DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO VS. JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ
Flyweight rivals Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez will once again fight to determine the new king of the division as the standout contenders meet in the main event of this weekend’s fight card on Fight Island.
The duo faced off earlier this year in Norfolk, Virginia, but the title remained in limbo as Figueiredo missed weight ahead of the bout, eliminating him from the opportunity to claim the vacant strap. After a spirited first round, the pair clashed heads midway through the second with Benavidez getting the worst of it, suffering a sizeable cut along his hairline. As Benavidez backed up, Figueiredo hunted him down, connecting with a straight right hand down the middle that brought the fight to a close.
With the first bout featuring a number of crucial “what ifs” and no champion crowned, running it back for a second time only made sense.
The biggest questions surrounding this rematch all stem from Figueiredo missing weight the first time around. Not only will all eyes be on the Brazilian when he steps on the scale Friday morning, but it also remains to be seen what kind of impact not making weight in their first meeting had on his energy levels and performance that night.
It will also be interesting to see what kind of adjustments each man can make after getting a feel for the other inside the cage back in February. It was a tight, competitive fight with both men landing solid blows up until the point where they clashed heads, so expect more of the same this time around.
JACK HERMANSSON VS. KELVIN GASTELUM
Middleweight title hopefuls Jack Hermansson and Kelvin Gastelum square off in the penultimate bout of the evening, each hoping to secure a victory and cement their place in the queue of contenders in the 185-pound ranks.
Hermansson got his second straight main event assignment last time out but had his four-fight winning streak halted emphatically by Jared Cannonier less than 30 seconds into the second round of their September clash in Copenhagen, Denmark. The 32-year-old “Joker” was coming off an impressive showing against Jacare Souza in April and had finished each of his three opponents ahead of that contest, and will look to have a return to form here as he faces the former interim title challenger.
Gastelum landed on the wrong side of the results in each of his two appearances in 2019, but still saw his stock rise, nonetheless. The former Ultimate Fighter winner went shot-for-shot with Israel Adesanya for 25 minutes in their battle for the interim title at UFC 236, then followed it up roughly seven months later with a split decision setback against Darren Till in another close scrap that could have gone either way.
While the outcomes haven’t been there for Gastelum of late, his last four outings have proven he’s a legitimate contender in the middleweight division, which means Hermansson can claim that designation for himself with a victory on Saturday. The 185-pound ranks are in the process of getting sorted out at the moment, and this fight will go a long way to help delineate things as the second half of the year gets underway in earnest.
MARC DIAKIESE VS. RAFAEL FIZIEV
Action shifts to the lightweight division in this one as Marc Diakiese goes in search of his third straight victory against Tiger Muay Thai representative Rafael Fiziev.
It’s been a tale of streaks for Diakiese in the UFC as the 27-year-old began his run with three straight wins, followed it up with three straight losses, and has since bounced back with consecutive unanimous decision victories over Joseph Duffy and Lando Vannata. The “Bonecrusher” spent several years training at American Top Team in South Florida, but has since returned home, connecting with the team at Asylum Vale Tudo in Leeds.
Fiziev carried some buzz into his promotional debut last April but lasted just 86 seconds after getting caught with a spinning back kick and follow-up punches in a bout against returning veteran Magomed Mustafaev. He bounced back with a unanimous decision victory over Alex White in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon six months later and looks to build on that performance by securing a second straight victory here.
Both of these men like to come forward and strike, which means all the possibilities are on the table once these lightweights hit the cage. It could end early. We could get a 15-minute battle that earns Fight of the Night. It could be some combination of the two.
One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be fun.
ARIANE LIPSKI VS. LUANA CAROLINA
Brazilians looking to build on their first victories inside the Octagon collide here as Ariane Lipski faces off with Luana Carolina in an intriguing main card pairing.
Lipski established herself as a prospect to watch during a nine-fight winning streak that saw her win the KSW flyweight title and successfully defend it twice while posting victories over Sheila Gaff, Diana Belbita, and Mariana Morais. The 26-year-old “Queen of Violence” dropped consecutive decisions to Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann in her first two UFC appearances before securing her first victory last November against Isabela de Padua.
Nine months after earning a UFC contract with a victory over Mabelly Lima on the Contender Series, Carolina made her promotional debut at UFC 237, registering a unanimous decision victory over Priscila Cachoeira. Injuries prevented her from competing for a second time in 2019, but the 27-year-old will look to extend her winning streak to seven as she finally makes her sophomore appearance inside the UFC cage this weekend.
