Lightweights on the fringes of contention clash in the main event of Saturday’s return to Brasilia as Kevin Lee looks to build on a successful return to the division by halting Charles Oliveira’s six-fight winning streak.
Lee entered 2019 off a unanimous decision loss to Al Iaquinta and seemed to be at a career crossroads, stuck between weight classes and still never having reached his full potential inside the Octagon. A fourth-round submission loss to Rafael Dos Anjos at welterweight served as perfect representation of the challenges Lee was struggling with, but after shifting his camp to Montreal’s Tristar Gym, he returned to the lightweight ranks with a bang in November at UFC 244.
Just over halfway through the opening round of his bout with undefeated up-and-comer Gregor Gillespie, Lee connected with a left high kick that ended the entertaining back-and-forth battle in a flash. The performance reminded everyone of his elite upside and re-established the 27-year-old as someone to pay close attention to in the 155-pound weight class.
Oliveira’s UFC career has been somewhat similar to Lee’s in that he too began his run at a young age and struggled to find consistency, especially in those crucial moments that could elevate him to the next level, whether it was during his initial run at lightweight or his featherweight adventures. Over the last two years, however, the now 30-year-old Brazilian has been on an absolute tear to once again reach the precipice of title contention.
“Do Bronx” enters Saturday’s main event clash on a six-fight winning streak, all of which have come by way of stoppage. He holds the record for the most submission wins in UFC history and is second in terms of overall finishes, but more importantly, Oliveira is finally fighting to his full potential. Long, rangy, quick, and powerful, he’s shown greater patience and conditioning, as well as an uncanny ability to pounce and secure the finish the instant he has his opponent hurt.
This is a critical matchup for both men as they have each come up short in similar positions before and need to make good on this main event opportunity. Lightweight is so flush with talent at the moment that even a pair of relatively young, accomplished, entertaining competitors like these two could get swept under in the never-ending wave of fighters battling for position in the divisional hierarchy.
Lee is undefeated when competing outside of the United States and Oliveira is unbeaten fighting in his native Brazil, so someone’s streak is coming to an end on Saturday.
Standout jiu-jitsu players Demian Maia and Gilbert Burns collide in the co-main event of the evening, a contest that has grappling enthusiasts drooling while also carrying legitimate significance in the welterweight division.
Maia had a tremendous “comeback” campaign in 2019, posting a trio of impressive victories after entering the year on a three-fight slide. Many were writing the two-time title challenger off heading into last year, but the 42-year-old showed that losses to the division’s elite didn’t mean he was done as he racked up victories over Lyman Good, Anthony Rocco Martin, and Ben Askren.
While he’s open about the fact that he’s in the twilight of his career, Maia remains a formidable force in the middle of the Top 10 and one of the guys you’ve got to beat if you want to be considered a contender.
The 33-year-old Burns is one of those guys who has a far better resume than you may recall without looking, entering Saturday’s penultimate pairing with a 17-3 mark overall, including a 10-3 record inside the Octagon and an active four-fight winning streak.
He began last year with a second straight victory at lightweight, but really started making noise when he started doing his best Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone impression and grabbing fights at welterweight on short notice. First, he ventured to Uruguay and handed Aleksei Kunchenko the first loss of his career, and then a couple months later, he filled in for the injured Thiago Alves and outworked Gunnar Nelson.
Those efforts catapulted him into the Top 15 and now the world champion grappler has a chance to climb even higher by taking over the mantle as the top jiu-jitsu player in the division if he can snatch a win against Maia on Saturday night.
One of two intriguing “veteran vs. upstart” pairings on this weekend’s card, Brazilian Amanda Ribas looks to continue her impressive start in the UFC when she takes on Canadian veteran Randa Markos.
Ribas spent two years on the sidelines after being signed by the UFC in 2017 dealing with the same set of circumstances that kept Sean O’Malley on ice following his first two Octagon appearances. She finally debuted last spring with a second-round submission win over Emily Whitmire and followed it up with a breakout performance against Mackenzie Dern four months later.
The 26-year-old is a bundle of energy and an obvious talent, showcasing excellent skills on the ground and an ability to handle herself well when the fight is on the feet. She usurped Dern’s position as the top young fighter in the division by trouncing her last October, and can now push her way into the rankings by picking up a third win in as many appearances in the UFC and extending her overall winning streak to four this weekend.
Markos is stepping in here for the injured Paige VanZant, eager to get her 2020 campaign off to an early, impressive start and potentially snap one of the most unique streaks in UFC history.
