ANTHONY SMITH VS. ALEKSANDAR RAKIC
As a new era dawns in the light heavyweight division, Anthony Smith and Aleksandar Rakic clash in this meeting of Top 10 talents looking to make an early case for contention in the suddenly wide open 205-pound ranks.
Smith has fought for UFC gold in the past, dropping a unanimous decision to Jon Jones last year. He’s split a pair of appearances since, submitting Alexander Gustafsson before losing to Glover Teixeira earlier this year.
Rakic has been a name on the rise in the division for the last couple years. He dropped a questionable split decision to Volkan Oezdemir last time out, snapping his four-fight UFC winning streak and halting his 12-fight overall run of success as well, but remains one of the newer, younger names in the division to watch and could take a major step forward with a victory here.
Already an important fight for each man as they look to get back into the win column, Jones vacating the title has given added importance to this and every matchup featuring ranked competitors in the light heavyweight division for the foreseeable future, as the fighters all jockey for position in the title chase.
ROBBIE LAWLER VS. NEIL MAGNY
Fixtures in the welterweight Top 15 go toe-to-toe in the co-main event as former champ Robbie Lawler takes on Neil Magny.
Lawler jumped at the opportunity to replace Geoff Neal in this week’s penultimate pairing and enters the Octagon looking to halt the first three-fight losing streak of his career. The 38-year-old has navigated peaks and valleys throughout his career and he enters Saturday’s bout hungrier than ever.
After missing a little more than a year due to a combination of injuries and a USADA suspension where he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, Magny got back to doing what he does earlier this year, working behind his jab and counting on his conditioning as he picked up victories over Li Jingliang and Anthony Rocco Martin. Despite an outstanding 15-4 mark since suffering back-to-back losses in 2013, it will be interesting to see how Magny acquits himself when he shares the cage with the ex-titleholder on Saturday night.
Business is starting to pick up in the welterweight division again and the outcome of this one will impact what pairings come together as the promotion heads into the final quarter of 2020.
JI YEON KIM VS. ALEXA GRASSO
Alexa Grasso hopes to kickstart the next phase of her career as she makes her UFC debut in the flyweight division against South Korean veteran Ji Yeon Kim.
Grasso, a former Invicta FC standout, has struggled to find consistency inside the Octagon and ran into her fair share of issues with injuries and weight cuts as well. Still just 27 and having flashed the skills that made her a rising star upon arrival in the UFC as recently as last summer, it will be interesting to see how her skills translate as she moves up a division.
The 30-year-old Kim has proven to be a tough-as-nails competitor over the course of her first five UFC appearances, posting three victories and two losses, and showing toughness and tenacity each time out. She enters Saturday’s bout with Grasso off her best performance to date — a second-round stoppage win over Nadia Kassem last fall at UFC 243 — and will look to build on that momentum by handing the divisional newcomer a second straight loss.
We’ve seen plenty of fighters have success moving up a division after struggling with weight cuts, so the possibility is certainly there for Grasso, who holds wins over Mizuki, Randa Markos, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. That said, she’ll be giving up size and most likely strength by stepping up to the 125-pound ranks, and you can be sure Kim will do her best to bully her around the Octagon this weekend in Las Vegas.
RICARDO LAMAS VS. BILL ALGEO
Featherweight veteran Ricardo Lamas will still make the walk to the Octagon on Saturday after losing his original opponent, as East Coast regional staple Bill Algeo steps up to make his UFC debut.
Initially scheduled to square off with Ryan Hall, the 38-year-old Lamas has been a fixture in the Top 15 for a number of years, having shared the cage with a host of prospects and contenders in the six years since he challenged Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. Although he enters Saturday’s contest with only one victory in his last four appearances, those setbacks — and all of Lamas’ UFC losses for that matter — have all come against ranked opponents, while he’s thrived against up-and-comers who weren’t quite ready for prime time.
Algeo hustles back into the cage after collecting a unanimous decision win under the CFFC banner two weeks ago in his first appearance since coming up short on the Contender Series against Brendan Loughnane last summer. The 31-year-old from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania was 11-2 heading into his UFC audition last year, with his losses coming against featherweight standouts Shane Burgos and Jared Gordon, and now he has the opportunity to make an instant impact in the division by potentially knocking off one of its longest tenured talents. Will Lamas turn back another hopeful or can Algeo spring the short notice upset?
MAGOMED ANKALAEV VS. ION CUTELABA
A little less than six months after their awkward encounter in Norfolk, Virginia, Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba will finally stand across the Octagon from one another again and look to settle their differences.
The duo faced off at the end of February and the bout was halted 39 seconds in when referee Kevin MacDonald believes that Cutelaba was out on his feet. Unfortunately, the hulking Moldovan was playing possum, apparently too well, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion to what was shaping up to be an interesting fight. Initially scheduled to run it back a couple weeks ago, the bout was pushed back and now they’ll run it back this weekend.
Prior to their first encounter, Ankalaev had won three straight, two via TKO where head kicks kicked off the finishing sequence. The 28-year-old is 13-1 overall and should be on the short list of emerging contenders to keep tabs on in the 205-pound weight class, especially with things opening up at the top of the division.