Both fighters have shown flashes of potential over the course of their respective careers and it will be interesting to see if one or both can take another step forward in their development this year.
ALEXANDRE PANTOJA VS. ASKAR ASKAROV
The top seed from Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter takes on an unbeaten emerging contender in a bout with serious divisional stakes attached in this one as Alexandre Pantoja meets Askar Askarov in the main card opener.
Pantoja has won six of eight inside the Octagon thus far, including a unanimous decision win over Brandon Moreno and first-round knockout win over Matt Schnell last time out. The Brazilian, who advanced to the semifinals on the long-running reality TV competition and won his “bronze medal” matchup against Eric Shelton in their shared debuts, has won four of his last five heading into this one, with his only loss coming against headliner Deiveson Figueiredo.
The 27-year-old Askarov made his first appearance in the Octagon last September, battling Moreno to a draw in Mexico City. He followed that up with a unanimous decision victory over former title challenger Tim Elliott in January, pushing his record to 10-0-1 in the process. After facing solid competition on the regional circuit, the partially deaf Russian fighter has done well against a pair of tenured flyweight talents in his first two trips into the UFC cage and can establish himself as a bona fide title threat with a victory here.
This one will invariably have an impact on the Top 5 in the flyweight division, where Moreno and Alex Perez have established themselves as the top two contenders behind this weekend’s championship combatants. With no firm plans in place for how things will move forward in the division once a new champion is crowned, this is an opportunity for Pantoja and Askarov to make their case for a championship opportunity or to be included a title eliminator bout next time out.
ROMAN DOLIDZE VS. KHADIS IBRAGIMOV
Light heavyweights Khadis Ibragimov and Roman Dolidze meet in the final preliminary card bout of this weekend’s fight card in Abu Dhabi.
Unbeaten in eight pro fights heading into his UFC debut last summer, Ibragimov enters Saturday’s contest looking to snap a two-fight slide after dropping consecutive contests to Da-un Jung and Ed Herman. After starting fast, tiring, and getting submitted in his debut, the 25-year-old Ibragimov looked better in his sophomore setback against the battle-tested Herman, but has yet to find the rhythm that carried him to five straight stoppage victories prior to joining the UFC roster.
The 31-year-old Dolidze carries a perfect 6-0 mark into his Octagon debut this weekend. He’s spent his last five fights competing under the World Warriors Championships banner in Ukraine, where he won and defended the light heavyweight title, and has yet to see the scorecards in his career, venturing past the first round twice and seeing the third round only once.
Will Ibragimov get back into the win column or will Dolidze maintain his unblemished record through his UFC debut?
GRANT DAWSON VS. NAD NARIMANI
Grant Dawson and Nad Narimani traditionally compete in the featherweight division, but this weekend, the tandem has agreed to a catchweight fight at 150 pounds instead.
Dawson is one of the top prospects on the UFC roster — a 26-year-old with a 15-1 record that includes three wins in as many starts inside the Octagon and an assortment of skills that could make him a perennial contender in the future, in addition to being surrounded by a great team. However, he missed the featherweight limit by a considerable amount ahead of his last fight and needs to get that aspect dialed in if he wants to make a real run at the rankings in the ultra-competitive 145-pound weight class.
A pro since July 2011, Narimani parlayed a Cage Warriors championship victory into a UFC contract in 2018 then scored decision victories in each of his first two trips into the Octagon to extend his record to 12-2 overall. Last time out, the 33-year-old “Smiler” was stopped by fellow Brit Mike Gundy, and now he looks to bounce back by handing Dawson the second loss of his career.
Every fight carries a great deal of significance at the moment in the 145-pound weight class, so even though this one is being contested at a catchweight, expect the outcome to have a serious impact on what comes next for both the victor and the vanquished.
JOSEPH DUFFY VS. JOEL ALVAREZ
Irish veteran Joseph Duffy looks to break the first two-fight skid of his professional career this weekend in Abu Dhabi as he squares off with Spanish lightweight Joel Alvarez.
After arriving in the UFC with a tremendous amount of fanfare thanks to his Cage Warriors win over Conor McGregor, the last couple of years have been rough for Duffy. He suffered a stoppage loss to James Vick at UFC 217 in New York City, failed to make an appearance in 2018, and dropped a unanimous decision to Marc Diakiese in his return to action last March. Now 4-3 in the UFC, the quiet lightweight will look to register his first victory since March 2017 when he crosses the threshold into the cage on Saturday.
Standing six-foot-three, Alvarez is towering for the 155-pound ranks and will have a four-inch reach advantage in this one. After dropping his promotional debut to Damir Ismagulov in February 2019, “El Fenomeno” got right back into the win column less than four months later with a second-round stoppage win over Danilo Belluardo in Stockholm.
