The Scorecard | UFC 269: Oliveira vs Poirier

Julianna Pena won the UFC women’s bantamweight title before the fight even took place. You could hear it in her voice, you can tell it by the words that came out of her mouth. She was either going to take that belt from Amanda Nunes or go down swinging in the attempt. “The Venezuelan Vixen” has always had that kind of grit, and she proved it after surviving a rough first round against Nunes. In round two, she decided she was going to get into a fistfight with someone no one wanted to get into a fistfight with, and you could see the tide turning with every punch she landed. And once Nunes was on the mat, it was game over and a new champion was crowned. Was it the greatest upset in UFC history? It’s got to be in the top five, but only because of the pre-fight odds. I’ll personally stick with Serra-GSP I for the biggest upset of all-time. This one, I’ll just say I wasn’t shocked by the outcome, and neither was the new queen of the 135-pounders. 

WHAT’S NEXT? Amanda Nunes

2 – Charles Oliveira

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There Is Only One Derrick Lewis

Sitting down to speak with Derrick Lewis is an adventure, and even he doesn’t know where it’s going to end up.

For every question that gets a comedic or cutting answer, there is one where the perennial heavyweight contender drops his guard and genuinely lets you in, and there is no telling which type of response you’re going to get.

There is no pattern to it, no way to get through his defenses like all those early-stage characters on Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out — you can’t wait for “The Black Beast” to get two jokes off and expect something deep next the way you could time Bald Bull’s charge or target King Hippo’s belly; you just have to ask your question and see what happens.

Watch Saturday On ESPN+

“What does Bob mean to you?” the producer asked Lewis, seeking the heavyweight’s thoughts on his head coach and close friend, Kru Bob Perez, as they spoke ahead of Lewis’ return to action this weekend against emerging contender Chris Daukaus.

“What does Bob mean to me?” Lewis asked back. “Nothing — I hate that m*therf*cker! We’re moving on. Next question.”

A smirk snuck out the side of his mouth, his eyes alight with enjoyment. The producer doubled up, asking him the same question again, and this time, Lewis was unable to contain his laughter as he tried to dismiss the question for a second time.

“He’s a cool guy — little short dude,” he finally said. “He really helped me stay straight and be positive — makes sure I don’t steer off the path that he knows I need to be on, so he’s a good guy to be around.”

Even offering slightly comedic praise about his long-time coach is a challenge for Lewis, a deeply private man whose skills inside the UFC Octagon have made him a cult figure in the mixed martial arts world and one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Curtis Blaydes

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Curtis Blaydes

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He doesn’t like talking about his life in detail and tries to mostly steer clear of the major signposts that have become known parts of his backstory — the troubles that led his family from Westbank in New Orleans to Houston, Texas when he was a teen; the fracas that landed him on probation; or his time in prison.

He doesn’t like to talk about his fighting career much either, mostly because he feels he’s already said all that needs to be said on the subject, growing impatient and annoyed whenever he has to explain for the umpteenth time that his aim isn’t to be the best fighter in the world, but rather to make a living and take care of his family.

Before he became a mixed martial artist, Lewis worked for AAA driving a tow truck. It was an honest way to make a living and provide for his family, and while fighting in the UFC is a completely different type of pursuit, at the end of the day, he’s sees the two ventures as the same way: both are jobs; one just pays more.

RELATED: Chris Daukaus Sits Down With Megan Olivi

If accolades come along the way, that’s cool, but it’s never been what Lewis is searching for when he steps into the Octagon.

“Having the most knockouts in heavyweight history, I guess it’s cool because the sport has been around over 25 years,” began Lewis, who set the mark in February with his second-round stoppage win over Curtis Blaydes. “A guy like me having a record like that compared to all the great guys that came before me, and they couldn’t accomplish what I did, it’s pretty cool if you think about it, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

“I don’t get paid more just because I’ve got the most knockouts or whatever,” he added. “It’s still pretty cool though. Hopefully one day I’ll be a Hall of Famer of some type, but if not, I don’t care.”

Derrick Lewis punches Viktor Pesta in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 192 event at the Toyota Center on October 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Everything is a balancing act with Lewis — a mix of not wanting to sound too full of himself or like he takes himself too seriously, playing things close to the vest, and throwing out wild comments designed to keep people from probing for deeper insights — because at the end of the day, he’s not particularly comfortable with all the attention or the recognition, and it can be overwhelming for him at times.

It was this summer when he faced off with Ciryl Gane for the interim heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 265 at Houston’s Toyota Center.

While most looked at the home game as an added advantage for the beloved knockout artist, who has become one of the city’s favorite sons for his efforts within the community and genuine love for Houston and its people, Lewis admitted that it was too much for him to contend with.

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus

“I used to always dream about fighting in Houston for the world championship,” explained Lewis, pulling back the curtain on his experience leading into his fight with Gane, which ended in a third-round stoppage win for the unbeaten French standout. “I didn’t think I would be that much of a nervous wreck being here, fighting in Houston — I didn’t think it would take a toll, make a difference in the fight, but it really did. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again any time soon.

“The same day I got released from prison was the same day I could have been the world champion, so I put a lot of pressure on myself, fighting in my city. It was a lot of pressure, and it ended up being a nightmare, really.

“Fighting in your city, sometimes it can make or break you, and I believe that the build-up to the fight really broke me,” he added. “The nerves really got to me because I wanted to really perform very well for my city. I would have meant a lot.”

Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis

Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis

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It’s clear that the loss weighs on him, probably more so from a personal standpoint than a professional one; the disappointment of not coming through for Houston paramount to having a loss currently sitting atop his record, though that part doesn’t sit all that well with him either, which is why he’s hustling back into the Octagon this weekend.

