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UFC 259: Fight By Fight Preview

Three Title Fights And A Stacked Card: We Run Down Saturday's Epic Event

This weekend delivers a massive start to an action-packed month of March as not one, not two, but three titles are on the line on Saturday night at UFC 259, as bantamweight champ Petr Yan defends his title for the first time against Aljamain Sterling, two-division titleholder Amanda Nunes puts the featherweight title on the line against Megan Anderson, and it’s “Champion vs. Champion” in the main event as middleweight titleholder Israel Adesanya ventures up to light heavyweight to face the new ruler of the 205-pound weight class, Jan Blachowicz.

Here’s a closer look at all the action slated to hit the Octagon this weekend at UFC 259.

Top Finishes From UFC 259 Fighters
Top Finishes From UFC 259 Fighters
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JAN BLACHOWICZ VS. ISRAEL ADESANYA

The opening pay-per-view of the month ends with a Jan Blachowicz putting his light heavyweight title on the line for the first time in an epic clash with middleweight titleholder Israel Adesanya in an absolutely can’t-miss matchup.

Blachowicz’s march to the top of the division has been a remarkable tale of perseverance flecked with displays of his “legendary Polish power.” After beginning his UFC tenure with a 2-4 record, the 38-year-old standout has won four straight, three by stoppage, and posted eight wins in his last nine outings.

Last February, he cemented his status as one of the top contenders in the division by detonating a bomb on the chin of Corey Anderson, and then in September, Blachowicz did the same to Dominick Reyes to claim the vacant light heavyweight title.

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In 2019, Adesanya completed his ascent to the top of the middleweight division, scoring a unanimous decision win over Anderson Silva in February, claiming the interim title in an instant classic with Kelvin Gastelum two months later at UFC 236, and unifying the titles with a second-round stoppage win over Robert Whittaker in October. Last year, he cemented his position as the ruler of the 185-pound ranks, successfully defending his title against divisional standout Yoel Romero before dispatching Paulo Costa with relative ease at UFC 253 in September.

Now “The Last Stylebender” has his sights set on adding a second title to his collection as he ventures to 205 pounds to take on Blachowicz.

This is a tremendously compelling clash and it’s going to be riveting to see how things play out this weekend.

Will Blachowicz successfully defend his title for the first time and hand Adesanya the first loss of his mixed martial arts career or will the charismatic middleweight champion add to his legacy by leaving Las Vegas as a two-weight world champion?

AMANDA NUNES VS. MEGAN ANDERSON

The undisputed “Baddest Woman on the Planet,” Amanda Nunes makes her second straight defense of the featherweight title in this weekend’s co-main event as she squares off with Australian challenger Megan Anderson.

Nunes fought just once in 2020, successfully retaining the belt she defends this weekend with a five-round defeat of Felicia Spencer in June. “The Lioness” has won 11 consecutive fights dating back to the start of her 2015 campaign and is a perfect 7-0 in championship bouts across two divisions.

UFC 259 FREE FIGHTS: Aljamain Sterling vs Cory Sandhagen | Amanda Nunes vs Ronda Rousey | Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo

Anderson was ticketed to be a title contender after climbing to the top of the featherweight division under the Invicta FC banner. While there have been a couple stumbles along the way, the Gold Coast powerhouse, who trains with James Krause and the Glory MMA crew in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, finished each of her last two fights in the first round to finally secure this championship opportunity.

If Anderson is to pull off the upset and unseat Nunes, she’s going to have to force the champion to rethink her approach right out of the gates by thwarting her advances and stringing her with strikes early. Nunes is suffocating once she finds her range and gets in a rhythm, so the opening moments of the contest should provide an immediate indication of how things could play out on Saturday night.

PETR YAN VS. ALJAMAIN STERLING

This first of this weekend’s trio of title fights comes in the bantamweight division, where champion Petr Yan goes head-to-head against No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling in a highly anticipated clash that was pushed back from December.

Yan is a perfect 7-0 inside the Octagon, methodically working his way up the divisional ladder before claiming the vacant title with a decisive fifth-round stoppage win over Jose Aldo last summer on Fight Island. The aggressive, well-rounded Russian is happy to stand in the pocket and trade blows, and he ratchets up the intensity and pace the longer the fight goes.

