ISLAM MAKHACHEV VS. THIAGO MOISES
The action on Saturday night wraps up in the lightweight division as rising star Islam Makhachev squares off with Brazilian hopeful Thiago Moises in a critical matchup between Top 15 fighters.
Makhachev extended his winning streak to seven at UFC 259 in March, turning in the most dominant performance of his run, out-grappling and ultimately submitting Drew Dober in the third round. Long considered Khabib Nurmagomedov’s understudy, the 29-year-old is poised to enjoy is own moment in the sun now, establishing himself as one of the top up-and-coming contenders in the 155-pound weight class and the type of dangerous combatant few are lining up to face.
The confident and ascendant Moises jumped at the opportunity to challenge the emerging talent from Dagestan, knowing this is a chance for him to usurp Makhachev’s place in the rankings and expedite his own climb towards the Top 10. The 26-year-old Brazilian has earned three straight victories, most recently out-hustling Alexander Hernandez in February to push his record to 15-4 overall, and has a well-rounded skill set honed for the last nine years on the mats at American Top Team.
Stylistically, this is a terrific matchup, as each man has proven himself to be sharp in every facet and comfortable wherever the fight takes place, and it could produce a thoroughly entertaining 25-minute affair to close out the show inside the UFC APEX.
MARION RENEAU VS. MIESHA TATE
It’s a tale of two career points in the co-main event this weekend as Marion Reneau makes the walk for the final time in her career against former champion Miesha Tate, who returns to the Octagon for the first time in nearly five years with designs on returning to title contention.
Reneau has been a fixture in the bantamweight rankings since her second appearance in the Octagon, when she caught Jessica Andrade in a triangle choke. While the results haven’t always been there and she enters on a four-fight slide, the 44-year-old high school P.E. teacher has always fought tough competition and been a game competitor and it shouldn’t be any different this weekend as she looks to ride off into the sunset with a victory.
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The way Tate’s career ended always felt sudden, as eight months after finally claiming the UFC women’s bantamweight title in a tremendous come-from-behind submission win over Holly Holm, she dropped a lopsided decision to Raquel Pennington and announced she was walking away. Now refocused and ready to test herself again, the 34-year-old looks to make an impact in her return and jumpstart a potential push towards the top of the division again.
Can Reneau go out on top or will Tate spoil her farewell fight by collecting a victory in her return?
JEREMY STEPHENS VS. MATEUSZ GAMROT
After missing out on the opportunity to compete earlier this year following a weigh-in day scuffle with Drakkar Klose, Jeremy Stephens makes his return to the lightweight division in an intriguing showdown with emerging Polish threat Mateusz Gamrot.
Saturday will mark Stephens’ 34th UFC appearance, putting him in fourth place all-time, one fight ahead of Demian Maia and one fight behind Andrei Arlovski, and his first bout in the 155-pound weight class since December 2012. He’s without a victory in his last five, but each of those four setbacks came against elite featherweight competitors, so it will be interesting to see if the “Lil’ Heathen” can return to lightweight and the win column in tandem this weekend.
An undefeated, two-division champion under the KSW banner before moving to the UFC last October, Gamrot landed on the wrong side of a split decision verdict in his Fight of the Night debut against fellow short-notice newcomer Guram Kutateladze. He returned a touch under six months later on UFC Fight Island, scoring an impressive second-round stoppage win over Scott Holtzman to get moving in the right direction again.
This is an intriguing pairing and quality opportunity to gauge where each man fits in the division, as Stephens is as tough as they come and has been in there with everyone, while Gamrot has flashed a ton of promise and upside both prior to and since arriving in the UFC.
RODOLFO VIEIRA VS. DUSTIN STOLTZFUS
Middleweights coming off setbacks in their most recent outings clash here as grappling ace Rodolfo Vieira squares off with Contender Series graduate Dustin Stoltzfus on Saturday night’s main card.
One of the most decorated grapplers to grace the Octagon in recent years, Vieira went chasing a finish early in his bout with Anthony Hernandez, tired, and was beaten at his own game, suffering a submission loss less than two minutes into the second round. The 31-year-old powerhouse had looked solid before falling to “Fluffy” and it will be curious to see what changes he’s made and how he rebounds this weekend.
Stoltzfus pushed his winning streak to 10 and scored a UFC contract last summer with a first-round stoppage win over Joseph Pyfer, dominating the action before Pyfer suffered a grizzly arm injury. He faced off with Kyle Daukaus in November, landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision result while dealing with the lingering impact of having contracted COVID-19 earlier in the fall.
The middleweight division is wide open at the moment beyond the top tier, making each and every fight an opportunity to gain traction and make headway in the divisional ranks. Neither man will be keen on taking a second consecutive loss, so expect both to come out in top form on Saturday night with designs on turning in a much stronger showing than last time out.
DANIEL RODRIGUEZ VS. PRESTON PARSONS
Active welterweight Daniel Rodriguez makes his second start of 2021, staying on the card despite a late opponent change as he welcomes newcomer Preston Parsons to the Octagon for the first time.
Saturday will be Rodriguez’s sixth appearance since February 2020, and after a hiccup last November against Nicolas Dalby, he got things moving in the right direction again in April with a unanimous decision win over Mike Perry. “D-Rod” didn’t earn a contract following his win on Season 3 of the Contender Series, but has been a shining example of how to parlay that initial exposure into a great opportunity and make the most of it when the time comes, posting a 4-1 record through his first five UFC appearances to establish himself as a dangerous and durable fixture in the welterweight division.
