MARVIN VETTORI VS. KEVIN HOLLAND
Saturday’s fight card wraps with a bout between middleweights whose breakout performances of 2020 are somewhat intertwined, as Marvin Vettori squares off with Kevin Holland.
The biggest of Vettori’s two victories last year came in early December when he steamrolled Jack Hermansson in the first main event assignment of his UFC career, an opportunity that only became available to him after Holland was scratched from the contest. In turn, Vettori stepping up gave Holland the opportunity to fill the void opposite the Italian’s original opponent, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, which became the most memorable of the Contender Series alum’s five victories in 2020 when he knocked out the Brazilian stalwart from his knees at UFC 256.
Now, four months later, their paths cross inside the Octagon, with Holland tying the record for the quickest turnaround between two headlining assignments in UFC history and Vettori out to continue the surge that has propelled him into title contention in the middleweight division.
The 27-year-old Vettori had an inconsistent start to his UFC tenure, amassing a 2-2-1 record through his first five bouts, but those setbacks now help illustrate why he’s such an intriguing figure in the championship picture. The second of those losses came by split decision to current titleholder Israel Adesanya, and the Kings MMA product hasn’t lost since, making major strides in his approach while stringing together four consecutive victories heading into this weekend’s event.
Holland, who replaces the injured Darren Till, entered 2021 with a tremendous amount of momentum, but faltered just a couple of weeks ago, dropping a unanimous decision to Derek Brunson in his first headlining turn. Now the talkative “Trailblazer” gets a chance to quickly get back into the win column by toppling a higher-ranked foe, and potentially injecting more uncertainty into the standings atop the middleweight ranks in the process.
SODIQ YUSUFF VS. ARNOLD ALLEN
Standout featherweights on the cusp of title contention clash in the co-main event of the evening as “Super” Sodiq Yusuff meets Arnold “Almighty” Allen in a battle straight out of the pages of Marvel Comics.
A member of the Contender Series Class of ‘18, Yusuff has gone 4-0 inside the Octagon to begin his UFC tenure, alternating between first-round finishes and hard-fought decision wins. Last time out, the 27-year-old from Nigeria got the better of things against divisional stalwart Andre Fili before being forced to withdraw from a proposed date opposite Edson Barboza later in the year.
Like his opponent this weekend, Allen too has been out of action since early last year, when he pushed his record in the UFC to 7-0 with a unanimous decision triumph over Nik Lentz. The talented Brit, who trains at Montreal’s Tristar Gym, remains one of the most underrated competitors on the roster, as the biggest opportunities of his career have fallen by the wayside as a result of injuries, including 2020 fights with Josh Emmett and Jeremy Stephens.
SAM ALVEY VS. JULIAN MARQUEZ
Following a three-year, seven-fight run at light heavyweight, Sam Alvey returns to the middleweight ranks to take on Julian Marquez.
One of the most experienced fighters on the UFC roster, the 34-year-old Alvey will be competing for the 50th time in his professional career on Saturday, looking to snap a five-fight run without a victory. He’s 8-5 inside the Octagon when competing at 185-pounds, and had positive moments in each of his last two outings, rallying late only to drop a split decision against Ryan Spann before battling Da-un Jung to a draw at UFC 254.
Following an arduous two-year layoff, Marquez returned to action earlier this year and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, connecting on a last-minute anaconda choke in his UFC 258 clash with Maki Pitolo. The Contender Series grad (Class of ’17) also holds victories over Phillip Hawes and Darren Stewart and carries a 100% finishing rate into his clash with the smiling veteran on Saturday.
NINA ANSAROFF VS. MACKENZIE DERN
It’s a battle between Top 15 strawweights and UFC moms as Nina Ansaroff returns to the Octagon to take on Mackenzie Dern.
Fighting for the first time since giving birth to her daughter Raegan Ann in September, Ansaroff looks to get back into the win column and cement her standing as one of the top contenders in the 115-pound weight class. Last time out, the American Top Team representative dropped a unanimous decision to Tatiana Suarez that halted her four-fight winning streak, so it will be interesting to see if she can hit the ground running and immediately re-establish herself in her first appearance in 22 months.
RELATED: Rise Of Mackenzie Dern
Like Ansaroff, Dern pressed pause on her to welcome a daughter, who was born in the spring of 2019. She returned to action five months later, dropping a decision to Amanda Ribas, but has been impressive in three fights since, submitting Hannah Cifers and Randa Markos before outworking former Invicta FC champ Virna Jandiroba at UFC 256.
