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UFC Vegas 9: Fight by Fight Preview

Dive deep into the entire UFC Vegas 9 card with this edition of Fight by Fight, featuring Alistair Overeem and Augusto Sakai
ALISTAIR OVEREEM VS. AUGUSTO SAKAI

A Top 10 matchup in the big boy division headlines this weekend’s fight card as veteran contender Alistair Overeem squares off with streaking Brazilian Augusto Sakai.

The 40-year-old Overeem enters off a second-round stoppage win over Walt Harris in May and having won three of his last four, each by way of stoppage. Over the last five-plus years, the only men to best “The Reem” inside the Octagon are champion Stipe Miocic, top contenders Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes, and new Top 5 talent Jairzinho Rozenstruik, while he’s turned back the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum, and Aleksei Oleinik.

Sakai arrives in Las Vegas with four wins in as many UFC appearances and riding a six-fight winning streak overall. After graduating from the Contender Series, the 29-year-old has posted victories over Chase Sherman, Andrei Arlovski, Marcin Tybura, and Blagoy Ivanov, alternating between punishing finishes and grinding out decision wins.

This is a perfect piece of matchmaking as the pairing fits with exactly where each man is at the moment and the outcome will propel the victor closer to their goal of reaching the top of the division.

For Overeem, it’s a chance to knock off another hopeful on a nice run of success, while picking up a second straight victory and building momentum in his quest to make one more run at the heavyweight title before wrapping up his career. For Sakai, he steps into the cage with one of the most experienced and established talents in the division and the exact type of tenured fighter he needs to beat in order to be viewed as a legitimate contender going forward.

UFC Vegas 9: Overeem vs Sakai - Preview
UFC Vegas 9: Overeem vs Sakai - Preview
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OVINCE SAINT PREUX VS. ALONZO MENIFIELD

Initially slated to take place two weeks earlier, light heavyweights Ovince Saint Preux and Alonzo Menifield will finally clash in Saturday’s co-main event.

A fixture in the Top 15 who has challenged for interim gold and fought just about everyone of note in the 205-pound ranks over the years, Saint Preux returns to the division after a solid showing in a one-off appearance at heavyweight, where he dropped a split decision to Ben Rothwell. The University of Tennessee alum has struggled to garner consistent success over the last couple of years, entering with a 2-4 mark over his last six fights, but he remains a dangerous finisher on the feet and on the ground, where he’s forced the MMA community to rename his favorite finisher from the Von Flue choke to the Von Preux choke.

The 32-year-old Menifield is a physical specimen who is still developing as a fighter and enters Saturday’s contest off his first career loss. A two-time winner on the Contender Series, the Fortis MMA product had earned nine consecutive stoppage victories prior to dropping a decision to Devin Clark last time out, an experience that should only help him grow in the long run.

Much like the main event, this is a quality pairing that will tell observers a great deal about each participant based on how it plays out.

Should Saint Preux emerge victorious, he’ll re-establish himself as a Top 15 fighter in the shifting light heavyweight ranks and further cement his status as the bouncer checking names off the guest list out front of the bar in the 205-pound weight class. If Menifield can get back into the win column, it’ll represent a major step towards cracking the rankings and erase some of the questions that linger following his loss earlier in the year.

Both men have the potential to end things in a hurry and there is a very real possibility that this one will end in spectacular fashion without the judges needing to get involved.

SIJARA EUBANKS VS. KAROL ROSA

Bantamweights looking to make headway in the wide-open division square off in this one as former TUF standout Sijara Eubanks meets the steadily improving Karol Rosa.

It’s been an up-and-down go of things for Eubanks since entering the UFC, as she missed out on the chance to compete for the inaugural flyweight title due to weight cutting issues and has managed a 3-2 mark through her first five trips into the Octagon. She picked up her first victory since moving to the 135-pound weight class last time out, snapping a two-fight skid with a unanimous decision win over Sarah Moras that just might turn out to be the catalyst to her climb up the rankings.

