CIRYL GANE VS. ALEXANDER VOLKOV
Gane pushed his record to a perfect 8-0 with a unanimous decision win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik earlier this year in his first main event assignment. The 31-year-old Frenchman has earned four straight victories inside the Octagon to propel himself into the Top 5, doing so less than four years into his mixed martial arts career.
Volkov has been a different fighter since losing a wrestling-heavy decision to Curtis Blaydes last summer, showing greater urgency and aggression in second-round stoppage wins over Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem. The towering Russian is now 7-2 inside the Octagon and within arm’s reach of a championship opportunity for a second time.
This was the right pairing to make after each man logged victories in February and remains a perfect pairing with things at the top of the division still in flux. Gane needs a win over a tenured, truly established fighter like Volkov in order to really cement himself as a legitimate title threat, while “Drago” taking out the undefeated rising star would do the same for him.
Regardless of how this one plays out or how things line up at the very top of the heavyweight division this summer, the winner of this one will be in tremendous position heading into the second half of the year.
TANNER BOSER VS. OVINCE SAINT PREUX
Ovince Saint Preux is not only rolling with a late change in opponents this weekend, but he’s changing divisions as well, as the light heavyweight stalwart will venture up to heavyweight to square off with Canadian Tanner Boser in an intriguing co-main event pairing.
Saint Preux was initially slated to face Maxim Grishin, but when the bout was scrapped, “OSP” opted to stick around, skip the weight cut, and make a return to heavyweight, after moonlighting in the big boy division last May in a split decision loss to Ben Rothwell. The 38-year-old University of Tennessee product has struggled to find consistent results over his last nine fights, but brings a wealth of experience and an awkward, dangerous style into this short-notice matchup on Saturday.
A pair of stoppage wins in the span of four weeks put Boser on the radar as one to watch in the heavyweight division last summer, but he’s since landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in consecutive fights, leaving him at a crossroads of sorts heading into this one. A case could be made for Boser winning each of those fights — the first coming against Andrei Arlovski last November, the second a couple weeks back opposite Ilir Latifi — but each were low-output affairs where the final tallies went against him, so it will be interesting to see if he comes out with a greater sense of urgency here.
KENNEDY NZECHUKWU VS. DANILO MARQUES
Returning from more than 18 months on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury, Nzechukwu collected a second-round knockout win over highly touted City Kickboxing debutant Carlos Ulberg last time out. The talented Fortis MMA representative is now 8-1 in his pro career and looking to take another step forward in the division as he subs in for Ed Herman on Saturday.
Marques made his return to mixed martial arts competition back in September after more than two years away, registering a unanimous decision victory over Khadis Ibragimov in his promotional debut. Earlier this year, the 35-year-old Brazilian followed that up with a second-round submission win over Mike Rodriguez, sending him into this weekend’s clash with Nzechukwu on a four-fight winning streak.
Which one of these two emerging names in the 205-pound ranks will take another step forward by registering a third straight UFC triumph?
ANDRE FILI VS. DANIEL PINEDA
Experienced featherweights with a penchant for putting on exciting fights clash here as Andre Fili and Daniel Pineda go toe-to-toe in a bout that has all the makings of a Fight of the Night candidate.
Fili, who turns 31 the day before the fight, has spent the past five years as the entrance exam everyone with Top 15 aspirations has to pass, logging bouts against emerging talents like Yair Rodriguez, Calvin Kattar, Myles Jury, Sodiq Yusuff, and Charles Jourdain. The longtime Team Alpha Male representative is a perennial tough out with a crafty all-around skill set and the ability to string together a couple quality wins and go on a run of his own at any time.
Six years after his last appearance in the Octagon, Pineda returned to the UFC last August and scored an upset win over Herbert Burns that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. Four months later, the 35-year-old Houston native landed on the wrong side of things in a showdown with fellow veteran Cub Swanson, and he jumps in here looking to get back in the win column by taking out a divisional staple like Fili on Saturday night.
Featherweight is always flush with talent and the competition for space on the fringes of the Top 15 is just as heated as the battles for spots in the rankings, so don’t be surprised if this one gets rolling right out of the gate and keeps running hot until things are settled or the final horn sounds, whichever comes first.
