This is both a crucial and emotional fight for Walt Harris, as he steps into the first main event opportunity of his career opposite Alistair Overeem carrying a heavy heart.
Originally scheduled to take place last December, Harris ultimately withdrew from the contest following the disappearance and death of his stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard. The 36-year-old has been in the best form of his career over his last several outings, carrying a four-fight unbeaten streak into Saturday’s contest, with stoppages in all three of his victories.
Overeem remained on that December card in Washington, D.C. and was just a couple seconds away from halting Jairzinho Rozenstruik’s undefeated run thanks to a masterful game plan and tactical approach before “Bigi Boy” split his lip and brought the fight to a sudden halt with four seconds remaining in the final round. Despite the setback, Overeem remains one of the most seasoned and talented fighters in the division, and while he’s outside of the title picture at the moment, the veteran certainly has the skills to work his way back into the mix with a couple strong performances.
While Overeem is inarguably the bigger name in this pairing, the focus should be on Harris, as this is an opportunity for “The Big Ticket” to take a considerable step forward in his career and assert himself as a contender in the heavyweight ranks. Beating Overeem still carries a great deal of cache and if he can capture another win, Harris should find himself in the thick of the title chase as business picks back up in the UFC.
Strawweights looking to make their case for title contention collide in the co-main event as Brazilian standout Claudia Gadelha takes on surging Ultimate Fighter alum Angela Hill.
A former title challenger and perennial contender, Gadelha hasn’t fought since last summer’s victory over Randa Markos after bouts against Marina Rodriguez (Gadelha injury) and Alexa Grasso (Grasso weight cut) were scuttled. Her last outing was her first under Mark Henry’s stewardship and she showed clear improvements in her conditioning and greater trust in her striking, so it will be interesting to see how much more the veteran has grown over the last 10 months.
For the longest time, Hill was a tough out who struggled to find consistency in the cage; someone who could push contenders and tenured strawweights, but who just couldn’t seem to get her hand raised consistently. Then last fall, she scored her first UFC stoppage victory in a bout against late replacement Ariane Carnelossi and something seemed to click.
Since that time, Hill has become the female version of Donald Cerrone, jumping at every short-notice opportunity offered to her and using the condensed lead-in to fight night as a way of staying out of her head and simply going into the Octagon and executing. She’s already earned a pair of victories in 2020 and has the chance to vault herself into the upper echelon in the 115-pound ranks with a win over Gadelha on Saturday night.
After 10 years and 28 fights in the lightweight division, Edson Barboza is set to make his featherweight debut this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, where emerging threat Dan Ige is ready to welcome him to the 145-pound weight class.
Barboza has spent the last six years living in that space right below the elite class in the lightweight division, posting victories over anyone stationed below him in the rankings or looking to crack the Top 15, but coming up short in his biggest assignments. But after consecutive losses to Justin Gaethje and Paul Felder, the South Florida-based fighter has opted to move down a division and try his hand in the equally competitive featherweight ranks.
The man tasked with facing Barboza in his 145-pound debut is Ige, an unheralded Contender Series alum who has quietly won five straight after losing his promotional debut at the start of 2018. The 28-year-old Hawaiian followed up quality wins over Danny Henry and Kevin Aguilar in 2019 with a split decision victory over Mirsad Bektic earlier this year at UFC 247, and has a little bit of that “no one knows where his ceiling rests” vibe to him heading into this one.
Barboza is the more experienced, more tested of the two, but it will be interesting to see how the veteran responds to changing divisions, while Ige is staring down a “no lose situation” where he either beats a long-time contender and continues to move forward or finds out that he’s not quite ready to take the next step up the ladder in a bout against a seasoned vet.
No matter how it plays out, this is a compelling matchup that should produce an exciting fight on Saturday night in Duval County.
Middleweights on matching two-fight winning streaks clash in this battle to see which one will continue their march towards the Top 15.
