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Magomed Ankalaev of Russia punches Nikita Krylov of the Ukraine in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 27, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Fight Coverage

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Ankalaev

We're Back For Our 50th Fight Night At The UFC Apex. Let's See What's In Store.

Hot on the heels of UFC 272, the action returns to the UFC APEX for another jam-packed Fight Night event featuring an assortment of compelling matchups and crucial pairings across a number of key divisions.

Let’s take closer look at what’s on tap.

Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Top 10 light heavyweights looking to make their respective cases for title contention go toe-to-toe in Saturday night’s main event as Thiago Santos takes on Magomed Ankalaev.

Santos enjoyed an expedient rise to title contention after moving to the 205-pound weight class, but his championship opportunity kicked off what became a three-fight slide. The Brazilian veteran earned a unanimous decision victory over Johnny Walker last time out, and now he looks to turn that win into a winning streak as he steps in with the surging Russian.

Ankalaev has rattled off seven straight victories heading into his first main event assignment, following his 2020 wins over Ion Cutelaba with decision nods over Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir in 2021. The 29-year-old brings a complete set of tools with him into the Octagon, and if he can get through Santos this weekend, he will find himself short-listed for a title shot heading into the second half of the year.

This is the type of fight each man needs to win at this point in their careers. Santos is an established commodity and Top 10 staple, but one win in four fights has some wondering if his days as a contender are behind him. Meanwhile, Ankalaev has looked the part against lesser foes, but has yet to share the cage with a current threat in the division.

RELATED: Magomed Ankalaev Embraces The Hard Road | Thiago Santos Talks Fatherhood

How this one plays out is going to tell everyone a great deal about where each man fits in the division at the moment and what to expect from them throughout the rest of the year.

Marlon Moraes vs. Song Yadong

Saturday’s co-main event hits some of the same notes as the headlining bout as Brazilian veteran Marlon Moraes takes on ascending Chinese contender Song Yadong.

A former title challenger and dynamic bantamweight threat, Moraes hits the Octagon having lost three straight and four of his last five. While each of those setbacks has come against elite opposition, the 33-year-old is more than two years removed from his last victory and needs to stem the tide against Song on Saturday night.

Just 24 years old, Song has already amassed a 7-1-1 record inside the Octagon and looks to take another step forward in the division by dispatching Moraes this weekend. After starting last year with a loss to Kyler Phillips, Song rebounded by edging out Casey Kenney in August before collecting a second-round stoppage win over Julio Arce in November.

Will Moraes break out of his funk, grab a victory, and secure his place in the Top 10 or can the emerging Team Alpha Male representative keep things rolling and take another step towards title contention in his first start of 2022?

Highlight: Song Yadong Secures Second-Round TKO | UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Rodriguez
Highlight: Song Yadong Secures Second-Round TKO | UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Rodriguez

Sodiq Yusuff vs. Alex Caceres

Low-key standouts in the featherweight division square off in a lights out pairing this weekend as Sodiq Yusuff returns to take on streaking veteran Alex Caceres.

A member of the DWCS Class of ’18, Yusuff rattled off four straight wins to begin his UFC tenure before landing on the wrong side of the results last April in a clash with fellow emerging star Arnold Allen. The Nigerian-born, Maryland-based fighter has slick, swift hands and sudden power, having earned more than half of his career wins by some form of knockout, including two of his first four victories inside the Octagon.

A fixture on the roster since his appearance on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, Caceres is in the midst of the best run of his career, entering Saturday’s contest on a five-fight winning streak. Last time out, the 33-year-old veteran rallied from catching an illegal knee to the dome in round one to score a second-round submission win over SeungWoo Choi.

This is a perfect matchup for each man given where they’re at and how they’re coming into this fight. Yusuff remains ranked in the Top 15, but is coming off his first UFC setback, leaving him in a position where he needs to defend his spot and re-affirm his status as a featherweight hopeful, while Caceres has been on fire, but hasn’t faced a ranked competitor during his impressive run of success.

The victor should earn a step up in competition next time out, while the vanquished will remain a dangerous threat on the doorstep of the rankings in the featherweight division.  

Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Karl Roberson

After snapping a two-fight skid last time out, Khalil Rountree Jr. looks for his second straight victory as he welcomes Karl Roberson back to the light heavyweight division on Saturday evening.

A finalist on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, Rountree Jr. has vacillated between impressive and underwhelming efforts throughout his UFC career, struggling to find the right training situation and consistency inside the cage. Now settled in back in Las Vegas, he looks to build off his second-round stoppage win over Modestas Bukauskas in September and earn consecutive victories for the first time since going back-to-back against Daniel Jolly and Paul Craig in 2017.

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An OG Dana White’s Contender Series alum, Roberson makes the move back to light heavyweight following two years of struggles to hit the mark in the middleweight division. The former kickboxer has shown flashes of upside through his UFC run, but has been hampered by injuries and illnesses, and is looking for a fresh start in the 205-pound ranks.

This has the potential to be an explosive contest as both Rountree Jr. and Roberson throw everything heavy and pack real pop in all their weapons. Neither wants to be forced to take another step back to start the year, so expect each man to be at his best on Saturday, resulting in a competitive and entertaining clash in the middle of the main card.

Highlight: Alex Caceres Submits Choi For His 5th Straight Win | UFC Fight Night: Costa vs Vettori
Highlight: Alex Caceres Submits Choi For His 5th Straight Win | UFC Fight Night: Costa vs Vettori

Drew Dober vs. Terrance McKinney

Drew Dober looks to get things moving in a positive direction again after a challenging 2021, while emerging finisher Terrance McKinney looks to make the most of a quick turnaround in this ultra-compelling lightweight clash.

Dober broke into the Top 15 in 2020, building on a summer victory the year before with stoppage wins over Nasrat Haqparast and Alexander Hernadez. But he ran into the buzzsaw that is Islam Makhachev at UFC 259 in March before dropping a close, competitive decision to Brad Riddell in June. Now he heads into this one looking to get back into the win column in a tough, short notice pairing.

After spending eight months on the sidelines following his breakout debut win last summer, McKinney looks to make up for lost time by stepping up to replace Ricky Glenn this weekend against Dober. The Warrior Camp representative made quick work of Fares Ziam two Saturdays back, collecting his fifth straight win and fifth straight first-round finish to establish himself as one to watch in the lightweight division.

Can Dober get things moving in the right direction again or will McKinney take a massive step forward in the ultra-competitive 155-pound ranks?

Alex Pereira vs. Bruno Silva

Brazilian middleweight knockout artists open the main card as UFC sophomores Alex Pereira and Bruno Silva clash in what should be an absolute banger on Saturday.

A two-weight world champion under the Glory Kickboxing banner, Pereira made the successful transition into the Octagon in November, scoring a second-round knockout win over Andreas Michailidis at MSG. While still a neophyte in MMA terms, “Poatan” trains with light heavyweight champ Glover Teixeira and his team, has a wealth of experience in combat sports, and looked like the real deal at UFC 268 in New York City.

Silva proved that his arrival in the UFC was worth the wait last year, as “Blindado” posted three straight stoppage victories in as many starts to establish himself as a person of interest in the 185-pound weight class. Coming back following a two-year suspension, Silva earned finishes over Wellington Turman, Andrew Sanchez, and Jordan Wright to push his overall winning streak to seven and 22-6 overall, with 17 victories in his last 18 appearances.

Someone is going to get knocked out in this fight; it’s just a matter of sorting out who that will be. This is a sizable step up in competition for Pereira in just his second UFC appearance and sixth MMA bout, overall, but a great chance to prove he’s a threat, while Silva gets the opportunity to showcase his skills against a highly regarded striker in a main event assignment.

Terrance McKinney Notches One Of The Fastest KOs In UFC History | UFC 263
Terrance McKinney Notches One Of The Fastest KOs In UFC History | UFC 263

Matthew Semelsberger vs. AJ Fletcher

Welterweight finishers square off this weekend, with Matthew Semelsberger being the first to welcome AJ Fletcher to the Octagon.

“Semi the Jedi” registered two wins in a combined 31 seconds last year, logging a 16-second knockout of Jason Witt and a 15-second dusting of Martin Sano Jr. on either side of a decision loss to Khaos Williams. The former collegiate football defensive back is still putting the pieces together in his fight career, but he’s 3-1 in the UFC, 9-3 overall, and clearly brandishes a whole lot of pop for someone that fights in the 170-pound weight class.

