KETLEN VIEIRA VS. MIESHA TATE
Originally slated to take place in mid-October, bantamweight contenders Ketlen Vieira and Miesha Tate meet here in a five-round main event that will help clarify things at the top of the division heading into next year.
It’s been a challenging year for Vieira, who dropped a questionable decision to Yana Kunitskaya in February and then had an August date against Sara McMann fall through when the Olympic silver medalist aggravated a previous injury. She was then paired with Tate, only to have that bout pushed back, as well.
The 30-year-old Brazilian has only fought three times since pushing her record to 10-0 with a victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 222, with a major knee injury sidelining her for an extended stretch before she returned and was bounced from the ranks of the unbeaten by Irene Aldana. She looked solid in getting back into the win column against Sijara Eubanks and thrived in spots opposite Kunitskaya, and a victory over Tate on Saturday would certainly elevate her into the title conversation.
Tate ended a four-and-a-half-year retirement in July, returning to the Octagon to collect a third-round stoppage victory over Marion Reneau; it was her first win since winning the bantamweight strap at UFC 196. The mother of two and veteran competitor looked incredibly sharp for someone that hadn’t competed for such a long stretch, tapping back into the improved striking she’d displayed prior to her hiatus, while reminding everyone that she’s always been a skilled grappler inside the Octagon.
Getting that victory put Tate back on the radar and back in the rankings, and a second straight triumph this weekend would put her all the way back into the mix to face the top names in the division — and perhaps even fight for championship gold again — next year.
This is a really compelling matchup between a pair of talented contenders that could each benefit greatly from a dominant effort on Saturday. Expect a lot of entertaining, technical grappling exchanges and a spirited back-and-forth for as long as this one lasts.
MICHAEL CHIESA VS. SEAN BRADY
A battle of ranked welterweights occupies the penultimate place on Saturday’s fight card as Michael Chiesa looks to get back into the win column by halting Sean Brady’s unbeaten run towards the Top 10.
Chiesa made the move to welterweight in the second half of 2018 and has looked outstanding, earning four straight victories, including a dominant decision win over Neil Magny to start the year. His run of success ended in August when he got caught in a D’Arce choke in his showdown with Vicente Luque at UFC 265.
Never one to shy away from a challenge and linger on a setback for too long, the Spokane native and former Ultimate Fighter winner looks to cement his standing as a Top 10 welterweight and get moving in the right direction again this weekend in an ultra-challenging scrap against the undefeated Brady.
The 28-year-old from Philadelphia was regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport prior to his arriving on the UFC stage, having won and successfully defended the CFFC welterweight title, along with picking up victories over UFC vet Colton Smith and future TUF alum Gilbert Urbina. Brady continued rolling once he reached the Octagon, scoring decision wins over Court McGee and Ismail Naurdiev to begin his UFC tenure, before posting back-to-back finishes of Christian Aguilera and Jake Matthews to push his record to 14-0 heading into this one.
This is precisely the kind of matchup the unbeaten emerging talent needs at this point in his career — a stern test against an established veteran — and it’s a tremendous opportunity for Chiesa, as well, as handing Brady his first loss would make it clear that “Maverick” is on a different level than his ascending opponent and get him right back into the thick of the chase in the welterweight division.
LOMA LOOKBOONMEE VS. LOOPY GODINEZ
Strawweights with matching 6-2 records meet in this short notice pairing as Loma Lookboonmee looks for her third consecutive victory as she takes on the ultra-active Loopy Godinez.
Entering on a two-fight winning streak, Lookboonmee has shown solid development through the first four fights of her UFC career, utilizing her strength in the clinch to make up for her diminutive stature. Unlike the last time the 25-year-old Thai fighter had an opponent fall out, she faces someone with commensurate experience here, not an Angela Hill type again, giving her ample opportunity to pick up her third straight victory this weekend.
This will be the fourth appearance for Godinez in eight months, and she tried to log one more that didn’t come together, putting her on a Kevin Holland-like pace in her rookie campaign. Last time out, she moved up a division and dropped a decision to Luana Carolina, but the week prior, the Mexican Canadian scored an impressive first-round submission win to secure her first UFC victory.
This is a terrific fight between two emerging talents with bright futures in the 115-pound weight class. It’ll be interesting to see if Lookboonmee can keep things in the clinch or if Godinez will be able to turn this into a grappling match.
