MICHELLE WATERSON VS. ANGELA HILL
Ranked strawweights meet in the main event of the evening as perennial contender Michelle Waterson clashes with emerging threat Angela Hill.
For the duration of her UFC tenure, Waterson has resided just outside of the title picture in the strawweight division. She’s gotten close to breaking into the elite ranks, but come up short, dropping pivotal fights to the likes of Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and, most recently, Carla Esparza.
The long-time Jackson-Wink MMA representative has said she wants to be less tactical and more aggressive this time around, and it might serve her well, as the 34-year-old has been at her best when she’s pushing the pace, dictating the terms of engagement and keeping opponents on their heels.
Hill took on a “Cowboy” Cerrone mentality of fighting as frequently as possible this time last year following her victory over Ariane Carnelossi in Mexico City, and the results have been tremendous for the former Ultimate Fighter contestant. She added short-notice victories over Hannah Cifers and Loma Lookboonmee to her resume pre-shutdown, then returned to deliver a strong performance against Claudia Gadelha in mid-May.
While she came out on the unhappy side of a split decision verdict against the Brazilian former title challenger, many believe Hill won the fight and few, if any, came away thinking any less about the charismatic and engaging emerging talent.
This is the exact type of matchup each of these women need at this moment and it should be electric from start to finish. Waterson needs a victory to snap a two-fight skid and show that she should remain entrenched just outside the Top 5 in the 115-pound weight class, while Hill is still searching for that official signature win that elevates her to facing a new tier of competition going forward.
OTTMAN AZAITAR VS. KHAMA WORTHY
This week’s reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is comes in the form of this co-main event clash between unbeaten UFC sophomore Ottman Azaitar and emerging “prospect killer” Khama Worthy.
Azaitar pushed his winning streak to an even dozen with a first-round stoppage win over Teemu Packalen last September at UFC 242. The 30-year-old, who trains alongside his older brother, UFC middleweight Abu Azaitar, has only been the distance once in his career, while collecting 75-percent of his victories inside the opening five minutes.
A short-notice opportunity to face a friend and former training partner has turned into a legitimate role in the lightweight division for Worthy. After stopping Devonte Smith in the first round of his promotional debut, the 33-year-old veteran added another finish of an emerging talent to his resume last time out when he submitted Luis Pena at the end of June. Now riding a seven-fight winning streak overall, “The Death Star” has a chance to hand Azaitar his first professional loss and add to his growing reputation.
These are the kind of really well-crafted matchups that garner attention ahead of fight night, as Azaitar is in need of a step up in competition given the slate he’s faced thus far, and Worthy is the perfect dance partner. How this one plays out is going to answer a lot of lingering questions about Azaitar’s potential upside in the talent-rich 155-pound weight class, and if Worthy is able to secure a third straight UFC win, the already interesting story of the journeyman veteran taking out upstarts inside the Octagon gathers even more steam.
ROXANNE MODAFFERI VS. ANDREA LEE
Residents of the middle-third of the flyweight Top 15 meet for the second time in their career as veteran Roxanne Modafferi faces Andrea Lee in a battle of talented competitors looking to get back into the win column.
Modafferi has alternated losses and wins throughout her second tour of duty with the UFC, arriving in the Apex off a unanimous decision loss to Lauren Murphy in the spring. “The Happy Warrior” turned in a tremendous performance in January, toppling then-unbeaten rising star Maycee Barber, and has established herself as the experienced force in the middle of the flyweight rankings over the last three-plus years, having repeatedly turned back hurried hopefuls and fellow veterans while only falling to legitimate contenders.
The 31-year-old Lee enters Saturday’s contest on a two-fight skid where both losses came by way of split decision, first to Joanne Calderwood and then to Murphy. She had won seven straight before that, including each of her first three UFC appearances, and has long been projected as someone who could potentially emerge as a championship contender in the future.
Modafferi won their first meeting by split decision in December 2014, though she had a considerable experience advantage, as the Invicta FC 10 clash was her 28th appearance and just the third of Lee’s MMA career. This weekend’s contest feels like a potential referendum on where each woman stands in their respective careers, as a victory for Modafferi will further cement her position on the fringes of contention, while Lee needs a win to not only break out of her mini-slump, but also to clear that competitive hurdle that has continually tripped her up to this point in her career.
Will the veteran Modafferi once again get the better of things or will Lee gain a measure of revenge and take one step closer to contention on Saturday night?
