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

The UFC Action Returns To The UFC APEX WITH Another Stacked Card At UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Walker

THIAGO SANTOS VS. JOHNNY WALKER

Heavy-handed Brazilian light heavyweights meet in this weekend’s main event as Thiago Santos shares the Octagon with Johnny Walker.

It’s been a rough couple years for Santos, who enters Saturday’s contest on a three-fight slide. After impressing in a losing effort in his championship clash with Jon Jones, “Marretta” had major surgery to repair a ton of knee issues sustained in the fight, and then had his return bout with Glover Teixeira delayed multiple times as each of the two contracted COVID-19. When they finally fought, Santos was submitted in the third round, and four months later, he dropped a listless decision to Aleksandar Rakic.

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The 29-year-old Walker returns to Las Vegas after slightly over a year on the sidelines, aiming to build upon his wild first-round stoppage victory over Ryan Spann from last fall. Allergic to being in a boring, uneventful fight, the charismatic character is 4-2 in the UFC and looking to establish himself as a legitimate title threat heading into next year with a victory here.

Can Santos right the ship and secure his first victory since early 2019 when he beat current champ Jan Blachowicz or will Walker collect a second consecutive win and climb closer to the Top 5?

KEVIN HOLLAND VS. KYLE DAUKAUS

Middleweights looking to get back on track meet in the co-main event as Kevin Holland and Kyle Daukaus square off on Saturday evening.

Kevin Holland celebrates after his victory over Joaquin Buckley, August 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Kevin Holland celebrates after his victory over Joaquin Buckley, August 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Following a breakout campaign in 2020, Holland entered this year with a ton of momentum, but consecutive losses to Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori put a spotlight on some of his shortcomings and sent Texas’ “Trailblazer” back to the drawing board. Now after a five-month break spent diligently working on his wrestling, Holland is ready to return, eager to reclaim the form that produced five wins in eight months last year.

Daukaus competed on Season 2 of the Contender Series, earning a victory, but not a contract before heading back to CFFC and successfully defending his middleweight title twice more. He earned a short notice call up last summer, dropping a competitive decision to Brendan Allen and closed out the year by picking up a victory over Dustin Stoltzfus before getting out-grappled by Phil Hawes in his 2021 debut back in May.

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Both men are in the early stages of their primes and have flashed upside in the past, but fighting a tough slate has produced some undesirable results, so it will be interesting to see which of the two has made the adjustments needed to get back into the win column here and set themselves up to enter 2022 with a little momentum.

ALEX OLIVEIRA VS. NIKO PRICE

Expect a frenetic pace and plenty of chaos when welterweight wild men Alex Oliveira and Niko Price step into the Octagon this weekend.

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 04:  (R-L) Niko Price kicks Alex Morono in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Toyota Center on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Oliveira has been one of the most active and consistently entertaining fighters on the roster since making his debut in early 2015. Saturday’s contest will be his 21st in the UFC, and despite having lost two straight, you can rest assured that the Brazilian “Cowboy” will still dance his way to the prep point and come out looking to finish as soon as the referee says, “Fight!” on Saturday night.

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The 31-year-old Price has earned some of the most unique finishes in UFC history during his 13-fight tenure but arrives in Las Vegas having gone without a victory in three straight. Last time out, he had a difficult time getting into a rhythm against Michel Pereira, resulting in a second consecutive fight going the distance — something that had never previously happened in his career —but something tells me he’ll have a much easier time convincing Oliveira to stand and trade with him this weekend.

This is a perfect matchup between a pair of consummate pros that reside just outside the Top 15 in the welterweight division. They’re fun to watch on their own, which means it should be all kinds of exciting when they’re locked in the Octagon together.

MISHA CIRKUNOV VS. KRZYSZTOF JOTKO

A former Top 10 light heavyweight, Misha Cirkunov moves down a division, where Polish veteran Krzysztof Jotko waits, ready to welcome him to the middleweight ranks.

Four straight victories to begin his UFC tenure thrust Cirkunov into the top tier of talent in the 205-pound weight class, but over his last six fights, the Latvian-born Canadian has struggled, amassing a 2-4 record while suffering stoppage losses in each of those defeats. Now the 34-year-old goes in search of a fresh start and greater consistency in the 185-pound weight class, where his size and grappling acumen could potentially make him a factor in 2022.

