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For the second week in a row and third time this month, a marquee heavyweight matchup tops the slate scheduled to take place at the UFC APEX on Saturday night.
JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK VS. CIRYL GANE
Heavyweight standouts looking to claim their place in the queue of contenders collide in this compelling main event, as Jairzinho Rozenstruik squares off with Ciryl Gane.
Following an incredible rookie campaign in 2019 that saw him earn four straight stoppage victories, the kickboxer from Suriname suffered the first loss of his MMA career in his first 2020 appearance at the literal hands of Francis Ngannou. Rozenstruik bounced back with a second-round stoppage win over Junior Dos Santos in August to solidify his place amongst the division’s elite, and now looks to put himself on the short list of potential title challengers by doing to Gane what Ngannou did to him last May.
Unbeaten in seven starts to begin his mixed martial arts career, Gane also enters this one off a second-round stoppage win over former champion Dos Santos, having dispatched “Cigano” in December. The quiet Frenchman has shown a diverse skill set in his limited time competing inside the Octagon, earning his first two UFC wins by submission, including a third-round heel hook finish of Don’Tale Mayes.
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Where Rozenstruik was an unknown commodity that burst onto the scene two years ago, Gane was a hyped prospect after earning three finishes in as many appearances under the TKO banner prior to arriving in the UFC. Now, just a couple years later, they’re running on parallel tracks towards the top of the division, and Saturday night, we’ll find out which one will move one step closer to challenging for championship gold and which one will be forced to start their 2021 campaign by taking a slight step back.
NIKITA KRYLOV VS. MAGOMED ANKALAEV
Looking for an early victory that will propel them up the rankings, light heavyweights Nikita Krylov and Magomed Ankalaev meet in Saturday night’s co-main event.
Still only 28 years old, Krylov got back into the win column in his lone appearance of 2020, registering a unanimous decision victory over Johnny Walker in March. He was slated to face Volkan Oezdemir in October, but the bout was scuttled, leaving the intriguing, experienced Ukrainian fighter in a holding pattern in the shifting 205-pound ranks.
Last year was a strange one for Ankalaev, who fought twice and had three additional bouts fall through, with all five contests featuring the same opponent, Ion Cutelaba.
After a premature stoppage in their February clash in Virginia, the tandem was first slated to run it back in April, and then booked twice more in August, with all three failing to hit the Octagon due to COVID. When they finally did meet for a second time, the outcome was the same, with Ankalaev registering a non-controversial first-round finish to push his winning streak to five.
This is a really interesting pairing, as Krylov is the younger, but more experienced of the two, having battled top contender Glover Teixeira to a split decision two fights back, while Ankalaev profiles as the competitor with the greater upside at the moment.
MONTANA DE LA ROSA VS. MAYRA BUENO SILVA
Flyweights looking to use this year to make headway in the increasingly competitive division clash in this main card pairing as Montana De La Rosa faces off against Mayra Bueno Silva.
A cast member on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, De La Rosa earned three straight finishes to begin her UFC tenure, but has gone 1-2 since, following up her loss to Andrea Lee with a decision win over Mara Romero Borella before getting out-hustled by Viviane Araujo. She was slated to face Taila Santos in December, but was forced out of the matchup when one of her corners tested positive for COVID during Fight Week.
The 29-year-old Silva returned after 18 months on the sidelines in 2020, beginning the year with a unanimous decision loss to Maryna Moroz before rebounding with her own victory over Mara Romero Borella in September. A graduate of the all-Brazilian Contender Series bouts in the summer of 2018, “Sheetara” is 7-1 overall and trains out of the Chute Boxe Diego Lima camp that also includes current UFC competitors Charles Oliveira, Thomas Almeida, and Gloria de Paula, who also happens to be Silva’s partner.
Business has been picking up in the flyweight division over the last year, with new names arriving on the scene and familiar faces jockeying for position in the rankings. This one will go a long way towards determining where each of these two women fit within the shifting 125-pound weight class, with the victor potentially breaking into the Top 15.
