier this year, making this a fight with potential divisional ramifications on Saturday’s fight card.

Charles Jourdain vs. Andre Ewell

Entertaining French-Canadian Charles Jourdain welcomes Andre Ewell to the featherweight division for the first time in this preliminary card clash that promises to be exciting.

A two-division champion under the TKO banner before graduating to the UFC, Jourdain has struggled to find consistency inside the Octagon through his first six appearances, arriving in Las Vegas this week with a 2-3-1 record. A technical and dangerous striker, the 26-year-old from Beloeil, Quebec earned a third-round stoppage win over Marcelo Rojo in March before succumbing to a third-round D’arce choke against Julian Erosa in September.

RELATED: It's 'Do Or Die' For Charles Jourdain

The 33-year-old Ewell moves up to the 145-pound ranks after amassing a 4-4 mark in eight starts at bantamweight. An entertaining competitor who likes to sling hands, “Mr. Highlight” dropped a decision to Chris Gutierrez in February and was stopped in the second round by Julio Arce in July, prompting his relocation to featherweight.

Both men prefer to strike and would really like to end the year on a high note, so there is a very strong likelihood that Jourdain and Ewell touch gloves and then don’t stop trading punches until one of them falls over or the final horn sounds this weekend.

Raquel Pennington vs. Macy Chiasson

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 20: Macy Chiasson reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Marion Reneau during the UFC Fight Night
Macy Chiasson reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Marion Reneau, March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Former title challenger Raquel Pennington goes in search of her second win of the year on Saturday night, squaring off with Macy Chiasson in a featherweight battle between ranked bantamweights.

Pennington returned from more than a year on the sidelines with a unanimous decision win over Pannie Kianzad in September, showing a more active, attacking style than she had in the past to secure her second straight victory. Currently positioned at No. 8 in the rankings, “Rocky” was originally slated to face Julia Avila this weekend before the “Raging Panda” was forced out with an undisclosed injury.

Chiasson dealt with her own set of fight cancellations earlier this year after pushing her winning streak to two with a win over Marion Reneau in March. Initially slated to face Aspen Ladd in July, the bout was rescheduled for October when the former TUF winner suffered an injury, then scrapped entirely when Ladd missed weight and was scratched due to health reasons.

Don’Tale Mayes vs. Josh Parisian

Graduates of Dana White’s Contender Series each coming off wins over Roque Martinez meet on Saturday as Don’Tale Mayes and Josh Parisian square off in heavyweight action.

Mayes needed three attempts to finally land a UFC contract, finally capturing the elusive offer from UFC President Dana White following a first-round finish of Ricardo Prasel in July 2019. After debuting with a loss to interim champ Ciryl Gane and a sophomore submission defeat against Rodrigo Nascimento, “Kong” finally captured his first win with a unanimous decision victory over Martinez in November.

Parisian also earned a pair of wins on the annual talent-search competition, with his first triumph landing him a place on TUF 28 and the second punching his ticket directly to the Octagon. He lost his debut last November against Parker Porter but rebounded with a split decision victory over Martinez in June, pushing his record to 7-1 over his last eight appearances.

Neither of these men want to head into the holidays with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths, so expect them to come out swinging from the start, looking to end things early and earn a second straight UFC triumph.

Jordan Leavitt vs. Matt Sayles

The night’s action begins in the lightweight division, as Contender Series graduates Jordan Leavitt and Matt Sayles meet in the opener.

Leavitt followed up his contract-winning effort in August 2020 with a 22-second knockout win over veteran Matt Wiman in his promotional debut four months later, sending him into this year as one to watch in the lightweight division. Unfortunately for “The Monkey King,” he came out flat and suffered his first professional loss to Claudio Puelles in June, returning to the APEX looking to rebound this weekend.

Sayles’ last appearance came two years ago, when he suffered a first-round submission loss to Bryce Mitchell. He suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2020 and has been working his way back since.

Each of these two have shown flashes, both on the Contender Series and inside the Octagon, and with each coming off frustrating efforts in their most recent outings, don’t be surprised if we see the best from both of them on Saturday night.