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UFC Tampa : Combat par combat

Plongez dans l'univers de l'UFC Tampa avec cette analyse combat par combat.
Michelle Waterson : La super-maman
Michelle Waterson : La super-maman
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JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK VS. MICHELLE WATERSON

The former champion looks to kick off another run towards the top of the division as she collides with a streaking contender with championship aspirations of her own.

Jedrzejczyk arrives in Tampa having lost three of her last four, though all three of those bouts were championship fights. She’s been out of action since her failed bid to claim the flyweight title last December and is now returning to the weight class she dominated for more than two years, looking to re-affirm her standing as one of the top contenders in the 115-pound ranks.

After suffering back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres in 2017, Waterson has discovered the best form of her career, carrying a three-fight winning streak capped by her most impressive performance to date into this main event assignment. The 33-year-old is on a mission to become the UFC’s first #MomChamp and a victory over Jedrzejczyk would certainly bring her one step closer to realizing that dream.

Trending in different directions, it will be interesting to see if Waterson can maintain her tremendous form of late and hand the former titleholder another defeat or whether Jedrzejczyk can rediscover the form that made her one of the most feared competitors on the roster not that long ago.

CUB SWANSON VS. KRON GRACIE

Swanson has made 17 UFC appearances and has 25 total bouts under the Zuffa umbrella to his name when you add in his WEC experience. He is one of the senior statesmen in the featherweight division — a guy who has fought everyone there is to fight in the 145-pound weight class and done just about everything there is to do, save for challenging for championship gold.

Gracie is making his second trip into the Octagon and has competed just five times in an MMA career began in 2014 and had been on hold since December 2016 prior to his UFC debut in February. That night, the 31-year-old son of Rickson Gracie showed that the intrigue surrounding his arrival in the UFC was justified, as he quickly submitted Alex Caceres, establishing himself as someone to watch in the featherweight division.

The striking difference in experience is what makes this contest so compelling. Those who want to dismiss Swanson because he enters on a four-fight skid do so mistakenly, as “Killer Cub” remains a dangerous threat, just as those forecasting a championship future for Gracie may be doing so a little hastily.

This fight will answer the biggest question facing each competitor and it should be all kinds of fun too.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - MAY 12: Mackenzie Dern of the United States prepares to enter the Octagon before facing Raquel Pennington of the United States in their women's strawweigth bout during the UFC 224 event at Jeunesse Arena on May 12, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - MAY 12: Mackenzie Dern of the United States prepares to enter the Octagon before facing Raquel Pennington of the United States in their women's strawweigth bout during the UFC 224 event at Jeunesse Arena on May 12, 2018 in Rio de

MACKENZIE DERN VS. AMANDA RIBAS

There are other bouts on this card with greater divisional significance and that will catapult the winners into better opportunities next time out, but this may be the most compelling contest taking place in Tampa on Saturday night.

Dern, who gave birth to her first child just four months ago, has been one of the most talked about prospects in the sport since transitioning to MMA in 2016. A world-class jiu-jitsu player, the 26-year-old has maintained her unblemished record since arriving in the UFC, following up a split decision win over Ashley Yoder in her debut with a first-round submission victory over Amanda Cooper at UFC 224.

While Dern debuted backed by a ton of hype, Ribas stepped into the Octagon for the first time chased by questions, as the American Top Team representative had been out of competition for a number of years and faced a step up in competition against Emily Whitmire. But Ribas showed no ill effects of her time on the sidelines by running through Whitmire, collecting a second-round submission to push her record to 7-1 overall.

Although both women are still early in their careers and capable of reaching great heights, this is an crucial matchup that will establish the victor as the top young female grappler in the division and propel her to greater opportunities in 2020, while the vanquished competitor will be forced to regroup before starting a new push towards the top of the strawweight ranks next year.

LUIS PENA VS. MATT FREVOLA

An MMA community favorite following his abbreviated run on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, Pena showed last time out why his coach during that season, Daniel Cormier, was so high on his talent and invited him to become a member of the American Kickboxing Academy team.

Following a one-off venture to featherweight where he defeated Steven Peterson after losing his battle with the scale, Pena returned to lightweight and put it on veteran Matt Wiman in late June, securing the stoppage early in the third round. The combination of his size, grappling ability and sharp elbows was too much for Wiman to deal with and creates a dangerous base for Pena to work from as he continues to develop as a fighter.

Frevola has rebounded from a 60-second knockout loss in his promotional debut with a pair of impressive outings against talented young fighters, battling Lando Vannata to a draw late last year before registering his first UFC win in April by defeating Jalin Turner. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member is an unrelenting battler with more seasoning and savvy than most competitors with only nine professional fights and he has the skills to push Pena to his limits in Tampa.