PEDRO MUNHOZ VS. JIMMIE RIVERA
Fixtures in the Top 10 at bantamweight run it back on this weekend’s main card, as Pedro Munhoz looks for a measure of revenge as he squares off with Jimmie Rivera for a second time.
The 34-year-old Munhoz has become the resident “truth machine” in the 135-pound weight class — the man you have to face and beat in order to be considered a bona fide contender. Serving that role can result in tough stretches and Munhoz arrives in Las Vegas on one, having dropped back-to-back decisions to No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling and veteran contender Frankie Edgar.
Rivera, who won the first meeting between these two in the autumn of 2015 by split decision, freelanced at featherweight in his lone appearance of 2020, registering a unanimous decision win over fellow bantamweight Cody Stamann in July. Like Munhoz, the 31-year-old Team Tiger Schulmann representative has fought a consistently challenging slate since arriving in the UFC, with his win over Stamann coming after a 1-3 rough patch that included bouts with Sterling, current champ Petr Yan, and perennial contender Marlon Moraes.
Both men remain entrenched in the Top 10, but if either of them wants to make a run towards a title shot, it’s going to take getting through the other on Saturday night. Their first meeting was a competitive and entertaining affair and there is no reason to expect the sequel will be any different.
ALEX CACERES VS. KEVIN CROOM
This is a fun little matchup in the featherweight division as 32-year-old UFC veteran Alex Caceres makes his 24th trip to the Octagon to clash with 33-year-old UFC sophomore Kevin Croom.
Caceres has spent more than a decade competing in the UFC, first arriving on the scene following a stint on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter in the spring of 2011. He’s 12-10 with one no contest inside the Octagon, but in much better form of late, entering Saturday’s event on a three-fight winning streak and having earned a victory in four of his last five.
A constant presence on the regional circuit since 2009, Croom accepted a short-notice opportunity last year against Roosevelt Roberts and parlayed it into a surprising 31-second submission win, only for the result to be ruled a no contest when he tested positive for marijuana in his post-fight drug screening. This weekend, “Crash” looks for a do-over against the even more established Caceres with the benefit of a full training camp.
ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ VS. THIAGO MOISES
Alexander Hernandez and Thiago Moises collide in this clash of promising lightweights looking to make headway in the ridiculously competitive 155-pound division.
Hernandez got back into the win column in his second outing of 2020, registering a first-round stoppage win over Chris Gruetzemacher after landing on the business end of a similar result in his first appearance of the year. The talented 28-year-old was projected to be a contender in the lightweight ranks after a quick start to his UFC career, and now, after a couple false starts and a move to Colorado to work with Marc Montoya and the Factory X Muay Thai crew, “The Great” might just be in a place where he’s capable of reaching those early, lofty projections.
The 25-year-old Moises has been considered a quality prospect for a number of years and took a step towards establishing himself as a contender in 2020, earning a second-round submission win over Michael Johnson in May before edging out Bobby Green on the scorecards in October. A long-time representative of American Top Team, the Brazilian upstart is far quieter and less established than his opponent this weekend, but just as equally capable of making a run and becoming a contender in the next couple of years.
These two are part of the bottleneck of talent that permanently exists just beyond the Top 15 in the lightweight division, so pairing them off together to see which one moves forward and which one takes a small step back is a perfect bit of matchmaking and should produce an exciting contest on Saturday night.
ALEXIS DAVIS VS. SABINA MAZO
Flyweights at different stages of their respective careers Alexis Davis and Sabina Mazo meet in what should be an instructive and explosive contest on the preliminary portion of this weekend’s fight card.
Davis is more than a dozen years Mazo’s elder — a 29-fight veteran who challenged for bantamweight gold at UFC 175 and arrives in Las Vegas searching for her first victory since the close of 2017. The 36-year-old Canadian is ultra-tough and has shared the cage with several of the top names across two divisions during her UFC tenure, but has landed on the wrong side of close, competitive decisions in each of her last three outings.
