The Ultimate Fighter
JACK HERMANSSON VS. MARVIN VETTORI
Jack Hermansson looks to bolster his case for a future title shot, while Marvin Vettori gets the big name opponent he’s been chasing in this weekend’s new main event pairing.
“The Joker” rebounded from his loss to Jared Cannonier last September with an impressive first-round submission win over Kelvin Gastelum in July. Now 6-1 over his last seven starts and entrenched in the Top 5, Hermansson is tasked with taking on one of the hottest fighters on the roster at the moment after his initial opponents, Darren Till and Kevin Holland were forced from the contest.
Vettori enters on a three-fight winning streak and brandishing a 15-4-1 record overall. Last time out, the talented 27-year-old secured a first-round submission win over Karl Roberson after navigating multiple cancellations and postponements.
This is a wildly intriguing fight, as Hermansson is an established veteran on the cusp of contention, facing an emerging threat in a high-profile contest that offers him limited returns. Conversely, this is all upside for Vettori, who now gets the chance to show he can hang with the division’s elite in a bout where a loss won’t set him back at all and a victory sends him into next year as a bona fide contender.
This one should be interesting from a stylistic standpoint as well, as Hermansson is an exceptional grappler who attacks from funky angles and setups, while Vettori is more than capable on the canvas and throws everything with vicious intent when standing.
Will Hermansson hold on to his place at the top of the list of contenders or will Vettori keep things rolling and leave Las Vegas with the biggest victory of his career?
OVINCE SAINT PREUX VS. JAMAHAL HILL
It’s “Veteran vs. Prospect” in the light heavyweight division as long-time fixture Ovince Saint Preux squares off with Contender Series graduate Jamahal Hill in this 205-pound affair.
Now in his eighth year on the UFC roster, Saint Preux remains one of the veteran litmus tests in the light heavyweight division; the kind of stalwart hopefuls need to beat in order to break into the rankings and start moving towards the Top 10. In his last two appearances in the division, “OSP” has dispatched relative newcomers Michal Oleksiejczuk and Alonzo Menifield, earning a Performance of the Night bonus for each effort.
After earning a UFC contract with an impressive second-round stoppage victory at the UFC Apex last summer, Hill scored a decision win over Darko Stosic in January and then delivered blistering first-round finish of Klidson Abreu in May that was later overturned to a no contest. Now 7-0, 1 NC overall, “Sweet Dreams” looks to continue his ascent up the light heavyweight ladder by taking out one of the longest tenured fighters in the division.
What makes this such a compelling matchup is what makes all of Saint Preux’s fights intriguing: he’s a powerful athlete with an awkward style and an ability to finish in a number of unique ways. He’s a difficult riddle to solve and has been in there with most of the top fighters in the division over the course of his career, so if Hill is able to step into the Octagon and secure a victory on Saturday night, you come away with a clear indication of where he fits in the division at the moment and know he’s one to watch heading into 2021.
ROMAN DOLIDZE VS. JOHN ALLAN
The first of two light heavyweight pairings to hit the Octagon on Saturday evening is a matchup between UFC sophomores Roman Dolidze and John Allan.
Born in Georgia, Dolidze impressed in his promotional debut earlier this year on Fight Island when he registered a first-round knockout win over Khadis Ibragimov to push his record to 7-0. Each of his victories have come inside the distance and Dolidze has handled his business expeditiously, which is all you can ask of an emerging talent working their way up the ranks.
Allan, who trains at the same Chute Boxe branch as recent flyweight title challenger Jennifer Maia, returns to action for the first time since last summer after serving a one-year suspension stemming from a positive test following his debut win over Mike Rodriguez. The 27-year-old Brazilian is 13-5 with one no contest overall but had won five of six with four finishes prior to his debut appearance inside the Octagon.
Light heavyweight is one of those divisions where a couple quality efforts can quickly propel a fighter up the ranks, so while this is just the second trip into the UFC cage for both Dolidze and Allan, the victor could find themselves on the fast track to facing more established names in 2021.
GIAN VILLANTE VS. JAKE COLLIER
Veterans looking to make headway as they embark on a new chapter in their careers collide here as Gian Villante faces Jake Collier in a heavyweight matchup.
Long Island’s Villante actually started his career competing at heavyweight but rose to prominence and a place on the UFC roster fighting in the 205-pound ranks. Following 15 appearances at light heavyweight, he returned to the heavyweight ranks last time out, enjoying early success before getting submitted in the third round by Maurice Greene.
A former middleweight who made a two-fight stop at light heavyweight before injuries sent him to the sidelines for an extended period, Collier returned in July as a heavyweight, landing on the business end of a right cross from Tom Aspinall. He’s alternated losses and wins throughout his UFC career, so he’s due for a victory if the pattern holds in his second heavyweight start of 2020.
