It’s wild that there are only three cards left this year because, honestly, it doesn’t feel like all that long ago that it was January and we were kicking off the year with a pair of entertaining fight cards capped by impressive main event efforts.
This weekend’s card is an outstanding collection of competitive fights between athletes spanning the full spectrum in terms of where they stand in their careers and divisions.
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Capped by a compelling main event that raises a great deal of questions, Saturday’s return to Orlando should turn Amway Center into the happiest place on Earth for fight fans this weekend.
Here’s a closer look at what’s on tap.
Kevin Holland prepares to fight Khamzat Chimaev of Russia in a 180-pound catchweight fight during the UFC 279 event at T-Mobile Arena on September 10, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Top 10 mainstay Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Kevin Holland face off in Saturday’s main event pairing, as each of the welterweights aims to end the year on a positive note.
Thompson returns for the first time since last December, when he dropped a unanimous decision to Belal Muhammad on the final fight card of the year. The 39-year-old veteran is in a bit of a strange place in his career at the moment, having dropped consecutive decisions, but also being less than two years removed from a Performance of the Night-winning effort against Geoff Neal.
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The popular and ever-active Holland makes the quick turnaround after dropping his impromptu matchup against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279 in September, looking to get things moving in the right direction once again. Holland has historically struggled in these spots — matchups against established, tenured competitors — and needs to clear this hurdle if he has hopes of making a push towards the Top 10 in 2023.
Will “Wonderboy” get back into the win column and show he’s still got something left in the tank or will “Trailblazer” hand him a third straight loss while collecting the most high-profile victory of his career?
Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil punches Rafael Fiziev of Kazakstan in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Welterweights occupy the penultimate spot on this weekend’s fight card, as well, as Bryan Barberena looks to extend his winning streak to four when he takes on two-division standout Rafael Dos Anjos.
After dropping his first fight following life-saving abdominal surgery in late 2020, “Bam Bam” has collected consecutive victories over Darian Weeks, Matt Brown, and Robbie Lawler to emerge as an intriguing “late bloomer” in the 170-pound weight class. Last time out, the Gym-O representative went toe-to-toe with the former champion Lawler, becoming just the third person to stop him with strikes.
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Dos Anjos has been splitting his time between lightweight and welterweight as of late, including a catchweight battle against Renato Moicano in the middle of the two divisions. The Brazilian veteran is coming off a fifth-round stoppage loss to Rafael Fiziev but remains a tough test for anyone looking to slide past him in the rankings, regardless of whether that’s at ’55 or 170 pounds.
This one is going to answer a number of questions about each man. A win over Dos Anjos still carries weight and could propel Barberena into the rankings at welterweight, while the former lightweight champ from Brazil can show, like Thompson in the main event, that he’s still got plenty of offer and remains in the Top 15 mix no matter where he competes.
Matt Schnell reacts after his victory over Sumudaerji of China in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UBS Arena on July 16, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Ascending flyweights with Top 5 aspirations, Matheus Nicolau and Matt Schnell meet in this main card pairing that is guaranteed to be an entertaining affair.
Nicolau is one of the more unsung standouts on the UFC roster at the moment — a 29-year-old Brazilian from the famed Nova Uniao camp with an 18-3-1 record overall, a 6-1 mark inside the Octagon and 11 wins in his last dozen appearances. Last time out against David Dvorak, the sixth-ranked Nicolau dialed up the offense a little more, hurting the Czech striker on the feet and cruising to a unanimous decision win.
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I don’t know if Schnell has any actual allergies, but he sure does seem to be allergic to being in boring fights. The 32-year-old Louisiana native turned in an insane performance of the year in July against Sumudaerji, fighting through plenty of adversity before managing to battle back and secure the second-round technical submission victory in one of the craziest fights I’ve ever seen.
While the Brazilian has been a little too patient and selective at times, he’s not likely to have that option on Saturday, as Schnell is a marauder that will close the distance and force him to engage, which means we should get another electric affair.