Through her first 13 Octagon appearances, the former Ultimate Fighter semifinalist is 6-6-1 and has never had the same result in back-to-back fights. She’s never won two in a row, but she’s never dropped consecutive contests either, with the lone deviation from her win/lose rotation being a majority draw result against Marina Rodriguez four fights back.
Entering off a split decision win over Ashley Yoder last October, a victory would give Markos her first UFC winning streak and potentially propel her back into the rankings in the ultra-competitive 115-pound weight class.
Following a 17-fight run at featherweight, including eight UFC appearances, Renato Moicano moves up to the lightweight division for the first time, where Damir Hadzovic is ready to welcome him to his new surroundings.
A fixture in the Top 10 for the last three years, Moicano started last year on a two-fight winning streak and boasting a 13-1-1 record overall, with his only loss coming against Brian Ortega at UFC 214. But consecutive stoppage losses to Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung have prompted the 30-year-old to seek out a fresh start at lightweight.
Through his first six UFC appearances, Hadzovic has been consistently entertaining, but inconsistent in the results department, managing a 3-3 record. Based in Copenhagen, the Bosnian-born 33-year-old has shown good power and a penchant for getting into back-and-forth scraps, which is something Moicano has never shied away from either, and it will be interesting to see if his longer run as a lightweight has any impact on the outcome of his Fight of the Night contender.
It’s easy to say things like, “Somebody is getting knocked out in this one” and have it come off sounding cliché because that could literally happen in any fight, but this is one of those occasions where it is apt because Johnny Walker and Nikita Krylov are pretty much allergic to going to the scorecards, and they fight with the kind of reckless abandon that generally leaves someone staring up at the lights when it’s all said and done.
Walker, who has been the distance once in 21 fights, had his meteoric rise to contention halted last November at UFC 244. After registering three straight first-round stoppage wins to begin his UFC run, the charismatic and fun-loving Brazilian was stopped by Corey Anderson in New York City.
The loss prompted Walker to part ways with his old team and shift his training camp to Montreal. Though it was initially a test run, his first venture to the beautiful Quebec city and training camp with Firas Zahabi and the team at Tristar was so impactful that he fully intends to continue training there going forward.
Krylov went to the scorecards for the first time in his 32-fight career last time out, dropping a split decision to former title challenger Glover Teixeira in Vancouver. He’s now 1-2 since returning to the UFC and although his losses have come against a current top contender (Jan Blachowicz) and a veteran stalwart, this is a key matchup for the Ukrainian veteran, who turned 28 this past Saturday.
Like Walker, Krylov has long been a fan favorite and someone who has shown flashes of being a potential contender in the light heavyweight division, but he’s never been able to string together the right performances against the right opponents in order to make that happen. Bouncing back with a victory over Walker would certainly be a step in the right direction and position “The Miner” for a bigger opportunity in the second half of the year.
The bantamweights get in on the action in Brasilia as Bruno Silva makes his second trip into the Octagon to square off with newcomer David Dvorak.
Silva was initially slated to face Sumudaerji, but the Chinese upstart was forced off the card. After going 7-1-2 in his 10 fights prior to signing with the UFC, the 29-year-old “Bulldog” landed on the wrong side of the results in his promotional debut last October against Khalid Taha.
Fighting out of the Czech Republic, Dvorak has won 13 consecutive contests after starting his career with a 4-3 record. Though he’s been fighting on smaller shows against opponents who are unknown to all but the most hardcore of hardcore fans, putting together a 13-fight winning streak at any level is impressive and it will be interesting to see if he can carry that over into his first trip into the Octagon this weekend.
Veterans in the lightweight division begin their 2020 campaigns against one another as ageless Brazilian Francisco Trinaldo shares the Octagon with Canadian John Makdessi.
Now in his ninth year in the UFC, Trinaldo has been a fixture in the middle of the 155-pound weight class for much of that time. He climbed into the rankings towards the end of his seven-fight winning streak several years ago, but for the most part has been an experienced hand to drop in against emerging talents or fellow seasoned pros who can be counted on to deliver a quality performance each time out.
Meanwhile, Makdessi is in his tenth year as a member of the UFC lightweight ranks. Injuries have limited him to just a single appearance in each of the last three years, but the Canadian has made the most of those opportunities, stringing together three straight wins as he heads into the weekend looking to establish the longest winning streak of his UFC career.
