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UFC Jacksonville: Fight by Fight Preview

Dive deep into the entire UFC Jacksonville card with this edition of Fight by Fight
ANTHONY SMITH VS. GLOVER TEIXEIRA

These veteran light heavyweights were slated to headline in Lincoln, Nebraska at the end of last month, but the bout has since been shuffled back a couple of weeks and stationed atop this Wednesday night UFC event.

Teixeira has reached that point of his career where, like Jeremy Stephens last weekend, his ability to remain a constant presence and persistent threat in the Top 10 is under-appreciated. He fought Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title six years ago, two years after making his UFC debut, and yet he still enters this one on a three-fight winning streak and stationed at No. 8 in the rankings.

Did I mention he’s 40 years old? Dude is a warrior and deserves much more praise than he receives.

Smith’s transition to the light heavyweight ranks midway through 2018 turned into one of the most intriguing stories of the year and propelled the Nebraska native to a title shot at UFC 235, where he dropped a unanimous decision to the aforementioned Jones. Three months later, “Lionheart” was back in the cage, beating Alexander Gustafsson in his own backyard, getting himself right back into the win column and re-affirming his standing as one of the top light heavyweights in the sport.

This is a tremendous matchup that could play out in any number of ways, as both Smith and Teixeira enjoy swinging hammers and the Brazilian remains an underrated threat should the fight go to the ground. The winner will remain in the thick of the chase in the light heavyweight title race, while the loser will continue to stand as a dangerous foe for all those looking to join that grouping in the second half of 2020.

Free Fight: Anthony Smith vs Alexander Gustafsson
Free Fight: Anthony Smith vs Alexander Gustafsson
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BEN ROTHWELL VS. OVINCE SAINT PREUX

The co-main event for this Wednesday fight card takes place in the heavyweight division, with perennial Top 10 light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux moving up a division to challenge Ben Rothwell.

The veteran Rothwell, who got back into the win column after three straight losses last December, offered a candid take on why guys like “OSP” are willing to venture into the big boy ranks so readily last week, telling MMAFighting.com that, “They think the heavyweights suck.” You can be sure that the 38-year-old, who will be competing for the 50th time in his professional career, will be looking to prove that belief false once the Octagon door closes and he and Saint Preux lock up.

A fixture in the Top 15 for the last five or six years, Saint Preux ended a two-fight skid last September by collecting his fourth submission win via Von Flue choke. The Florida-born, Tennessee-based talent had a pair of matchups in his traditional weight class fall through, so he took this opportunity to test drive things in the heavyweight ranks, a move his coach Eric Turner has been suggesting for some time.

Rothwell is as experienced a fighter as you’re going to find in the UFC heavyweight division and should serve as an outstanding measuring stick to gauge a possible long-term move to the division for Saint Preux. Both men have unconventional approaches on the feet and quality grappling skills, so it should come down to whether “OSP” can use his speed and quickness to keep Rothwell at range and off balance or whether “Big Ben” will control things with his size and strength.

Tune in Wednesday evening to find out.

Ben Rothwell's Best Moments
Ben Rothwell's Best Moments
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ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ VS. DREW DOBER

This is a terrific piece of matchmaking by the UFC as both fighters enter with questions about their place in the divisional hierarchy needing to be answered but come to this point from different directions.

Hernandez was heralded as a potential contender following victories over Beneil Dariush and Olivier Aubin-Mercier in his rookie campaign in the UFC. He was booked into a showdown with Donald Cerrone on the first event of 2019 and spoke confidently about dispatching “Cowboy” ahead of the contest but ended up getting finished by the veteran gunslinger in the second round instead.

After bouncing back with a decision win over Francisco Trinaldo in his hometown of San Antonio last summer, Hernandez is basically right back where he started last year: hanging out in the lower third of the Top 15, flashing potential and talking big game, but still in need of the breakthrough performance that proves he’s truly ready to be a contender.

Dober is a comparable position but has reached that point on the strength of back-to-back quick finishes of Marco Polo Reyes and Nasrat Haqparast, the latter of which really opened a lot of eyes back in January. After more than six years on the roster and a rough start to his UFC career, the Elevation Fight Team member has gone 7-2 over his last nine fights, with his two losses ironically coming against the two men Hernandez beat in his first two Octagon appearances, Dariush and Aubin-Mercier.

Both men need to prove they have what it takes to continue climbing the ranks in the ultra-competitive 155-pound weight class, with Hernandez having the extra pressure of expectations on his shoulders. Can he halt Dober’s impressive two-fight winning streak or will the humble, workmanlike veteran add another rapid finish to his resume and take a major step forward?

RICKY SIMON VS. RAY BORG

The action shifts to the bantamweight division for this compelling clash between two former prospects still just reaching the start of their athletic primes who are looking to build some momentum in 2020.