The 25-year-old Rosa has gone two-for-two to begin her UFC career, outworking fellow Brazilians Lara Procopio and Vanessa Melo in back-to-back outings to push her overall winning streak to four. A teammate and training partner of strawweight standout Jessica Andrade, injuries and event cancellations have limited the number of trips she’s made into the Octagon thus far, but after a successful journey to Fight Island in July, Rosa is ready to step back into the fray in search of her third straight UFC victory on Saturday.

Will Eubanks’ tougher slate to this point in her career give her the edge in this matchup or can Rosa keep things rolling and establish herself as one to watch in the bantamweight division going forward?

MICHEL PEREIRA VS. ZELIM IMADAEV

Welterweight wild cards clash in this contest that has the potential to be all over the place as Michel Pereira takes on Zelim Imadaev.

There might not be a greater “agent of chaos” on the UFC roster than Pereira, the flamboyant Brazilian with an unconventional offensive arsenal and explosive potential. We saw the best version of that in his debut win over Danny Roberts and the downside last time out, when he was disqualified after landing an illegal knee late in a fight he was dominating against Diego Sanchez.

The 25-year-old Imadaev entered the UFC with an 8-0 record and heads into Saturday night’s fight looking to snap a two-fight slide. He’s a talented striker who can break from protocol and ride with his emotions at times, as he did in his debut loss to Max Griffin, but when he’s at his best, Imadaev presses forward relentlessly behind crisp, technical strikes.

This will be an interesting chess match as Imadaev likes to stalk his prey and cut off the cage, while Pereira is the most free-flowing competitor in the division; a guy who will literally hop, skip, and jump around the Octagon in order to lower his opponent’s guard and create openings to attack.

Expect the unexpected in this one.

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THIAGO MOISES VS. JALIN TURNER

Thiago Moises and Jalin Turner share the Octagon in this battle of young lightweights looking to build off recent finishes.

Back in May, Moises locked up one of the top submission finishes of the year, snatching up Michael Johnson’s leg and forcing him to tap to an ankle lock 25 seconds into the second round of their clash in Jacksonville. The victory bought the Brazilian’s record to 2-2 inside the Octagon and 13-4 overall, establishing him as an intriguing prospect to watch in the middle of the deepest division in the sport.

Turner shares a lot of similarities with the man he’ll face this weekend, as he too is 25, appeared on the Contender Series, lost his debut to a dangerous finisher, and is 2-2 in the Octagon after collecting a second-round finish last time out. Aptly nicknamed “The Tarantula” given his six-foot-three frame and 77-inch reach, Turner has long been considered an up-and-comer in the 155-pound weight class and appears to be settling into life on the UFC roster.

This is most likely going to be a “cat and mouse” battle with Moises working diligently to get the fight to the canvas, thereby nullifying Turner’s tremendous length, while the California native will be doing everything in his power to keep his Brazilian adversary at the end of his long jab and on his feet. Simple as it sounds, whoever is able to dictate the terms of engagement and control the tempo and location of the fight will be the one moving forward after Saturday night.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 23: Jalin Turner celebrates after his victory over Josh Culibao of Australia in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on February 23, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 23: Jalin Turner celebrates after his victory over Josh Culibao of Australia in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Spark Arena on February 23, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Z

ANDRE MUNIZ VS. BARTOSZ FABINSKI

Middleweights looking to carve a lane out for themselves in the ultra-competitive 185-pound weight class square off here as Andre Muniz takes on Bartosz Fabinski.

A graduate of the Contender Series, the 30-year-old Muniz arrives in Las Vegas on a five-fight winning streak, having defeated fellow Brazilian and fellow Contender Series alum Antonio Arroyo in their joint debuts last November. He’s only lost once since 2013, posting a dozen victories and nine stoppages during that span.

Poland’s Fabinski won his first two UFC appearances, then missed nearly three years of competition due to injuries before returning to outwork Emil Meek. He had his lengthy winning streak snapped by veteran Michel Prazeres, spent another year on the sidelines dealing with injuries, then moved up to middleweight and outworked Darren Stewart in a bout that took place under the Cage Warriors banner in March.