Tai Tuivasa of Australia walks to the Octagon before his heavyweight fight against Ciryl Gane of France during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 03, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich square off in a clash of Top 5 heavyweights looking to cement their positions in the division heading into the new year.
Tuivasa had his five-fight winning streak snapped last time out, yet he still likely gained ground in the division, as he went shot-for-shot with Ciryl Gane in Paris before ultimately landing on the wrong side of a third-round stoppage. The West Sydney representative has looked outstanding since returning from his one-year sabbatical following the first three losses of his career, and an expedient return to the win column here would keep him in line for another marquee matchup in the first half of 2023.
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Over the last three years, Pavlovich has gone from intriguing prospect to potential title threat, posting four straight stoppage victories, including two this year. In March, the sculpted, athletic Russian ventured to London and stopped Shamil Abdurakhimov before following that up with a 55-second win over Derrick Lewis at UFC 277 in Dallas.
There is a great deal of uncertainty at the very top of the heavyweight division at the moment, but just beyond that, fighters like Gane and Curtis Blaydes are entrenched in their places just outside the title conversation at the moment. The winner of this one will stand alongside those two, while the vanquished fighter isn’t likely to be too far behind either.
For the third consecutive fight, Jack Hermansson faces off with a fighter that trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, as he squares off with Roman Dolidze this weekend.
Originally slated to fight Derek Brunson, the 34-year-old veteran looks to wrap up his year of facing XC fighters by building on his win over Chris Curtis in July. While he’s struggled to have consistent results over his last handful of appearances, Hermansson is a fixture in the Top 15 with a real Neil Magny-esque quality to him as someone that is a perpetual tough out and certified truth machine in the middleweight division.
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Dolidze fills in for Brunson looking to build on what has already been a tremendous year, as he enters Saturday’s short-notice assignment off consecutive first-round stoppage wins. In June, the Georgian fighter knocked out Kyle Daukaus with a beautifully placed knee less than a minute into their matchup, and he followed that up just a few weeks ago by putting away Phil Hawes before the first round ended, pushing his winning streak to three in the process.
This is a critical matchup for each man and a chance to get a much better sense of where Dolidze fits within the division. Hermansson can really solidify his place in the Top 10 by turning back his ascending foe, while a third win in 2022 would likely catapult Dolidze into the Top 15.
Just as there are twin welterweight bouts on the main card, so too are their tandem middleweight bouts, as Eryk Anders and Kyle Daukaus kick things off on Saturday night.
Through the first 10 fights of his MMA career, Anders looked poised to be a potential contender in the 185-pound weight class, but it’s been a rollercoaster since then. The former National Champion linebacker enters on a two-fight skid with just a single victory in his last five outings, but has been putting in the work with the Fight Ready crew in hopes of closing out the year with a victory and ending the year on a high note.
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Daukaus returns for the first time since his fight with Dolidze, not only looking to get back in the win column, but hopeful that this can be the start of a prolonged stretch with consistent opportunities and positive results. He’s yet to come away with the same result in consecutive fights through their first six fights of his UFC career, entering with a 2-3 record with one no contest, and hopes that pattern holds for at least one more fight.
Will Anders snap his mini-slide or will Daukaus bounce back? The process of getting an answer to that question should be fun to watch on Saturday night.
It’s a battle for Florida welterweight bragging rights to close out the prelims, as Niko Price returns to take on Phil Rowe.
The always entertaining “Hybrid” fights for the first time since last October, ending easily the longest layoff of his UFC career. Price is one of those fighters whose record inside the Octagon doesn’t accurately reflect his level of talent, as the 33-year is 7-5 mark with two no contests in 14 starts, but has been a permanent resident of the “Second 15” in the welterweight ranks throughout his run.
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A graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS), Rowe dropped his promotional debut to Gabriel Green at UFC 258 but has since rebounded with consecutive stoppage wins over Orion Cosce and Jason Witt. Brandishing an 80.5-inch reach, the Orlando-based “Fresh Prince” works well behind a long, stinging jab, and enters Saturday’s contest having won nine of his last 10 appearances.
