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Joaquin Buckley reacts after his TKO victory against Vicente Luque in a welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC St. Louis

Getting Everyone Prepared For This Weekend’s Return To ‘The Show Me State'

Saturday night, the UFC returns to the home of Sterling K. Brown, Randy Orton, and Taylor Momsen for its second appearance at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

The only other time the Octagon touched down in “The Gateway City,” the night ended with an electric seven-and-a-half-minute tussle between Jeremy Stephens and Dooho Choi that claimed Fight of the Night honors and set the tempo for the year to come as the opening main event bout of 2018.

This time around, a dozen pairs of athletes will make the walk before what is sure to be a packed house at the home of the NHL’s Blues, including a trio of local talents, some promising prospects, and a pair of heavyweights to wrap up the festivities.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap.

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Main Event: Derrick Lewis vs Rodrigo Nascimento

Location: Enterprise Center — St. Louis, Missouri

Where to Watch: ESPN / ESPN+

Other Main Card Matches:

  • Joaquin Buckley vs Nursulton Ruziboev
  • Alonzo Menifield vs Carlos Ulberg
  • Terrance McKinney vs Esteban Ribovics
  • Chase Hooper vs Viacheslav Borshchev
  • Waldo Cortes Acosta vs Robelis Despaigne

Prelim Matches:

  • Tabatha Ricci vs Tecia Pennington
  • Billy Goff vs Trey Waters
  • Charles Johnson vs Jake Hadley
  • Jared Gooden vs Kevin Jousset
  • Alex Caceres vs Sean Woodson
  • JJ Aldrich vs Veronica Hardy

Main Event Matchup: Derrick Lewis vs Rodrigo Nascimento

Derrick Lewis | Earned, Not Given
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Derrick Lewis | Earned, Not Given
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Big boys battle it out in the main event on Saturday night, as rankings mainstay and two-time title challenger Derrick Lewis squares off with ascending Brazilian Rodrigo Nascimento.

Now in his 11th year on the roster, Lewis enters this weekend’s contest off a decision loss to Jailton Almeida last time out in Sao Paulo. The Houston native remains a knockout threat at all times, but the frequency with which he’s been finding those blows has diminished in recent bouts.

Nascimento arrives on a three-fight winning streak and is unbeaten in his last four, having most recently registered a second career win over Don’Tale Mayes. The American Top Team product is still relatively young in his career, especially for a heavyweight, but can take a major step forward with a win over Lewis this weekend.

Rodrigo Nascimento Finishes Baudot In Round 2 | UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Moises
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Rodrigo Nascimento Finishes Baudot In Round 2 | UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Moises
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This is a fight that feels like it hinges on two points where the combatants are polar opposites.

First, we have a “striker versus grappler” situation where each will be all-out to dictate the terms of engagement, with Lewis aiming to keep things standing and Nascimento focused on getting things to the ground. Secondly, Lewis has been in this spot many times over, while Nascimento is making his first main event appearance to date, and that’s not something that can just be passed off as a non-factor.

However this shakes out, it should be fun.

Other Main Card Fights

Joaquin Buckley vs Nursulton Ruziboev

Joaquin Buckley punches Vicente Luque in a welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Joaquin Buckley punches Vicente Luque in a welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Local welterweight Joaquin Buckley welcomes Nursulton Ruziboev to the division in the co-main event of the evening.

Buckley has been sharp since relocating to the 170-pound ranks at the start of last year, posting three wins in as many starts. He forced his way into the rankings with a second-round stoppage win over Vicente Luque at the end of March, and will now look to defend his position at home in front of a partisan crowd at Enterprise Center.

WATCH: Derrick Lewis | The Run Starts Here

Ruziboev has needed just under five minutes combined to register a pair of victories to begin his UFC tenure, joining Buckley in collecting a stoppage win on that Atlantic City card at the end of March. He’s won 10 straight overall — all by stoppage — and looks to add to that streak in his highest profile fight to date on Saturday night in St. Louis.

While Buckley always seemed better suited for life in the 170-pound ranks, it’s going to be interesting to see how Ruziboev does transitioning to the weight class, as he’s massive for the division at six-foot-five. Will “New Mansa” send the locals home happy or can the Philadelphia-based fighter register a third straight stoppage win inside the Octagon?

