JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK VS. AUGUSTO SAKAI
Following a rookie campaign that saw him win four fights in 11 months to rocket into contention, Rozenstruik has dropped two of his last three as he’s looked to establish himself as a true championship threat, falling to current champ Francis Ngannou and emerging standout Ciryl Gane, with a victory over Junior Dos Santos sandwiched in between.
Sakai similarly began his UFC tenure with four straight victories to work his way into the main event picture, where he ran into Alistair Overeem last fall and suffered his first loss in nearly three years. Now 15-2-1 overall, the 30-year-old Brazilian looks to reclaim some momentum and make a push towards the top of the rankings by toppling “Bigi Boy.”
There was a great deal of action in the heavyweight division in February and March and things are poised to ramp up again, starting this week, which means every outcome over the next several months will be critical in determining how things stack up in the Top 15 and setting a course for future pairings in the second half of the year.
WALT HARRIS VS. MARCIN TYBURA
UFC Vegas 17 Highlight: Marcin Tybura Gets TKO Over Hardy
UFC Vegas 17 Highlight: Marcin Tybura Gets TKO Over Hardy
Harris arrives in Las Vegas looking to start anew after personal tragedy and unfavorable results derailed his ascent. “The Big Ticket” was stopped by Alistair Overeem in May, his first appearance after the death of his daughter, Aniah Blanchard, and then suffered a similar fate against Alexander Volkov in October.
Tybura has re-established himself as a tough, veteran out in the middle of the Top 15 after putting together a four-fight winning streak in 2020. The former M-1 Global champ endured a two-year struggle where he went 1-4, losing to a collection of Top 10 talents, but rattled off victories in February, July, October, and December last year to get right back into the thick of the chase.
As mentioned above, the heavyweight division is currently being remodeled and this is an opportunity for each of these men to advance their positions in the rankings and set themselves up for greater opportunities in the summer and fall.
ROMAN DOLIDZE VS. LAUREANO STAROPOLI
After earning victories at light heavyweight in each of his first two Octagon appearances to push his overall record to 8-0, the 32-year-old Dolidze dropped a close decision to Trevin Giles earlier this year in his first trip down to the 185-pound weight class. Now the Georgian finisher aims to recover quickly and resume his push towards contention in what should be an entertaining clash with Staropoli on Saturday evening.
The 28-year-old Argentine moves up to middleweight hoping to snap a two-fight skid, the latest of which came in August when he missed weight and dropped a decision to Tim Means. He’s unbeaten at middleweight in his career, but has never faced anyone as dangerous as Dolidze, which makes this an intriguing opportunity for the 28-year-old from La Plata.
SANTIAGO PONZINIBBIO VS. MIGUEL BAEZA
Speaking of talented fighters from Argentina, Santiago Ponzinibbio makes his second start following a two-year absence this weekend, aiming to get back into the win column in a clash against undefeated rising star Miguel Baeza.
Injuries that progressed into a series of scary medical situations forced Ponzinibbio to press pause on his career in the midst of a seven-fight winning streak, resulting in a 26-month stay on the sidelines. He returned in January and had his run of success halted by Li Jingliang, but looks to return to the form that carried him to victories over the likes of Sean Strickland, Gunnar Nelson, Mike Perry, and Neil Magny prior to his hiatus.
Baeza is one of the brightest up-and-coming talents in the UFC at the moment — a 28-year-old finisher with a perfect 10-0 record and three consecutive stoppage wins inside the Octagon. The MMA Masters representative followed up his second-round stoppage win over Matt Brown in May with a second-round submission victory over Takashi Sato in November, and he could force his way into the Top 15 with another impressive showing here.
As always, the welterweight division has been one of the most active in the UFC over the first five months of the year and shows no signs of slowing down heading into the summer. Each of these men carries Top 10 ambitions and talents, so this should be an electric affair early in the main card this weekend.
DUSKO TODOROVIC VS. GREGORY RODRIGUES
Fighting out of Belgrade, Serbia, Todorovic earned his UFC contract with a unanimous decision victory over Teddy Ash on Season 3 of the Contender Series. He debuted in the UFC last October with a win over Dequan Townsend but caught his first career loss early this year in a clash with fellow Contender Series grad Punahele Soriano.