Both of these men have the potential to string together a couple victories and build the kind of momentum that would make things interesting for them in the middleweight division, but only one of them will add to their recent success this weekend.

VIVIANE ARAUJO VS. MONTANA DE LA ROSA

Viviane Araujo and Montana De La Rosa meet in this matchup of flyweight hopefuls looking to establish some serious momentum heading into the final quarter of 2020.

After winning her promotional debut at bantamweight, Araujo dropped down to flyweight and outworked Alexis Davis before landing on the wrong side of the scorecards in a showdown with recent title challenger Jessica Eye at the end of last year. Twice booked to face countrywoman and current top contender Jennifer Maia earlier this year, the 33-year-old Cerrado MMA product is already entrenched in the Top 10 and could jump start a run towards contention with a strong performance here.

De La Rosa had her three-fight winning streak snapped last summer by Andrea Lee but got right back into the win column earlier this year with a unanimous decision victory over Mara Romero Borella in New Mexico. She trained in a few different places with a few different teams during her first couple years in the UFC and is still only 25 years old, so it’s quite likely that the best is still yet to come for the former Ultimate Fighter competitor.

The flyweight division is wide open now, with reigning champ Valentina Shevchenko dispatching contenders as quickly as they can emerge. Whomever secures a victory in this one will take a considerable step forward in the division and be within a couple wins of potentially challenging for championship gold.

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ALEXANDR ROMANOV VS. MARCOS ROGERIO DE LIMA

I’m a simple man with simple tastes and if you’re going to let me watch an undefeated heavyweight newcomer whose foundational style is listed as sumo slug it out with a veteran Brazilian finisher on a Saturday night, I’m going to make some popcorn and enjoy.

Alexandr Romanov arrives in the UFC with an 11-0 record constructed entirely of finishes and a whole pack of questions about what kind of impact he can have in the heavyweight division. The 29-year old from Moldova has trucked the competition every time out thus far, which is why this pairing with Marcos Rogerio de Lima is so intriguing.

“Pezao” moved up the heavyweight in 2018 and has gone 2-1 in his first three appearances. Last time out, the 35-year-old Brazilian knocked out Ben Sosoli with a sharp right hand less than 90 seconds into things, showcasing a quick, powerful striking arsenal that makes the former light heavyweight a unique addition to the big boy ranks.

This is another perfect bit of matchmaking as de Lima is a known commodity with 10 UFC appearances under his belt, which makes him an ideal candidate to welcome the mysterious newcomer Romanov into the Octagon for the first time.

Will “King Kong” keep rolling in his UFC debut or will the Brazilian follow up his quick victory from last time out with another on Saturday night?

COLE SMITH VS. HUNTER AZURE

Just a couple fights into their UFC careers, Cole Smith and Hunter Azure are set to go head-to-head in an ultra-important battle between talented prospects who are looking to stay afloat in the promotion’s shark-infested waters.

Fighting out of Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, the 31-year-old Smith outworked fellow Canuck Mitch Gagnon in his promotional debut last May in the Canadian capital, then returned home for his sophomore outing, only to land on the wrong side of a debated split decision verdict in his fight with Miles Johns. Now the former BFL titleholder looks to bounce back the same way he did following a rocky close to his amateur career but collecting a dominant victory this weekend and stringing together a whole bunch of wins going forward.

Azure fought on that same card in Vancouver last fall, winning his debut against former Ultimate Fighter winner Brad Katona. He returned to action in May against Brian Kelleher and landed on the business end of the kind of punch that lets you know why the New Yorker’s nickname is “Boom.” A member of the Fight Ready crew, the 28-year-old will look to get back to his wrestling roots and get back into the win column as he locks horns with Smith on Saturday.

Which of these promising neophytes will bounce back and which one will be forced to leave Las Vegas on a losing streak?