JOANNE WOOD VS. TAILA SANTOS
Joanne Wood and Taila Santos square off in this battle of Top 10 strawweights looking to cement their place in the divisional hierarchy heading into next year.
Wood has alternated wins and losses over her last six outings, entering off a narrow split decision defeat to Lauren Muprhy. That victory propelled Murphy into a championship opportunity, making her the second straight fighter to get the best of the Scottish standout and then fight for gold, which shows you how close the recently wed Ultimate Fighter alum is to a title shot of her own.
After losing her promotional debut in early 2019, Santos has used her last three appearances to establish herself as one of the more dangerous emerging names in the 125-pound weight division. Filling in here for Alexa Grasso, the Brazilian makes a quick turnaround after out-hustling Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 266, and if she extends her winning streak to four, the 28-year-old could put herself on the short list of possible title challengers heading into 2022.
Having been a bride in real life, can Wood avoid being a bridesmaid inside the Octagon and secure the victory that finally carries her to a title shot or will Santos keep rolling and join Murphy and Maia in beating Wood and then facing Valentina Shevchenko?
DAVEY GRANT VS. ADRIAN YANEZ
Talk about a perfect piece of matchmaking…
Veteran Davey Grant looks to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to newly minted Top 10 bantamweight Marlon Vera as he returns to action against emerging standout Adrian Yanez in what is a favorite for Fight of the Night.
Grant’s emergence is one of the best stories of the last couple years, as the British veteran battled myriad injuries for a number of years after advancing to the finals on TUF 18. But over the last two years, the 35-year-old has logged as many appearances as he did in his first five years on the roster, winning three straight before crossing paths with Vera in June.
Yanez has been nothing short of a revelation since arriving in the UFC following a blistering 39-second knockout win on the Contender Series, posting three straight stoppage wins to push his record to 14-3 overall and establish himself as one of the best young fighters in the bantamweight division. The Houston native has collected a Performance of the Night bonus in each of his first three appearances, and a victory over Grant would send him into next year on the cusp of cracking the Top 15.
This is the kind of veteran test every up-and-comer must pass in order to take the next step forward in their careers. Grant is tough as nails, has proven power, and a sneaky submission game, so Yanez will need to be at his best in order to beat the Brit and keep things moving in the right direction.
PAT SABATINI VS. TUCKER LUTZ
Emerging featherweights looking to build off quality early returns meet here as CFFC alum Pat Sabatini takes on Dana White’s Contender Series veteran Tucker Lutz.
After wondering if he was ever going to get the call to the Octagon, Sabatini’s phone finally rang earlier this year, and through his first two starts, the 31-year-old Pennsylvania native has proven he belongs. Sabatini outworked veteran Tristan Connelly in his promotional debut in April, then navigated an early knockdown to collect a first-round heel hook finish against Jamall Emmers at the end of August, lifting his record to 15-3 and extending his winning streak to four.
Lutz needed two victories on Season 4 of the annual talent search series to convince the UFC President he had the goods to compete on the biggest stage in the sport, and he proved himself with a unanimous decision win over wily veteran Kevin Aguilar in his debut. The 27-year-old has won a dozen consecutive fights after dropping his pro debut, and profiles as the kind of emerging competitor that is only going to keep getting better as he continues to face top-end talent.
The featherweight waters are crowded and full of sharks, so every battle carries some divisional ramifications, which means these two hopefuls are squaring off to see which one will take another step forward heading into their sophomore year on the roster.
LUANA PINHEIRO VS. SAM HUGHES
Brazil’s Luana Pinheiro looks to make show more of the promise she exhibited in her truncated debut, while Sam Hughes steps in on short notice hoping to secure her first promotional victory in this clash of strawweight neophytes.
Pinheiro mauled Stephanie Frausto last November on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a contract, and then was looking sharp in her debut against Randa Markos before getting hit with an illegal kick that brought the fight to an abrupt halt. The 27-year-old has won seven straight, all in the first round, and displayed aggressive striking to go along with a dynamic clinch game last time out against Markos.
Hughes has had some rough luck since arriving in the UFC as a short-notice replacement last December, suffering an eye injury in her debut opposite Tecia Torres before dropping a decision to Lookboonmee in her sophomore appearance, while also having two different fights fall apart. A collegiate track standout, the 29-year-old is a quality athlete and works with a good team, so now that she’s got her footing inside the Octagon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hughes turn in her best performance to date on Saturday.