Rodrigues appeared on last season’s split run of the talent search series, losing to Jordan Williams in mid-September, which snapped his six-fight winning streak. Since then, the 29-year-old has posted back-to-back stoppage wins over Al Matavao and Josh Fremd to earn this short-notice call-up to the UFC.
TOM BREESE VS. ANTONIO ARROYO
A former standout prospect, Breese has alternated wins and losses over his last six outings, a span that stretches back to his victory over Keita Nakamura in February 2016. After an impressive showing against KB Bhullar in October of last year, Breese landed on the wrong side of a second-round submission finish against Omari Akhmedov in January, and now looks to bounce back in this meeting with Arroyo.
It’s been two losses and two fights called off due to weight cutting issues for Arroyo since graduating to the UFC from the Contender Series in the summer of 2019. Last time out, the Brazilian couldn’t fend off the takedowns of Deron Winn, who put him on the deck a dozen times, so it will be interesting to see what kind of improvements the Marajo Brothers representative has made since then.
MAKWAN AMIRKHANI VS. KAMUELA KIRK
Consistently entertaining, but inconsistent in his results as of late, Makwan Amirkhani aims to get back into the win column this weekend as he makes his 2021 debut against short-notice replacement Kamuela Kirk on Saturday.
The flamboyant and fan-friendly “Mr. Finland” is 6-3 inside the Octagon through his first nine UFC appearances, collecting a host of solid victories and losses to a trio of Top 15 talents. Conditioning and pacing have often been his Achilles heel, but if Amirkhani can sort those issues out, he has the technical skills to be another dangerous threat in the treacherous 145-pound weight class.
Kirk came up short in his quest to earn a UFC contract when he faced Billy Quarantillo on the Contender Series, but after already registering a pair of stoppage wins this year, he was tabbed to replace Nate Landwehr here. A pro since 2014, the 27-year-old Kirk trains alongside UFC athletes Kevin Natividad and Luis Saldana, and forced his last opponent, Contender Series alum Daniel Swain, to opt out on the stool following the second round of their main event clash at LFA 107.
Will Amirkhani be able to parlay his edge in experience and slick grappling into a strong performance or can Kirk walk in and upset the apple cart in his promotional debut?
MONTANA DE LA ROSA VS. ARIANE LIPSKI
A contestant on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, De La Rosa began her UFC career with three straight victories, but positive results have been harder to come by as she’s faced more experienced competition. Last time out, the Texas-based 26-year-old fought Mayra Bueno Silva to a draw, bringing her record to 4-2-1 inside the Octagon.
Now in her third year on the UFC roster, Lipski looked to be building momentum midway through last year after picking up a second consecutive victory with a nasty kneebar finish of Luana Carolina in July evened out her record at 2-2. But four months later, the Brazilian landed on the wrong side of a second-round stoppage finish and enters this pairing with De La Rosa once again looking to get back to .500 inside the Octagon and get herself moving in the right direction once again.
TANNER BOSER VS. ILIR LATIFI
Stoppage wins over Philipe Lins and Raphael Pessoa a month apart last summer had Boser moving towards the Top 15, but a unanimous decision loss to Andrei Arlovski in November slowed his momentum. Now 3-2 inside the Octagon, the pride of Bonnyville, Alberta will look to start another winning streak as he shares the cage with another seasoned competitor in Latifi on Saturday.
A longtime fixture in the light heavyweight division, Latifi made his UFC heavyweight debut last winter, dropping a close decision to Derrick Lewis at UFC 247. The 37-year-old fan favorite has now dropped three straight, but is the kind of seasoned, dangerous veteran that is more than capable of snapping out of this skid and starting a run this weekend.
FRANCISCO TRINALDO VS. MUSLIM SALIKHOV
After missing weight for the first time in his career last time out, Francisco Trinaldo brings his three-fight winning streak to welterweight in an intriguing showdown with the “King of Kung Fu,” Muslim Salikhov, this weekend in Las Vegas.
Now in his 10th year on the UFC roster, the 42-year-old Trinaldo continues to defy Father Time, securing a pair of victories in as many appearances in 2020 to push his record to 16-6 inside the Octagon and 26-7 overall. “Massaranduba” has shared the cage with an expansive collection of top-end lightweight talent over the years, and it will be interesting to see if he can be as competitive and successful as he moves up to the 170-pound weight class here.
Salikhov extended his winning streak to four in his lone appearance of last year, registering a split decision victory over Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in July. A multi-time world champion in Sanda, the 36-year-old has earned a victory in 15 of his last 16 appearances, with a dozen stoppages during that stretch, including a first-round knockout win over Nordine Taleb at UFC 242.
ALAN PATRICK VS. MASON JONES
Action shifts to the lightweight division here as Brazilian veteran Alan Patrick squares off with Welsh sophomore Mason Jones.
The 37-year-old Patrick returned from a two-year absence last September, dropping a unanimous decision to Bobby Green that sends him into this contest on a two-fight skid. Tall and rangy for the 155-pound ranks, Patrick has a wealth of UFC experience and veteran savvy that makes him more than capable of bouncing back this weekend and being a tough assignment for the emerging Jones.
A former two-division champion under the Cage Warriors banner, Jones made his promotional debut earlier this year, falling on the sour side of the scorecards in an entertaining back-and-forth battle with Mike Davis. It was the 26-year-old’s first professional setback, so you can be sure he’s been champing at the bit to get back to work and get back to his winning ways.
MANON FIOROT VS. TABATHA RICCI
After a late change in opponents, French upstart Manon Fiorot now makes her sophomore appearance in the Octagon this weekend opposite unbeaten newcomer Tabatha Ricci.
A former amateur world champion, France’s Fiorot made a splash in her promotional debut back in January, securing a second-round stoppage win over Victoria Leonardo on Fight Island. Now 6-1 in her professional career and riding a six-fight winning streak, the 31-year-old can establish herself as an intriguing figure to watch in the flyweight division with a seventh consecutive victory on Saturday.
Ricci steps in for Maryna Moroz, looking to replicate Fiorot’s success in her first appearance. The 26-year-old Brazilian ended a lengthy hiatus from mixed martial arts competition last September with a victory at LFA 90 and has already posted a pair of finishes this year to push her record to 5-0 overall.
Will Fiorot roll with the punches and navigate the sudden shift in opponents with aplomb or can Ricci make the most of this low-risk, high-reward opportunity and register the biggest win of her career this weekend?
SEAN WOODSON VS. YOUSSEF ZALAL
Promising featherweights that have recently run into setbacks face off in this one as Sean Woodson and Youssef Zalal share the Octagon on Saturday night.
A member of the Contender Series Class of ’19, Woodson won his promotional debut against Kyle Bochniak less than three months after earning his contract but faded hard and was ultimately submitted by resilient veteran Julian Erosa last spring. After being forced out of a matchup with Jonathan Pearce last November, the towering “Sniper” returns this weekend, looking to rebound from his first professional defeat and reclaim some of the momentum he carried following his debut.
Through the first eight months of last year, Zalal was one of the biggest breakout stars in the UFC, having earned three straight victories to emerge as someone to watch in the 145-pound weight class. But after losing to late replacement-turned-rising star Ilia Topuria in October, the Factory X Muay Thai representative dropped his 2021 debut to SeungWoo Choi in February, sending him into this one on a two-fight slide.
Each of these men have shown glimpses of being entertaining, all-action additions in the middle of the featherweight pack, with the potential to climb much higher, only to have youthful miscues and inexperience halt their progress. The division is flush with talent, so it will be interesting to see which of these fighters will be able to right the ship this weekend, and which one will be forced to regroup once again.
CLAUDIO PUELLES VS. JORDAN LEAVITT
UFC Vegas 16: Jordan Leavitt Slam KOs Matt Wiman
UFC Vegas 16: Jordan Leavitt Slam KOs Matt Wiman
This weekend’s action gets underway in the lightweight division, as Claudio Puelles returns to the Octagon for the first time in nearly 21 months to face off with promising sophomore Jordan Leavitt.
After losing his UFC debut all the way back in November 2016, Puelles enters Saturday’s opener on a two-fight winning streak, having followed up his come-from-behind kneebar finish of Felipe Silva with a dominant decision victory over Marcos Mariano. Still just 25 years old, the Peruvian lightweight has battled injuries and inactivity throughout his limited UFC tenure, sending him into this one as a giant question mark in the 155-pound weight class.
Syndicate MMA’s Leavitt followed up his first-round submission win on the Contender Series last summer with an impactful debut victory, slamming veteran Matt Wiman into defeat just 22 seconds into their December engagement. Now “The Monkey King” is back, looking to build upon his perfect 8-0 record and take another step forward in the treacherous lightweight division.