The 25-year-old Parsons replaces Abubakar Nurmagomedov, who was forced out of the pairing with an undisclosed injury. Fighting out of Jacksonville, Florida, the newcomer has earned four straight wins, all by stoppage, and owns a prior victory over UFC prospect Ignacio Bahamondes.
GABRIEL BENITEZ VS. BILLY QUARANTILLO
Business shifts to the featherweight division as Gabriel Benitez tags in for Herbert Burns to take on former Ultimate Fighter contestant and Contender Series alum Billy Quarantillo on Saturday night.
A fixture on the UFC roster for nearly eight years, Benitez moves back down to featherweight following a two-fight dalliance in the lightweight division. Last time out, “Moggly” stopped Justin Jaynes in a tick over four minutes, dropping him with a crippling knee to the midsection along the fence, and he’ll be looking to maintain that form and build off that victory as he makes his first appearance of the year this weekend.
Quarantillo followed up his contract-winning turn on the Contender Series with three straight victories to begin his UFC tenure, but had that run halted by Gavin Tucker at UFC 256 last December. The 32-year-old from Western New York and fighting out of Tampa, Florida will look to tap into his earlier form and rely on his movement and well-rounded skill set in order to rebound against Benitez on Saturday night.
This is an evenly matched clash between two gritty veterans that aren’t afraid to mix it up, so if you’re looking for a low key Fight of the Night contender, this could be the one.
AMANDA LEMOS VS. MONTSERRAT CONEJO
Amanda Lemos and Montserrat Conejo meet on Saturday in a clash of emerging strawweight contenders looking to take another step forward in the 115-pound weight class.
The 34-year-old Lemos has been a house on fire since returning to action at the end of 2019, submitting Miranda Granger on the final fight card of the year, adding a unanimous decision win over Mizuki eight months later, and then collecting a first-round stoppage win over Livinha Souza last time out in March. Now 9-1-1 in her career and looking like a dark horse in the talent-rich strawweight division, Lemos will look to improve her place in the rankings by adding a fourth straight victory to her resume this weekend.
A former Olympic hopeful and standout grappler, Conejo made an instant impression in her UFC debut in March, grinding out a win over highly regarded newcomer Cheyanne Buys in a contentious, but one-sided affair. She’s 10-1 for her career, including a first-round submission win over Invicta FC staple Janaisa Morandin, and profiles as someone that could make a rapid climb up the rankings, especially if she’s able to topple Lemos on Saturday evening at the APEX.
Will the veteran continue stacking victories and take another step forward or will Conejo collect a second consecutive UFC win to force her way into the Top 15?
KHALID TAHA VS. SERGEY MOROZOV
The second of back-to-back bantamweight pairings primed to hit the Octagon features Khalid Taha and Sergey Morozov meeting in a bout where both men are looking to get back in the win column after losing to highly regarded opponents last time out.
Closing in on the three-year anniversary of his promotional debut, Taha has consistently delivered quality performances while failing to garner consistent results through his first four outings, amassing a 1-2 record with one no contest verdict to date. He hung tough with Raoni Barcelos in his lone appearance of 2020, earning Fight of the Night honors in a losing effort against the then ascending Brazilian, and looks to return to the form that produced a 25-second knockout win over Boston Salmon in his sophomore appearance in the UFC cage a little more than two years ago.
The talented Morozov had his five-fight winning streak snapped in his promotional debut earlier this year when he was submitted by rising star Umar Nurmagomedov. The 32-year-old veteran is 9-3 over his last dozen fights, splitting a pair of bouts with TUF contestant Josh Rettinghouse with his other loss coming against upwardly mobile and unbeaten featherweight standout Movsar Evloev.
FRANCISCO FIGUEIREDO VS. MALCOLM GORDON
Flyweights moving in opposite directions at the moment meet in the second pairing of the weekend, as Francisco Figueiredo seeks a second consecutive UFC victory in as many starts, while Canadian Malcolm Gordon aims to halt his two-fight skid.
Figueiredo, the younger brother of former flyweight titleholder Deiveson Figueiredo, made his first UFC start in January, holding off Jerome Rivera down the stretch to secure a unanimous decision win and extend his unbeaten streak to four. The 31-year-old doesn’t have the speed or ferociousness of his big brother, but showed a sound ability to fight at range in his debut and should be even more comfortable this time around.
A belt collector on the Canadian regional circuit, Gordon has struggled since getting the call to the Octagon, landing on the wrong side of first-round stoppage losses in each of his first two appearances. To be fair, he’s faced solid competition, dropping his debut on short-notice, up a division to Amir Albazi before returning to flyweight and getting sparked by Sumudaerji, but you can be sure the Adrenaline Training Centre product is eager to get back to his winning ways this weekend.
ALAN BAUDOT VS. RODRIGO NASCIMENTO
Saturday’s action gets underway in the heavyweight division as Alan Baudot squares off with Rodrigo “Ze Colmeia” Nascimento in the opening fight of the evening.
A training partner of emerging contender Ciryl Gane, the 33-year-old Baudot had his tidy two-fight winning streak halted in his debut after getting steamrolled by surging British prospect Tom Aspinall. He’d won eight of his nine professional bouts before that and should be a little more comfortable and competitive here after a full camp.
Nascimento punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round submission win over Michal Martinek on Season 3 of the Contender Series and followed it up with a second-round tap out of Don’Tale Mayes in his UFC debut. He faced a sharp step-up in competition in his sophomore showing, landing opposite Chris Daukaus and losing in less than a minute, setting up this weekend’s clash with Baudot.
Prelims Get Underway At 7pm/4pm ETPT Saturday On ESPN & ESPN+