Welterweights who started last year on lengthy winning streaks meet here with designs on getting back into the win column as Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos squares off with Russian standout Aleksei Kunchenko.
After beginning the year on a six-fight run of success, dos Santos pushed that streak to seven with a first-round submission win over Curtis Millender in March, only to run into a buzzsaw named Li Jingliang five months later in Shenzhen, China. Coming off his first loss in four years and having slipped into the massive collection of talent stockpiled in the middle of the welterweight division, “Capoeira” will be eager to get another winning streak started on Saturday.
Kunchenko extended his winning streak to 20 in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon at the start of December 2018, but his one and only appearance of last year resulted in the first loss of his career, as co-main event combatant Gilbert Burns stepped in on short notice and shut him down during their bout in Montevideo, Uruguay. Having been successful every other time he had competed before that August matchup with Burns, you can be sure that the Russian veteran will be focused on ensuring losing doesn’t become a pattern this weekend.
Veteran bantamweight Rani Yahya welcomes Enrique Barzola to the 135-pound weight class in this quality preliminary card contest.
The winner of the lightweight competition on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, Barzola spent his first eight UFC appearances competing in the featherweight division, amassing a 5-3 record with victories over the likes of Gabriel Benitez, Brandon Davis, and Bobby Moffett. Now the 30-year-old Peruvian fighter embarks on a new adventure as he drops down a division with visions of making a run towards the top of the bantamweight rankings.
Yahya has been competing under one Zuffa banner or another for the last dozen years, making five appearances in the WEC before matriculating to the Octagon at the start of 2011, where he has remained ever since. He’s 7-2-1 in 10 fights since returning to bantamweight, and while he’s coming off a loss, the last four bouts are the best the 35-year-old has looked since he began his WEC run with three straight submission wins.
The flyweight division was front and center two weeks back in Norfolk, and this fight carries major significance as Top 5 talents Jussier Formiga and Brandon Moreno go toe-to-toe in bout that will help clarify the pecking order in the 125-pound weight class.
This is Formiga’s first appearance since suffering a second-round knockout loss in his second bout with Joseph Benavidez last summer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 34-year-old has been a constant presence near the top of the division since its early days, but has yet to secure a title shot.
Moreno is an electric presence that has been perpetually entertaining since first arriving in the UFC following his appearance on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter. After earning a split draw against Askar Askarov in his return to the Octagon last September, the 26-year-old scored a unanimous decision win over Kai Kara-France at UFC 245 that showcased his toughness and tenacity.
There is still some uncertainty at the top of the division, but what is clear is that these two are amongst a small pack of contenders jockeying for position in the title chase and the outcome of this one will go a long way to helping establish a pecking order in the flyweight division.
Flyweights looking to take another step forward towards contention clash in this preliminary card contest as the 12-fight veteran Maryna Moroz welcomes Mayra Bueno Silva back to the Octagon for the second time.
Moroz burst on the scene with a first-round submission win over Joanne Calderwood back in April 2015, but has been inconsistent ever since, splitting her last six fights down the middle. the “Iron Lady” has flashed a well-rounded skill set at times, but in other instances, she’s been hesitant to engage, fighting just outside of her opponent’s range for long stretches.
The undefeated Silva earned her place on the UFC roster with a victory on the All-Brazilian edition of the Contender Series in the summer of 2018 and impressed in her debut, submitting promising youngster Gillian Robertson at the close of the opening round. That bout took place on September 22, 2018 and the 28-year-old has been out of action ever since, making it hard to gauge what to expect from her this weekend.
This is an important bout for both women and there is room to move in the flyweight division at the moment, so a strong showing for either of them on Saturday in Brasilia could open the door to an even greater opportunity next time out.
Business kicks off in the bantamweight division as TUF 28 cast member Bea Malecki makes her second trip into the UFC cage in this matchup with 24-year-old Venezuelan Veronica Macedo.
Malecki got a shot on the long-running reality TV competition, and though she was bounced from the tournament early, the Swedish prospect was given an opportunity to compete in her home country last summer and made the most of it, submitting Duda Santana to earn a finish in her UFC debut. Now training with the elite crew at Fortis MMA, the former Muay Thai fighter is an intriguing addition to the wide-open bantamweight ranks.
Macedo finally got into the UFC win column in her fourth attempt, collecting a first-round submission win over Polyana Viana. She’s returning to bantamweight following a three-fight run in the 125-pound weight class and it will be interesting to see how she deals with the vast height and reach advantage Malecki will bring into this one.
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