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UFC Norfolk Fight By Fight Preview

We Run Down The Entire Virginia Card From Top To Bottom
Joseph Benavidez vs Deiveson Figueiredo

The third UFC flyweight champion in history will be crowned in Saturday night’s main event as Joseph Benavidez, one of the four men who took part in the tournament to crown the inaugural titleholder, steps in against once-beaten Brazilian Deiveson Figueiredo.

Benavidez has been a fixture near the top of the division since its inception, yet hasn’t fought for the title in more than six years. After losing to Demetrious Johnson twice in the span of 15 months, the 35-year-old standout has spent the last six years in championship purgatory, posting a 9-1 record that includes a victory over former champ Henry Cejudo, waiting for the day his number would be called again.

Figueiredo lands this opportunity after rebounding from the lone loss of his career at the start of last year with a pair of impressive victories over Alexandre Pantoja and Tim Elliott. The 32-year-old has gone 6-1 in seven UFC starts and is 17-1 overall heading into this weekend’s title fight, where he hopes his aggressive, heavy-handed style will make him the first Brazilian to wear the flyweight strap.

UFC Norfolk Free Fight: Benavidez vs Formiga 2
UFC Norfolk Free Fight: Benavidez vs Formiga 2
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Felicia Spencer vs Zarah Fairn

This weekend’s card in Norfolk could very well produce the next title challenger in the women’s featherweight division as the main card features a pair of contests featuring top contenders looking to make a statement.

In the co-main event, Felicia Spencer angles to get back into the win column after suffering the first loss of her career when she takes on French veteran Zarah Fairn.

Spencer had a breakout year in 2019, posting a first-round submission win over Megan Anderson in her promotional debut in mid-May before stepping in against Cris Cyborg two months later at UFC 240. Though she came out on the wrong side of the scorecards, the Canadian-born, Orlando-based contender hung tough, taking the best Cyborg had to offer and returning fire better than most.

Fairn also made her promotional debut opposite Anderson, but unlike Spencer, she was the one forced to tap to a first-round submission. That October bout in Melbourne was her first appearance in nearly two full years, so having shaken off the rust and fighting on more neutral ground this time around, it will be interesting to see what more the 33-year-old has to offer in her sophomore appearance inside the Octagon.

Felicia Spencer of Canada warms up prior to her bout during the UFC 240 event at Rogers Place on July 27, 2019 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Felicia Spencer (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Ion Cutelaba vs Magomed Ankalaev

Light heavyweights looking to take another step forward in the wide open division meet in Virginia as Ion Cutelaba searches for his fourth win in five starts against the surging Magomed Ankalaev, who enters on a three-fight winning streak.

The charismatic and heavy-handed Cutelaba has already established himself as an all-action addition to the 205-pound ranks, delivering a collection of entertaining performances through his first seven appearances in the Octagon. Of late, however, he’s started to fight with a little more patience and the results have been undeniable as he’s earned three first-round stoppage wins and gave veteran contender Glover Teixeira plenty to contend with before ultimately being finished by the former title challenger.

Ankalaev arrived in the UFC with a 10-0 record and was literally a second away from earning his 11th straight win in his debut before Paul Craig laced up a slick triangle choke and forced him to tap. Since then, the talented 27-year-old has earned a trio of victories, most recently earning a Performance of the Night bonus for his third-round stoppage win over Dalcha Lungiambula in November.

Watch UFC Norfolk this Saturday on ESPN+ | Prelims begin at 2pm ET, Main Card at 5pm ET

Megan Anderson vs Norma Dumont

The first of the twin featherweight clashes to hit the cage this weekend sees Anderson looking to earn a second straight win for the first time since her final two appearances under the Invicta FC banner as she welcomes Brazilian Norma Dumont to the Octagon for the first time.

Anderson’s UFC run has been a strange trip thus far, as she arrived with a ton of promise, spent over a year on the sidelines, and has alternated between losses and wins through her first four starts. She shone at home against Fairn in October, and has always had the size and striking power to be a potential force in the division, but if she’s going to make a real run towards the top of the division, the 30-year-old needs to start consistently putting together impressive performances.

Dumont is a wild card addition to the 145-pound weight class — an unbeaten 29-year-old who earned three victories in her first year as a pro facing overmatched competition, then eked out a majority decision win over the best opponent she’s faced to date, former Invicta FC competitor Mariana Morais. She’s been out of action since that bout in the summer of 2018 and Saturday will be her first fight in the featherweight division, so forecasting what she brings to the table this weekend is extremely difficult.

That being said, a massive effort from either competitor would put them in the thick of the title chase and depending on how things play out in the co-main event, could even potentially earn the victor a championship opportunity later in the year.