Anders hit the UFC as a hyped prospect after an 8-0 start on the regional circuit following his collegiate football career at Alabama, and proceeded to earn victories in each of his first two appearances. A step up in competition and a couple trips up to the light heavyweight division didn’t go so well, with “Ya Boi” suffering through a 1-4 stretch that included ugly losses to Thiago Santos and Khalil Rountree Jr.
Since then, however, the 33-year-old Anders has gotten right with a knockout win over Vinicius Moreira and split decision nod over Gerald Meerschaert in his middleweight return.
Jotko has traveled a similar road, minus the detour to the light heavyweight division. After splitting his first two appearances in the Octagon, the Polish fighter posted five straight wins too climb into the rankings, but then lost three straight against ranked competition, including back-to-back stoppage losses to Uriah Hall and Brad Tavares.
Like the man he faces this weekend, Jotko turned things around last year, posting decision wins over Alen Amedovski and Marc-Andre Barriault to bring his record to 21-4 heading into his matchup with Anders.
As has frequently been noted in this series, middleweight has been undergoing major renovations for the last several years and the winner of this one has a real opportunity to take another step forward and potential secure a second chance to mix it up with members of the Top 15 later this year.
The main card kicks off with a compelling and competitive featherweight clash between natural bantamweights as Song Yadong takes on the streaking Marlon Vera.
One of the top prospects competing in the UFC at the moment, the 22-year-old Song earned four straight victories to begin his UFC run before battling Cody Stamann to a draw last time out. While some disputed the decision, there is no disputing Song’s upside as the Team Alpha Male representative has showcased quick, powerful hands and scads of potential over the course of his first five Octagon appearances.
Still just 27, Vera has been in the best form of his career of late, quietly posting five straight victories, all by stoppage, to force his way into the Top 15. The former Ultimate Fighter: Latin America contestant appears to have finally put everything together and can cement his status as a dark horse contender in the bantamweight ranks if he’s able to hand Song his first UFC loss.
Welterweights at opposite points in their careers meet in Saturday’s opener as veteran Matt Brown takes on UFC sophomore Miguel Baeza.
A fixture in the welterweight division since June 2008, this will be the 39-year-old Brown’s 26th trip into the Octagon and the first time since his bout with Robbie Lawler six years ago that he enters on a winning streak. Last time out, in his first fight after suffering a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of 2018, Brown collected a second-round knockout win over Ben Saunders, pushing his record to 22-16 overall and 15-10 in the UFC.
While Brown is one of the longest tenured fighters on the roster, Baeza is making his second appearance in the Octagon on Saturday. The 27-year-old earned a call-up to the biggest stage in the sport with a Contender Series victory last June before securing a second-round stoppage win of his own in October, extending his unbeaten streak to begin his career to eight.
Brown is certainly on the downside of his career and has talked openly about retirement in the past, but that doesn’t mean “The Immortal” isn’t still capable of bouncing Baeza from the ranks the undefeated this weekend. Conversely, this is a tremendous opportunity for the MMA Masters representative as Brown is a tough vet with a ton of experience who has only lost to top tier talents over the last six years.
Middleweights occupy the final spot on the preliminary card as Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez looks for his second consecutive victory in this matchup with the enigmatic Kevin Holland.
Hernandez had a ton of momentum heading into his appearance on Season Two of the Contender Series, where he steamrolled Jordan Wright, but a positive test for marijuana following the bout and subsequent loss to Markus Perez upon his return slowed his roll dramatically. Six months later, the Northern California-based fighter was back in the Octagon, once again looking like an intriguing prospect in the 185-pound ranks as he scored a second-round submission win over Jun Yong Park to secure his first UFC win.
The 27-year-old Holland has competed in the Octagon five times since his Contender Series win a week prior to Hernandez’ appearance, acquitting himself nicely in a short-notice loss to Thiago Santos before collecting three straight wins. Last time out, however, the talkative “Trailblazer” got submitted by emerging talent Brendan Allen, leaving him eager to get back into the win column to start 2020.