Conversely, Mazo, who turns 24 next month, has rebounded from a loss in her promotional debut to register three straight victories, capped by a third-round submission win over Justine Kish last time out. The highly touted “Colombian Queen” finally seems to be fighting with the confidence and aggressiveness that garnered her a ton of buzz during her days on the regional circuit, and a win over Davis would bolster her standing in the flyweight hierarchy.
RAONI BARCELOS VS. MARCELO ROJO
Raoni Barcelos was in danger of having his 2021 debut delayed when Raphael Assuncao was forced to withdraw, but instead, the streaking bantamweight will face off with Argentine newcomer Marcelo Rojo in a 140-pound catchweight bout on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Sporting a 16-1 record overall and a perfect 5-0 mark inside the Octagon, the 33-year-old Barcelos is one of the dark horse contenders in the 135-pound weight class. A former standout under the RFA banner, the Brazilian finished each of his first three UFC opponents and really began garnering attention as a potential divisional threat last winter with his unanimous decision victory over Khalid Taha.
The 32-year-old Rojo is 8-2 in his last 10 fights and trains with the crew at the Entram Gym in Tijuana, Mexico. An all-action fighter who hasn’t been to the scorecards since the early days of his career, Rojo, a semifinalist on season three of TUF Latin America, is a powerful striker who enters Saturday’s contest with nothing to lose and the opportunity to make a massive impact in his short-notice debut.
There is a great deal at stake for both men here, which should bring out the best in each of them this weekend. For Barcelos, he’s trying to maintain his place in the pecking order and avoid a let down against a late replacement, while Rojo looks to instantly inject himself into the mix in the bantamweight ranks by halting Barcelos’ run of success.
No matter how it shakes out, this one should be excited from the outset.
VINCE CACHERO VS. RONNIE LAWRENCE
Bantamweights Vince Cachero and Ronnie Lawrence lock horns early in the evening as both men go searching for their first UFC victory.
Cachero made his promotional debut on two days’ notice last summer, stepping in for Timur Valiev opposite Jamall Emmers and landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict. Now with the benefit of a full training camp and back in his natural weight class, “The Anomaly” looks to get back into the win column and spoil Lawrence’s first trip into the Octagon on Saturday night.
Nashville’s Lawrence parlayed a unanimous decision win over Jose Johnson last summer on the Contender Series into a UFC contract, earning the praise of UFC President Dana White for his relentless pace and non-stop pressure. This weekend, “The Heat” looks to extend his winning streak to four while securing his first victory in the UFC right back where he punched his ticket to compete inside the Octagon in the first place.
Cachero is a better fighter than his recent results suggest and Lawrence is an intriguing new addition to the roster aiming to make a strong first impression, which means we should get an exciting back-and-forth when these two get after it this weekend.
DUSTIN JACOBY VS. MAXIM GRISHIN
Veterans coming off stoppage victories in their final appearances of 2020 clash in Saturday’s opener as Dustin Jacoby throws down with Maxim Grishin.
Jacoby punched his ticket back to the UFC with a unanimous decision win over Ty Flores last summer on the Contender Series, and immediately validated Dana White’s decision with a first-round stoppage win over Justin Ledet two months later. The 32-year-old striker had a cup of coffee with the promotion years ago, and will look to even out his record inside the Octagon this weekend when he steps in against the battle-tested Russian.
A pro since 2008, Grishin made his first trip into the UFC cage last summer on short notice, dropping a decision to Marcin Tybura at heavyweight. Three months later and back down in the 205-pound weight class, the 41-fight veteran secured a second-round finish of Gadzhimurad Antigulov to give him a 10-2-2 record over the last five years.
Will Jacoby unleash his ferocious power and earn a second consecutive stoppage victory or will the savvy, well-rounded Grishin neutralize his explosive arsenal and be the one collecting a second straight UFC win?