Brian Ortega vs The Korean Zombie
Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung were originally slated to face off last December in Busan, South Korea, but a knee injury to Ortega delayed the clash of featherweight contenders. Now, many months later and with tensions between the two having escalated exponentially, they will finally clash in what could be a bout to determine the next title contender in the 145-pound weight class.
Saturday’s contest will be Ortega’s first appearance since his UFC 231 title fight loss to Max Holloway, where he was outworked and outgunned en route to suffering the first defeat of his career. In addition to taking time to recover from various injuries, Ortega has used this hiatus to completely reshape his team, with Rener Gracie standing as the lone remaining member of his ensemble as he readies to return to the Octagon.
“The Korean Zombie” remained in the main event of last year’s fight card in Busan, knocking out Frankie Edgar in just over three minutes for his second consecutive first-round stoppage win. Now 3-1 with a trio of first-round finishes since returning from his mandatory military service obligations, the 33-year-old veteran has looked lights out during that span, brandishing the same entertaining style as always, while exhibiting greater power and improved technical acumen.
This would be a must-see pairing if Ortega and Jung were congenial acquaintances and there was no backstory to think of between the two, but when you add in the fact that there is some genuine heat between the top-billed tandem, this becomes a “don’t you dare miss it” engagement.
How will Ortega look after nearly two years away and rebuilding his team? Can Jung add a third straight first-round stoppage win to his resume? Will either man deliver the kind of performance that secures them a title shot next time out?
These are just three of the myriad questions that will be answered this weekend when this Fight of the Year contender hits the cage and the strikes start flying.
You do not want to miss it.
Cyril Gane vs Ante Delija
Heavyweight rising star Ciryl Gane looks to build on his impressive UFC rookie campaign and continue his climb up the rankings as he squares off with talented Croatian newcomer Ante Delija.
The 30-year-old Gane made his pro debut in August 2018 and his UFC debut one year and eight days later, submitting Raphael Pessoa in the first round to push his record to 4-0. He followed that up with a third-round heel hook finish of Don’Tale Mayes in October, then made another quick turnaround to take out Tanner Boser, who has since scored a pair of impressive finishes of his own to establish himself as an emerging name to track in the heavyweight division as well.
Finally set to embark on his third year as a professional mixed martial artist, Gane has all the markings of a breakout candidate and future contender, if not champion, boasting tremendous size and strength, explosive athleticism, and a diverse skill set.
Delija steps in for Shamil Abdurakhimov riding a three-fight winning streak capped by a second-round stoppage win over veteran Oli Thompson. Sporting one of the best nicknames in the game — “Walking Trouble” — the 30-year-old is 8-1 over his last nine fights, with his only setback coming due to injury in a bout against current UFC competitor Marcin Tybura.
With Gane’s standing as the best prospect in the division, Delija has a grand opportunity in front of him this weekend, as a victory would catapult him into the Top 15 and instantly transform him from intriguing newcomer to dark horse contender in the heavyweight division.
Katlyn Chookagian vs Jessica Andrade
It feels like this flyweight pairing has been flying under the radar since it was announced, but outside of this month’s championship engagements and Saturday night’s main event, this is the bout I’ve been looking forward to the most, by a considerable margin, as former title challenger Katlyn Chookagian welcomes former strawweight champ Jessica Andrade to the flyweight division for the first time.
Chookagian rebounded from her stoppage loss to Valentina Shevchenko in February by defeating her sister Antonina in May, pushing her record to 14-3 and 5-2 in the division in the process. While some may not like her range-fighting style and tendency to kiai with her strikes, the fact remains that the 31-year-old Pennsylvania native is one of the top contenders in the 125-pound weight class and handles her business more often than not.
After starting her career as an undersized bantamweight, Andrade dropped two divisions to become a force in the strawweight ranks, claiming the title with a second-round slam knockout of Rose Namajunas in the spring of 2019. She dropped the title three months later against Zhang Weili, and landed on the wrong side of a split decision verdict in a rematch against Namajunas earlier this year on Fight Island, and now she moves up to flyweight looking to halt her slide and primed to become an immediate player in the 125-pound weight class.
This is such a terrific fight because Chookagian is the ultimate measuring stick for Andrade’s debut appearance in the flyweight division — a former title challenger who is entrenched in the Top 5 and has faced a non-stop diet of tough competition throughout her UFC career. Beating Chookagian isn’t easy, so a win of any kind would instantly indicate that the marauding Brazilian new arrival is a force to be reckoned with in her new weight class.
I cannot wait for this one.
Jimmy Crute vs Modestas Bukauskas
Promising light heavyweight finishers clash here as Australian Jimmy Crute squares off with Lithuanian sophomore Modestas Bukauskas in what should be a spirited affair for as long as it lasts.
A graduate of the Contender Series, the 24-year-old Crute scored finishes of Paul Craig and Sam Alvey in his first two UFC appearances, was submitted by Misha Cirkunov in his third showing, and rebounded with a first-round submission win over Michal Oleksiejczuk in February.