TIM MEANS VS. NICOLAS DALBY
As recently as a week ago, veterans Nicolas Dalby and Tim Means were each scheduled to face different opponents, but when their original dance partners were forced to the sidelines, this sure-fire banger in the welterweight division was put together.
Unbeaten in seven starts, Dalby enters this weekend’s fight with Means off a hard-fought decision win over Daniel Rodriguez at UFC 255 last November. The 36-year-old Danish veteran is 2-0 with one no contest verdict since returning to the UFC, and he’s back to approaching things with a “let’s put on a show and not worry about the results so much” attitude, which has made him must-see TV over the last several years.
That has been a designation Means has carried throughout his two stints in the UFC, as well, foregoing safe efforts and consistent results in favor of letting his weapons fly and putting on a show every time out. After getting upset by Rodriguez at the start of last year, the 37-year-old “Dirty Bird” rebounded with a pair of unanimous decision wins over Laureano Staropoli and Mike Perry, both of whom missed weight, to enter this one on a tidy two-fight winning streak.
RENATO MOICANO VS. JAI HERBERT
After a five-year run as a Top 10 fixture at featherweight, Moicano moved up to the 155-pound ranks last year, registering a quick submission win over Damir Hadzovic in his divisional debut. Nine months later, he was on the business end of a first-round finish, getting knocked out by rising star Rafael Fiziev at UFC 256.
A former Cage Warriors champion whose debut was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Herbert finally made his first UFC appearance last summer, starting well before getting knocked out by veteran Francisco Trinaldo. Ready to return, the “Black Country Banger” will look to return to the form that produced six consecutive victories and four straight stoppages prior to that setback on Saturday.
RAONI BARCELOS VS. TIMUR VALIEV
The 34-year-old Barcelos is a perfect 4-0 inside the Octagon and an impressive 16-1 overall, and he’s heading into Saturday’s clash with Valiev on a nine-fight winning streak. Smooth on the ground and dangerous on the feet, the Brazilian is a dangerous matchup for anyone in the division and someone to keep close tabs on in the second half of the year if he posts another victory here.
A longtime member of “The Iron Army,” Valiev’s promotional debut started well, but went south in the second round, but was ultimately ruled a no contest when his opponent, Trevin Jones, tested positive for marijuana following the bout. Earlier this year, the 31-year-old Russian returned to action, collecting a unanimous decision victory over Martin Day to extend his unbeaten streak to eight and push his record to 17-2 with one no contest.
Bantamweight is the most competitive and talent-rich division in the UFC at the moment, and these two men want to be a part of the action in the Top 15. Expect an entertaining scrap from start to finish.
SHAVKAT RAKHMONOV VS. MICHEL PRAZERES
Unbeaten in 13 professional fights, Rakhmonov made an instant impression in his first foray into the UFC cage, registering a first-round submission win over Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira last October. The 26-year-old “Nomad” has never been the distance and only saw the third round once, making him an exciting emerging talent to keep track of in the 170-pound weight class.
Prazeres returns for the first time following a two-year ban for an anti-doping violation, looking to recapture the form that produced victories over the likes of Gilbert Burns, Josh Burkman, and Zak Cummings during an eight-fight winning streak inside the Octagon. Built like a fire hydrant and adept at using his size and strength to his advantage, Prazeres is 26-3 and a stern test of the intriguing, but still somewhat unproven, Rakhmonov.
WARLLEY ALVES VS. JEREMIAH WELLS
Alves missed all of 2020 after suffering a torn biceps, but made up for that lost time in January, returning and running through Mounir Lazzez on UFC Fight Island. The 30-year-old former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner was initially scheduled to face Ramazan Emeev, but will instead look to keep his momentum going as he steps in against Wells this weekend in Las Vegas.
A 34-year-old veteran of the tough East Coast regional scene, Wells has won five of his last six since a two-fight set where he came away without a victory. He dropped the CES welterweight title in early 2019 but rebounded from that setback with consecutive stoppage victories under the CFFC banner.
