ANTHONY SMITH VS. RYAN SPANN
Saturday’s fight card wraps with a pivotal clash in the light heavyweight division as former title challenger Anthony Smith squares off with Fortis MMA rising star Ryan Spann.
After a pair of losses had some questioning where “Lionheart” fit in the divisional hierarchy heading into the final quarter of 2020, the 33-year-old veteran has responded by posting consecutive first-round stoppage wins to solidify his place in the Top 10. Smith closed out last year with a submission win over Devin Clark, then defeated Australian prospect Jimmy Crute in April to earn his second straight victory.
A member of the Class of 2018 on Dana White’s Contender Series, Spann rebounded from his first UFC setback in March, registering a first-round stoppage victory over Misha Cirkunov, collecting a Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts. Now 9-1 in his last 10 fights, “Superman” looks to force his way into the Top 10 in the light heavyweight division with a strong showing against Smith in his first main event assignment this weekend.
It’s set up to be a busy few months in the 205-pound weight class, with this fight serving as the first of three headlining bouts featuring Top 15 talents on the schedule over the next seven weeks, capped by the championship clash between Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira at UFC 267. As the first pair out of the gates, this is an opportunity for each of these competitors to make their case as serious title threats and position themselves for bigger opportunities once the dust settles and the division is realigned.
ION CUTELABA VS. DEVIN CLARK
Two more members of that light heavyweight contingent slated to compete over the next several weeks will set the table for Saturday’s main event, as divisional stalwarts Ion Cutelaba and Devin Clark meet in what should be a spirited co-main event.
An all-action fighter with a flair for the dramatic, Cutelaba has struggled to find positive results as of late, entering this weekend’s contest with just a single victory in his last four appearances. The 27-year-old Moldovan has only lost to ranked competition and battled Dustin Jacoby to a draw last time out, so it will be interesting to see if he can get back into the win column and take a step forward in this explosive pairing on Saturday.
Clark began 2020 with quality decision wins over Dequan Townsend and Alonzo Menifield to finally begin building some momentum, only to have his ascent derailed by a first-round loss to Smith in November. Like Cutelaba, Clark’s setbacks have all come against divisional staples, including each of this weekend’s headliners and the current champion, and after fighting with a heavy heart last time out following the passing of his mother-in-law, the 31-year-old “Brown Bear” sees this weekend’s contest as a chance to get back on track.
NIKOLAS MOTTA VS. CAMERON VANCAMP
Lightweight newcomers Nikolas Motta and Cameron VanCamp make their first forays into the Octagon together, each hoping to immediately establish themselves as future factors in the talent-rich 155-pound ranks.
A former contestant on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, Motta punched his ticket to the UFC with a unanimous decision victory over Joseph Lowery last November on the Contender Series. The former CFFC lightweight champion and Factory X Muay Thai representative is 6-2 since his time on the long-running reality TV competition, including a stoppage win over Joe Solecki, and after an injury postponed his debut earlier this year, he’ll be looking to make an instant impression on Saturday.
Filling in for veteran Jim Miller, VanCamp makes the short-notice walk on a four-fight winning streak, having already earned a pair of submission victories this year. The 28-year-old is 7-1-1 over his last nine fights, and has shared the cage with a host of familiar names, including UFC vets Austin Hubbard, Thomas Gifford, and Dan Stittgen.
ARIANE LIPSKI VS. MANDY BOHM
Ariane Lipski welcomes German newcomer Mandy Bohm to the Octagon for the first time in this preliminary card pairing in the flyweight division.
Lipski’s UFC run has produced three sets of consecutive results — two losses, followed by two wins, followed by two losses — heading into this one. Still just 27 years old, the Brazilian will look to recapture the form that carried her to championship success and top prospect status under the KSW banner earlier in his career as she steps in with Bohm this weekend.
A perfect 7-0 thus far in her career, Bohm hasn’t fought in nearly a year and has faced limited competition to this point, with her opponents owning a combined 12-8-1 record at the time they fought. The 32-year-old won gold in her lone appearance under the TKO banner and has been preparing alongside former Invicta FC title challenger and Ultimate Fighter contestant Katharina Lehner, so it will be interesting to see if she can make an immediate impact in her debut this weekend.
Flyweight continues to fill out and solidify with each passing month, adding increased importance to every contest as opportunities become harder to come by and the level of talent within the division continues to climb. Can Lipski stick to her pattern and pick up a victory or will Bohm remain undefeated and emerge from her promotional debut triumphant?
ARMAN TSARUKYAN VS. CHRISTOS GIAGOS
Action shifts to the lightweight division as streaking emerging star Arman Tsarukyan squares off with veteran Christos Giagos in this main card matchup.
Sporting a 16-2 record overall, Tsarukyan has won three straight since dropping his promotional debut to current contender Islam Makhachev in the spring of 2019. The 24-year-old is part of a collection of promising young fighters with an abundance of upside trying to make headway in the deep lightweight ranks, standing as a high risk, low reward challenge for many stationed ahead of him in the rankings or looking to climb the divisional ladder alongside him.