Two years his opponent’s senior, Bukauskas sports an equally impressive 11-2 record overall and enters on a seven-fight winning streak that includes a stoppage win in his UFC debut in July. “The Baltic Gladiator” has only been the distance once in his career and that was in his first professional appearance, and has only ventured beyond the first round twice during his current run of success.
Just as Crute should be garnering more attention for his exploits in the Octagon heading into this one, Bukauskas is another young, talented addition to the light heavyweight division who fans should be paying close attention to going forward.
It’s a new era in the 205-pound weight class and these two should be a part of its future.
Thomas Almeida vs Jonathan Martinez
Thomas Almeida ends a 33-month absence this weekend in Abu Dhabi as the Brazilian finisher returns to the cage to face streaking up-and-comer Jonathan Martinez.
Once viewed as a potential title contender in the talent-rich bantamweight division, Almeida earned victories and bonuses in each of his first four UFC appearances to push his record to 20-0 and set up a headlining clash against Cody Garbrandt. “No Love” knocked him from the ranks of the unbeaten that evening and though he rebounded with a second-round stoppage win over Albert Morales, Almeida dropped his next two outings against Jimmie Rivera and Rob Font before an eye injury forced him to the sidelines.
Martinez is 3-1 over his last four with the lone setback being a debated split decision loss to Andre Ewell in February at UFC 247. The Factory X Muay Thai representative earned victories over Wuliji Buren and Liu Pingyuan before that, and dominated Frankie Saenz in August to get back in the win column, though he did miss weight by a considerable margin.
Once again, this is flawless matchmaking as it presents Almeida with a formidable test in his return without throwing him straight into the deep end of the talent pool against a Top 10 opponent, while Martinez gets a step up in competition against a recognizable name where a victory could propel him into the rankings.
Every Brian Ortega Finish
Every Brian Ortega Finish
Mateusz Gamrot vs Guram Kutateladze
And now we come to this week’s reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is as unbeaten former KSW two-weight champ Mateusz Gamrot and Allstars Training Center representative Guram Kutateladze face off in their joint promotional debuts.
The 29-year-old Gamrot has long been considered one of the top fighters competing outside the Octagon and now UFC fans will finally get to see why.
He claimed the KSW lightweight title in May 2016 with a win over Mansour Barnaoui, successfully defending it multiple times, while adding the featherweight belt to his mantle at the close of 2018, though he never defended that title. A strong grappler with good size and strength for the division, the Polish newcomer has the potential to emerge as a contender in quick order if he can maintain his winning ways inside the Octagon.
A teammate and training partner of 2020 breakout star Khamzat Chimaev, Kutateladze carries an 11-2 record and eight-fight winning streak into his showdown with Gamrot on Saturday. Though he doesn’t have the community cache his opponent carries, the 28-year-old Georgian is coming off a 44-second stoppage win over UFC vet Felipe Silva and has earned five of his last eight victories inside the distance.
No one knew all that much about Chimaev’s potential before he stepped into the UFC cage for the first time, so don’t be surprised if Kutateladze shows that he too is a promising new addition to the 155-pound ranks this weekend. And if he can hand Gamrot the first loss of his career, Allstars Training Center may have a second breakthrough talent amongst its ranks.
Gillian Robertson vs Poliana Botelho
Flyweight finishers Gillian Robertson and Poliana Botelho clash here in a bout to determine which one takes another step forward in the ultra-competitive 125-pound weight class.
A competitor on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, Robertson has gone 5-2 inside the Octagon thus far, with each of her seven appearances ending inside the distance. Last time out, she rebounded from a stoppage loss to Maycee Barber with a third-round submission win over Cortney Casey in a bout that highlighted just how dominant and dangerous “The Savage” can be when the fight hits the canvas.
Following a 5-1 run on the Brazilian regional circuit, Botelho has gone 3-1 inside the Octagon over her first four UFC appearances, with her lone setback coming in a strawweight bout against Cynthia Calvillo, where the American contender missed weight. She returned to flyweight and the win column at UFC 236 with a unanimous decision victory over Lauren Mueller, but has been out of action since.
While Chookagian and Andrade will battle for positioning at the top of the rankings later in the evening, Robertson and Botelho are fighting to move further up the hierarchy here. Robertson has bounced in and out of the rankings throughout her UFC tenure and has shown flashes of Top 10 talent, while her Brazilian counterpart is still looking to really establish her footing at flyweight following her successful divisional debut in April 2019.
Both women are aggressive fighters with a penchant for finishing fights, as Robertson has seven stoppages in eight career wins and Botelho has only won on the cards twice in her eight professional triumphs. Expect frantic action and two fighters hunting for finishes once this one gets underway on Saturday evening.