Sterling has looked outstanding over his last five contests, defeating a cadre of ranked competitors and cementing his position as the top contender in the division with a slick first-round submission win over Cory Sandhagen back in June. While the 31-year-old Serra-Longo Fight Team member continues to show improvements in the striking department, his greatest strength remains his grappling and it will be interesting to see if he will be able to test the champion in the clinch and on the canvas in this one.

There has been playful banter between these two for some time now and that friendly rivalry should translate into a tremendous contest to kick off the trio of championship fights set to close out this weekend’s card.

UFC 259: Inside The Octagon
UFC 259: Inside The Octagon
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ISLAM MAKHACHEV VS. DREW DOBER

The final non-title fight on Saturday’s bill comes in the lightweight division as surging Islam Makhachev puts his six-fight winning streak on the line against dangerous veteran Drew Dober.

COVID restrictions and an untimely injury kept Makhachev on the sidelines for all of 2020, but despite the lost year, he remains one of the most intriguing emerging talents in the 155-pound weight class. Victories over Arman Tsarukyan and Davi Ramos in 2019 extended his winning streak to six, and an impressive performance against Dober on Saturday could thrust Makhachev into the thick of the title chase in the talent-rich lightweight ranks.

Viewed as a battle-tested journeyman heading into last year, the 32-year-old Dober forced people to rethink their views on where he stands in the division with a pair of blistering finishes against Nasrat Haqparast and Alexander Hernandez in 2020. The Nebraska native has won three straight, all by stoppage, six of his last seven, and eight of his last 10 to steadily work his way into Top 15 range.

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It’s insane that the winner of this one will most likely remain on the outside of the Top 10, but that’s just how competitive things are in the lightweight division at the moment. That being said, whoever does emerge victorious should be in line for another step up in competition, so a date with a ranked opponent in the second half of the year feels like a reasonable next step.

THIAGO SANTOS VS. ALEKSANDAR RAKIC

Light heavyweight contenders look to make their case for a championship opportunity before the title goes up for grabs in the main event as Thiago Santos squares off with Aleksandar Rakic in the pay-per-view opener.

Santos returned to action last November, landing on the wrong side of a trademark Glover Teixeira comeback win in his first action since dropping a split decision in his championship clash with Jon Jones at UFC 239. “Marreta” started quickly and had his countryman hurt, but couldn’t put Teixeira away, and the veteran rallied to get a finish of his own early in the third round of their five-round clash.

After a debated split decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir ended his unbeaten run inside the Octagon at the end of 2019, Rakic took a conservative approach in his three-round main event fight with Anthony Smith in August, using his wrestling to grind out a win over the former title challenger. Now 13-2 overall and stationed at No. 4 in the rankings, the rangy contender will look to get back to attacking ways that produced highlight reel finishes of Devin Clark and Jimi Manuwa earlier in his UFC run.

Can Santos get back into the win column and cement his position as one of the top contenders in the division or will Rakic collect the biggest victory of his career and usurp his place in the pecking order?

Megan Anderson of Australia punches Zarah Fairn of France in the Women's featherweight bout during UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Megan Anderson punches Zarah Fairn during UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

DOMINICK CRUZ VS. CASEY KENNEY

The “middle child” of this week’s trio of bantamweight battles features former champion Dominick Cruz returning to action and competing in first three-round, non-title fight since September 2014 as he takes on the steadily improving and quietly surging Casey Kenney.

Cruz fought for the first time since losing the bantamweight title to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 last spring, stepping in against Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 249. Late in the second round, he caught a knee to the head that put him on the deck and Cejudo pounced, pounding out the finish.

The former champion voiced his displeasure with the stoppage and now arrives in Las Vegas looking to snap a two-fight skid while hoping to register his first victory since UFC 199.

Kenney was one of the more active fighters of 2020, beginning the year with a unanimous decision loss to Merab Dvalishvili before rattling off three straight wins over Louis Smolka, AlatengHeili, and Nathaniel Wood, with the last two coming 20 days apart. A black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Kenney is 9-1 in 10 appearances since losing to Adam Antolin in his second appearance on Season 1 of the Contender Series, and can establish himself as yet another emerging name to watch in the bustling bantamweight division by taking out the former champ.