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ERYK ANDERS VS. GERALD MEERSCHAERT

It’s been a strange couple of years for Anders, who arrived in the UFC with a ton of potential, knocked out Rafael Natal in his debut and fought Lyoto Machida in a main event bout in just his third appearance, losing by split decision in a bout where many argued he’d done enough to win. Since then, the former Alabama linebacker has gone 2-3, sandwiching losses to Thiago Santos, Elias Theodorou and Khalil Rountree between victories over Tim Williams and Vinicius Moreira, all while bouncing between middleweight and light heavyweight.

This weekend, he’s back down in the 185-pound ranks taking on Meerschaert, a long-time Roufusport representative who has endured his own ups and downs inside the Octagon over the last couple years.

After reaching the UFC on the strength of a five-fight winning streak, the 31-year-old grappler picked up consecutive first-round finishes right out of the gate, but has gone 3-3 since then. He rebounded from a disputed split decision loss to Kevin Holland in March with a third-round finish of Trevin Giles in August and will look to use his sizeable advantage on the canvas and overall edge in experience to add another win to his resume this weekend.

JAMES VICK VS. NIKO PRICE

The final preliminary card of the evening is one that carries a great deal of interest, as the former Top 15 lightweight Vick makes his first appearance in the welterweight division in what should be an explosive showdown against the always dangerous, always entertaining Price.

Nine wins in 10 fights had Vick calling out top lightweights, suggesting they were ducking him and proclaiming that he deserved better. Over his last three fights, the former TUF contestant has faced nothing but ranked opponents and things haven’t gone his way. In two of those three outings, Vick was felled in the first round, and the three-fight slide, coupled with his massive frame, have prompted a move to the 170-pound weight class.

In just under three years, Price has established himself as an all-action wild man in the welterweight ranks — a bundle of frenetic energy and finishing power who has gone 5-3 with one no contest result in nine starts, none of which have gone beyond the second round. The Florida native is dangerous at all times and from all positions and should be a tremendous litmus test for Vick as he embarks on this new chapter of his career.

RYAN SPANN VS. DEVIN CLARK

This matchup between light heavyweight hopefuls should propel the winner towards the Top 15 heading into 2020.

A two-time Contender Series competitor, Spann followed up his decision win over Luis Henrique in his promotional debut with a blistering first-round knockout win over Rogerio Nogueira last time out. The Fortis MMA product is known for his submission game, but “Superman” connected with a sharp uppercut early and laid out the Brazilian legend, extending his winning streak to six in the process.

Clark has struggled to find consistency since arriving in the UFC as an unbeaten prospect though, to be fair, his last two losses have come against top contender Jan Blachowicz and rising star Aleksander Rakic. Last time out, “Brown Bear” bounced back from his loss to Rakic with a hard-fought decision victory over Darko Stosic, winning the battle of attrition against the Mirko Cro Cop protege.

Things remain fluid in the light heavyweight division and a dominant effort from either of these hopefuls would put them in a position to enjoy greater opportunities as next year’s campaign unfolds.

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DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO VS. TIM ELLIOTT

A tremendous flyweight fight that is flying slightly under the radar, the winner of this one should find himself in the thick of the chase in 2020.

Figueiredo suffered his first career loss in March, dropping a unanimous decision to perennial contender Jussier Formiga, but he got right back into the win column with a victory over Alexandre Pantoja at the end of July. Brandishing quick, powerful hands and unshakeable confidence, the Brazilian “God of War” is a tough assignment for anyone in the division and not too far away from challenging for championship gold.

After earning a title shot and acquitting himself well against Demetrious Johnson at the end of 2016, Elliott alternated wins and losses in 2017, finishing the year with a second-round submission win over Mark De La Rosa. He suffered a torn ACL in June 2018 and has been out of action since, but now fully healed and ready to return, the former title challenger gets a chance to get right back into the hunt in this clash with Figueiredo in Florida.

Flyweight is abuzz with action at the moment and there are a number of hopefuls jockeying for position in the title chase, but the winner of this one has to be considered amongst the top contenders regardless of how things play out in those other contests.

MAX GRIFFIN VS. ALEX MORONO

Veteran welterweights looking to get things moving after several months on the sidelines meet in this one.

Griffin went just 2-4 in his first six trips into the Octagon, though at least one of those decision losses was debatable. Despite his struggles, he entered 2019 ready to go on a run, having finally adjusted to the speed and pace of life as a UFC fighter and began the year with a majority decision win in a grudge match against newcomer Zelim Imadaev, but he’s been watching from the wings ever since.