MIKE PERRY VS. DANIEL RODRIGUEZ
Main card business gets underway in the welterweight division as all-action bruisers Mike Perry and Daniel Rodriguez meet in a bout that should light the fuse for an explosive six-fight run on ABC.
Still just 29 years old, Perry feels like he’s at the crossroads of his career, entering off a unanimous decision loss to Tim Means in a fight where he missed weight by a considerable margin and sporting a 3-6 record over his last nine outings. The Florida-based fighter is undoubtedly tough and has flashed destructive potential in the past, but he’s struggled to find consistent success inside the Octagon while encountering a number of issues outside the cage, making him question mark who feels equally capable of rattling off four straight tremendous performances or dropping three straight in the next 12 months.
Rodriguez was one of the pleasant surprises of 2020, turning a short-notice opportunity in February into a three-fight winning streak before landing on the wrong side of the cards in his quest for a fourth consecutive UFC win against Nicolas Dalby in November at UFC 25. The loss snapped the 34-year-old’s nine-fight winning streak, which included a unanimous decision triumph on Season Three of the Contender Series, but Rodriguez still had an outstanding rookie campaign and will look to start his sophomore season in the Octagon on a positive note on Saturday.
This is one of those matchups where it could end with a single blow just seconds into the contest or become a 15-minute Fight of the Year contender, with all options in between being fair game as well.
Best Finishes | UFC Fight Night: Vettori vs Holland
Best Finishes | UFC Fight Night: Vettori vs Holland
JIM MILLER VS. JOE SOLECKI
Lightweights close out the prelims as veteran Jim Miller squares off with Joe Solecki.
Currently tied with Donald Cerrone for the most appearances in UFC history and third on the all-time wins list, Miller remains a competitive threat in the middle of the 155-pound weight class, happy to face veterans and prospects alike. He picked up two bonuses in three appearances in 2020, and is 3-2 over his last five outings, showing there is still plenty of fight left in the 37-year-old divisional stalwart.
Solecki punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round submission win on Season Three of the Contender Series, then out-hustled veteran Matt Wiman in his promotional debut five months later. Last summer, he pushed his winning streak to five with a first-round submission win over Austin Hubbard, establishing himself as one of the top young talents in the lightweight ranks in the process.
SCOTT HOLTZMAN VS. MATEUSZ GAMROT
Here’s another clash in the talent-rich 155-pound ranks that carries a ton of intrigue as veteran Scott Holtzman looks to get back into the win column as he faces off with Polish standout Mateusz Gamrot, who returns after suffering the first loss of his career last time out.
A lifelong athlete who made the transition to MMA later than many of his contemporaries, Holtzman has put together a 14-4 record that includes seven wins in 10 trips into the Octagon. After beating Miller last February, “Hot Sauce” was handed the first stoppage loss of his career to Beneil Dariush last August.
A two-division champion under the KSW banner in his native Poland, Gamrot’s highly anticipated debut in the Octagon proved to be disappointing as the 30-year-old landed on the wrong side of a close split decision verdict, halting his 17-fight winning streak. The talented lightweight has been training with the elite crew at American Top Team since the start of the year in preparation for this fight and will look to start a new winning streak when he makes the walk to the UFC cage for the second time on Saturday.
JOHN MAKDESSI VS. IGNACIO BAHAMONDES
It’s “Veteran vs. Newcomer” in the lightweight division as Canadian John Makdessi welcomes recent Contender Series grad Ignacio Bahamondes to the Octagon for the first time.
A 24-fight veteran who has spent more than a decade competing in the UFC, Makdessi had a three-fight winning streak snapped in his lone appearance of 2020. The taekwondo stylist, who made his promotional debut at UFC 124, is a dozen years the senior of his dance partner on Saturday night, and will look to use that edge in experience and comfort with his surroundings to his advantage as he makes his first start of 2021 this weekend.
There is no other way to put it: Bahamondes is a huge lightweight, standing six-foot-three and brandishing a 75.5-inch reach that he puts to good use. He looked outstanding in registering a second-round stoppage win over Edson Gomez on the Contender Series back in November, and he will look to pick up his third straight win as he steps in opposite Makdessi back inside the UFC APEX on Saturday.
YORGAN DE CASTRO VS. JARJIS DANHO
Heavyweights looking to get back into the win column clash in this one as Contender Series grad Yorgan De Castro welcomes Jarjis Danho back to the Octagon.
The first fighter from Cape Verde to crack the UFC roster, the 33-year-old De Castro punched his ticket to the Octagon with a first-round stoppage win on the Contender Series, then followed it up with a similar result opposite Justin Tafa in their joint promotional debuts. Since then, however, “The Mad Titan” has caught a couple losses, landing on the wrong side of unanimous decision verdicts against Greg Hardy and Carlos Felipe.