Positioned in the first fight of Season 5 on Dana White’s Contender Series last fall, Fletcher understood the assignment and got the 10-week run started with a bang by knocking out Leonardo Damiani with a flying knee a little over two minutes into their fight. The unbeaten Gladiators Academy product has eight finishes in nine starts and spent this camp getting ready alongside two of Lafayette, Louisiana’s finest, Alan Jouban and Dustin Poirier.

Both of these guys have flashed serious finishing abilities and will be aiming to kick off 2022 in impressive fashion, so make sure you’re in your seat for the introductions and enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

JJ Aldrich vs. Gillian Robertson

Flyweights looking to make a push into the Top 15 in 2022 square off here as JJ Aldrich and Gillian Robertson battle it out in the Octagon.

After winning her final three fights at strawweight, Aldrich struggled a little after shifting to the 125-pound weight class, losing two of her first three. But the steely Colorado native has steadied herself and looked solid over her last two outings, edging out Cortney Casey before thoroughly outworking Vanessa Demopoulos last time out.

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Robertson has similarly dealt with inconsistency during her UFC career, having struggled against the best competition she’s faced thus far. The 26-year-old has already logged 11 appearances inside the Octagon following her stint on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter and snapped a two-fight skid last time out with a first-round submission win over Priscila Cachoeira.

This is a classic “striker vs. grappler” matchup through-and-through, with Aldrich looking to work behind her jab and keep it standing, and Robertson having designs on dragging this to the canvas and keeping it there. Whoever is able to dictate the terms of engagement and hold their own the best if things get away from them at times should walk away with the win on Saturday.

Drew Dober KO Haqparast
Drew Dober KO Haqparast

Trevin Jones vs. Javid Basharat

Explosive southpaw Trevin Jones gets his second straight assignment opposite a promotional newcomer as he welcomes DWCS grad Javid Basharat to the Octagon for the first time.

Born in New Orleans, but residing in Guam, Jones has shown flashes of promise and power through his first three UFC appearances, which have produced one win, one loss, and one no contest verdict. Last time out, Jones started well, but tired quickly against Saidyokub Kakhramonov, ultimately succumbing to a third-round choke. He’ll look to avoid the same mistakes and return to the form that earned him an impressive win over Mario Bautista.

Unbeaten in 11 professional appearances, “The Snow Leopard” appeared to be “playing with his food” during his DWCS victory in October, dragging his fight with Oron Kahlon into the late stages of the third round before finally finishing him with a guillotine choke. The 26-year-old has a 100-percent finishing rate and will look to maintain that here as he makes his first trip into the UFC cage this weekend.

I say it every week, but bantamweight is the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC right now and fights like this further underscore that fact. This should be an entertaining battle between two proven finishers, putting the winner in position for a slight step up in competition and another tough assignment next time out.

Damon Jackson vs. Kamuela Kirk

Featherweight veteran Damon Jackson looks to build on his strong showing in his last effort as he steps in with UFC sophomore Kamuela Kirk on Saturday evening.

A pro for more than a decade, Jackson has alternated between Triple A and the Major Leagues for the whole of his career, flourishing under the LFA banner, while having mixed results on the biggest stages. After returning to the UFC with a win over Mirsad Bektic in September 2020, he was stopped less than three minutes into a quick turnaround fight with Ilia Topuria in December. He made his lone appearance of 2021 in October, collecting a unanimous decision win in a contentious battle with Charles Rosa, and looks to maintain that form here.

Kirk answered a short notice call to the Octagon in June and made the absolute most of it, securing a unanimous decision win over Makwan Amirkhani to push his winning streak to three. The Arizona-based fighter has won six of his last eight, with 10 of his 11 career wins coming inside the distance.

This has the potential to be a really enjoyable back-and-forth battle between two competitors looking to really solidify their place in the 145-pound weight class. Expect non-stop action when Jackson and Kirk hit the cage this weekend at the APEX.