Morono has had more sustained success than Griffin, posting a 5-2 mark with one no contest in eight UFC starts to date, but he too has been slowed by the sheer volume of fighters competing in the welterweight division. After scoring a decision win over Song Kenan to close out 2018, he began this year with a first-round finish of Zak Ottow in early March, but is only now getting back out on the dance floor.

The time away and understanding of the challenges of competing in such a deep, talent-rich division should have both Griffin and Morono firing on all cylinders on Saturday, turning this preliminary card deep cut into a potential Fight of the Night winner.

MIGUEL BAEZA VS. HECTOR ALDANA

Baeza was an early-season contract winner on the Contender Series who makes his first trip into the Octagon for a showdown with the struggling Aldana.

Training out of MMA Masters in Miami, the 27-year-old Baeza has excellent size for the division and is unbeaten in 13 career trips into the cage, winning all six of his amateur bouts before pushing his professional record to 7-0 with his unanimous decision victory over Victor Reyna inside the UFC Apex in June.

The 31-year-old Aldana began his career with four straight wins and landed a spot on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, but he’s endured nothing but challenges since. He’s gone 0-2 since returning to action following a three-year absence, losing a pair of competitive, tough fights against Song Kenan and Laureano Staropoli.

Will the newcomer maintain his unbeaten ways or will the tough Mexican veteran secure his first victory in six years?

UFC Tampa Free Fight: Waterson vs Kowalkiewicz
UFC Tampa Free Fight: Waterson vs Kowalkiewicz
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MARVIN VETTORI VS. ANDREW SANCHEZ

An outstanding clash between streaking middleweights, this one should go a long way to establishing where each one fits in the reshuffling 185-pound ranks.

The 26-year-old Vettori is 3-2-1 in six UFC starts, with his losses coming against Antonio Carlos Junior in his sophomore appearance and Israel Adesanya two fights back. Last time out, “The Italian Dream” secured the biggest win of his career by outworking Brazilian veteran Cezar Ferreira.

Sanchez won the light heavyweight competition on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter, moved back down to middleweight and beat Trevor Smith. But he then dropped a pair of contests to Anthony Smith and Ryan Janes soon after, halting his progress up the divisional ladder. He’s since rebounded with strong showings against Markus Perez and Marc-Andre Barriault where he’s relied on his strong grappling skills to once again get moving in the right direction.

Both arrived in the UFC flashing Top 15 potential, but neither has been able to get there yet and this one should determine which one has the better chance of actually making it happen in 2020.

JJ ALDRICH VS. LAUREN MUELLER

Flyweights looking to get back in the win column clash in this one as Colorado’s Aldrich faces off against the San Diego-based Mueller in this one.

Aldrich entered 2019 on a nice little roll, having won three straight and five of six since her time on The Ultimate Fighter to vault into the rankings and start generating a little buzz. Through the first round of her fight with Maycee Barber in March, everything was going great, as Aldrich was controlling the action and beating the promising prospect. But Barber found her footing and shifted the course of the fight midway through the second, ultimately securing the finish and Aldrich has been sidelined since.

Mueller was the first woman to earn a contract through the Contender Series and carried that momentum into her promotional debut, where she got the better of TUF alum Shana Dobson. Things have gone sideways since then, however, as Mueller suffered a first-round loss to Wu Yanan at the end of 2018 and landed on the unhappy side of a unanimous decision verdict in her lone fight of 2019 against Poliana Botelho.

Flyweight is proving to be a dangerous division and while each of these women have shown upside, this feels like a must-win matchup for both Aldrich and Mueller, which should make it an exciting fight to watch for the fans.

MARLON VERA VS. ANDRE EWELL

The fact that this one is kicking off the card tells you how deep and impressive Saturday’s event in Tampa is from top to bottom.

Vera enters on a four-fight winning streak and having won seven of his last nine overall. Still just 26, the Ecuadorian upstart has really started to show his full potential during his current run of success, mixing in sharp, quick striking with an opportunistic submission game that has produced stoppages in each of his last six wins.

Ewell made an immediate impact upon arriving in the UFC, venturing to Brazil and outworking former bantamweight kingpin Renan Barao in his debut. After dropping his sophomore appearance to electric prospect Nathaniel Wood, the charismatic California resident rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Anderson dos Santos in June.

Will Vera continue running hot and earn a fifth consecutive finish or can Ewell use this opportunity to springboard into the Top 15 to close out 2019?