Cutelaba had won three of four prior to his first bout with Ankalaev, posting impressive stoppage victories over Luis Henrique da Silva, Gadzhimurad Antigulov, and Khalil Rountree while falling to Glover Teixeira in a bout where he had the veteran Brazilian hurt early on. A powerhouse who has been steadily learning to be more patient and pick his spots in the cage, the aggressive 26-year-old can make a strong case for a place in the rankings with an impressive performance in this one.
MAKI PITOLO VS. IMPA KASANGANAY
Middleweights making quick returns after very different results clash in this one as Maki Pitolo takes on fellow Contender Series graduate Impa Kasangany.
Fighting for the second time in four weeks, Pitolo hustles back into action after getting caught in a first-round guillotine choke against Darren Stewart on the second card of the month. Prior to that, the Hawaiian striker made a triumphant return to the middleweight ranks with a good win over Charles Byrd after losing his promotional debut at welterweight.
Kasanganay is also fighting for the second time this month, having earned his UFC contract with a unanimous decision win over Anthony Adams three days after Pitolo’s loss to Stewart. The unbeaten Gym-O product only turned pro at the start of 2019 and is still very much in the development stage of his career, but thus far, he’s flashed a ton of raw potential and could establish himself as one of the new names to remember in the middleweight division if he can push his record inside the UFC Apex to 3-0 this weekend.
MALLORY MARTIN VS. HANNAH CIFERS
Tough strawweights looking to get back in the win column meet here as Mallory Martin goes in search of her first UFC victory against Hannah Cifers, who looks to end a three-fight slide on Saturday.
Martin earned a victory last summer on the Contender Series but didn’t come away with a contract. She made a quick turnaround and picked up a win under the Invicta FC banner, then replaced Livinha Souza on short notice in a matchup against Virna Jandiroba that went south in a hurry. The 26-year-old has flashed potential throughout her career and fought a tough slate thus far, so it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if Martin starts to put things together and embarks on a run of success starting Saturday night.
After picking up back-to-back wins in 2019, Cifers has run into a string of tough bookings so far in 2020, losing to Angela Hill (who took the fight on short notice), Mackenzie Dern, and Mariya Agapova. The quiet North Carolina native has a significant experience edge over Martin and has proven she can compete at this level, so a return to her winning ways isn’t out of the question.
ALESSIO DI CHIRICO VS. ZAK CUMMINGS
Alessio Di Chirico and Zak Cummings meet in this clash of veteran middleweights that is a sleeper candidate for Fight of the Night.
Fighting for the first time this year, Di Chirico arrives at the Apex looking to snap a two-fight skid, having landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in bouts against Kevin Holland and Makhmud Muradov last year. The Italian is gritty and tenacious and if he can improve his pace and ability to recognize opportunities mid-fight, he could reverse his recent pattern of results.
Cummings is a “hard hat and a lunch box” kind of guy — someone who turns up to work on time, ready to fight, and leaves it all in the cage, regardless of the matchup or recent results. Since joining the UFC ranks after a stint on Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, the Missouri-based 36-year-old has "won two and lost one” four times in a row.
Will Cummings’ sequence hold and result in him getting his hand raised or will Di Chirico knock him out of his pattern and pick up his first win in more than two years?
POLYANA VIANA VS. EMILY WHITMIERE
Strawweights looking to make some headway in the talent-rich division collide in this one as Brazil’s Polyana Viana takes on Las Vegas resident Emily Whitmire.
The 29-year-old Viana is the only person to beat burgeoning star Amanda Ribas thus far and began her UFC tenure with a quick submission win, but it has been rough sledding since then. Entering Saturday’s contest, “Poly” has dropped three straight, most recently getting submitted in 69 seconds by Veronica Macedo.
Fighting out of Xtreme Couture, Whitmire’s UFC run began with consecutive victories over Jamie Moyle and Aleksandra Albu before she ran into the streaking Ribas last summer. Initially scheduled to meet Viana in March, the 29-year-old has had ample time to formulate a game plan and figure out the best way to get herself back into the win column this weekend.It’s “unbeaten prospect vs. surging veteran” in the welterweight division as Sean Brady squares off with Christian Aguilera.
SEAN BRADY VS. CHRISTIAN AGUILERA
Highly regarded after amassing a 10-0 record fighting primarily under the CFFC banner, Brady has maintained his winning ways since transitioning to the UFC, posting consecutive division wins over Court McGee and Ismail Naurdiev to push his winning streak to an even dozen. The 27-year-old Daniel Gracie pupil is more of a grinder than a finisher but has shown he’s capable of snatching a finish if the opportunity presents itself with four finishes during his unbeaten run.
The 28-year-old Aguilera is the opposite of Brady in many ways. He’s a proven finisher with 11 stoppage victories from 14 career wins, but he has also been saddled with half-a-dozen losses. But he made the absolute most of his short notice debut in June, bombing on Anthony Ivy with heavy hands and getting him out of there in under a minute to push his winning streak to three, and if he can replicate that outing this weekend, “The Beast” will usurp Brady’s position as “one to watch” in the welterweight ranks going forward.