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Nassourdine Imavov of Russia prepares to enter the Octagon before his middleweight fight against Joaquin Buckley during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 03, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Imavov

We're Back In Vegas For The First Fight Card Of 2023. Let's Break It Down.

There was a very brief window in time where the first day of school was one of my favorite days of the year. It didn’t last long — probably first through fourth grades — but in those years, the idea of rolling up to elementary school on a brisk September morning and seeing a ton of friends I hadn’t seen all summer was amazing.

Now that’s how I feel about the first UFC event of each year.

Order UFC 283: Teixeira vs Hill

Sure, it’s been four weeks and not eight or nine, and I haven’t sat through math class or spelling lessons with any of the competitors set to hit the Octagon as part of Saturday’s inaugural event for 2023, but I’ve missed them all the same.

So welcome back, friends; it’s nice to see you again. Now make with the face-punching!

Nassourdine Imavov vs Sean Strickland

Saturday's debut fight card now features a new main event, as Nassourdine Imavov takes on Sean Strickland in a short notice battle at 205 pounds.

The 27-year-old Imavov enters on a three-fight winning streak and has won four of five inside the Octagon. He fought just once in 2022, defeating Joaquin Buckley in Paris at the start of September, and enters this year as one of the top emerging names in the 185-pound weight class.

Strickland jumps in on short notice to replace Kelvin Gastelum, who was forced to withdraw at the start of fight week, looking to snap a two-fight skid. After rattling off five straight wins following a two-year injury layoff, Strickland suffered back-to-back defeats to current champ Alex Pereira and former title challenger Jared Cannonier.

This is a tremendous test for Imavov and a fight that will provide a lot of information about where the Russian-born, Paris-based talent stands in the division. Strickland is dangerous when coming forward and getting loose with his hands, and will surely be motivated to snap this skid. While they're not competing at middleweight, this one will have a real impact on the divisional rankings once the smoke clears on Saturday.

Dan Ige vs Damon Jackson

Veteran featherweights Dan Ige and Damon Jackson man the co-main event position on Saturday’s fight card, coming into their meeting at the UFC APEX from very different directions.

The 31-year-old Ige has dropped three straight and four of his last five, but each of those setbacks came on the scorecards in clashes with Calvin Kattar, Chan Sung Jung, Josh Emmett, and Movsar Evloev. While the results didn’t go his way, the Hawaiian showed in those contests that he’s a tough out deserving of a place in the Top 15, and now all he needs is a victory on Saturday night to really cement his standing.

Dan Ige prepares to enter the Octagon before his featherweight bout against Josh Emmett during UFC 269 at T-Mobile Arena on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Dan Ige prepares to enter the Octagon before his featherweight bout against Josh Emmett during UFC 269 at T-Mobile Arena on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Conversely, the 34-year-old Jackson arrives on a four-fight winning streak, having won five of six since returning to the UFC fold in the fall of 2020. Last time out, the Fortis MMA representative earned an emotional first-round stoppage win over Pat Sabatini just days after the sudden, tragic passing of his brother, Bradley.

This is an outstanding clash between two well-rounded veterans looking to stake their claim to a place in the rankings, with Ige looking to maintain his spot and Jackson playing the role of potential usurper. It should be a competitive contest no matter where it goes and how long it lasts, and a quality appetizer to the evening’s main course.

Punahele Soriano vs Roman Kopylov

Punahele Soriano and Roman Kopylov face off on Saturday in a battle of middleweights looking to build off quality wins to start 2023.

A member of the Dana White’s Contender Series Class of 2019, Soriano has been up and down through his first five UFC starts, winning two and then losing two before getting back into the win column in July on Long Island. The Hawaiian has good power in his hands, solid wrestling chops at his disposal, and works with a great team at Xtreme Couture, so it will be interesting to see if he can parlay last year’s victory over Dalcha Lungiambula into the start of a winning streak on Saturday.

Punahele Soriano Scores Emphatic Second-Round KO | UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs Rodriguez
Punahele Soriano Scores Emphatic Second-Round KO | UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs Rodriguez
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Kopylov looked like a completely different fighter last time out against Alessio Di Chirico. After making two appearances in the previous three years and suffering losses in each, the 31-year-old Russian came out like a house on fire against Di Chirico, fighting with confidence throughout and collecting a third-round stoppage win.

There is always room for advancement in the middleweight division, and a two-fight run of success would be a great starting point for either man. Expect fireworks out of the chute and each man to be looking to make a statement this weekend in Las Vegas.

Ketlen Vieira vs Raquel Pennington

Veteran bantamweight contenders Ketlen Vieira and Raquel Pennington face off in a clash that carries championship ramifications.

Vieira followed up her November 2021 win over Miesha Tate by besting a second consecutive former titleholder in May, edging out Holly Holm in one of the more debated decisions of last year. The 31-year-old Brazilian is 13-2 overall and has been a fixture in the title conversation for a couple years now, and a dominant showing her would certainly increase her chances for a championship opportunity later in the year.