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Venum: #WeAreArtists - Episode 1
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A divisional stalwart for the last eight years, Jotko owns a 9-5 record inside the Octagon and entered the year on a three-fight winning streak, only to run into surging contender Sean Strickland in May. The American Top Team representative has struggled with injuries at times but has the kind of experience and all-around skill set to test Cirkunov in his divisional debut this weekend.

Will Cirkunov make a splash in his first foray into the Octagon as a middleweight or will Jotko dispatch the downsizing ex-light heavyweight?

ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ VS. MIKE BREEDEN

Action shifts to the lightweight division here as Alexander Hernandez looks to start building new momentum as he welcomes Mike Breeden to the Octagon for the first time.

Tabbed as a rising star in the lightweight division after a breakout 2018 campaign that saw him knock out Beneil Dariush in his short notice debut and out-grapple Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his sophomore appearance, Hernandez has battled inconsistency since, alternating losses and wins through his last five fights. Entering off a loss to Thiago Moises in February, the 28-year-old Factory X Muay Thai representative is aiming to end the year on the upswing and generate some positive forward movement heading into 2022.

A member of the emerging Glory MMA & Fitness crew from Missouri helmed by James Krause, Breeden has earned consecutive victories after coming up short in his bid to earn a UFC contract last season on Dana White's Contender Series. Last time out, Breeden outworked regional staple Nick Compton, pushing his record to 10-3, and now he gets the chance to take on Hernandez' role from his debut against the now established UFC lightweight.

Three-plus years after being in Breeden's position, Hernandez is now the one aiming to fend off the unheralded replacement fighter on short notice. It will be interesting to see if he can avoid the mistakes Dariush made in their clash and emerge victorious or whether Breeden can bring things full circle and secure an upset win of his own.

JOE SOLECKI VS. JARED GORDON

Joe Solecki looks to continue his climb up the lightweight ranks as he takes on veteran Jared Gordon in an intriguing preliminary card clash on Saturday night.

Unbeaten in three UFC appearances and riding a six-fight winning streak overall, Solecki is a fighter on the rise in the 155-pound ranks, entering this weekend’s clash with Gordon off a victory over Jim Miller in April. The Dana White’s Contender Series graduate is an excellent grappler and one of the top emerging talents on the UFC roster.

Gordon returns to the lightweight division on a two-fight winning streak, having registered victories over Chris Fishgold and Danny Chavez in his last two appearances. But the Sanford MMA representative missed weight in the latter matchup, prompting this move back up to lightweight, where he is 2-3 in the UFC.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 07: (L-R) Joe Solecki punches Matt Wiman in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Capital One Arena on December 07, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 07: (L-R) Joe Solecki punches Matt Wiman in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Capital One Arena on December 07, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Solecki has quietly handled his business each time out and this weekend’s matchup is another stern test for the promising 28-year-old, as despite his limited results in the division, Gordon is a tough out with all the skills needed to halt the North Carolina-based fighters ascent on Saturday.

ANTONINA SHEVCHENKO VS. CASEY O’NEILL

It’s a classic matchup between a veteran and an emerging talent in the flyweight division, as Antonina Shevchenko takes on Casey O’Neill on Saturday’s prelims.

The 36-year-old Shevchenko has alternated wins and losses since earning her UFC deal with a victory on Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series, with each of her setbacks coming against Top 15 opponents. The elder member of the first sister tandem to fight in the UFC has only been focused on MMA for the last five years, meaning there are still skill gaps more seasoned competitors can expose and weaknesses for her to shore up.

But Shevchenko is a diligent, lifelong martial artist with one of the best training partners you could possibly ask for, and she’s likely been addressing those shortcomings since her last appearance in May, which is why this weekend’s clash with O’Neill is so intriguing.

Undefeated in seven pro fights, including earning consecutive stoppages in her first two UFC appearances, O’Neill is 13 years Shevchenko’s junior and facing a serious step up in competition venturing into the Octagon with “La Pantera” on Saturday. The Xtreme Couture representative battered Shana Dobson in her debut, and steadied herself after a shaky start against Lara Procopio, submitting the Brazilian midway through the third round.

BETHE CORREIA VS. KAROL ROSA

Brazilians at opposite stages of their careers meet this weekend as former title challenger Bethe Correia returns to the Octagon one final time to take on rising star Karol Rosa.

The 38-year-old Correia will be remembered as the last fighter Ronda Rousey beat during her UFC career. But that loss snapped a nine-fight winning streak, and since then, the colorful veteran has posted two wins, four losses, and one draw in seven starts against top level competition, entering Saturday’s contest off a unanimous decision loss to Pannie Kianzad last July on Fight Island.