Alonzo Menifield vs Carlos Ulberg

: Alonzo Menifield reacts after his victory over Dustin Jacoby in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
: Alonzo Menifield reacts after his victory over Dustin Jacoby in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Originally penciled in to compete earlier in the year, powerful light heavyweights Alonzo Menifield and Carlos Ulberg will finally face off here.

The 36-year-old Menifield arrives on a five-fight unbeaten streak, sandwiching a pair of wins on either side of his grueling draw with Jimmy Crute at UFC 284. A member of the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) Class of ’18, Menifield has gone 6-1-1 over his last eight starts, showing improvements across the board while maintaining his ever-present power.

Ulberg was two years behind Menifield in graduating from the Contender Series, and after stumbling out of the gate against Kennedy Nzechuwku, the City Kickboxing man has put together a five-fight winning streak with each of his last four wins coming by stoppage. Last time out, “Black Jag” earned a third-round submission win over Da-un Jung, showcasing another side of his game to move to 10-1 overall.

Diego Ferreira vs Mateusz Rebecki

Mateusz Rebecki Chops Down Loik Radzhabov In The Second Round | UFC Fight NIght: Emmett vs Topuria
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Mateusz Rebecki Chops Down Loik Radzhabov In The Second Round | UFC Fight NIght: Emmett vs Topuria
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Veteran lightweight Diego Ferreira returns for the first time in roughly a year to face off with surging Polish hopeful Mateusz Rebecki in this fascinating main card clash.

Ferreira halted a three-fight slide last time out, planting an overhand right on the jaw of Michael Johnson that stopped their fight in a flash. The 39-year-old has only ever lost to elite competition, and will be looking to lean on his edge in overall experience as he returns to action this weekend.

READ: The Bigger Picture: UFC 301

It’s been nearly a decade since Rebecki last lost a fight, as the 31-year-old arrives in St. Louis having extended his overall winning streak to 16 with a trio of victories in his rookie campaign last year. The DWCS alum made quick work of short-notice replacement Roosevelt Roberts at UFC 295 and will look to push closer to the rankings by turning back Ferreira on Saturday.

Will the tenured Ferreira pick up where he left off last year or can Rebecki add another win to his extended run of success?

Alex Caceres vs Sean Woodson

 Sean Woodson reacts after his victory against Charles Jourdain of Canada in a featherweight bout during the UFC 297 event at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Sean Woodson reacts after his victory against Charles Jourdain of Canada in a featherweight bout during the UFC 297 event at Scotiabank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Alex Caceres looks to get things moving in the right direction again, while local product Sean Woodson aims to give the Missouri faithful something to cheer about early in the main card.

Year 14 on the roster commences for Caceres with the TUF alum looking to bounce back after suffering a unanimous decision defeat in an entertaining, competitive bout with Giga Chikadze last August in Singapore. He had won seven of eight before that contest and remains a formidable test for anyone looking to break into the Top 15 in the featherweight division.

FREE FIGHT: Joaquin Buckley vs Vicente Luque

After punching his ticket to the UFC roster with a knockout win over Terrance McKinney on Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series, Woodson has built a 5-1-1 record through his first seven UFC starts. He enters off a split decision win over Charles Jourdain in January, and could potentially break into the rankings with another big effort on Saturday.

This is going to be a fascinating battle between two men that like to use their range, but attack with different weapons. Caceres throws a lot more kicks than Woodson, who prefers to box, so it will be interesting to see who is able to set the tone early and how the other adjusts over the course of the contest.

Waldo Cortes Acosta vs Robelis Despaigne

Waldo Cortes-Acosta of the Dominican Republic punches Andrei Arlovski of Belarus in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Waldo Cortes-Acosta of the Dominican Republic punches Andrei Arlovski of Belarus in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 13, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Heavyweights close out the main card and heavyweights open the main card as Waldo Cortes Acosta faces off with Robelis Despaigne.

“Salsa Boy” has put together a 4-1 record through his first five UFC appearances, most recently collecting a unanimous decision win over Andrei Arlovski on the year’s opening event. The 32-year-old is still developing, but there have been positive flashes the whole way through, and a victory on Saturday could expedite his climb in the heavyweight ranks.