Grant Dawson vs Darrick Minner

It’s already been a frustrating year for Grant Dawson, but after a false start in January and a change in opponents, the 26-year-old will finally step back into the Octagon this weekend, squaring off against Darrick Minner.

Initially booked to face Chas Skelly at UFC 246, the bout was pushed back to this weekend after Dawson withdrew from the contest. Two weeks ago, Skelly was forced out with an injury, prompting the switch to Minner. Despite the challenges and changes, Dawson remains one of the top emerging prospects in the division, having earned back-to-back wins inside the Octagon since impressing on Season 1 of the Contender Series.

While a victory over Minner doesn’t carry the same weight besting the battle-tested Skelly would have, a sixth straight victory overall would continue to propel the James Krause-trained upstart up the rankings.

The 29-year-old Minner is a tough Midwest battler in the Anthony Smith mold who just likes to scrap, as Saturday’s bout with Dawson will be the 35th appearance of his career. His resume is littered with familiar names and he arrives in Norfolk having won three of his last four, including back-to-back efforts to close out 2019 after coming up short in his initial bid to secure a UFC contract last summer on the Contender Series.

This is a “no risk, all reward” opportunity for Minner, so don’t be surprised if he comes out aggressively and looks to cash in this lottery ticket on Saturday night.

Grant Dawson celebrates after his submission victory over Michael Trizano in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Blue Cross Arena on May 18, 2019 in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC)
Grant Dawson celebrates with coach James Krause following victory at UFC Rochester, 2019 (Photo by Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC)

Gabriel Silva vs Kyler Phillips

Bantamweights aiming to begin their 2020 campaigns with a victory meet in what should be a spirited affair, as Brazil’s Gabriel Silva faces the debuting Kyler Phillips.

“Gabito” got called up to the UFC after scoring a first-round stoppage win over Jake Heffernan in a “Battle of the Unbeatens” at LFA 63 last March. Dropped in against veteran Ray Borg in his debut, the Team Nogueira product landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict.

Phillips has been on the periphery of the UFC a couple of times, earning a spot on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter after securing a 46-second win during the first season of the Contender Series. He was expected to make his promotional debut, against Borg, oddly enough, last year, but was sidelined with an injury.

The bantamweight division has never been deeper or filled with more talent and both Silva and Phillips profile as strong additions to the already loaded roster. This is a challenging assignment for each man, but one that should provide the victor with a chance to make some headway within the division before the year is out.

RELATED: UFC Norfolk Fighters On The Rise

Brendan Allen vs Tom Breese

Emerging middleweight contenders clash in one of the best fights of the month as Brendan Allen looks for his second UFC victory against the returning Tom Breese.

The 24-year-old Roufusport representative Allen had a strong year in 2019, starting with a successful defense of his LFA title, followed by a first-round submission win on the Contender Series, and a second-round finish over Kevin Holland in his first trip into the UFC cage. Now the streaking Louisiana native looks to push his winning streak to six and establish himself as the top young talent in the 185-pound weight class.

Breese has fought just once since taking the first loss of his career at UFC 199. A serious knee injury kept him sidelined for two years following the bout, and various other health issues have done the same since he returned to middleweight with a first-round stoppage win of Australian Olympian Daniel Kelly in May 2018. His talent has never been in question, and if Breese can return to an active schedule with a victory over the promising Allen, he should vault right back into the mix as an up-and-coming contender to watch in the middleweight division.

Tom Breese of England celebrates his victory over Daniel Kelly of Australia in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at ECHO Arena on May 27, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Breese celebrates at UFC Liverpool, 2018 (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Marcin Tybura vs Serghei Spivac

Heavyweights moving in opposite directions meet on the Old Dominion University campus as Marchin Tybura aims to snap a two-fight skid, while Serghei Spivac arrives in search of a second straight victory.

Tybura has hit a rough patch since rebounding from his debut UFC loss with three straight victories, posting a 1-4 record in his last five outings. While the first two setbacks came against former champ Fabricio Werdum and perennial contender Derrick Lewis, the two following his win over Stefan Struve have come at the hands of Shamil Abdurakhimov and Augusto Sakai, powerful fighters, but two men who currently reside on the fringes of contention.

After building a 9-0 record against a host of unknowns and heavyweight journeymen, Spivac was in tough in his promotional debut, lasting just 50 seconds opposite Walt Harris at the start of May. He rebounded five months (and one day) later with a second-round submission win over Tai Tuivasa in hostile territory at UFC 234, and enters this weekend’s pairing with Tybura as a prospect with potential in a division where a couple strong outings is all it takes to crack the rankings.

