UFC Vancouver Prelims on ESPN+ at 5pm/2pm ETPT
KYLE PREPOLEC VS. AUSTIN HUBBARD
Fighters who were in tough in their respective UFC debuts meet in this one, as Canada’s Prepolec faces the Elevation Fight Team member Hubbard in this lightweight matchup.
A veteran of the Canadian regional circuit, Prepolec stepped up a division on short notice to face Nordine Taleb earlier this year in Ottawa, going the distance against the Tristar Gym product in a losing effort. Now back down at his natural weight, the Windsor, Ontario native will look to get back to the form that earned him four wins in five bouts prior to finally getting the call to compete in the Octagon.
Six wins in seven outings capped by a win over Killys Mota to win the vacant LFA lightweight title garnered Hubbard a move to the UFC, where he was promptly thrown in against Davi Ramos in his debut. “Thud” hung tough against the talented Brazilian, but dropped a unanimous decision, but the talented 27-year-old has always bounced back from setbacks with multiple wins, so we’ll see if he can continue that trend here.
LOUIS SMOLKA VS. RYAN MCDONALD
Smolka ended 2018 with an emotional victory over Sumudaerji in Beijing, China, returning to the Octagon and securing his first win in more than two years after being released following a four-fight losing streak. The talented Hawaiian landed on the wrong side of the results last time out, getting caught in a triangle choke by streaking finisher Matt Schnell, making this one even more important for the Team Oyama representative.
An undefeated run on the regional circuit capped by a second-round submission win in his LFA debut earned McDonald an opportunity to compete in the UFC. The 26-year-old made his debut in March, dropping a unanimous decision to Factory X fighter Chris Gutierrez and dropping from the ranks of the unbeaten in the process.
Can Smolka get back into the win column and start a run at bantamweight or will McDonald secure his first UFC victory and hand “Da Last Samurai” his second straight loss?
CHAS SKELLY VS. JORDAN GRIFFIN
Originally scheduled to happen in June, Skelly and Griffin will now meet this weekend in Vancouver as the two featherweights each look to get back in the win column.
A 10-fight UFC veteran who hasn’t competed since his controversial loss to Bobby Moffett last December, Skelly enters on a two-fight slide, searching for his first victory since February 2017. A strong grappler with an awkward style on the feet, “The Scrapper” is a proven tough out and dangerous opponent for anyone hoping to work their way into the Top 15 in the 145-pound weight class.
After scoring a comeback win over Maurice Mitchell on Season 2 of the Contender Series, Griffin got a hometown fight in his first UFC assignment, squaring off with Dan Ige last December in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for the Roufusport representative, he came out on the wrong side of the results, turning this one into a must-win for the 29-year-old “Native Psycho.”
BRAD KATONA VS. HUNTER AZURE
This is an intriguing clash in the bantamweight division between a recent Ultimate Fighter winner from Canada and the latest fighter to use the Contender Series as a springboard to competing on the biggest stage in the sport.
Azure turned in an impressive performance on the third week of this season’s Tuesday night fight series, smothering Chris Ocon with non-stop pressure and control on the ground. While he wasn’t able to find a finish, the Montana native made enough of an impact in pushing his record to 7-0 to earn a contract and a chance to compete in the Octagon.
Katona moved up in weight and won the featherweight competition on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, then dropped back down to his natural weight class and scored a lopsided win over Matthew Lopez to close out 2018. Unfortunately for the Winnipeg native, who trains at SBG Ireland, he landed on the wrong side of a dominant effort last time out, resulting in the first loss of his professional career.
Can the Canadian prospect rebound from his first setback inside the cage or will Azure remain unbeaten by upending Katona in his home country?
COLE SMITH VS. MILES JOHNS
If you’re looking for an under the radar fight that could turn out to have divisional significance 18-24 months down the line, this is the one, as Smith and Johns are both promising bantamweights with unbeaten records looking to take another step forward heading into the final quarter of 2019.