This is a perfect piece of matchmaking as this is a massive fight for each man, for very different reasons: Cruz because he needs to show he’s still got plenty left in the tank and remains a Top 15 fighter just a few days ahead of his 36th birthday, and Kenney because it’s the type of marquee victory he needs to catapult himself into the crowded field trying to climb to the top of the division.

It should be fun to see how this one shakes out and which one of them will take a step forward to start 2021.

SONG YADONG VS. KYLER PHILLIPS

Saturday’s action in the bantamweight division gets underway with this clash of young hopefuls looking to begin the year with a major victory, as Song Yadong squares off against Kyler Phillips in this exciting preliminary card pairing.

Song arrives in Las Vegas unbeaten inside the Octagon, but also in need of a quality showing after each of his last two outings ended in debated verdicts. Regardless of whether you agree with those results or not, there is no denying that the 23-year-old Chinese fighter has exhibited elite potential in amassing a 5-0-1 record in the UFC to this point and is at the vanguard of the ever-expanding group of emerging young fighters making waves in the bantamweight division.

A veteran of The Ultimate Fighter and the Contender Series, Phillips earned his first two UFC victories in 2020, collecting a unanimous decision win over Gabriel Silva in February before stoppage Cameron Else in the second round of their clash in October. A Nikidokai practitioner and long-time fixture at The MMA Lab, the 25-year-old Phillips has won three straight overall and can add his name to the aforementioned growing list of upstarts making waves in the division with a decisive win over Song on Saturday night.

Once again, this is excellent matchmaking in a weight class that is brimming with talent, but also features a Top 10 consisting of a host of experienced, veteran names. No matter how this one plays out, the victor further cements their standing as one of the best young fighters in the division, while the vanquished competitor shouldn’t tumble too far down the hierarchy as a result of the loss, especially if this one is as close and competitive as many expect it will be.

03 - Joseph Benavidez Pad workout ahead of his title fight at UFC Norfolk
February 14, 2020 in Joseph Benavidez In Training (Photo by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)

JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ VS. ASKAR ASKAROV

Following a pair of failed attempts to claim the vacant UFC flyweight title in 2020, Joseph Benavidez returns, looking to get back to his winning ways in this critical showdown with unbeaten rising star Askar Askarov.

A perennial contender and longtime fan favorite, Benavidez finally got another chance to challenge for UFC gold last February, but landed on the wrong side of a second-round stoppage against Deiveson Figueiredo. Since the Brazilian missed weight and couldn’t win the title, and the bout featured an inadvertent clash of heads moments before the finishing series, the UFC ran it back in July and things went even worse for Benavidez, who got dropped early and submitted by Figueiredo late in the first round.

Now the 36-year-old aims to halt the only two-fight skid of his career and do the same thing he’s done throughout his career following championship setbacks: rattle off a host of wins against elite competition in order to show he’s still one of the top dogs in the division.

The veteran is in tough this weekend, however, as he takes on the unbeaten Askarov, who battled Brandon Moreno to a draw in his promotional debut and has collected unanimous decision wins over divisional staples Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja since. A gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2017 Deaflympics, Askarov has shown steady improvements in his striking and could establish himself as next in line for a title shot with a victory over Benavidez this weekend.

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Will the veteran contender get back into the win column or will the undefeated upstart continue his winning ways? Tune in to the prelims on ESPN on Saturday evening to find out.

LIVINHA SOUZA VS. AMANDA LEMOS

Brazilians looking to continue making headway in the strawweight division clash in this intriguing contest as Livinha Souza takes on Amanda Lemos on the UFC 259 prelims this weekend at the UFC Apex.

The former Invicta FC champ Souza has quietly gone 3-1 over her first four UFC appearances and arrives in Las Vegas with a 14-2 record overall. After landing on the wrong side of the results in the summer of 2019, the uber-confident “Brazilian Gangsta” got back into the win column with a hard-fought victory over Ashley Yoder last summer in her first bout in the fight capital of the world.