Giagos accepted the challenge in hopes of extending his winning streak to three, entering in the best form of his twin UFC stints, having won four of his last five appearances. The Californian enters off a second-round submission win over Sean Soriano last time out, and has been preparing for this contest alongside the Rhode Island native at Sanford MMA in South Florida.
Can Tsarukyan continue piling up the victories and making steady progress in the lightweight ranks or will Giagos score the biggest victory of his career and usurp his place in the pecking order?
JOAQUIN BUCKLEY VS. ANTONIO ARROYO
Joaquin Buckley looks to recapture the form that made him one to watch heading into 2021 as he steps into the Octagon opposite Dana White’s Contender Series alum Antonio Arroyo in Saturday’s main card opener.
Back-to-back highlight reel wins over Impa Kasanganay and Jordan Wright put Buckley on everyone’s radar at the end of 2020, but “New Mansa” stumbled out of the gate to begin this year, getting felled by Alessio Di Chirico in the first round of their main card clash in January. Now the 27-year-old looks to get things moving in the right direction again as he steps in with Arroyo this weekend.
It’s been a long, strange couple of years for Arroyo, who earned a victory on the all-Brazilian edition of the Contender Series in the summer of 2018, collected a UFC contract with a Contender Series win in the summer of 2019, and has gone 0-2 with multiple opponent changes and fight cancellations since arriving in the UFC. This weekend, the 32-year-old looks to put it all behind him and get back on track while collecting the first UFC win of his career.
MIKE RODRIGUEZ VS. TAFON NCHUKWI
Talented kickboxer Mike Rodriguez welcomes Tafon Nchuwki to the light heavyweight division in what should be an entertaining clash on Saturday’s preliminary card.
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It’s been a challenging run for Rodriguez since transitioning to the UFC in 2018, as the 32-year-old Massachusetts native has posted a 2-4 record with one no contest in his first seven starts. While he’s flashed crisp striking and impressive finishing instincts at times, consistency has eluded him, and he enters this weekend’s contest with just a single victory in his last five appearances.
Nchukwi looked like a star in the making after blasting his way to a UFC contract with a second-round stoppage win on the Contender Series last September, following it up with a unanimous decision victory in his promotional debut three months later. But his inexperience showed earlier this year when he dropped a decision to Junyong Park, and now he moves back to light heavyweight with designs on returning to the win column and reclaiming some of the hype he lost last time out.
PANNIE KIANZAD VS. RAQUEL PENNINGTON
Rising bantamweight Pannie Kianzad looks to extend her winning streak to five, while former title challenger Raquel Pennington aims to return to the rankings in this highly competitive affair.
Kianzad navigated her way through a stretch where she went 3-5 that spanned nearly four years and included her first two UFC appearances to emerge on the other side and start piling up victories. With consecutive decision wins over Jessica-Rose Clark, Bethe Correia, Sijara Eubanks, and Alexis Davis, “Banzai” has worked her way into the Top 15 and established herself as an intriguing fighter to watch in the 135-pound weight class.
A fixture in the Top 10 for much of the last five years, a suspension and more than a year on the sidelines has dropped Pennington from the rankings, though she remains one of the most experienced fighters in the division. After losing to Holly Holm last January, “Rocky” bounced back with a unanimous decision win over Marion Reneau in June, and is the kind of gritty, proven competitor that should push Kianzad on Saturday night.
The bantamweight division is in an odd place at the moment, with Amanda Nunes continuing to rule with her iron fists and new contenders struggling to put together the requisite wins needed to challenge “The Lioness.” Whomever wins this one should find herself in the thick of the title chase heading into 2022, and no more than another quality win or two away from potentially challenging for championship gold.
NATE MANESS VS. TONY GRAVELY
Talented bantamweights who were supposed to meet earlier in the year finally share the Octagon together this weekend as Nate Maness and Tony Gravely square off in this rescheduled scrap with the potential to be one of the best of the evening.
Maness is 2-0 thus far in his UFC career, earning a unanimous decision win over Johnny Munoz Jr. last summer and following it up with a comeback finish over Luke Sanders in November. The Kentucky native is 13-1 overall and has the makings of a low-key emerging threat in the 135-pound ranks, flashing toughness and grit along with quick hands and quality finishing instincts through his first two outings.
Gravely dropped his promotional debut to Welsh standout Brett Johns at the start of last year, but has rebounded with consecutive victories since, earning a second-round stoppage win over veteran Anthony Birchak last time out. Now training at American Top Team, the former East Coast regional staple has fought a tough slate throughout his career but is 9-1 over his last 10 fights and continuing to show improvements each time out.