Highlight: Gillian Robertson Submits Cachoeira | UFC 269
Highlight: Gillian Robertson Submits Cachoeira | UFC 269

Sabina Mazo vs. Miranda Maverick

Talented flyweights looking to put frustrating 2021 campaigns behind them meet here as Sabina Mazo steps in with Miranda Maverick.

Just when Mazo appeared to be hitting her stride heading into last year, the former LFA champ ventured up to bantamweight and got out-hustled on the feet by Canadian veteran Alexis Davis in February. She returned to flyweight in early October, but once again was repeatedly beaten to the punch by Mariya Agapova, with the bright prospect securing a third-round stoppage win.

Maverick started the year off with a unanimous decision win over Robertson that pushed her winning streak to five, but she landed on the wrong side of a debated split decision verdict opposite Maycee Barber in July before getting outworked by Erin Blanchfield at UFC 269. Now 9-4 for her career and riding a two-fight slide, the 24-year-old looks to get back to her winning ways at Mazo’s expense this weekend.

FREE FIGHTS: Santos vs Manuwa | Ankalaev vs Cutelaba

Flyweight is so flush with emerging talent at the moment that neither of these ladies can truly afford to catch another loss, which means we should see the best of them right out of the gates on Saturday night. For Mazo to win, she needs to stay long and active, while Maverick will look to use her superior athleticism, strength, and all-around game to pick up her third UFC win.

Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Cody Brundage

Middleweight bruisers meet here as Dalcha Lungiambula and Cody Brundage look to kick off their year with a victory this weekend.

“Champion” has alternated wins and losses since arriving in the UFC, dispatching Dequan Townsend and edging out Markus Perez while getting stopped by Ankalaev and coming up short against Marc-Andre Barriault. Now training at Sanford MMA, it will be interesting to see what another shift in camp does for the former EFC standout from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brundage gave a good accounting of himself in his short-notice debut in September, hanging tough and battling hard against Nick Maximov at UFC 266. Now the 27-year-old Factory X Muay Thai representative gets a full camp to prepare for Lungiambula and a chance to show more of what he can do in his second appearance inside the Octagon.

Highlight: Matthew Semelsberger Knocks Out Sano In 15 Seconds | UFC 266
Highlight: Matthew Semelsberger Knocks Out Sano In 15 Seconds | UFC 266

Kris Moutinho vs. Guido Cannetti

Pencil this one in as an early Fight of the Night contender as Kris Moutinho makes his return to the Octagon against the always feisty, always game Guido Cannetti.

Moutinho earned a ton of respect stepping in to face Sean O’Malley on short notice and lasting into the final 30 seconds of the fight with the bantamweight hopeful. Now fully healthy and operating with a full training camp behind him, the scrappy 29-year-old from Milford, Massachusetts looks to earn more than a moral victory this weekend.

Entering on a three-fight slide and having dropped five of seven in the UFC, Cannetti will be coming out guns blazing in this one. The Argentinian veteran went the distance with Mana Martinez last time out and is allergic to being in a boring fight, and this one should be no different.

This one should be all kinds of fun for as long as it lasts on Saturday night, with both men looking to engage from the outset and operating on the “all gas, no brakes” principle until the final horn sounds or one of them can’t continue.

Tafon Nchukwi vs. Azamat Murzakanov

Fresh off a win in his return to light heavyweight, Tafon Nchukwi looks to make it two straight as he welcomes fellow Contender Series graduate Azamat Murzaknov to the UFC.

Seven fights into his professional career, Nchukwi is a bundle of upside and unknowns, having looked sharp in wins over Jamie Pickett and Mike Rodriguez while struggling in between against Junyong Park. The Maryland-based prospect is built like a brick wall and has that “could make major leaps” vibe, but is not a finished product yet.

Conversely, Murzakanov is as complete a debuting fighter as we’ve seen in some time, entering with a perfect 10-0 record that includes a 50-second stoppage win over middleweight contender Andre Muniz. His nickname, “The Professional,” feels apt and it will be interesting to see if he has any struggles transitioning to the Octagon this weekend.

This is a compelling matchup between a pair of intriguing Contender Series grads that should serve as a great starting point for a night filled with action this weekend.

UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Ankalaev took place on Saturday, March 12, 2022, live the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.