Luis Pena vs Steve Garcia

Fighters representing two of the more established gyms in the sport collide in this one as American Top Team’s Luis Pena squares off with Jackson-Wink MMA representative Steve Garcia, who steps in for Team Alpha Male's Alex Munoz on short notice.

A fan favorite coming off Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, Pena started 2019 with a pair of wins, but landed on the wrong side of a split decision verdict last time out against Matt Frevola. With incredible size for the division and improving skills, the 26-year-old “Violent Bob Ross” has the potential to be an interesting addition to the lightweight ranks, but consistency is key.

Garcia scored a first-round stoppage win over Desmond Torres during Week 9 of the Contender Series last summer at the UFC Apex, but unfortunately for the 27-year-old New Mexico native, he missed weight for the contest, sullying his otherwise strong showing and keeping him from securing a contract. But Garcia said all the right things on that Tuesday night in August, and he kicked off his 2020 campaign with a second-round stoppage win over Jose "Chepe" Mariscal in the main event of LFA 80 in mid-January to extend his winning streak to four.

Short notice opportunities are always challenging, as is facing someone with the uncanny size and length of Pena. Put them together and it makes for a considerable task for Garcia as he ventures into the Octagon for the first time. As for Pena, he too has to make a Fight Week adjustment, shifting from an all-out wrestler in Munoz to more of a kickboxing stylist in Garcia, but Pena has excellent coaches at his disposal and the benefit of a full training camp behind him as he heads into battle on Saturday night.

TUF 27 fight 3 - LUIS PEÑA (TEAM CORMIER) VS JOSÉ MARTÍNEZ JR (TEAM MIOCIC)
"Violent Bob Ross" Luis Pena (R) on TUF, 2017 (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC)

Jordan Griffin vs TJ Brown

Contender Series alums clash in this featherweight contests as Season 3’s TJ Brown makes his promotional debut against Season 2 contract winner Jordan Griffin on Saturday.

Griffin earned his contract with a finish of Maurice Mitchell in what remains one of the wildest four-minute fights in recent memory. That victory pushed his winning streak to four and moved him to 9-1 over his previous 10 bouts, but it’s been tough sledding since then, as the Roufusport fighter has dropped back-to-back decisions to Dan Ige and Chas Skelly.

A training partner of rising star and camouflaged cult figure Bryce Mitchell, Brown chased down a third-round submission win last summer at the UFC Apex to earn his call-up to the Octagon. He’s won four straight since a 4-4 run in the middle of his career and has only been to the scorecards twice in 20 professional bouts, so win or lose, the newcomer should be an exciting addition to the 145-pound weight division. 

Aalon Cruz vs Spike Carlyle

Featherweights eager to make a strong first impression meet in this one as Contender Series alum Aalon Cruz faces fellow newcomer Spike Carlyle, who is stepping in on short notice for the sidelined Steven “Ocho” Peterson.

Cruz had one of the best knockouts of the year on the Contender Series last summer, capping his back-and-forth scrap against the durable Steven Nguyen with a brutal flying knee late in the third round. Cruz showed good patience and understanding of range throughout the fight, using a steady diet of long kicks to keep Nguyen at distance, mixing in heavier shots that found a home at various points along the way.

Nicknamed “The Alpha Ginger,” the 26-year-old Carlyle arrives in the UFC on a four-fight winning streak and brandishing an 8-1 record overall. Training alongside various UFC fighters while shuffling between The Treigning Lab and King’s MMA in Anaheim, Carlyle will be giving up considerable height against Cruz, but should have a speed advantage in his short-notice debut.

Watch UFC Norfolk this Saturday on ESPN+ | Prelims begin at 2pm ET, Main Card at 5pm ET

Ismail Naurdiev of Austria celebrates his victory over Siyar Bahadurzada of Afghanistan in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Royal Arena on September 28, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Ismail Naurdiev, 2019 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Sean Brady vs Ismail Naurdiev

Promising welterweights looking to build off fall victories clash in the first quarter of 2020 as Ismail Naurdiev meets Sean Brady on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.

The 23-year-old Naurdiev made a splash in his promotional debut last February, outworking Brazilian powerhouse Michel Prazeres, who entered on an eight-fight winning streak. He looked sluggish and overmatched in his sophomore appearance at UFC 239, but then rebounded with a unanimous decision win over veteran Siyar Bahadurzada at the end of September to claim back some of the momentum he’d lost in the middle of the year.

After nine straight wins on the regional circuit, Brady made his UFC debut last October, starting fast and holding on down the stretch against relentless veteran Court McGee to push his record to 10-0. The former CFFC welterweight champ has good, quick hands, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Daniel Gracie, and has faced quality competition on the way to the UFC, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Brady quickly established himself as someone to keep tabs on in the 170-pound weight class going forward.