Despaigne won his UFC debut earlier this year in 18 seconds, which was somehow the second longest fight of his five-fight MMA career. The 35-year-old Olympic bronze medalist in taekwondo is a captivating addition to the division, and how he does against Cortes Acosta will help illustrate what the next 12 months may hold for the speedy finisher going forward.

Can Cortes Acosta drag Despaigne into deeper water or will “The Big Boy” continue to bounce his opponents in expeditious fashion?

Preliminary Card Matchups

Chase Hooper vs Viacheslav Borshchev

Viacheslav Borshchev of Russia punches Nazim Sadykhov of Russia in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Viacheslav Borshchev of Russia punches Nazim Sadykhov of Russia in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

DWCS alums Chase Hooper and Viacheslav Borshchev share the Octagon in the final preliminary card fight of the evening.

Now 24, Hooper has grown into his wiry frame and started to put things together more, having gone 2-0 since relocating to the lightweight ranks. “Slava Claus” has gone 2-2-1 over his first five UFC starts, entering off a majority draw with Nazim Sadykhov at UFC 295 in November.

Terrance McKinney vs Esteban Ribovics

Lightweights Terrance McKinney and Esteban Ribovics face off in a battle of promising talents looking to take a big step forward in 2024.

McKinney fought four times last year, dropping the first two before registering quick finishes over Mike Breeden and Brendan Marotte to close out the year on a high. Ribovics dropped his promotional debut in March but rebounded with a good win over Kamuela Kirk in July to move to 12-1 overall.

Tabatha Ricci vs Tecia Pennington

Tabatha Ricci of Brazil punches Loopy Godinez of Mexico in a strawweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Tabatha Ricci of Brazil punches Loopy Godinez of Mexico in a strawweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Tabatha Ricci and Tecia Pennington share the Octagon in an intriguing strawweight battle on Saturday’s prelims.

Ricci suffered her first loss in the UFC’s 115-pound weight class in her last outing, landing on the wrong side of a split decision in her UFC 295 bout with Loopy Godinez. Pennington competes for the first time in just over two years, looking to re-establish herself as the Top 15 mainstay she was before pressing pause on her career in order to welcome her first child with her wife, UFC bantamweight champ Raquel Pennington.

Billy Goff vs Trey Waters

DWCS alums Billy Goff and Trey Waters meet in what should be an exciting clash early in the evening.

The 25-year-old Goff is a proven finisher with a penchant for getting touched up early, having rallied to earn first-round stoppages in both his Contender Series victory and UFC debut. Waters lost in his appearance on the annual talent search series but made the most of a short-notice opportunity last April, out-hustling Josh Quinlan to earn his first UFC win.

Charles Johnson vs Jake Hadley

Charles Johnson kicks Azat Maksum of Kazakstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 03, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Charles Johnson kicks Azat Maksum of Kazakstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 03, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

St. Louis native Charles Johnson welcomes Jake Hadley to his hometown in this flyweight fixture.

One of the most active fighters in the division since arriving in the UFC, Johnson makes his eighth start in less than two years, looking to build off his decision win over Azat Maksum in February. Hadley has gone 2-2 to begin his UFC tenure, earning a pair of finishes in between decision defeats to Allan Nascimento and, most recently, Cody Durden.

Jared Gooden vs Kevin Jousset

Jared Gooden and Kevin Jousset share the Octagon in this battle of welterweights aiming to build on recent successes.

Gooden submitted Wellington Turman in December, getting things moving in the right direction again after missing weight in the first start of his second tour of duty with the promotion. Another member of the City Kickboxing crew, Jousset has posted back-to-back wins to begin his UFC run, most recently outworking Song Kenan towards the end of last year.

JJ Aldrich vs Veronica Hardy

Aldrich reacts after her victory over Montana De La Rosa in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Aldrich reacts after her victory over Montana De La Rosa in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Saturday’s action in St. Louis opens in the flyweight division, as JJ Aldrich and Veronica each go in search of a third consecutive victory.

The 31-year-old Aldrich rebounded from an early 2023 loss to Ariane Da Silva with consecutive wins over Liang Na and Montana De La Rosa to move to 5-2 over her previous seven starts. Hardy returned for the first time in three years last March, getting the better of Juliana Miller before edging out Jamey-Lyn Horth in December to move to 8-4-1 overall for her career.

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento took place live from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri on May 11, 2024. See the final Prelim and Main Card results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass