Will Jon Jones’ reign over the UFC light heavyweight division continue or will Dominick Reyes be the one to do what innumerable others failed to do before him and unseat the current champion?
Given all the time we spend waxing poetic about the greats to pass through the Octagon, we should relish each opportunity we get to see Jones, invariably one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, cross that threshold into the UFC cage.
This is another opportunity to see a master at work, while simultaneously being a fight that carries the potential to shock the world. Remember how shocked you were when Matt Serra stunned Georges St-Pierre? Reyes has the talents and self-belief to do something comparable on Saturday night and though many consider it unlikey, how many were giving Serra a chance heading into UFC 69?
And just in case you forgot — that event, like this event, took place at Houston’s Toyota Center.
Shevchenko hasn’t been atop the flyweight division for nearly as long as Jones, but this title defense against Chookagian carries many of the same possibilities and intriguing elements.
Declared the best fighter in the division before she’d even officially made the 125-pound limit, Shevchenko has lived up to that advance billing in her two years since dropping from bantamweight. After savaging Priscila Cachoeira and claiming the title with a dominant decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she’s successfully defended the strap twice — first with an explosive head kick knockout of Jessica Eye, followed by a one-sided rout of Liz Carmouche on the cards.
Chookagian has been a fixture in the rankings since arriving in the UFC, first at bantamweight and then again since shifting to her natural weight class. What many seem to overlook or miss entirely is that the 31-year-old “Blonde Fighter” is one round on one scorecard in two different fights away from being undefeated and those two split decision losses just so happen to have come against the last two women to challenge Shevchenko for the flyweight belt.
Will the champion retain her title once more or will the spunky underdog produce another “Where were you when?” moment in Houston on Saturday night?
A pair of fighters with big power looking to bounce back collide in the middle of the main card as Adams and Tafa meet in a clash of heavyweight hopefuls.
Adams garnered a great deal of buzz coming out of his Contender Series win in Season 2 and followed it up with a third-round stoppage win in his promotional debut. But the charismatic local hero has landed on the wrong side of the results in each of his last two appearances and is looking to remedy that with a win in his hometown on Saturday evening.
Tafa made his organizational debut last fall at Marvel Stadium, jumping from the Australian regional circuit into a main card appearance on a pay-per-view in front of the largest crowd in UFC history. It didn’t go so well for him, as just over two minutes into the opening round, the Mark Hunt protégé caught a looping right hand on the chin and was down for the count.
Both men have the potential to make waves in the division as they continue to develop and garner more experience, however this is a crucial crossroads bout for each man in the early days of their UFC tenure and chances are they will fight accordingly this weekend in Clutch City.
Featherweights who arrived in the public consciousness from different directions clash in this intriguing main card contest where Bektic seeks a return to the win column and Ige looks to push his winning streak to five with the biggest victory of his career.
The 28-year-old Bektic had “future champion” buzz before he reached the UFC and added four more victories to his resume upon arrival, giving credence to his advance billing. But the Montreal-based fighter is in the midst of the first rough patch of his career, having split his last four appearances and enters Saturday’s contest off a first-round stoppage loss.
Ige’s climb up the featherweight ranks wasn’t predated by talk of his potential; he was just a guy who failed to secure a UFC contract despite a quality showing on Season 1 of the Contender Series but who got called up to the big leagues nonetheless. Yet after dropping his promotional debut, the Hawaiian has rattled off four straight wins, including a first-round finish of Danny Henry in London and a unanimous decision victory over former LFA champ Kevin Aguilar last time out.
Featherweight is one of the most talent-rich divisions in the UFC and the competition to break into the Top 15 is fierce, so this one carries a great deal of significance for both men and should turn out to be a spirited affair from the start.
Internet favorites and undeniable powerhouses meet in the main card opener as Houston’s own Lewis welcomes Latifi to the UFC heavyweight division for the first time.
After 20 consecutive appearances in the light heavyweight division, the last dozen of which have taken place inside the Octagon, Latifi returns to heavyweight looking to kick off a new chapter in his career with a bang. The Swedish cult figure has dropped back-to-back contests and three of five overall, but a victory over Lewis — on his home turf no less — would immediately propel him into the thick of the championship chase.
History isn’t on Latifi’s side, however, as the 34-year-old Lewis is 4-0 in Houston and 9-0 in the state of Texas for his career and will be backed by a partisan crowd on Saturday night. The popular knockout artist had surgery to repair a longstanding knee injury following his loss to Junior Dos Santos last March and returned to post a split decision win over Blagoy Ivanov in November, offering a sample of what to expect now that he’s no longer limited by health issues.
Can Lewis keep his run of success in Texas rolling or will Latifi make a splash in his divisional debut?
Middleweights looking to get back on track meet in the final preliminary card pairing of the evening as Houston’s Giles locks up with the UFC sophomore Arroyo.
Winless since returning to the Octagon following an extended layoff as he pursued a career in law enforcement, Giles is hoping a hometown assignment will help him recapture the form that made him someone to watch at the outset of his UFC career. Giles went 9-0 on the regional circuit, including a victory over current light heavyweight contender Ryan Spann, and posted consecutive stoppage wins in his first two Octagon appearances, and needs to regain that form this weekend in order to avoid a three-fight slide.
MORE UFC 247: Order The Event | Reclaim The Throne – Jon Jones | UFC's Best Moments In Houston | Jones’ Essential Early Years | Jonathan Martinez | Reyes Moments | Shevchenko Moments | Chookagian Moments | Top Reyes Finishes | Free Fight: Jones vs Gustafsson 2 |On The Rise |Justin Tafa | Jon Jones’ Title Defenses
Arroyo earned his way to the UFC with a tremendous performance on the Contender Series last summer, submitting Stephen Regman to extend his winning streak to five. Though he landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in his debut, it’s understandable if Arroyo wants a mulligan as he dealt with multiple opponent changes before finally squaring off with Andre Muniz in Sao Paulo.