This matchup makes a great deal of sense, both in terms of the division and where each man is at right now. Price is coming off a bit of a break and needs to re-affirm his position in the welterweight hierarchy, while Rowe was due a step up in competition after finishing his last two opponents, and whoever emerges victorious should be facing a familiar, established name next time out.
Angela Hill walks out prior to her women’s strawweight bout during the UFC 265 event at Toyota Center on August 07, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Former Invicta FC strawweight champions clash on the prelims, as Angela Hill faces off with Emily Ducote.
Hill, who won and successfully defended the belt during a four-fight run between her two UFC stints, has gone 8-10 since returning to the promotion at the start of 2017, establishing herself as a tough out and Top 15 mainstay whose record would look quite different if a couple close decisions had gone her way. She snapped a three-fight slide in August with a veteran effort against Loopy Godinez, and will look to replicate that showing here.
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Ducote won the belt by defeating UFC alum Danielle Taylor and successfully defended it once before getting called up to the Octagon. She debuted in July, earning a unanimous decision win over former title challenger — and Hill’s podcast partner — Jessica Penne to extend her winning streak to four and instantly grab a spot in the Top 15.
Can Hill avenge her training partner’s defeat and collect a second straight win over an ascending talent or will Ducote close out her 2022 campaign by taking out the other half of the Two Straws podcast?
It’s a battle of veteran lightweights on the prelims Saturday with Clay Guida locking horns with Scott Holtzman.
Guida turns 41 just a handful of days after this event, but still shows no signs of slowing down. While he enters off a submission loss to Claudio Puelles, the wildly popular promotional mainstay is 2-2 over his last four and 5-5 since returning to the 155-pound weight class in 2017.
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This will be Holtzman’s first appearance in nearly 20 months, as he looks to halt a two-fight skid. Those losses came against Beneil Dariush and Mateusz Gamrot, who faced off against one another at UFC 281 in a battle of Top 10 standouts, which serves as a reminder of where “Hot Sauce” stood in the division prior to those contests and his subsequent hiatus.
One of these men is going to return to the win column, while the other is going to head into the holidays disappointed. Regardless of who ends up in which role, this should be an entertaining, competitive fight between a pair of respected lightweight stalwarts.
Speaking of staples in the 155-pound weight class…
Johnson earned an emotional second-round stoppage win over Alan Patrick in May, snapping a four-fight skid in the process. Unfortunately, the good times were short-lived, as he landed on the wrong side of a debated split decision result against Jamie Mullarkey two months later in a Fight of the Night-winning battle.
After suffering back-to-back losses to Rafael Fiziev and Rafael Alves, Diakiese dusted off his wrestling boots in order to get things moving in the right direction again, grinding out good wins over Viacheslav Borshchev and Damir Hadzovic to enter this contest on a two-fight winning streak. Still just 29, “Bonecrusher” is 16-5 overall and could set himself up as a serious person of interest if he can maintain his run of success through the weekend.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out, as Johnson has solid wrestling but prefers to sling leather, and Diakiese has put up highlight reel efforts on the feet in the past while wrestling more of late. No matter how it shakes out, it should be fun.
Darren Elkins looks to go 2-0 in 2022, while Jonathan Pearce looks for a third win this year and fifth straight victory since moving to featherweight in this intriguing pairing.
While everyone rightfully talks about Elkins’ tenacity and toughness, it should be noted that “The Damage” is 16-9 through 25 UFC starts, including 3-1 over his last four. He was a mainstay in the Top 15 through his prime, and remains a nightmare assignment for anyone looking to climb the divisional ladder in this latter stage of his career.
Pearce has been a quality addition to the 145-pound ranks and can take another step towards breaking into the rankings with a win here. He’s garnered four wins and three finishes since committing to competing at featherweight, including a second-round stoppage win over Makwan Amirkhani this summer in London.
