Holly Holm vs Irene Aldana
Saturday night’s event is headlined by a clash that could very well determine the next title challenger in the bantamweight division as former champion Holly Holm looks for a second consecutive victory as she takes on surging contender Irene Aldana.
After coming up short in her bid to reclaim the bantamweight title last summer, Holm got back into the win column in January with a blue-collar effort against Raquel Pennington where she utilized her strength in the clinch and improved grappling skills to grind out the victory. The soon-to-be 39-year-old has won each of her last three non-title fights and remains one of the most formidable talents in the sport, standing as a top contender in two divisions and brandishing a wealth of experience that separates her from the pack.
Aldana stumbled out of the gate upon arriving in the UFC, but has since found her footing, entering Saturday’s contest having won five of her last six outings, with her lone setback being a close split decision loss to the aforementioned Pennington. Last time out, the former Invicta FC standout scored the most impressive victory of her career — a blistering first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Brazilian contender Ketlen Vieira at UFC 245.
This is a classic “old guard vs. next generation” matchup where the seasoned Holm is looking to hold off the advance of the emerging Aldana, and has the potential to not only determine the next title challenger, but, in concert with another fight on this week’s card, may also outline what the coming years in the 135-pound weight class might look like.
Stylistically, there is the potential for this to be an explosive affair as Aldana is an aggressive, but technically sound, striker who stalks her opponents and looks to land big shots, while Holm is at her best playing the matador, intercepting advancing fighters and making them pay for their aggression. That being said, it will be interesting to see if Holm instead opts to work out of the clinch and utilize her wrestling skills, which could potentially neutralize Aldana’s power.
While no promises have been made, a strong performance for either woman on Saturday evening could put them at the top of the list of potential title challengers heading into 2020, and with another crucial divisional conflict taking place earlier in the card, don’t be surprised if the way that one shakes out has an influence on how things transpire in the main event.
Yorgan De Castro vs Carlos Felipe
Heavyweights looking to get back into the win column after suffering the first losses of their professional careers collide on Fight Island as Yorgan De Castro squares off with Carlos Felipe.
A graduate of the Contender Series, De Castro followed up his contract-winning turn with a tremendous effort in his debut, felling Justin Tafa with a perfect counter right hand just over two minutes into their clash at UFC 243 last fall in Australia. He made his second trip into the Octagon this spring at UFC 249 against Greg Hardy, but after starting well, a broken foot slowed his output and resulted in De Castro landing on the wrong side of the results against the former NFL defensive lineman.
Silva ended a three-year MMA absence this summer when he stepped into the Octagon opposite Serghei Spivac. Boastful in the build-up to the fight and dismissive of the attacks coming his way during the contest, the 25-year-old Brazilian had some good moments, but struggled to keep the fight standing and faded down the stretch as his gas tank ran dry.
Still relatively early in their respective careers, both De Castro and Felipe have shown hints of potential and possible building blocks that could lead to either or both becoming long-term fixtures in the heavyweight division. This bout will determine which man takes the next step forward in their progression and who remains stationed where they are, forced to reckon with a two-fight slide and figure out how to remedy that situation the next time out.
Germaine De Randamie vs Julianna Pena
The night’s other critical clash in the bantamweight division features former featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie and Julianna Pena, a pair of Top 5 talents looking to make their own case for title contention before Holm and Aldana close things out on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.
The 36-year-old de Randamie logged five consecutive victories between her twin losses to Amanda Nunes, including a unanimous decision triumph over Holm to become the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight champion. Prior to coming up short in her bid to claim the bantamweight title last December at UFC 245, “The Iron Lady” iced rising star Aspen Ladd, dropping her with a punishing right cross just 16 seconds into their headlining tilt in Sacramento.
Pena fought for the first time since January 2017 on that same card in the California capital, registering a unanimous decision victory over former flyweight champ Nicco Montano. It was her first win since out-grappling Cat Zingano at UFC 200 and immediately repositioned the former Ultimate Fighter winner near the top of the list of contenders in the 135-pound weight class.
This is an interesting clash when it comes to the bantamweight landscape. The only person to beat de Randamie in the UFC is the two-division champion, while Pena’s lone setback came against former title challenger and current flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko.
Tactically, this one will come down to de Randamie’s ability to keep things standing. If she can force Pena to trade with her at range, the veteran striker should have a speed, power, and technical advantage, but if “The Venezuelan Vixen” can get inside and get the fight to the ground, de Randamie could be in for another long night at the office.
Having Holm and Aldana closing out the show should be a little added incentive for these women — like the opening act that really wants to stand out before the headliners take the stage — as a dominant performance could potentially shake up the order of things as these four women jockey for position in the bantamweight title chase.