Ketlen Vieira Is All About The UFC Life
Ketlen Vieira Is All About The UFC Life
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Since dropping three of four over a 14-month span a couple years back, Pennington has rattled off four straight wins to return to title contention. After venturing to featherweight and submitting Macy Chiasson on the final card of 2021, the former Ultimate Fighter contestant out-hustled Aspen Ladd in a short-notice pairing in April to extend her winning streak.

It’s unclear at this moment who or what comes next for current champ Amanda Nunes, but these two women are at the top of the list of potential challengers (along with Irene Aldana), and how this one plays out will have an immediate impact on how things will shape up in the 135-pound weight class going forward.

Umar Nurmagomedov vs Raoni Barcelos

Bantamweights kick off the main card as rising star Umar Nurmagomedov takes on Brazilian veteran Raoni Barcelos.

One of the top prospects in the UFC, Nurmagomedov extended his record to 15-0 with a pair of wins in 2022, submitting Brian Kelleher before outworking Nate Maness. The 26-year-old cousin of former lightweight ruler Khabib Nurmagomedov is a dynamic talent with a diverse array of kicks and the kind of grappling you would expect from someone with his surname.

Barcelos began last year with a second consecutive setback, dropping a decision to veteran newcomer Victor Henry at UFC 270. But the former RFA champ rebounded with a quality win over Trevin Jones on October 1, pushing his record to 17-3 overall and re-affirming his standing as one of the top veteran talents in the bantamweight division.

Umar Nurmagomedov of Russia celebrates after his victory over Sergey Morozov of Kazakhstan in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 20, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Umar Nurmagomedov of Russia celebrates after his victory over Sergey Morozov of Kazakhstan in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 20, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


This is a classic “prospect versus veteran” clash and it comes at the right time for each man. Nurmagomedov’s efforts merit the step up in competition and a victory over Barcelos would signal that he’s ready to do battle with Top 15 opponents, while Barcelos is looking to edge his way into the rankings by handing the unbeaten ascending talent the first loss of his career.

How this plays out will provide a lot of information about what to expect from each man later in the year, and where they’re at in their respective careers.

Claudio Ribeiro vs Abdul Razak Alhassan

The final preliminary card fight takes place in the middleweight division, where newcomer Claudio Ribeiro takes on powerhouse Abdul Razak Alhassan.

Brazil’s Ribeiro lit up the APEX during his appearance last season on Dana White’s Contender Series. From his walkout filled with booming shouts of “HEEEEY!” to his thunderous 25-second knockout of Ivan Valenzuela, it was impossible to ignore the energetic and intriguing fighter from Sao Paulo.

Abdul Razak Alhassan reacts after his knockout victory over Alessio Di Chirico of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 28, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Abdul Razak Alhassan reacts after his knockout victory over Alessio Di Chirico of Italy in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 28, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

After winning 10 of his first 11 fights, Alhassan has struggled over his last five, earning just a single victory. He has devastating power, having earned all 11 of his career wins by stoppage in the opening stanza, but will need to show he can do more than finish quickly in order to get things moving in the right direction long term.

Mateusz Rebecki vs Nick Fiore

It’s a meeting of lightweight newcomers on Saturday’s prelims as DWCS grad Mateusz Rebecki takes on New England Cartel member Nick Fiore.

The 30-year-old Rebecki pushed his winning streak to 13 in August, making relatively quick work of Rodrigo Lidio to earn his call to compete in the Octagon. The Polish standout has collected stoppages in 13 of his 16 career wins, so look for him to be hunting finishes from the outset on Saturday.

Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Imavov

Fiore got the call to replace Omar Morales and looks to follow the trail blazed by fellow Cartel members Rob Font and Calvin Kattar. Just 6-0 as a pro against limited competition, the 25-year-old is an excellent grappler with an abundance of upside, but has a tough assignment in front of him this weekend.

Rebecki has a clear edge in terms of experience and the level of competition he’s faced, but expecting to run through Fiore without much struggle would be a mistake. This should be a competitive affair on the canvas (if it gets there) and provide plenty of information about each debutant as they jointly begin their UFC journeys.

UFC 283: Teixeira vs Hill

Javid Basharat vs Mateus Mendonca

Javid Basharat and Mateus Mendonca graduated from DWCS a year apart, but meet inside the Octagon on Saturday to begin their 2023 campaigns.

A member of the Class of ’21, Basharat earned a pair of quality wins in his freshman year on the roster in 2022. In March, the undefeated “Snow Leopard” defeated Trevin Jones before following that up with a victory over Tony Gravely in September, pushing his record to 13-0 in the process.

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Mendonca needed just 48 seconds to dispatch Ashiek Ajim in his appearance at the UFC APEX last September, earning his place in the Class of ’22 by advancing his record to 10-0. The Chute Boxe Diego Lima product outworked former UFC fighter Pedro Nobre in his previous outing, and will look to maintain his winning ways when he makes his first official walk to the Octagon this weekend.