A win over Elkins isn’t easy to come by and still carries a great deal of weight, which means we should see the best version of Pearce this weekend… and you know what to expect from the unrelenting veteran, as well.
Amanda Ribas of Brazil punches Virna Jandiroba of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 267 event at Etihad Arena on October 30, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Tracy Cortez and Amanda Ribas cross paths in an outstanding and intriguing battle in the flyweight division early on Saturday’s preliminary card.
Cortez dropped the first fight of her professional career and hasn’t lost since, rattling off nine straight victories, including four-in-a-row inside the Octagon. Another member of the Fight Ready team, the DWCS grad is a solid wrestler who continues to make strides with her striking, and is more than capable of making another leap in her development as she continues to gain experience.
Ribas held her own in a split decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian earlier this year, and seems to have decided to stick around flyweight for the time being. A Top 15 fighter at strawweight, the ebullient Brazilian represents a step up in competition for Cortez and will look to show that this weekend.
Flyweight is ultra-competitive and brimming with talent at the moment, and the winner of this one should feature prominently in how things play out in the lower half of the rankings in 2023.
Natan Levy of Israel reacts after his victory over Mike Breeden in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Natan Levy and Genaro Valdez collide here in a bout between lightweight DWCS grads looking to avoid leaving Florida with a second career loss.
Levy dropped his promotional debut to Rafa Garcia last November, but got back into the win column six months later with a hard-fought win over Mike Breeden. Raised in Israel and now based in Las Vegas, the 31-year-old prefers to strike and should have a willing dance partner this weekend.
Valdez pushed his record to 10-0 while collecting his UFC contract with a win over Patrik White on Season 5 of the Contender Series. He debuted three months later at UFC 270, landing on the wrong side of the results in a three-minute slobberknocker with Matt Frevola, and will look to get back to being the one doing the finishing here.
Francis Marshall punches Connor Matthews in a featherweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season six, week two at UFC APEX on August 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Veteran Marcelo Rojo returns to featherweight and welcomes recent DWCS graduate Francis Marshall to the UFC for the first time on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Argentinian Rojo looks to snap a two-fight slide and collect his first UFC victory after suffering consecutive stoppage losses to Charles Jourdain and Kyler Phillips in his first two Octagon appearances. He moved to Glory MMA & Fitness alongside his long-time training partner Brandon Moreno earlier this year, and will have a significant experience advantage in this one.
A protege of former UFC competitor Kurt Pellegrino, Marshall pushed his record to 6-0 with a dominant win over Connor Matthews this summer at the UFC APEX. The 23-year-old has stepped into the cage 11 times between his amateur and pro careers and has had his hand raised each and every time; we’ll see if that continues here.
This is a more reasonable assignment for the veteran Rojo and a good initial test for the Marshall. Rojo has a penchant for taking part in entertaining fights, so it will be interesting to see if he can draw the debutant into a brawl this weekend.
Yazmin Jauregui of Mexico reacts after her victory over Iasmin Lucindo of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Pechanga Arena on August 13, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Strawweights open the show this weekend in Orlando, as Yazmin Jauregui faces off with Istela Nunes in the first of Saturday’s 15 contests.
The 23-year-old Jauregui maintained her unbeaten record through her promotional debut in August, collecting a unanimous decision win over fellow newcomer Iasmin Lucindo in San Diego. A jiu jitsu player who has six finishes, but no submissions, the Entram Gym representative looked like an outstanding addition to the 115-pound weight class in her first foray into the Octagon and will aim to build on that here.
Nunes has struggled to find success through her first two UFC appearances, suffering a submission loss to fellow Brazilian Ariane Carnelossi in her debut before dropping a majority decision to Sam Hughes earlier this year. The 30-year-old trains with an excellent crew at American Top Team and will look to parlay that preparation and her edge in experience into a victory this weekend.
UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs Holland took place live from the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on December 3, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses – and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!
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