Hailing from Squamish, British Columbia, Smith’s sophomore appearance in the Octagon is a chance for the former Battlefield Fight League titleholder to compete at home in front of friends and family. He won his promotional debut on short notice in May, grinding out a victory over veteran Canadian Mitch Gagnon, pushing his record to 9-0 in the process.
Johns is the latest member of Dallas’ Fortis MMA team to transition from being an LFA standout to winning on the Contender Series and earning a UFC contract. The 25-year-old picked up a dominant decision win over Richie Santiago in June, running his winning streak to nine, and if he can take it to double digits by dispatching Smith, the unbeaten “Chapo” will join his teammates Ryan Spann and Geoff Neal as emerging talents to keep a close eye on going forward.
MARCIN TYBURA VS. AUGUSTO SAKAI
Heavyweights who occupy the last two spots in the Top 15 meet in a battle to determine which one moves forward and which one takes a step back.
Tybura has had an up and down run inside the Octagon, losing his debut before winning three straight, only to drop three of his next four. But the first two losses in that rough patch came against former champ Fabricio Werdum and title challenger Derrick Lewis, while the former M-1 titleholder has largely looked good against opponents stationed behind him in the rankings.
Sakai will put that theory to the test on Saturday, as the Brazilian is currently ranked one spot behind his Polish counterpart, but is the hotter of the two fighters, entering on a four-fight winning streak. He’s lost just once in his career and while it’s not always pretty, Sakai has proven capable of finding a way to get the job done and if that continues this weekend, he’ll elevate himself in the heavyweight hierarchy.
UFC Vancouver Main Card on ESPN+ at 8pm/5pm ETPT
MISHA CIRKUNOV VS. JIIMMY CRUTE
This one profiles as the “junior version” of the co-main event pairing between Teixeira and Krylov, as the Latvian-Canadian veteran Cirkunov looks to maintain his place in the Top 15 in a showdown with Crute, a streaking Contender Series alum from Australia.
Cirkunov raced out to a 4-0 start in the UFC, but has struggled since venturing into the cage against the top tier of talent, losing three of his last four and being stopped in each of those contests. When at his best, the chiseled grappler is closing the distance and using his superior skills on the ground to hunt for finishes and frustrate opponents.
The 23-year-old Crute earned his place on the UFC roster with a first-round stoppage win on Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series and has followed it up with consecutive victories over Paul Craig and Sam Alvey in his first two promotional appearances. Now 10-0 overall, Crute has the markings of a future contender and this pairing will go a long way in determining if he’s ready to carry that designation already or needs a little more seasoning.
ANTONIO CARLOS JUNIOR VS. URIAH HALL
Veteran middleweights aiming to solidify their place in the ever-shifting division collide in this intriguing pairing between competitors with divergent styles.
One of the top grapplers on the roster, Carlos Junior had his five-fight winning streak snapped last time out, returning from a 13-month layoff and dropping a unanimous decision to Contender Series alum Ian Heinisch. The 29-year-old American Top Team representative has never dropped two in a row and now that he’s back in rhythm and shaken off the rust, Carlos Junior will look to maintain that pattern this weekend on the West Coast of Canada.
Where the Brazilian is one of the top submission artists in the UFC, Hall has long been considered one of the most dangerous strikers in the division. The former TUF finalist scored a third-round knockout win over Bevon Lewis last time out and has won two of three since enduring a three-fight slide.
The Top 15 has undergone considerable changes in the last 12 months and remains unsettled, making this a crucial contest for these two veterans as they look to secure their place in the rankings and build some momentum into the final three months of 2019.
MICHEL PEREIRA VS. TRISTAN CONNELLY
One of the most exciting new additions to the UFC roster this year, fans in Vancouver almost missed their opportunity to see Brazil’s Pereira compete, as his original opponent, Sergey Khandozhko, was forced from the card over the weekend.