ED HERMAN VS. MIKE RODRIGUEZ
It’s the old guard versus the new generation in the light heavyweight division here as Ed Herman squares off with Mike Rodriguez.
The 39-year-old Herman was a finalist on Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter and recently celebrated 15 years on the UFC roster. “Short Fuse” goes searching for his first three-fight winning streak since 2011-12 and just the second of his UFC career after scoring a stoppage victory over Patrick Cummins and a unanimous decision win over Khadis Ibragimov last year.
“Slo Mike” had the opposite year as Herman in 2019, suffering back-to-back losses to John Allan and Da Un Jung, with the former being converted to a no contest after the Brazilian tested positive for a banned substance following the bout. But the Massachusetts-based Contender Series alum rebounded in a major way just a few weeks ago, registering a first-round knockout win over Marcin Prachnio, and he looks to build on that effort here.
Herman’s longevity and recent resurgence are incredible stories and he’s proven to still be a dangerous piece of the light heavyweight ecosystem, while Rodriguez has shown flashes throughout his UFC run, but struggled to find consistency. Now they face one another in a battle to see who will take a step forward and who will take a step back in the 205-pound weight class.
BOBBY GREEN VS. ALAN PATRICK
One fighter hasn’t competed in nearly two full years, while the other is fighting for the third time in the last 13 weeks, as Alan Patrick squares off with Bobby Green.
Patrick makes the walk to the Octagon for the first time in nearly two years, having last competed at UFC 229, where he was stopped in the third round by Scott Holtzman. The 37-year-old had won three straight prior to that setback and sports a 15-2 record overall. He was slated to return earlier this summer against Marc Diakiese, but was forced to withdraw, leading to this pairing with Green on Saturday night.
Green turns 34 on September 9 and will look to celebrate his birthday with a third victory in 2020 after outworking Clay Guida and Lando Vannata in his first two outings of the year, with the latter of those matchups garnering Fight of the Night honors. Green is one of the most experienced competitors in the division and had gone 1-5-1 in his previous seven starts, but his recent results are more indicative of the skills he’s displayed for the majority of his 13-year career.
The differences in their recent schedules really makes this one interesting, as Green is on a two-fight winning streak and looking to keep it going by staying on the gas and in the cage, while Patrick hasn’t earned a victory since the start of 2018 and last fought 23 months ago.
Will Green’s momentum continue, or can Patrick halt his winning streak and earn a victory in his return to the Octagon?
BILLY QUARANTILLO VS. KYLE NELSON
Featherweights eager to keep moving forward in the competitive 145-pound weight class collide in this one as Billy Quarantillo faces off with “The Monster,” Kyle Nelson.
In retrospect, it feels a little strange that Quarantillo ended up taking a circuitous path to competing in the UFC, as he was 6-1, including a victory over the aforementioned Khama Worthy heading into his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, then beat a fellow former cast member in his first fight out of the house. After suffering the second loss of his career, “Billy Q” went on a four-fight winning streak to land an opportunity to compete on the Contender Series, and has since parlayed that performance into a pair of victories inside the Octagon, establishing himself as someone to keep tabs on in the featherweight ranks in the process.
Nelson also encountered Worthy on the regional circuit, stopping him in 63 seconds for the fifth victory in an eventual six-fight winning streak that carried him to the UFC. After debuting up a division against surging contender Diego Ferreira, the 29-year-old Canadian moved back down to featherweight, starting quick, but fading fast before ultimately getting submitted by Matt Sayles before rebounding with a blistering first-round stoppage win over Polo Reyes last time out.
Featherweight has become one of the deepest divisions in the UFC over the last several years, with every fight being a battle between hopefuls jockeying for position, and this one is no different. Nelson looked like a different fighter in his most recent showing and needs to replicate that intensity and effort here, while Quarantillo has efficiently handled his business through his first two Octagon appearances to build a little momentum.
Neither man is in range of the rankings at the moment, but that only goes to underscore the importance of a fight like this as the only way to get closer is by getting past the dangerous and experienced competitor on the other side of the Octagon on Saturday night.
JULIA AVILA VS. SIJARA EUBANKS
Bantamweights who recently had fights come apart are now slated to face one another as Sijara Eubanks and Julia Avila square off on Saturday night.