RANI YAHYA VS. KYUNG HO KANG
Rani Yahya and Kyung Ho Kang meet in this matchup of bantamweight veterans with strong records inside the Octagon.
The 37-year-old Yahya is 12-4-1 (with one no contest) over the course of his UFC career, entering Saturday’s event off a second-round submission win over Ray Rodriguez in March. A title challenger back in his WEC days, the Brazilian veteran is as crafty as they come on the canvas, having logged 21 of his 27 career victories by submission.
Kang makes his return after nearly two years on the sidelines, looking to extend his winning streak to four and brandishing a 6-2 record (with one no contest) overall in the UFC. The 34-year-old South Korean submitted Teruto Ishihara at UFC 234 to kick off his run of success before landing on the happy side of consecutive split decision verdicts against Brandon Davis and Liu Pingyuan.
This fight was originally slated to take place in the summer before getting pushed back only hours before the fight when Yahya tested positive for COVID-19. Kept intact, it should still be the thoroughly entertaining clash of veterans everyone was hoping for when it was first scheduled.
RAFA GARCIA VS. NATAN LEVY
Rafa Garcia looks to break out of a two-fight slide on Saturday as he welcomes Contender Series graduate Natan Levy to the Octagon for the first time.
Arriving in the UFC with a perfect 12-0 mark, Garcia has dropped back-to-back decisions to Nasrat Haqparast and Chris Gruetzemacher ahead of this one. The 27-year-old faced and beat solid competition to land his chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport, and he needs to get back to that form this weekend if he hopes to avoid a three-fight slide.
Levy punched his ticket to the UFC with a third-round submission win last November on the Contender Series, moving to 6-0 in the process. The 30-year-old Israeli has a well-rounded game and exciting style, but he’s faced limited competition to this point, so it will be interesting to see how he handles himself sharing the cage with someone as experienced as Garcia on Saturday night.
There are no layups in the lightweight division and the dynamics of this matchup are intriguing, as Garcia needs a victory in a bad way, while Levy is looking to remain unbeaten and make a splash in his debut. Only one of those things will come to pass, and it should be fun to find out which one it will be this weekend.
CODY DURDEN VS. AORIQILENG
It’s a battle of flyweights hoping to secure their first UFC victories as Cody Durden takes on Aoriqileng in what should be an action-packed preliminary card pairing.
Durden debuted by fighting Chris Gutierrez to a draw up at bantamweight in the summer of 2020, but quickly lost his return to flyweight, getting caught in a flying triangle choke by Jimmy Flick. The 30-year-old American Top Team Atlanta representative had won seven straight prior to arriving in the UFC, and will look to recapture that form — and capture his first UFC win — when he steps in for the third time this weekend.
Debuting opposite Jeff Molina at UFC 261 in April, Aoriqileng ran level with “El Jefe” through the first two rounds, only for the Glory MMA & Fitness standout to pull away in the third. The 28-year-old “Mongolian Murderer” had won six straight before that setback and has an 18-8 record overall, making him an intriguing, experienced addition to the 125-pound ranks.
This one has the potential to set the tone for the evening, as Durden showed his willingness to scrap it out against Gutierrez, and Aoriqileng was clearly game to do the same against Molina, so don’t be surprised if these two get after it early on Saturday.
SHAYILAN NUERDANBIEKE VS. SEAN SORIANO
Shayilan Nuerdanbieke looks to rebound from a loss in his promotional debut, while Sean Soriano seeks a victory in the second appearance of his second tour of duty with the UFC as the two face off in the featherweight opener this weekend.
Nuerdanbieke dropped a unanimous decision to Australian Joshua Culibao in his May debut, snapping a tidy two-fight winning streak. The 27-year-old has already logged 26 professional appearances and looks to follow in the footsteps of his former opponent Rongzhu in having a much more impressive showing the second time he steps into the Octagon.
Things started well for Soriano in his short notice return in May, as he had Cristos Giagos hurt in the first round, only for “The Spartan” to weather the storm and secure the finish in the second. Moving back down to his natural weight class, the Sanford MMA staple looks to tap into the skills that delivered victories over Saul Almeida, Jose Mariscal, and Noah Lahat ahead of his return.