The 25-year-old welterweight gained a cult following amongst hardcore fans for his unorthodox, acrobatic offensive approach inside the cage, with videos of flying attacks and flips off the fence going viral prior to his arrival in the Octagon. He carried a two-fight winning streak into his dangerous debut against Danny Roberts in May and somehow managed to exceed expectations. Pereira showcased his flamboyant offensive approach, attempting a rolling heel kick and propelling himself off the wall a la Anthony Pettis, minus “The Showtime Kick,” before stunning the British veteran with a jumping knee and then felling him with a right hand down the pipe less than two minutes into the opening round.
Stepping up on short notice to keep the electric fan favorite on the card is Connelly, a local product and veteran of the Canadian regional scene who carries a four-fight winning streak into his Octagon debut. A pro since 2010 and training partner of fellow UFC Vancouver competitor Cole Smith — he was in the bantamweight’s corner when he earned a victory in Ottawa this past May — the 33-year-old has gone 8-1 over his last nine after starting his career 5-5, with his lone setback coming more than two years ago against former UFC competitor Shane Campbell.
TODD DUFFEE VS. JEFF HUGHES
Ten years after making his UFC debut and looking like a future contender, Duffee ends a four-year hiatus with this return engagement against the Contender Series alum Hughes.
Once one of the most hyped prospects in the sport, Duffee’s career has be marred by injuries, illnesses and extended layoffs, resulting in the now 33-year-old having fought just a dozen times overall and six times since his seven-second victory over the late Tim Hague in his debut at UFC 102.
The hulking physical specimen doesn’t get a layup in a return from his long stay on the sidelines, as he squares off with Hughes.
Entering off a split decision loss to Maurice Greene in March, the long-time training partner of two-time heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic enters with something to prove. The former LFA champ has shown knockout power, excellent durability and resiliency over his 12-fight career, having rebounded from his first career setback with a four-fight winning streak that carried him into the UFC.
GLOVER TEIXEIRA VS. NIKITA KRYLOV
The light heavyweight ranks have been in flux for the last year and these two divisional staples will look to solidify their place in the hierarchy in this weekend’s penultimate pairing.
After dropping his lone appearance of 2018, Teixeira has proven so far this year that the old dog still has some bite, as the Brazilian veteran has secured consecutive submission wins over Karl Roberson and Ion Cutelaba to begin 2019. The 39-year-old remains on the fringes of title contention and stands as the guy you’ve got to beat it you hope to get yourself into the championship mix.
That’s what Krylov will try to do on Saturday, as the Ukrainian looks for his second straight win in his third start since returning to the organization. Still just 27 years old, “The Miner” is 7-4 in his UFC career, but 10-2 over his last dozen fights overall, having gone four-for-four outside of the Octagon between losses to Misha Cirkunov and Jan Blachowicz.
Will Teixeira continue to turn back hopefuls and keep his dreams of one more run at the title alive or can Krylov pick up the biggest win of his career and continue to shake up the standings in the 205-pound weight class?
DONALD CERRONE VS. JUSTIN GAETHJE
There have been big fights that have already hit the Octagon in recent weeks and others that are still on the horizon, but there might not be a single contest that has people as excited as this lightweight slobberknocker.
Cerrone has the most wins and post-fight bonuses in UFC history. Gaethje has six bonuses in five UFC appearances. Both are allergic to boring fights and operate with the same “nothing needs to be said to hype this fight” mentality, which only makes it more appealing. In addition to being a wildly entertaining contest, this one also carries a great deal of divisional significance as well.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov having just successfully retained the lightweight title last weekend at UFC 242 and Tony Ferguson entrenched as the No. 1 contender, the winner of Saturday’s main event could very well find themselves in a bout to determine who is next in line beyond “El Cucuy.”
Cerrone had his three-winning streak snapped by Ferguson last time out, while Gaethje has rebounded from back-to-back losses with back-to-back first-round stoppage wins, putting these two on a collision course that should produce a wildly entertaining end to the UFC’s return to Vancouver on Saturday.