Simon did everything right after earning a split decision victory on the Contender Series but failing to come away with a contract. He went right back out, beat a UFC veteran and successfully defended his LFA bantamweight title to earn a call to the Octagon. From there, the Vancouver, Washington native posted three straight victories to push his record to 15-1 and land a bout with the returning Urijah Faber.

Unfortunately for Simon, “The California Kid” came out firing and clipped him with a right hand less than a minute into their co-main event showdown in Sacramento, ending his winning streak, and while he picked up Fight of the Night honors in his bout with Rob Font back in December, he once again landed on the wrong side of the results.

While Simon enters on a two-fight slide, Borg has actually won each of his last two appearances, but an old adversary raised its head last time out, as he missed weight for the fourth time in his UFC tenure, prompting this move to bantamweight.

Truthfully, his frequent struggles on the scale is the only real thing you can knock the 26-year-old Borg for over the course of his 11-fight run in the UFC. He’s gone 7-4, including a win over Jussier Formiga, and he fought for the flyweight title, which is a pretty solid resume for someone who debuted in the Octagon with a short-notice, split decision loss to Dustin Ortiz two weeks after winning a fight on the regional circuit and four months shy of turning 21.

Both of these fighters were considered elite prospects before arriving in the UFC and still have plenty of time to find a rhythm and blossom into Top 15 fixtures in the future, but only one of them will get to start that journey on Wednesday night.

KARL ROBERSON VS. MARVIN VETTORI

Middleweights take the cage here as Contender Series alum Karl Roberson goes in search of his third straight victory in a showdown against fiery Italian standout Marvin Vettori.

Roberson has been one of the more under the radar graduates of the summer showcase series, where he knocked out Ryan Spann in 15 seconds on Season 1. Despite earning four wins in six starts since arriving in the Octagon, the former kickboxer continues to be someone who is judged by his two losses, including a short-notice setback up in weight against Glover Teixeira, rather than his triumphs.

There might not be a fighter on the roster more eager to finally get to fight than Vettori, who was slated to compete in London in mid-March and has been thirsting for the opportunity to punch someone in the face ever since. The 26-year-old has flashed Top 15 upside over the course of his seven-fight run in the UFC and enters this week’s bout with Roberson on a two-fight winning streak of his own.

The 185-pound ranks have been undergoing a major renovation for the last several years and the opportunity is there for new names to work their way into the rankings and greater opportunities. The winner of this one will be one step closer to breaking into that rarified group and should position himself for a step up in competition next time out.

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ANDREI ARLOVSKI VS. PHILIPE LINS

Heavyweights at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of UFC experience clash in the final preliminary card fight of the night as the former champion Arlovski welcomes Lins to the Octagon for the very first time.

Arlovski’s UFC career began at UFC 28 on November 17, 2000; Lins was 15 at the time. Wednesday’s contest will be the 50th appearance of his decorated career and the latest addition to the “could this be the end of the line for Andrei Arlovski” series. While the question has been asked myriad times and he’s managed just three victories in his last 13 appearances, Arlovski always seems to find a way to fend off Father Time and did earn a unanimous decision win over the guy fighting in the co-main event of this show less than a year ago.

Lins first started garnering attention as an undefeated light heavyweight prospect after a pair of submission wins under the Bellator banner. Three losses in four fights followed and he relocated to the Professional Fighters League (PFL), where he moved up to heavyweight and produced four straight victories to claim the 2018 division title. Injuries scuttled his plans to shoot for a second straight heavyweight crown last year, and now he’s set to venture into the Octagon against one of the most seasoned fighters in the division.

Will Lins hand Arlovski another loss and force “The Pit Bull” to consider his fighting future or will the former heavyweight champion pull out another victory and show that he’s still got plenty to offer inside the UFC cage?

MICHAEL JOHNSON VS. THIAGO MOISES

Action shifts to the lightweight ranks in this one as former Ultimate Fighter finalist Michael Johnson looks to halt a two-fight slide when he takes on Brazilian grappler Thiago Moises in an intriguing preliminary card pairing.

It’s been a strange few years for Johnson, who has registered just three victories in his last 10 starts, though those numbers don’t paint a complete picture of things. One of those losses was a questionable split decision, another was a rare majority decision setback, three others came against Nathan Diaz, Justin Gaethje, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, while he beat Dustin Poirier and Andre Fili during that same span.

The trouble for “The Menace” is that he’s struggled to put together a complete effort for 15 minutes at times and those brief lapses have cost him. Back at lightweight for the second time following his four-fight stay at featherweight, this is a crucial opportunity for the 33-year-old South Florida-based fighter.

Moises has shown flashes of potential at times over his first three UFC appearances, but he’s only got one victory to show for his efforts. He battled hard against Beneil Dariush in his debut, losing a decision, and then thoroughly outworked Kurt Holobaugh to earn a win in his sophomore showing, but then dropped a lopsided decision to Damir Ismagulov last summer in Shenzhen, China to fall to 1-2 in the Octagon and 12-4 overall.