This is a crucial bout for both men for differing reasons, as Duffy attempts to stave off a three-fight slide, while Alvarez goes in search of the biggest victory of his career. No matter how it shakes out, getting to the final result should be entertaining.
BRETT JOHNS VS. MONTEL JACKSON
This might be the best “under the radar” fight of the entire month, as Brett Johns squares off with Montel Jackson in a terrific clash of potential bantamweight contenders.
Spending an entire year on the sidelines after suffering consecutive losses prompted people to forget about the talented Johns, who pushed his record to 15-0 with victories in each of his first three UFC appearances before losing to Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz. He returned to action earlier this year with a third-round submission win over Contender Series alum Tony Gravely and is in the running for being the best fighter not currently ranked in their respective division.
Jackson arrives on Fight Island with a 9-1 record and riding a three-fight winning streak, but even those solid numbers still don’t paint a complete picture of his potential. “Quik” made his pro debut on June 24, 2017, earned a victory on the Contender Series the following summer, and debuted in the Octagon six weeks after that. Now he arrives in Abu Dhabi with a chance to topple a former Top 15 fighter, push his winning streak to four, and potentially earn himself a place in the rankings.
Will Johns’ edge in experience and overall savvy lead the Welshman to another victory or can Jackson keep the ball rolling and score the biggest victory of his career this weekend?
MALCOLM GORDON VS. AMIR ALBAZI
Training out of the Adrenaline Training Centre in London, Ontario, Gordon has been a fixture on the Canadian regional scene for the last seven-plus years, amassing a 12-3 record and carrying a four-fight winning streak with him into his debut. Each of his last three fights have been championship contests under the TKO banner, where he won and then successfully defended the flyweight title, most recently knocking out TUF 24 contestant Yoni Sherbatov in 92 seconds.
The 26-year-old Albazi carries a 12-1 record into this weekend’s contest, having rebounded from the first loss of his career with a first-round submission victory over Ryan Curtis back in November. A member of the London Shootfighters team, “The Prince” has dominated his competition thus far, with his lone setback coming against former UFC competitor Jose “Shorty” Torres.
Both men have the potential to be solid long-term additions to the flyweight ranks, with the winner potentially earning an expedited push as UFC looks to re-establish the division after crowning a new champion in this weekend’s main event.
DAVI RAMOS VS. ARMAN TSARUKYAN
The last two fighters to face lightweight contender Islam Makhachev face off in this one as Davi Ramos meets Arman Tsarukyan in an exciting preliminary card pairing.
Brazil’s Ramos makes his second straight appearance on Yas Island after losing to the surging Makhachev on the main card of UFC 242 last September. The loss snapped the powerful grappler’s four-fight winning streak and now the 33-year-old “Tasmanian Devil” looks to bounce back.
Tsarukyan faced Makhachev in his promotional debut last April in St. Petersburg, Russia, giving the confident Dagestani grappler a solid run for his money en route to a unanimous decision loss. He rebounded with a strong showing against Olivier Aubin-Mercier in June and looks to make it 14 wins in 15 starts by defeating Ramos this weekend.
Much like with things in the featherweight division, every fight in the lightweight division carries a great deal of significance, as a single loss can set a fighter back two or three steps, while each triumph brings with it a step-up in competition. Both of these men have their eyes set on the Top 15, so expect a spirited affair from start to finish when they step into the Octagon.
CARLOS FELIPE VS. SERGHEI SPIVAC
A pair of 25-year-olds looking to make waves in the heavyweight division meet in this one as Serghei Spivac welcomes Carlos Felipe to the Octagon for the first time.
After beginning his career with nine consecutive victories, Spivac has gone loss-win-loss over his first three UFC appearances. He was quickly felled by Walt Harris in his debut, submitted Tai Tuivasa in his sophomore showing, and then dropped a unanimous decision to veteran Marcin Tybura last time out.
Undefeated in eight professional bouts, Felipe’s UFC debut ends a three-year absence from mixed martial arts for the young Brazilian, who stayed active by competing in boxing, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu while serving a two-year suspension for an anti-doping violation, which ended last summer. He was slated to compete earlier this year against Jeff Hughes, but will finally make his first walk to the cage this weekend instead.
Both men are still in the formative stages of their professional careers, especially for heavyweights, but this should be a solid opportunity to learn a little more about each man and what kind of potential they have as they look to gather some momentum and find lasting success in the big boy ranks going forward.