Both men have shown flashes of potential and still have plenty of time to develop, yet this still feels like a crucial fight for both guys. Middleweight might be wide open at the moment, but matchups like this are about moving one prospect forward at the expense of another, so if either has designs on making a run at the Top 15 this year, they’re going to need to get their hand raised this weekend in order to get things started.
Featherweight strikers collide in what should be a firefight in Jacksonville on Saturday night as Giga Chikadze looks to run his winning streak to three against short notice newcomer Irwin Rivera.
A former kickboxer now training out of Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, California, Chikadze has landed on the happy side of a split decision verdict in each of his first two Octagon appearances, first edging out Brandon Davis and then doing the same to Jamall Emmers at UFC 248 in March. The 31-year-old has won four straight overall since coming up short in his Contender Series appearances and should have the opportunity to showcase his kickboxing skills in this one.
Stepping in for Mike Davis, Rivera is a purple belt under Gilbert and Herbert Burns, but he’s known for his striking, which has led him to five knockout wins. Currently on a three-fight winning streak, a fourth straight victory on Saturday will make quite the statement.
The action shifts to the flyweight division as Cortney Casey and Mara Romero Borella seek to start their respective 2020 campaigns with a return to the win column.
Casey is one of those fighters whose record — 8-7 overall, 4-6 in the UFC — doesn’t accurately portray her skill level, as she’s dropped a handful of close decisions and shared the cage with some of the top fighters in the strawweight division. Now moving up to flyweight after more than a year on the sidelines, the Fight Ready representative gets a chance to start fresh in a new division and see if she can string together some victories.
Borella looked like a potential threat in the flyweight division upon arriving in the UFC, following up her Invicta FC victory over Milana Dudieva with a first-round submission win over Kalindra Faria. But she’s managed just a single victory in four starts since then and enters Saturday’s contest with Casey on a two-fight slide, eager to hit the reset button and try to build a little momentum.
The flyweight ranks are pretty wide open, so a couple quality wins could quickly elevate either of these women into the Top 15, which is why this weekend’s matchup is so important for the both of them.
If you’re looking for Fight of the Night candidates on this card, look no further than this featherweight pairing between divisional stalwart Darren Elkins and UFC sophomore Nate Landwehr.
Over the course of his 10-year UFC run, Elkins has shown he’s tougher than a two-dollar steak and enjoyed a lengthy run as a member of the featherweight Top 15. Three straight losses and the emergence of some new names have bounced him from the rankings, but prior to his recent skid, “The Damage” had won six straight and he clearly has the experience and ability to start up another winning streak this weekend.
Landwehr debuted in the UFC earlier this year following a five-fight run under the M-1 Challenge banner where he won and successfully defended the featherweight title twice. He eschewed his “devil may care” approach at the outset of his bout against Herbert Burns in January and never got the chance to really get going, as he was knocked out midway through the opening round.
This has the potential to be a demolition derby inside the Octagon and Landwehr has professed a return to his ultra-aggressive approach in this one, which means there is a high likelihood that blood will be spilled and a good chance one or both of these men will be taking home a bonus at the end of the night.
Heavyweight Contender Series grads clash in this one as Brazil’s Rodrigo Nascimento make his first trip into the Octagon to take on Don’Tale Mayes.
The undefeated Nascimento scored a first-round submission win over Michal Martinek last summer in Las Vegas, competing for the first time in nearly two years. The 27-year-old from Belo Horizonte is light on experience, but flashed enough potential in his victory on the Contender Series to secure a contract and finally gets the chance to make the walk for the first time this weekend after a pair of postponements.
Mayes is the lone fighter to appear on all three seasons of the Contender Series, finally landing a contract following his first-round stoppage win over Ricardo Prasel last summer. Unfortunately for “Lord Kong,” he was paired off with heavyweight super-prospect Ciryl Gane in his promotional debut, where his four-fight winning streak was snapped.
Will Mayes back up his claim that he’s “the best thing smokin’” or will Nascimento continue his winning ways and pick up a victory in his promotional debut?