The former Ultimate Fighter standout Eubanks was scheduled to compete last week against Karol Rosa, but the Brazilian was forced out of the contest due to weight cutting issues. Eubanks made her way to the 135-pound ranks after experiencing her own challenges on the scale at flyweight, and dropped each of her first two appearances in her new division, landing on the wrong side of decisions against Aspen Ladd and Bethe Correia in a pair of entertaining scraps.
Last time out, however, “SarJ” got back into the win column with a unanimous decision victory of her own over Sarah Moras, and now the 35-year-old Mark Henry-trained fighter looks to make it two straight in this impromptu pairing with Avila.
Thus far, Avila’s UFC career feels like a couple of appearances dropped in amongst myriad cancellations, as the Notre Dame grad has earned a pair of victories while having seven different fights go by the boards. Her performance in those twin appearances, however, have already made it clear that she’s one to watch in the bantamweight ranks, as the streaking 32-year-old followed up a good win over Pannie Kianzad in her debut with a blistering 22-second finish of Gina Mazany last time out.
Sporting an 8-1 record overall where her lone setback came when she suffered a gruesome finger injury 49 seconds into a fight, Avila is a dark horse contender in the 135-pound weight class, even if she currently resides outside the Top 10.
BROK WEAVER VS. FRANK CAMACHO
Lightweights with exciting potential, but limited results of late, meet in this one as Brok Weaver makes the walk to the UFC cage for the third time against bonus magnet Frank Camacho.
Weaver generated a great deal of interest with his contract-winning effort on Season 3 of the Contender Series, but his transition to the UFC roster has gotten off to a rocky start. After earning a victory in his debut via disqualification after getting blasted with an illegal knee, the Alabama-based lightweight was submitted by Roosevelt Roberts in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, sending him into this week’s clash with Camacho in need of a strong showing.
“Frank the Crank” is just 2-5 in his UFC career, but he earned three straight Fight of the Night bonuses to begin his career and seems to be allergic to being in a boring fight, even if he ends up on someone else’s highlight reel. The 31-year-old veteran is the kind of seasoned, tenacious competitor who is both capable of bouncing back in a big way and giving anyone a tough fight, which makes him an ideal dance partner for Weaver on Saturday night.
BRYAN BARBERENA VS. ANTHONY IVY
Blue-collar welterweight Bryan Barberena makes his 2020 debut focused on snapping a two-fight skid as he collides with UFC neophyte Anthony Ivy on the preliminary card.
“Bam Bam” has gone 5-5 over his first 10 UFC starts while establishing himself as a durable tough out in the 170-pound weight class, highlighted by his classic back-and-forth with Vicente Luque at the start of last year. He was stopped in the third round of that engagement, then finished in the second in his subsequent appearance against Randy Brown, so it will be interesting to see how he bounced back as he competes for the first time in over a year this weekend at the Apex.
Ivy was a late addition to the mid-June fight card in Las Vegas and had his five-fight winning streak snapped in quick fashion by Christian Aguilera. The 30-year-old San Antonio native has never been to the scorecards in his career and has only been beyond the second round once, when he ventured to the fourth round in a championship fight on the regional circuit.
Given Ivy’s propensity for not involving the judges and Barberena’s proven love of trading hands, don’t be surprised if things escalate quickly in this one and end before the final horn sounds.
SABINA MAZO VS. JUSTINE KISH
Emerging flyweights looking to build on recent successes clash here as Sabina Mazo squares off with TUF 20 alum Justine Kish.
Mazo carried a ton of momentum into her UFC debut in March 2019 after amassing a 6-0 record and a couple of highlight reel finishes on the regional circuit, only to land on the wrong side of the results in a tepid meeting with Maryna Moroz. Since then, however, the 23-year-old Kings MMA product has produced back-to-back decision wins to regain some forward momentum and re-establish herself as an up-and-coming talent to watch in the 125-pound weight class.
Injuries have dogged Kish since her time on the long-running reality TV competition, where she was unable to compete due to a knee injury. After collecting two wins and two losses in her first four UFC starts upon her return, the North Carolina product was sidelined again for just shy of two years before returning to claim a unanimous decision win over Lucie Pudilova in her home state earlier this year.
This is a perfect pairing for each of these women at this point in their careers, as Mazo needs to continue proving herself against experienced, well-rounded competition and Kish needs to show she’s recaptured the form that helped carry her to victories over divisional stalwarts Randa Markos and Nina Ansaroff earlier in her career.