Dequan Townsend vs Dusko Todorovic
Middleweights at different stages of their careers cross paths inside the Octagon on Saturday as veteran Dequan Townsend welcomes Dusko Todorovic to the UFC for the first time.
A pro since 2012, the 34-year-old Townsend spent more than a decade grinding out a living on the regional circuit, facing a host of familiar names. A 6-1 run where his only setback came against Contender Series grad Jamahal Hill put him on the UFC radar and a short notice opportunity landed him in the Octagon for the first time last June, but it has been a difficult transition to the big leagues for Townsend, as he enters this weekend’s bout on a three-fight losing streak.
Todorovic is eight years Townsend’s junior and arrives with a pristine 9-0 mark, with his most recent victory coming last summer on the Contender Series, where the Serbian prospect outworked Canadian vet Teddy Ash. Prior to that, Todorovic had not been to a decision in his career, posting eight straight stoppage wins, including a first-round finish of Brazilian Michel Peirera.
These are the kinds of pairings that often surprise once the cage door closes, as Townsend’s experience, both overall and in the UFC itself, is an X-factor against the young newcomer, who hasn’t fought in over a year and is competing on the big stage for the first time.
Will the battle-tested veteran spring the upset and secure his first UFC triumph or will Todorovic keep rolling and push his unbeaten streak to double digits?
Kyler Phillips vs Cameron Else
Featherweights looking to forge a lane for themselves in the talent-rich weight class meet in this one as Ultimate Fighter alum Kyler Phillips welcomes Cameron Else for the first time.
The 25-year-old Phillips was part of the cast on Season 27 of the long-running reality TV competition, losing in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Brad Katona. After splitting a pair of outings on the regional circuit following his time on TUF, Phillips finally made his way into the Octagon for the first time in February, collecting a unanimous decision win over Gabriel Silva to push his record to 7-1 overall.
A pro since the tail end of 2012, Else brings a 10-4 record into his UFC debut, with each of his 10 victories coming inside the opening five minutes. After batting .500 through his first eight appearances inside the cage, the 29-year-old has rattled off six consecutive victories over the last two-plus years.
This one will also answer some remaining questions about the incumbent and the newcomer, as Phillips is still early in his own UFC voyage and yet to establish any real footing for himself in the division, while Else needs to show that he can maintain his perfect finishing rate now that he’s taking a step up in competition.
No matter how this one shakes out, it should be electric from the outset.
Carlos Condit vs Court McGee
Grizzled welterweight veterans lock horns here as former interim champ Carlos Condit and former TUF winner Court McGee both go searching for their first victory in quite some time.
A fixture in the Top 5 throughout the first six or seven years of his UFC run, Condit arrives in Abu Dhabi on a five-fight losing streak and having last competed at the end of 2018. “The Natural Born Killer” has fought a tough slate during his skid, but hasn’t earned a victory since May 2015, and is just 2-8 since claiming the interim belt in his scrap with Nick Diaz at UFC 143.
McGee went 0-2 in 2019, dropping a split decision to Dhiego Lima before landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against unbeaten Sean Brady last time out. Injuries have been a constant hindrance for the 35-year-old veteran, who looks to avoid the first three-fight slide of his career this weekend.
The results haven’t been there for either man, but the one thing you can count on once the Octagon door closes on Saturday night and the referee says, “Fight!” is that these two proud, driven, relentless veterans will leave every ounce of themselves out there in pursuit of a victory and in order to put on a good show for the fans.
Charles Jourdain vs Josh Culibao
Young featherweights still looking to find consistency in the division line up opposite on another on Saturday night as French-Canadian prospect Charles Jourdain faces UFC sophomore Josh Culibao.
After losing his promotional debut up a division, Jourdain returned to his natural featherweight surrounds and scored an impressive second-round stoppage win over Dooho Choi in his second trip into the Octagon. That win earned him a date with divisional stalwart Andre Fili in June, where the 24-year-old ended up on the unhappy side of a split decision result.
Culibao was called up to the UFC for a short notice fight up a division in February and was stopped in the second round by Jalin Turner, which was the first loss of his career. Now, back down at featherweight and with the benefit of a full training camp behind him, the 26-year-old Australian will look to recapture the form that produced seven consecutive victories prior to his setback earlier this year.
The featherweight division has never been more flush with talent than it is now and both Jourdain and Culibao have the potential to become fixtures in the 145-pound weight class going forward. Jourdain opened a lot of eyes with his win over “The Korean Superboy” and by going the distance with Fili, meaning he heads into this one with greater external expectations than Culibao, who can propel himself to the fringes of the Top 15 with a victory over the former two-weight TKO champion on Saturday night.