Someone’s “0” has got to go and the process of determining who will suffer that fate should be wildly entertaining to watch. Basharat is well-rounded and precise, while Mendonca has flashed a little more suddenness, which should make this a compelling chess match for as long as it lasts.

Allan Nascimento vs Carlos Hernandez

Next up is a battle in the flyweight division, as Allan Nascimento and Carlos Hernandez each step into the Octagon searching for a second consecutive victory.

Nascimento battled Tagir Ulanbekov to a split decision in his promotional debut, landing on the wrong side of the results, but rebounded with a clear victory over Jake Hadley in his lone appearance last year. A teammate of Mendonca’s, the 31-year-old Brazilian has the well-rounded game to be a potential disruptor in the division this year.

Allan Nascimento of Brazil reacts after the conclusion of his flyweight bout against Raulin Paiva of Brazil during Dana White's Contender Series Brazil at the TUF Gym on August 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWTNCS LLC)
Allan Nascimento of Brazil reacts after the conclusion of his flyweight bout against Raulin Paiva of Brazil during Dana White's Contender Series Brazil at the TUF Gym on August 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWTNCS LLC)

Consecutive split decision wins have carried Hernandez to the UFC and into the win column in his debut, as he earned a contract by edging out Daniel Barez on Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series before doing the same against Victor Altamirano last February. He’s won eight straight overall and works with a good team at the VFS Academy, so expect him to be primed to push Nascimento this weekend.

The flyweight division is going to be front and center in these early events to start 2023, and while this one features fighters outside of the rankings, the victor will have every opportunity to make a push into the Top 15 in 2023.

Charles Johnson vs Jimmy Flick

Charles Johnson and Jimmy Flick each enter the second bout on Saturday’s fight card having won their most recent UFC appearance, though only one of them came recently.

Johnson got the call to the UFC following a strong run inside the LFA cage, where he won and successfully defended the flyweight title. He dropped his debut in London to standout prospect Muhammad Mokaev but rebounded in November with a split decision victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov to get things moving in the right direction again.

Jimmy Flick reacts after submitting Cody Durden in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Jimmy Flick reacts after submitting Cody Durden in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Flick earned a contract on Season 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series, won his promotional debut against Cody Durden by flying triangle choke in the first round, and then announced his retirement. Now, after a couple years away, “The Brick” is back, looking to build on his 16-5 record and resume being a high percentage finisher in the flyweight division.

Will Johnson collect a second straight win to take another step forward or can Flick shake off the rust and snatch up another submission win in his return to the Octagon?

Priscila Cachoeira vs Sijara Eubanks

Priscila Cachoeira and Sijara Eubanks will be the first pair of fighters to grace the Octagon in 2023, opening Saturday’s show in a flyweight tussle that should be action-packed and competitive.

Since starting her UFC tenure with three straight setbacks, Cachoeira arrives in Las Vegas on a two-fight winning streak and having won four of her last five. The indomitable Brazilian earned a TKO win over Ariane Lipski last time out at bantamweight, and carries serious power for the 125-pound weight class.

Sijara Eubanks Dominates Position And Secures The TKO | UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SANDHAGEN VS DILLASHAW
Sijara Eubanks Dominates Position And Secures The TKO | UFC FIGHT NIGHT: SANDHAGEN VS DILLASHAW
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Eubanks returns for the first time since a loss to Melissa Gatto on the final fight card of 2021. The former TUF finalist, who didn’t make it to the finale due to weight cutting issues, has shown the skills to be a contender in the 125-pound weight class, but the scale has beaten her a couple different times, leaving her as a giant question mark in the flyweight ranks to start the year.

Both women like to sling hands and don’t mind trusting in their chins, so don’t be surprised if the 2023 campaign starts with an explosive battle on Saturday.

Daniel Argueta vs Nick Aguirre

Daniel Argueta and Nick Aguirre meet in this preliminary card pairing of fresh-faced featherweights hoping to turn potential into positive results in 2023.

Unbeaten through his first seven pro fights, Aguirre enters the Octagon on short notice, replacing the injured Isaac Dulgarian. With an unbeaten record that has seen him end all his victories before the final bell, though, “Slick Nick” appears to be right on time to make his UFC debut and find himself a place on the roster against a fellow up and comer.

A contestant on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, Argueta lost to eventual bantamweight winner Ricky Turcios in the opening round, and then earned three additional wins under the LFA banner to solidify his place on the UFC radar. He acquitted himself well in a short-notice assignment against Damon Jackson in the spring, and now looks to show what he can do with a full camp behind him here.

This should be a spirited battle between two athletes that have enjoyed a great deal of success up to this point in their professional careers.

UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Imavov took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 14, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - relive the action on UFC Fight Pass