Lemos returned from a two-year suspension at the end of 2019 and has been making up for lost time since, dropping to the 115-pound weight class and piling up consecutive victories to emerge as a dark horse on the horizon in the strawweight division. The 33-year-old Marajo Brothers representative made quick work of Miranda Granger in her divisional debut and followed it up with a unanimous decision win over Japanese veteran Mizuki in August, pushing her record to 8-1-1 overall.

Drew Dober punches Polo Reyes on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, MN (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Drew Dober vs Polo Reyes on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, MN (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

TIM ELLIOTT VS. JORDAN ESPINOSA

Flyweight fixtures Tim Elliott and Jordan Espinosa throw down in this clash between veterans looking to establish their footing in the ever-changing Top 15 as they begin their year in the Octagon trading blows with one another.

Elliott snapped a three-fight skid last time out, registering a unanimous decision victory over Ryan Benoit in a bout where he started well and held on down the stretch to score the victory. The 34-year-old has relocated back to Missouri to once again work with James Krause, and he blends an awkward style with a wealth of experience to make himself one of the toughest outs in the 125-pound weight class.

UFC 259 FREE FIGHTS: Aljamain Sterling vs Cory Sandhagen | Amanda Nunes vs Ronda Rousey | Petr Yan vs Jose Aldo

Espinosa earned victories on the first and second seasons of the Contender Series but has yet to parlay that into extended success in the UFC. Since edging out Eric Shelton in his promotional debut, the Albuquerque native has gone 1-3 inside the Octagon, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to David Dvorak in September.

Flyweight is one of those divisions where a couple quality victories could catapult you into the thick of the title chase, which makes this matchup a tremendously important contest for each of these men. Can Elliott earn a second consecutive UFC victory for only the second time in his career or will Espinosa hand him another loss while getting back into the win column himself?

KENNEDY NZECHUKWU VS. CARLOS ULBERG

Light heavyweight hopefuls from quality camps clash in this one as Fortis MMA’s Kennedy Nzechukwu welcomes City Kickboxing’s Carlos Ulberg to the UFC.

A two-time winner on the Contender Series, Nzechukwu fights for the first time since collecting a unanimous decision victory over Darko Stosic in August 2019. Fully recovered from the torn ACL that sidelined him for the entirety of last year, the rangy 28-year-old light heavyweight is an intriguing prospect that has faded into the background due to inactivity, but can make a splash by toppling the highly regarded Ulberg here.

Short on experience, but long on potential, the 30-year-old Ulberg punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round knockout win over Bruno Oliveira on the Contender Series back in November. A teammate and training partner of middleweight kingpin Israel Adesanya, Ulberg also comes from a kickboxing background and is being heralded as the next potential star to come out of the elite Auckland fight camp.

It’s rare that a fighter with just eight professional appearances of their own has a considerable experience advantage inside the cage, but that is the case here, so it will be interesting to see if Nzechukwu can parlay that into a second consecutive victory or if Ulberg will live up to his advanced billing and earn a victory in his promotional debut.

Urijah Faber (blue gloves) and Dominick Cruz (red gloves) during their bantamweight championship bout at UFC 199 at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Dominick Cruz (L) punches Urijah Faber, June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

SEAN BRADY VS. JAKE MATTHEWS

Sean Brady and Jake Matthews clash in a battle of streaking welterweights looking to maintain their winning ways as they kick off their 2021 campaigns inside the UFC cage this weekend in Las Vegas.

Undefeated in 13 professional bouts, the former CFFC champ Brady delivered his most impressive UFC performance to date last time out, dominating Christian Aguilera and securing a second-round technical submission win in August. Initially slated to face Belal Muhammad on the final card of last year, the 28-year-old Daniel Gracie black belt wants to prove he deserves to be considered in that class of contenders with another strong effort here.

Still only 26 years old, Matthews made his UFC debut in the summer of 2014 and has established himself as an intriguing prospect since relocating to welterweight, posting six wins in seven starts in the 170-pound weight class. A natural athlete with a slick ground game and a willingness to brawl, “The Celtic Kid” has taken a more tactical approach to things during the course of his current winning streak and it will be interesting to see if he can do the same against the unbeaten Brady on Saturday.