Claudio Silva vs James Krause
The owner of one of the stranger extended runs of success in the UFC at the moment, Claudio Silva puts his 5-0 record in the Octagon and 14-fight winning streak on the line this weekend in a clash with veteran fan favorite James Krause.
Silva lost his pro debut and hasn’t been beaten since, winning nine straight before making his UFC debut with a win over Brad Scott in March 2014. He followed that up with a split decision nod over Leon Edwards — yes, that’s current top contender Leon Edwards — but then was sidelined for two-and-a-half years with various injuries.
The 38-year-old “Hannibal” has posted three more victories since returning, submitting Nordine Talib, Danny Roberts, and Cole Williams in succession, though the Roberts win was not without controversy. He’s clearly talented, but it’s incredibly difficult to know where to place him in the hierarchy, but this weekend’s bout with Krause should help provide some clarity.
While coaching has become a much bigger part of his life in recent years, Krause remains an underrated competitor in his own right. He entered the year on a six-fight winning streak and coming off back-to-back impressive finishes after returning to the welterweight division, but saw it snapped when he dropped a split decision to Trevin Giles in a middleweight bout he took the day before the fight at UFC 247 in Houston.
Now back down in his usual surrounds, the 34-year-old looks to halt Silva’s winning streak and get himself back into the win column as he steps in for Muslim Salikhov this weekend on Fight Island.
Jun Yong Park vs John Phillips
South Korean middleweight Junyong Park looks for his second straight UFC victory as he takes on Welsh banger John Phillips.
After having his seven-fight winning streak snapped last summer in his promotional debut, Park got back into the win column at the end of the year with a unanimous decision victory over Marc-Andre Barriault. The 29-year-old “Iron Turtle” is a stout, compact competitor who has earned eight finishes in 11 career wins and will aim to cement his place in the middle of the division and build some further momentum as he makes his 2020 debut this weekend.
An all-action fan favorite on the British regional scene for years before matriculating to the UFC, Phillips has had a tough go of things inside the Octagon. He halted a three-fight slide last September with a 17-second knockout win over Alen Amedovski, but landed on the business end of Khamzat Chimaev’s blistering debut earlier this summer in his first foray to Fight Island.
Jamie Mullarkey vs Fares Ziam
Lightweights that lost to talented competition in their respective debuts make the walk to the Octagon for a second time in tandem as Jamie Mullarkey and Fares Ziam square off in this preliminary card pairing.
The 26-year-old Mullarkey debuted last fall at UFC 243, dropping a unanimous decision to surging City Kickboxing representative Brad Riddell. With a dozen wins in 15 professional appearances, the Central Coast man whose first career loss came opposite current featherweight kingpin Alexander Volkanovski will look to avoid a two-fight slide in this one.
Ziam’s first UFC appearance also came in Abu Dhabi, as the 23-year-old filled in for Magomed Mustafaev opposite Don Madge at UFC 243 last September. A unanimous decision loss snapped his five-fight winning streak, but with the benefit of a full training camp and 15 minutes of Octagon experience under his belt, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a much more comfortable and complete version of Ziam this weekend.
Gadzhimurad Antigulov vs Max Grishin
Veterans looking to get back in the win column meet in this preliminary card matchup as Gadzhimurad Antigulov takes on Maxim Grishin.
After arriving in the UFC on a 12-fight winning streak and collecting stoppage victories in his first two Octagon appearances, Antigulov looked like a potential player in the light heavyweight division. But three straight first-round stoppage losses have the big man from Dagestan at a crossroads as he goes in search of his first victory since May 2017 in this showdown with Grishin.
The 36-year-old Grishin is someone hardcore fight fans have been familiar with for years, as he racked up 39 appearances across a multitude of promotions before finally landing in the Octagon earlier this summer in a heavyweight clash against Marcin Tybura. The loss ended his nine-fight unbeaten streak, and now that he’s back down in his more natural surrounds, it will be interesting to see if “Maximus” can deliver a performance more representative of his talents in his second appearance in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Said Nurmagomedov vs Mark Striegl
Business kicks off in the bantamweight division as Said Nurmagomedov looks to rebound from his second career loss when he welcomes Filipino newcomer Mark Striegl to the Octagon for the first time on Saturday.
Nurmagomedov carried a five-fight winning streak into his promotional debut in 2018, where he edged out Justin Scoggins in a flyweight engagement. He moved to bantamweight for his sophomore outing, collecting a first-round stoppage win over Ricardo Ramos, but dropped a decision to veteran contender Raoni Barcelos last time out.
Striegl was briefly linked to a bout against Timur Valiev earlier this summer, but will instead make his debut here, entering on a five-fight unbeaten streak. The 32-year-old veteran is 18-2 with one no contest in his career, including a first-round submission win over Kai Kara-France, and has been getting in work in Las Vegas since the middle of August.
This is a fun matchup to kick off what should be an exhilarating night of action inside the Octagon on Saturday before the UFC wraps up its second stay on Fight Island next weekend at UFC 254.
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