If either man hopes to carve out a lane for themselves in the heavyweight division in 2021, collecting a victory on Saturday night to close out this year on a high would be a good place to start.
MATT WIMAN VS. JORDAN LEAVITT
Lightweights at opposite ends of the spectrum meet here as 37-year-old veteran Matt Wiman takes on UFC newcomer Jordan Leavitt.
A member of the all-star cast on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter, Wiman made his UFC debut five days prior to Leavitt’s 10th birthday. He hasn’t fought since dropping a unanimous decision to Joe Solecki on December 7, 2019 and is 0-2 since ending his four-and-a-half-year absence last summer, but is the kind of experienced, savvy veteran capable of ruining a debut and spoiling the start of a prospect’s UFC career with ease.
A Syndicate MMA representative, Leavitt earned a contract with a submission win over Luke Flores in the first round of the first fight on the first episode of the Contender Series this year, pushing his record to 7-0 in the process. The 25-year-old “Monkey King” is an excellent grappler but is facing a considerable step up in competition here as Wiman is the first opponent he’s faced with more than 10 professional appearances.
This is the kind of fight an undefeated prospect like Leavitt needs to win at this stage of his career in order to garner some momentum in the crowded lightweight division. Wiman may be several years removed from being a contender, but he’s still a talented veteran with a wealth of experience who is sure to make the Las Vegas-based newcomer work hard to earn his first UFC victory.
Can Leavitt keep his pristine record intact or will Wiman turn his UFC debut into a moment he’d like to forget?
ILIA TOPURIA VS. DAMON JACKSON
It’s “Youth vs. Experience” in this bantamweight bout as undefeated 23-year-old Ilia Topuria takes on seasoned veteran Damon “The Leech” Jackson in what should be a grappling-heavy affair on Saturday’s prelims.
Topuria made a splash in his debut back in October, outworking streaking upstart Youssef Zalal en route to a unanimous decision victory. Now 9-0 in his career, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Georgia and fighting out of Alicante, Spain had never been to the scorecards prior to his debut and had only been out of the first round once.
Jackson returned to the Octagon for the first time in more than four years in September, registering a comeback submission win over Mirsad Bektic. The long-time LFA standout went 8-2 in 10 fights between UFC appearances, and is the kind of battle-tested, tough-as-nails veteran every division needs.
Both Topuria and Jackson are submission specialists, which means we could get a scramble-heavy affair with lots of setups and counters and high-level work on the ground. Regardless of how this one plays out, it will be interesting to see how the unbeaten emerging sophomore handles himself in the cage against his most experienced opponent to date and whether Jackson can continue to establish himself as a dangerous veteran presence in the 145-pound weight class.
Top Finishes: Ovince Saint Preux
Top Finishes: Ovince Saint Preux
GABRIEL BENITEZ VS. JUSTIN JAYNES
Featherweights that throw everything with nasty intent clash here as Gabriel Benitez looks to snap a two-fight skid against Justin Jaynes.
A fixture in the division since graduating from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, “Moggly” has gone 5-5 in his 10 UFC starts, but enters Saturday’s contest having landed on the wrong side of the results in each of his last two outings. The 32-year-old has good power and thunderous kicks but has struggled to avoid going shot-for-shot with more technical opponents in the past.
Jaynes scored a 41-second knockout win in his promotional debut back in June after accepting the bout against Frank Camacho just a couple days earlier. He made a quick turnaround into his sophomore outing in the Octagon, but couldn’t replicate the result, losing to Gavin Tucker by submission in the third round at the start of August.
This has the potential to be set the bar for the Fight of the Night chase similarly to how Sergei Palatnikov and Louis Cosce did in the opener a couple weeks back, so you do not want to miss it.
LOUIS SMOLKA VS. JOSE QUINONEZ
Veteran bantamweights Louis Smolka and Jose Quinonez will be the first tandem to make the walk to the Octagon on Saturday night at the UFC Apex.
A former flyweight contender, Smolka is 2-2 since returning to the UFC following a three-fight absence, alternating wins and losses. Last time out, “Da Last Samurai” got caught in a one-arm guillotine against Casey Kenney after leaving his neck exposed on a takedown attempt; the kind of mid-fight mental lapse that has plagued the talented, but inconsistent Hawaiian throughout his career.
Like Benitez, Quinonez is a holdover from the first season of TUF Latin America, where he came out on the wrong side of the results in the bantamweight finals. He rattled off four straight victories following that setback but has since dropped two of his last three outings, most recently landing on Sean O’Malley’s highlight reel in early March.
This bout was initially slated to take place in mid-November, but after Smolka missed weight, he was forced to withdraw due to complications from his weight cut.