Middleweights searching for a way to kick start a climb up the divisional ladder square off in this weekend’s co-main event as former Top 10 light heavyweight Misha Cirkunov makes his second start in the 185-pound ranks in a clash with young Brazilian Wellington Turman.
After closing 2019 with a first-round submission win over Jimmy Crute in an exciting back-and-forth affair on Canadian soil, Cirkunov didn’t compete in 2020, as his December bout with Ryan Spann was pushed back to March after he suffered an undisclosed injury. When they finally faced off, Cirkunov landed on the wrong side of a first-round finish and the differences in size and power were clear.
“At 205, you’re fighting way bigger and stronger specimens, and at 185, it’s different,” he said when we spoke ahead of his middleweight debut last fall. “The guys cut from 240 pounds to make 205, and they’re tall and lanky, so I want to be the tall and lanky guy, too.”
He was certainly closer in size to Krzysztof Jotko than he was Spann when the two met in early October, but unfortunately for the Latvian-born Canadian, the overall result wasn’t what he had wanted.
The two engaged in a low-output clinch battle, with Cirkunov landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict, with the loss dropping his record to 15-7 overall and 6-5 inside the Octagon.
Their striking numbers were virtually identical, and Cirkunov amassed just over four minutes of control time and five successful takedowns, but the consistency throughout the fight wasn’t there. The 34-year-old actually won the first and third rounds on two of the three scorecards, but not the same two scorecards, while Jotko unanimously won the middle frame and ended up getting his hand raised.
Now Cirkunov makes his second cut down to 185 pounds, a little more aware of what UFC middleweights bring to the table, and eager to get his 2022 campaign off to a successful start.
In order to do that, he’ll need to get through Turman, who debuted in the Octagon eight days before turning 23 and has amassed a 2-3 record through his first five starts.
Nicknamed “The Prodigy,” Turman garnered a call to compete on the biggest stage in the sport by winning 15 of his first 17 pro fights, a run that was capped by a first-round submission finish over former TUF Brazil finalist and UFC competitor Marcio Alexandre Jr.. After splitting a pair of appearances in his rookie season, Turman suffered back-to-back first-round stoppage losses against Andrew Sanchez and Bruno Silva before rebounding with a split decision victory over Sam Alvey last time out.
Currently living in Danbury, Connecticut and training with reigning light heavyweight champ Glover Teixeira and his team, the young Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt has shown flashes of potential while taking on a solid slate of more seasoned opponents thus far in his UFC career.
The victory over Alvey in August, which featured Turman having not one, but two points deducted in the third round for back-to-back eye pokes, could serve as a starting point for a run of consistent success for the skilled, but still developing, 25-year-old, who may very well make some serious strides in his performance now that he’s aligned with a tireless worker and consummate professional like Teixeira.
Despite entering off different results, Cirkunov and Turman meet in Las Vegas this weekend in very similar positions. Both need a victory to solidify their place in the middleweight division and to kick off the year with a positive result that reminds everyone of what they’re capable of when operating at their very best inside the Octagon.
What makes it even more interesting is that there is the potential for this to be a compelling stylistic interplay between the seasoned judoka and the attacking Brazilian with a Muay Thai and jiu jitsu background.
Each man is at his best when working on the ground and is happy to battle in the clinch in order to gain control and secure those dominant positions. Five of Cirkunov’s six UFC victories have come by way of submission, and all three have ended with him working from top position, while Turman registered seven of his pre-UFC wins by submission and has looked far more comfortable dictating the terms of engagement than working off what his opponents have to offer.
Cirkunov will have the physical advantages he was seeking by dropping to middleweight in this one, checking in three inches taller than Turman and sporting a five-inch reach advantage, which means it will be incumbent on the Brazilian to find a way to get inside and land without getting stuck in clinch positions or dragged to the canvas. Neither man has shown a propensity for high volume offense, as each enters landing less than four significant strikes per minute and a striking accuracy south of 50% thus far.
The deciding factor could be Turman’s ability to keep this standing, as he’s yet to be taken down in his UFC career, successfully defending seven attempts across his first five fights. While it hasn’t necessarily led to positive results, staying upright and avoiding being controlled for extended periods seems like the best path to victory for the Brazilian.
For Cirkunov, it’s a matter of being more effective than he was against Jotko — throwing a little more, landing a little more, and being more effective if and when he does put Turman on the deck.
There have been a number of high profile middleweight matchups that have taken place already this month, with a couple more on deck in March. While this one may not carry as much immediate divisional importance as many of those that transpired earlier this month, it’s a crucial fight for both combatants, and should serve as an exciting appetizer to Saturday night’s main event.
Don't miss this crucial co-main event at UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Green, live from the UFC APEX on Saturday, February 26 on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 4pm ET/1pm PT. Main card begins at 7pm ET/4pm PT.
UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Green took place on Saturday, February 26, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.