When he makes the walk on Saturday night, it will be the first time the 37-year-old Danho has competed since the fall of 2016. After arriving to the UFC with an unbeaten record, “Man Mountain” lost a technical majority decision to Daniel Omielanczuk in his debut, and then battled Christian Colombo to a draw seven months later.
HUNTER AZURE VS. JACK SHORE
Talented bantamweight prospects cross paths here as Hunter Azure seeks a second straight victory and to become the first man to defeat Welsh standout Jack Shore.
A collegiate wrestler who earned an opportunity to compete in the UFC with a relentless victory over Chris Ocon on Season Three of the Contender Series, Azure impressed in his debut by out-hustling recent TUF winner Brad Katona, but then landed on the wrong side of things in a featherweight pairing with Brian Kelleher last May. The 29-year-old got back into the win column by toppling another Canadian, Cole Smith, last time out, and goes looking for his first UFC winning streak on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Shore is 13-0 with a dozen finishes in his professional career, including consecutive stoppage wins inside the UFC cage. A former Cage Warriors champion, “Tank” has never tasted defeat in MMA competition, turning pro in 2016 following a 12-fight run of success as an amateur, and maintaining that form through to the highest level in the sport today.
LUIS SALDANA VS. JORDAN GRIFFIN
Contender Series graduates Luis Saldana (Class of ’20) and Jordan Griffin (Class of ’18) square off in this intriguing featherweight pairing on Saturday night.
Saldana punched his ticket to the UFC with a third-round stoppage win over Team Alpha Male standout Vince Murdock last November, sealing the victory with a pair of front kicks to the face and a torrent of unanswered blows from mount. The 30-year-old Fight Ready representative has won four straight, all by stoppage, and has the kind of length and power that makes him an interesting addition to the 145-pound ranks.
Griffin won a frenetic fight with Maurice Mitchell in the summer of 2018 to land his UFC contract and has maintained that same style of fighting in his four fights since, amassing a 1-3 record while dropping decisions to divisional standouts Dan Ige, Chas Skelly, and Youssef Zalal. The 31-year-old has a nasty arsenal of chokes and could really use a strong showing in this one, so don’t be surprised if Griffin goes hunting for Saldana’s neck early and often in this one.
Debut Day: Sasha Palatnikov
Debut Day: Sasha Palatnikov
DA-UN JUNG VS. WILLIAM KNIGHT
Promising light heavyweights meet here as South Korea’s Da-un Jung faces off with powerhouse Contender Series alum William Knight.
Unbeaten in his last 13 fights, Jung has gone 2-0-1 in his first three UFC appearances, submitting Khadis Ibragimov in his debut before registering a 64-second knockout win over Mike Rodriguez in his sophomore outing at home at the close of 2019. Last year at UFC 254, the 27-year-old Korean Top Team member battled Sam Alvey to a split draw on UFC Fight Island, giving him a five-year run without a loss.
Knight earned a developmental deal following his first appearance on the Contender Series in 2019, then got promoted to the big leagues following a first-round stoppage win over Cody Brundage last fall. Just 25 days later, he outworked Aleksa Camur to pick up a victory in his promotional debut, pushing his record to 9-1 in the process.
There are a ton of opportunities for advancement in the light heavyweight division at the moment and both these men have shown flashes of upside to this point in their careers. The winner should receive a step up in competition coming out of this one, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see one or both of these men knocking at the door of the Top 15 in the next 18-24 months, max.
IMPA KASANGANAY VS. SASHA PALATNIKOV
Saturday night’s action gets underway in the welterweight division, as Impa Kasanganay drops to the 170-pound weight class for a meeting with UFC sophomore Sasha Palatnikov.
Kasanganay had an eventful 2020, earning a second consecutive victory on the Contender Series in August and victory in his promotional debut just a couple weeks later against fellow grad Maki Pitolo. Then in October, the 27-year-old was on the receiving end of Joaquin Buckley’s incredible jumping spinning back kick that became an immediate viral sensation.
Now training at Sanford MMA in South Florida, the raw, but talented “Tshilobo” remains one to keep an eye on as he continues to gain experience and develop his skills.
Palatnikov made quiet the impression in his promotional debut, weathering an early onslaught from Louis Cosce to rally and secure a third-round stoppage win as the biggest underdog on the card back in late November. The 32-year-old, who currently calls Las Vegas home, has fought and trained all over the world and brings a wealth of experience to the Octagon, despite a 6-2 record.