The welterweight ranks are brimming with talent, but the winner of this one should not be overlooked as a fourth straight UFC victory for either of these men should elevate them into range of a Top 15 assignment next time out.

ROGERIO BONTORIN VS. KAI KARA-FRANCE

Top 10 flyweights Rogerio Bontorin and Kai Kara-France go head-to-head in hopes of kicking off 2021 with a return to the win column.

After earning a pair of victories in 2019, Bontorin was limited to just one appearance in 2020, where he landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in a bout with Ray Borg where the former title challenger came in over the 125-pound limit. Brandishing a 16-2 record with one no contest overall, the 28-year-old Brazilian was penciled in to welcome Manel Kape to the UFC last summer but was forced from the bout due to an injury, though the booking tells you how highly the UFC brass thinks of the Contender Series graduate.

UFC 259 COUNTDOWN: Blachowicz vs Adesanya | Nunes vs Anderson | Yan vs Sterling

Kara-France has struggled to maintain consistency inside the Octagon thus far in his UFC career, stumbling each time he takes a step-up following a quality win. It happened when he dropped a decision to Brandon Moreno after he won three straight out of the gate upon arriving in the promotion and occurred again last fall when he was submitted by Brandon Royval following his February win over Tyson Nam.

This is the first of three important flyweight contests on this weekend’s card, so the pressure is on each of these talented fighters to avoid a second consecutive setback and cement their place in the pecking order with a strong effort on Saturday night.

Sean Brady reacts after his submission victory over Christian Aguilera in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 29, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Sean Brady submits Christian Aguilera, August 29, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

UROS MEDIC VS. AALON CRUZ

It’s a clash between Contender Series graduates as Uros Medic (Class of ’20) and Aalon Cruz (Class of ’19) go head-to-head in an intriguing lightweight matchup.

Medic earned his UFC contract with a standout performance against Mikey Gonzalez in August, collecting a first-round stoppage victory to push his record to 5-0. Now training at Kings MMA alongside the likes of Beneil Dariush, Kelvin Gastelum, and Marvin Vettori, “The Doctor” is one of the top prospects in the 155-pound weight class and someone with the potential to make some noise right out of the gate as he kicks off his UFC adventure this weekend.

Cruz also matriculated to the Octagon following a blistering finish on the Contender Series, blasting Steve Nguyen with a flying knee late in the third round of their clash two summers ago. He landed on the wrong side of the finish in his promotional debut last February but works with a great crew at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas and should be primed and ready for another tough battle once the weekend rolls around.

This is the type of fight that garners a limited amount of attention in advance of fight night, especially given the depth of talent and quality of the main card collected here, but Medic and Cruz should bring the excitement early in the evening and is the kind of low-key banger you won’t want to miss.

MARIO BAUTISTA VS. TREVIN JONES

The stacked night of fights at UFC 259 gets underway in the bantamweight division as Mario Bautista looks to secure a third straight victory as he takes on “5 Star” Trevin Jones in what should be an explosive matchup to start this weekend’s festivities.

After dropping his short-notice debut to Cory Sandhagen, the 27-year-old Bautista has earned back-to-back victories inside the Octagon, following his decision win over Jin Soo Son with a second-round stoppage win over Miles Johns at UFC 247. Another fighter who came up under the tutelage of John Crouch at The MMA Lab, the unassuming, but dangerous Bautista has six finishes from eight career victories and can establish himself as an intriguing name to track in the bantamweight division with a third consecutive win this weekend.

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The 30-year-old Jones, who was born in New Orleans and now resides in Guam, turned a short-notice opportunity in August into a breakout effort by rallying to finish Timur Valiev in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for Jones, the result was overturned and ruled a no contest after he tested positive for marijuana.

Eager to prove he’s not someone to be trifled with in the 135-pound weight class and fueled by Valiev still being categorized as an undefeated fighter, “5 Star” returns to the UFC Apex this weekend looking to make another statement while halting Bautista’s winning streak at two.

Both of these men bring the heat and understand how congested and competitive the bantamweight division is at the moment, so expect fireworks to start the show on Saturday evening.