Rosa has extended her winning streak to five with victories in each of her first three UFC appearances, most recently out-working Joselyne Edwards in February. A member of the Parana Vale Tudo team that produced Jessica Andrade, the 26-year-old Rosa continues to show improvements and greater confidence each time out, and she could position herself as one to watch in the 135-pound weight class next year with a sixth straight triumph this weekend.

Can Correia wrap up her career with a victory or will Rosa send “Pitbull” packing with a second straight defeat?

DEVONTE SMITH VS. JAMIE MULLARKEY

Lightweights coming off explosive finishes and looking to build greater momentum meet here as Devonte Smith crosses paths with Jamie Mullarkey.

Smith navigated some tough times personally and professionally in 2020 before returning to the cage in February, where he earned a second-round stoppage win over Justin Jaynes to push his record to 11-2 overall. A DWCS grad (Class of ’18) and Factory X Muay Thai representative, the charismatic 28-year-old has crisp striking and lighting fast hands, which make him someone to keep close tabs on as he looks to work his way up the divisional ladder.

Factory X Built A Culture That Fits | UFC News Gym Visit
Factory X Built A Culture That Fits | UFC News Gym Visit
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Marc Montoya leads Factory X MMA in Denver, Colorado, and their mixture of young up-and-comers and experienced veterans allows them to create a culture of camaraderie and hard work.


After suffering losses to Brad Riddell and Fares Ziam in his first two UFC appearances, Mullarkey rebounded in a major way in March, knocking out veteran Khama Worthy in 46 seconds. The experienced Aussie, who is still just 27, was unbeaten at home before running into some guy named Alexander Volkanovski and won four straight prior to debuting in the Octagon, so it’s not out of the question that he just needed a little time to settle in and is now poised to put together a little run of success.

DOUGLAS SILVA VS. GAETANO PIRRELLO

It’s Brazil versus Belgium in this preliminary card pairing as Douglas Silva welcomes Gaetano Pirrello to the Octagon for the second time in his career.

A 31-fight veteran who has been on the UFC roster since early 2014, Silva has struggled to find consistency throughout his eight-fight run, entering Saturday’s contest with a 4-4 record. He’s served as an experienced litmus test for a number of talented young fighters during that time, including bantamweight contenders Rob Font, Marlon Vera, and Petr Yan, and filled the same role last time out in a clash with Lerone Murphy on Fight Island.

Pirrello ended a 15-month absence with his short-notice debut opposite Ricky Simon in mid-January, where he suffered a second-round loss due to an arm-triangle choke. Now the 29-year-old Belgian fighter looks to bounce back as he has following each of his last three setbacks and secure the first victory of his UFC career.

STEPHANIE EGGER VS. SHANNA YOUNG

Veteran bantamweights clash here as Stephanie Egger steps in opposite Shanna Young.

Stephanie Egger takes part in a training session on UFC Fight Island, October 2020 (Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)
(Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)

Egger made her UFC debut last October, filling in for Bea Malecki on short notice opposite Tracy Cortez and landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict. She was forced to withdraw from a May assignment opposite Sarah Alpar, and now looks to secure her first UFC win this weekend in Las Vegas when she squares off with the returning Young.

The 30-year-old Young debuted under similar circumstances as Egger, filling in for Nicco Montano opposite Macy Chiasson while also landing on the business end of one-way fight. She’s been out of action since, having given birth to her second child last November, but is in tremendous shape, as always, as she readies to compete for the first time since February 2020 this weekend.

Which of these women will secure their first UFC victory and which one will be left dealing with the bitter taste of defeat once again?

ALEJANDRO PEREZ VS. JOHNNY EDUARDO

Battle-tested bantamweights get the opening spot on Saturday’s fight card as Alejandro Perez takes on Johnny Eduardo.

Back in action for the first time in more than two years, Perez looks to return to the form that allowed him to cobble together a seven-fight unbeaten streak and climb into the rankings earlier in his career. Back-to-back losses to Cody Stamann and Song Yadong knocked him from the Top 15, and a bout with COVID-19 kept him out of action last year, resulting in the 32-year-old entering the Octagon in search of his first win since outpointing Eddie Wineland in the summer of 2018.

Returning for the first time in more than three years, the 43-year-old Eduardo is also looking to snap a two-fight skid on Saturday, having suffered back-to-back stoppage losses to Matthew Lopez and Nathaniel Wood in his last two Octagon appearances. A professional since 1996, the Brazilian veteran owns a 28-12 record, and is 3-4 under the UFC banner.