Can Alves navigate the late shift in opponents and secure a second consecutive victory or will Wells step in and upset the apple cart on Saturday?
MARCIN PRACHNIO VS. IKE VILLANUEVA
It’s a meeting of light heavyweights looking to build off their first UFC victories, as Marcin Prachnio squares off with “Hurricane” Ike Villanueva.
After getting stopped in the first round of each of his first three trips into the Octagon, Prachnio made the walk at UFC 257 and came away with a unanimous decision win over Khalil Rountree Jr., showing improved patience and sharper fundamentals. The 32-year-old Polish veteran had won eight straight prior to arriving in the UFC and 12 of his previous 13, with his only loss coming to top contender Aleksandar Rakic, which shows the form he’s capable of when fighting to the best of his abilities.
The 37-year-old Villanueva parlayed a four-fight winning streak and consecutive finishes of UFC veterans into a chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport last year, but it didn’t go so well. After suffering a second-round stoppage loss to Chase Sherman in his short-notice debut, a grizzly gash over his eye brought his sophomore appearance opposite Jordan Wright to a premature halt.
Earlier this year, however, the Houston native collected a second-round knockout of Vinicius Moreira to earn his first UFC win, and like Prachnio, he’s in Las Vegas this weekend looking to leave on a winning streak.
JULIA AVILA VS. JULIJA STOLIARENKO
The 32-year-old “Raging Panda” made waves out the gate upon arriving in the UFC, earning a unanimous decision win over Pannie Kianzad in her debut before finishing Gina Mazany in 22 seconds in her sophomore showing. But a unanimous decision loss to Sijara Eubanks last September has cooled some of her momentum and left Avila looking to bounce back as she kicks off her third year on the UFC roster.
A contestant on Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter, Stoliarenko dropped a split decision to Leah Letson at the show’s finale, but then won five straight before getting a short notice call back to the UFC cage last summer for a bout against Yana Kunitskaya, which she lost by unanimous decision. The 27-year-old Lithuanian has shown flashes of brilliance outside of the UFC, so it will be interesting to see if she can finally do the same inside the Octagon this weekend.
CHARLES ROSA VS. JUSTIN JAYNES
Rosa began his career with nine consecutive victories, but he’s gone 4-5 since, alternating losses and wins since his UFC debut in October 2014. The Peabody, Massachusetts native and long-time American Top Team representative enters off a unanimous decision loss to Darrick Minner in February and will be eager to ensure his lose one, win one pattern continues through this fight on Saturday.
Jaynes registered a 41-second knockout win over Frank Camacho on incredibly short notice last summer in his promotional debut, but things have gone south for the 31-year-old “Guitar Hero” since, as he enters on a three-fight skid. The Xtreme Couture product is an all-action fighter, having gone to the scorecards just a handful of times in his 23-fight career and not once in eight starts since the beginning of 2018, so expect him to come out swinging as he looks to hand Rosa a second consecutive loss.
YANCY MEDEIROS VS. DAMIR HADZOVIC
Originally slated to take place in May, veteran lightweights with a penchant for putting on exciting fights share the Octagon on Saturday as Yancy Medeiros and Damir Hadzovic now make their first appearances of 2021 this weekend.
Hawaii’s Medeiros has competed once in each of the last three years, landing on the wrong side of the results in matchups with Donald Cerrone, Gregor Gillespie, and Lando Vannata dating back to 2018. The 33-year-old is an all-action fighter with wins over John Makdessi and Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira under his belt, and he should be locked in and ready to let fly from the outset.
Like his opponent on Saturday, Hadzovic enters this weekend’s contest looking to halt a losing streak, having dropped consecutive bouts to Christos Giagos and Renato Moicano. “The Bosnian Bomber” is ultra-tough and dangerous at all times, which makes him a tricky opponent to prepare for and a perfect dance partner for Medeiros on Saturday evening in Las Vegas.
After getting right up to fight day before the bout was unfortunately scrapped due to health issues for Hadzovic, you can be sure these two will once again be chomping at the bit to get in there and mix it up in what should be a Fight of the Night contender early in the evening.