Jordan Williams vs Nassourdine Imavov
Jordan Williams has Nasourdine Imamov to thank for getting a third opportunity to compete on the Contender Series and ultimately earn his UFC contract, and he’ll get the chance to show his appreciation when the two share the cage together this weekend.
Williams stepped in against Gregory Rodrigues on last month’s final Contender Series event prior to the show’s five-week hiatus after Imamov was forced to withdraw from the contest. After a pair of non-contract winning results, the Northern California native walked down the Brazilian, lit him up along the fence, and finally secured an invite to compete inside the Octagon.
Imamov initially earned the call to compete on the Contender Series on the strength of a five-fight winning streak, capped by a first-round stoppage win over UFC veteran Jonathan Meunier. The 24-year-old, who was born in Dagestan and trains in Paris under Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory, has traditionally fought at welterweight, but has the size and reach to easily make the move to middleweight and remain an intriguing prospect.
This has all the markings of a barnburner as Williams is a relentlessly aggressive fighter who happily will eat a shot to land a shot, while Imamov has flashed keen finishing instincts and the ability to end things quickly. Both are looking to make an instant impression in the middleweight division and there is no better way than knocking off a fellow talented newcomer in your debut.
Loma Lookboonmee vs Jinh Yu Frey
Interesting new names in the strawweight division Loma Lookboonmee and Jinh Yu Frey meet in what should be a spirited affair early in the card on Saturday night.
A Muay Thai practitioner with limited MMA experience, the 24-year-old Lookboonmee made her UFC debut last October, earning a split decision win over Aleksandra Albu. Earlier this year, she was slated to face fellow neophyte Hannah Goldy, only to have Angela Hill tag in for the injured Goldy and cruise to a unanimous decision win.
The former Invicta FC atomweight champ Frey made her divisional debut and first foray into the Octagon earlier this summer, facing off against fellow newcomer Kay Hansen in a bout that came together on very short notice. After a strong start, the 35-year-old faded and was ultimately submitted in the third round.
Both women dealt with unfavorable situations in their first outings of 2020 and will look to remedy things this time around. Frey carries an edge in experience and size, while Lookboonmee is at the point in her career where she could make considerable gains between starts and has had the last seven months to train and improve.
Strawweight is the deepest, most competitive division on the women’s side of the roster, resulting in a constant battle to gain ground and each fight carrying increased importance and significance. Neither of these athletes wants to drop consecutive fights, so expect both to come out firing from the start and things to remain highly entertaining for as long as it lasts.
Casey Kenney vs Alatengheili
Contender Series veteran and former LFA two-division champ Casey Kenney ventures to Abu Dhabi to make his third appearance of 2020 as he takes on streaking prospect AlatangHeili.
Kenney appeared in Las Vegas twice during the opening season, earning a unanimous decision win over Cee Jay Hamilton before dropping a split decision to Adam Antolin. He then went out and won four straight — and two titles — in four appearances under the LFA banner before collecting back-to-back wins over Ray Borg and Manny Bermudez to close out an impressive 2019 campaign.
The 29-year-old landed on the wrong side of the cards in a clash with Merab Dvalishvili earlier this year but rebounded with a first-round submission win over Louis Smolka to push his record to 7-1 over his last eight starts.
After earning a unanimous decision win over Danaa Batgerel in his promotional debut, AlantagHeili took a step up in competition and edged out Ryan Benoit on the scorecards to push his winning streak to four. The 28-year-old “Mongolian Knight” is 14-7-1 overall, but that mark is deceiving, as he’s gone 10-1-1 over his last dozen fights after beginning his career with six losses in 10 bouts.
The bantamweight division is arguably the hottest weight class in the promotion at the moment and the battle for position in the hierarchy is always fierce. Both men have shown the potential to emerge as Top 15 talents, but only one will take a step forward on Saturday night.
Luigi Vendramini vs Jessin Ayari
A pair of lightweights returning from extended absences clash in the opener as Brazilian Luigi Vendramini takes on Germany’s Jessin Ayari.
The 24-year-old Vendramini carried a perfect 8-0 record into his promotional debut in September 2018 and looked good during the opening round of his clash with fellow Brazilian Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. But “Capoeira” found his rhythm and finished him 80 seconds into the middle stanza and Vendramini hasn’t fought since, as a knee injury scuttled a scheduled appearance last summer.
Ayari was victorious in his first foray into the UFC cage in the fall of 2016, earning a split decision win over Jim Wallhead. He followed that up with tandem decision defeats against Darren Till and Stevie Ray, but then he too was felled by a knee injury and forced to the sidelines.
Both men flashed promise in their initial treks into the Octagon and are still young enough to get back in the win column and start making some headway in the loaded 155-pound weight class. That journey resumes on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi and it should produce fireworks to kick off the night.
Visit Abu Dhabi: http://www.abudhabievents.ae/