There has been a great deal of upheaval and change in the middleweight division over the last several years, creating opportunities for new names to work their way into the rankings. Although both men have a ways to go before breaking into the Top 15, a victory on Saturday night at Toyota Center would be a great place for either to start.
Originally scheduled to face Dhiego Lima, Morono will instead put his three-fight winning streak on the line against Williams, a promotional newcomer from Michigan, in this welterweight preliminary card affair.
Morono has been making steady progress in the 170-pound ranks throughout his first nine trips into the Octagon, learning from his mistakes, building off his successes and arriving in Houston on the best run of his career. He’s done an excellent job of playing to his strengths and staying within himself as of late, resulting in a first-round stoppage win over Zak Ottow last March and a unanimous decision triumph over Max Griffin seven months later.
The 25-year-old Williams arrives in the UFC less than three years after turning pro and riding a six-fight winning streak, with the last four of those victories coming in 2019. This is a major step up in competition for the Murcielago MMA representative, but it also offers him the opportunity to make the jump from the Michigan regional circuit to the middle of the pack in the UFC welterweight division with one victory.
Flyweights looking to kick off 2020 with a win on the same evening the divisional title is up for grabs meet in this one as Invicta FC alums Murphy and Lee square off in this one.
Murphy is one of those fighters whose record doesn’t accurately reflect her talent, as she’s just 3-4 inside the Octagon, but has been a Top 15 fixture in two different divisions. After splitting her first two appearances in the 125-pound weight class, the TUF 26 alum scored a third-round stoppage win last time out and looks to build upon it this weekend in Houston.
Lee enters Saturday’s highly anticipated clash with Murphy off her first loss in more than three years, having landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against Joanne Calderwood back in September. She’d won her first three UFC appearances prior to that in increasingly impressive fashion, so a bounce back effort her would get her right back into the thick of the title chase in the flyweight division.
One of three consecutive bantamweight bouts slated for the prelims, this one pits representatives from two of the best camps in the sport against one another.
The undefeated Johns is part of the Fortis MMA team that has been collecting victories and gaining momentum in the UFC for the last couple years. Having earned his way to the Octagon with an impressive showing on the Contender Series, “Chapo” followed it up with a split decision nod against hometown boy Cole Smith in Vancouver back in September, and looks to make it 11 straight in this one.
Bautista got thrown into the deep end in his promotional debut in January 2019, filling in for John Lineker opposite Cory Sandhagen on short notice in Brooklyn. The MMA Lab product bounced back in his sophomore appearance, however, registering a unanimous decision win over Jinsoo Son in July that pushed his record to 7-1 overall.
With both competitors hailing from outstanding gyms and looking to make headway in the loaded 135-pound ranks, don’t be surprised if this is an early Fight of the Night contender.
This is a clash between bantamweight hopefuls in a similar place in their respective careers, as 30-year-old UFC sophomores looking to rebound from debut setbacks meet inside the Octagon.
Like Bautista, Newson was handed a tough assignment in his short-notice debut, filling in for Sergio Pettis opposite Ricardo Ramos in Minnesota last spring. That unanimous decision loss snapped his six-fight winning streak, but now with a full camp under his belt and his first foray into the UFC cage out of the way, the Oregon-based battler will look to get back in the win column on Saturday.
Pilarte collected a contract with a second-round submission win over Vince Morales on Season 2 of the Contender Series, but injuries delayed his debut until 368 days later, when he dropped a split decision to Felipe Colares. Back in a rhythm and bolstered by the experience gained in his first appearance, “Son of Fire” should be at his best this weekend in Houston.
The first bantamweight bout of the evening pits the entertaining Ewell against the unassuming Martinez in a contest that has sneaky Fight of the Night potential.
Ewell has alternated wins and losses since arriving in the UFC, with his two setbacks coming against divisional upstarts Nathaniel Wood and Marlon Vera. The charismatic California-based fighter has quick hands and quality conditioning, but he’s struggled to find consistency inside the Octagon thus far.
Martinez, on the other hand, quietly posted a pair of wins in 2019, including a third-round knockout of Liu Pingyuan that should have gotten more attention on those year-end, best knockout lists than it did. Still only 25, Martinez has been fighting professionally since 2014 and has a dozen bouts under his belt already, which should serve him well as he readies to enter his athletic prime.
A late addition to Saturday’s fight card, this one probably would have happened under the LFA banner at some point this year, but instead, it’s going to take place inside the Octagon and that’s a good thing for UFC fans.
Zalal snapped a two-fight skid with a first-round flying knee knockout of Jaime Hernandez in November, and is the kind of young, promising talent that makes an intriguing addition to the UFC featherweight ranks. Training out of Factory X Muay Thai, Zalal brings sound fundamentals and quality finishing instincts with him to the cage, and working with Marc Montoya and company will ensure that he’s ready to roll on Saturday night.
Undefeated in seven pro fights, the 25-year-old Lingo is another emerging talent representing Fortis MMA, and thus far, he’s looked capable of joining teammates like Geoff Neal, Alonzo Menifield and Ryan Spann in making an immediate impact in the UFC. He hasn’t been in the cage for more than 25 seconds in each of his last three fights, and has finished five of his seven career victories in the opening round; three by KO and two by submission.
The UFC does an outstanding job of positioning potentially exciting matchups at the start of events and this time is no different. This is a “make sure you’ve got your snacks already and are in your seat for the opening fight of the night” kind of pairing and you’ll be mad at yourself if you miss it.