Like Johnson, this is a pivotal moment for Moises, as a victory brings his record back to level in the UFC and a loss sends him to 1-3 and riding a two-fight skid in the deepest division in the organization.

It will be interesting to see which of these two is able to rise to the occasion and capture this important victory this week.

SIJARA EUBANKS VS. SARAH MORAES

Bantamweights looking to build momentum meet in this rescheduled bout from the initial UFC 249 fight card in April.

Owner of a 5-4 record overall, Eubanks has had an odd career thus far. Her two pre-UFC losses came against current contenders Katlyn Chookagian and Aspen Ladd, then she went on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter and made a surprise run to the finals, only to be pulled from the championship finale due to complications with her weight cut the night before the bout. Since then, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt earned consecutive victories over Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi, missing weight in the latter contest, before moving back to bantamweight and dropping consecutive decisions to Ladd and Bethe Correia.

That’s a ton of quality fights and peripheral chaos to package into the last five years, leaving Eubanks looking for a fresh start as she finally gets to begin her 2020 campaign.

Moras’ last fight was a mix of good and bad. On the positive side of things, she halted her three-fight losing streak, earning a third-round stoppage win over newcomer Liana Jojua at UFC 242. Unfortunately, she missed weight for the contest, which took a little shine off her efforts.

The Canadian has struggled to find consistency since joining the UFC roster following her appearance on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, but should be able to draw confidence from her performance in Abu Dhabi and can put her past struggles in the rearview mirror with a second consecutive victory on Wednesday.

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GABRIEL BENITEZ VS. OMAR MORALES

Former Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner Gabriel Benitez moves up to lightweight in this one, looking to get back in the win column in a showdown with undefeated UFC sophomore Omar Morales.

Originally scheduled to face Lerone Murphy at his natural 145-pound weight in London, Benitez jumped at the opportunity to get in the cage this week, venturing to lightweight for the first time since 2013. The 31-year-old Mexican has never quite been able to maintain any momentum run the UFC, landing on the wrong side of the result just when he’s starting to get rolling.

Last time out, Benitez returned from an extended absence and had his two-fight winning streak abruptly halted by Sodiq Yusuff, who stopped him late in the opening round of their main card clash at UFC 241.

Like the man he’ll face on Wednesday night, Morales was also booked to fight prior to all the schedule changes, as he was tabbed to face Alexander Hernandez last month once it was clear that Islam Makhachev, Hernandez’ original opponent, was unavailable. When that card got scrapped, so too did the fight and Morales landed here, looking to build off his unanimous decision victory over Dong Hyun Ma in December and push his unbeaten run to double digits.

HUNTER AZURE VS. BRIAN KELLEHER

A promising Contender Series graduate and a seasoned veteran meet in this contest as Hunter Azure takes a step up in competition, facing off with durable East Coast staple Brian Kelleher.

After impressing in Las Vegas last summer and earning a UFC contract, Azure, who trains at the Fight Ready gym in Phoenix, Arizona, ventured to Vancouver, British Columbia and collected a unanimous decision win over recent Ultimate Fighter winner Brad Katona. He was initially slated to welcome Umar Nurmagomedov to the UFC last month but will instead look to keep his unbeaten streak rolling when he faces off with the resurgent Kelleher in Jacksonville.

The 33-year-old Kelleher was a fixture on the East Coast regional circuit before making an instant splash with a first-round submission win over Iuri Alcantara in his promotional debut at UFC 212. But after collecting wins in two of his next three fights, “Boom” dropped back-to-back contests to John Lineker and Montel Jackson, getting stopped in both bouts.

Injuries kept him out of action for the entirety of 2019, and when he returned to the cage in January, he made the most of it, clamping onto a guillotine choke and submitting newcomer Ode’ Osbourne in the first round at UFC 246.

Kelleher is the most experienced and talented fighter Azure has faced to date and will serve as a tremendous measuring stick for where the undefeated grinder stands.

CHASE SHERMAN VS. IKE VILLANUEVA

Chase Sherman returns to the UFC to square off with promotional newcomer Ike Villanueva in the opener on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old Mississippi native Sherman logged seven Octagon appearances in 25 months starting in August 2016, posting a 2-5 record and exiting the promotion on a three-fight losing streak. Since then, he’s posted three straight first-round stoppage wins under the Island Fights banner to bring his record to 14-6 overall and earn a second chance on the biggest stage in the sport.

Villanueva is a 36-year-old veteran who began his career at the end of 2008 and has shared the cage with a number of recognizable names, including current and former UFC fighters Cody Donovan, Justin Ledet, and Trevin Giles. The former Fury FC light heavyweight champion earned three first-round stoppage wins in less than seven months last year to land on the UFC radar, including back-to-back victories over UFC vets Roger Narvaez and Rashad Coulter.

Both of these guys like to sling leather, so there is a very real possibility that Wednesday night’s festivities start off with a bang!