MONTEL JACKSON VS. JP BUYS
It’s a meeting of Contender Series graduates in the bantamweight division as Montel Jackson squares off with South African JP Buys on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Jackson earned his way onto the UFC roster less than a year after making his pro debut, and has gone 4-2 inside the Octagon thus far, most recently posting a first-round stoppage win over Jesse Strader in March. With excellent wrestling and developing striking, Jackson remains a work in progress, but has flashed tremendous upside thus far and remains one to watch in the 135-pound weight class.
Buys made good on his second attempt to earn a contract through the annual talent search series, joining his wife Cheyanne on the roster with a first-round submission win over Jacob Silva last November. He struggled in his promotional debut earlier this year, landing on the business end of a one-sided contest with Bruno Silva, and now moves back up to bantamweight in hopes of righting the ship and getting back into the win column.
The 29-year-old Jackson has already faced some solid competition through his first six UFC appearances, while Buys hopes moving to Las Vegas and training at Xtreme Couture pays the same immediate dividends for him as it did for his wife earlier this summer. This should be an intriguing matchup between a pair of talented grapplers looking to make their mark in the ultra-competitive 135-pound ranks.
ERIN BLANCHFIELD VS. SARAH ALPAR
The action shifts back to the flyweight division for the second of three contests in the women’s 125-pound ranks this weekend here as Erin Blanchfield makes her promotional debut against the returning Sarah Alpar.
An outstanding prospect with a 6-1 record, Blanchfield already owns wins over UFC fighters Victoria Leonardo and Kay Hansen, and her lone setback came in a split decision loss to Tracy Cortez. The 22-year-old has won three straight since that loss and was slated to debut earlier this year in a short-notice battle with Norma Dumont, but the Brazilian missed weight and the fight was scrapped.
Alpar punched her ticket to the UFC with a second-round submission win over Shanna Young on the third season of Dana White’s Contender Series, before getting stopped late in the third round of her promotional debut 13 months later. Out of action since that September 2020 clash with Jessica-Rose Clark, the returning Oklahoma native looks to reclaim the form that produced five wins in six fights prior to that contest.
IMPA KASANGANAY VS. CARLSTON HARRIS
Fresh off impressive wins earlier this year, Impa Kasanganay and Carlston Harris go in search of a second straight UFC victory when they square off against one another on Saturday night.
After splitting a pair of appearances at middleweight in 2020, Kasanganay moved down to welterweight in his 2021 debut and looked outstanding, collecting a second-round submission win over Sasha Palatnikov in April. The 27-year-old, who made his professional debut at the start of 2019, is a tremendous athlete still putting everything together in the cage, but working with the team at Sanford MMA should expedite that process and put “Tshilobo” in a position to excel in the not too distant future.
Seven years the senior of this opponent this weekend, Harris pushed his record to 16-4 with a first-round submission win over Christian Aguilera in his promotional debut in May. The 34-year-old from Guyana has won eight of his last 10 and four straight heading into this one, all by stoppage.
This is a terrific matchup that should provide answers about where each man fits in the 170-pound hierarchy heading into the final quarter of the 2021 campaign.
GUSTAVO LOPEZ VS. ALATANGHEILI
Bantamweights Gustavo Lopez and Alatangheili meet early on Saturday’s prelims in a battle of aggressive strikers that has the potential to provide an explosive start to the evening.
After losing his short-notice debut to emerging contender Merab Dvalishvili, Lopez rebounded with an impressive first-round stoppage win over friend and former training partner Anthony Birchak. That was followed by a clash with rising star Adrian Yanez, where the veteran questioned the Texan’s skills and found out they’re for real, landing on the end of a counter right hook that halted the action early in the third.
“The Mongolian Knight” began his UFC career with consecutive decision wins over Danaa Batgerel and Ryan Benoit to push his winning streak to four, but dropped a unanimous decision to Casey Kenney in his lone appearance of last year. Now 14-8-1 for his career, Alatangheili has 10 wins in his last 13 fights, and remains an intriguing figure in the bantamweight ranks.
EMILY WHITMIRE VS. HANNAH GOLDY
The first of three bouts in the women’s flyweight division and four female fights on the card pits Emily Whitmire and Hannah Goldy opposite one another in a battle to see which one will get back into the win column this weekend.
A member of Team Gaethje on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, Whitmire earned consecutive victories following her debut loss to Gillian Robertson, but has since been stopped in back-to-back appearances against Brazilians Amanda Ribas and Polyana Viana. The Syndicate MMA representative is 4-4 in her professional career and needs a strong showing here to get things moving in the right direction again.
Goldy also enters on a two-fight slide, having dropped decisions to Miranda Granger and Diana Belbita in her first two Octagon appearances after pushing her record to 5-0, but failing to garner a contract, with a win over Kali Robbins on season three of Dana White’s Contender Series. A powerful athlete, Goldy showed a ton of toughness and grit in her last outing, but like Whitmire, she too needs an impressive effort here in order to avoid a three-fight skid.