While a four-month gap between appearances is fairly standard and the longest amount of time most fighters would ever really like to take between fights, it’s an expedient return for Lewis, who has alternated between competing in February and August each of the last two years.

“You really got to get back in there real quick,” he said when asked his thoughts on bouncing back from defeat. “You can’t sit around and dwell on it because it will eat you up. You really gotta get out there and get that taste out of your mouth — go out there, perform well, get some type of revenge.

Holly Holm To Be Inducted Into Boxing Hall Of Fame

Saturday’s clash with Daukaus is a pivotal one for the heavyweight division, as Lewis currently stands as a two-time title challenger and established contender, while the surging former police officer from Philadelphia enters with a 4-0 mark inside the Octagon and designs on closing out the year with the biggest win of his career.

Lewis, as always, isn’t particularly familiar or concerned with what Daukaus brings to the table, believing that when he’s locked in, there’s not a man in the division he couldn’t defeat.

“My coaches told me that he’s a striker, but it really don’t matter,” said Lewis when asked about his main event opponent. “I don’t care what these guys do — if they’re a wrestler, striker, or whatever; it don’t matter. It’s a fight. I’m going in there to fight.

“If I put my mind to it, I could get rid of any guy in there.”

Derrick Lewis poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Derrick Lewis poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Truer words have never been spoken, which is kind of funny, since there are plenty of times when Lewis is just making stuff up as he goes.

“That’s why I say crazy stuff all the time — I don’t like talking like this, telling everybody my business,” he said with a laugh after explaining that his ultimate goal as a fighter would be to create a hologram that could handle his media obligations for him. “I’m a very private guy.”

A private guy with an incredible story, a gigantic heart, dynamite in his hands, and a sense of humor that might be as lethal as his fists.

“Why do you trust Bob?” the producer asked, trying to pry some genuine thoughts about his coach from Lewis.

Derrick Lewis Immortalized In Houston Mural

Derrick Lewis Immortalized In Houston Mural

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“I really don’t trust nobody,” the heavyweight answered quickly, looking as serious as a heart attack; a trained joker showcasing his expertise. “If I have money on the counter or something like that, I would think I would like to trust Bob to be around my money, but I really don’t trust nobody but my wife. I don’t even trust my kids.”

“So why do you trust Bob?” the producer asked again.

“I trust Bob because he’s a little guy and I could throw him far,” he responded, working a little harder to conceal his delight. “I trust him as far as I could throw him, and I believe I could throw Bob pretty far.”

There is only one Derrick Lewis.

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Simon Marcus Believes He Has What It Takes

Dustin Jacoby fought Marcus twice, landing on the wrong side of the results both times. Since making a full-time move back to mixed martial arts, “The Hanyak” has earned a UFC contract and posted a 4-0-1 record inside the Octagon, establishing himself as an interesting figure in the light heavyweight division.

Last month, Marcus’ chief rival in the middleweight division, Brazilian Alex Pereira, made his UFC debut, earning a victory over Andreas Michailidis at UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“It does play into it in terms of understanding how well a person like myself could transition into the UFC or into MMA striking,” Marcus said of seeing the trio of familiar faces have success on the biggest stage in the sport. “Seeing Israel go into the UFC and dominate the way he’s dominated — being able to out-strike guys with ease — it’s a good measurement to understand the level of striking that we bring to the table.

“Seeing guys that I’ve fought and been in the same leagues with do well is a good way to measure what we can bring to the table in terms of the transition.”

Watch Unified 42 On UFC Fight Pass

And now that he’s readying to make his own foray into mixed martial arts, Marcus arrives with the same mindset he’s carried into every professional pursuit thus far.

“If I didn’t plan to become the world champion, I wouldn’t step foot in MMA,” he said calmly, his intentions and ambitions crystal clear in his mind. “It’s always been the same, no matter where and what sport I fought in.

“The goal was to become the best in the world in kickboxing; that is what I set out to do, and that is what I did. Now I’m making the transition to MMA, and there is no doubt, no question, no shadow of a doubt what my plans are, and that’s to become the best in the world.

“I’m not in this just to rush,” he added. “I’m in it for the long haul. Once I commit to something, I’m in it for as long as it takes, but you guys will see me with a title around my waist eventually.”

The first step towards that championship gold comes on Friday, when he steps into the cage at the River Cree Casino & Resort to face Tokarchuk in an event that airs exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS.

It’s a solid first foray into the cage for Marcus — fighting on a smaller stage, against an experienced opponent, who most recently went the distance with returning former Unified champ KB Bhullar in his first fight since exiting the UFC.

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It's 'Do Or Die' For Charles Jourdain

Arriving on the big stage with a ton of hype after amassing a 9-1 record on the regional circuit and claiming championship gold in two weight classes with Quebec’s TKO promotion, Jourdain stumbled in his debut at lightweight against Desmond Green but made a splash upon returning to his natural weight class, venturing to Busan, South Korea and collecting a second-round stoppage win over “The Korean Superboy” Dooho Choi.

Entering last year with a ton of momentum, he struggled through the first winless year of his professional career, dropping a split decision to Andre Fili in June before battling Joshua Culibao to a split draw result four months later. After getting back into the win column with a victory over Marcelo Rojo to begin his 2021 campaign, a late shift in opponents in September landed Jourdain in a catchweight matchup with veteran Julian Erosa, who used his long arms to lace up a third-round D’Arce choke.

“People say, ‘Next time it’s going to be good,’ but me, I’m hard on myself,” said Jourdain, who carries an 11-4-1 record into his fight with Ewell on Saturday night. “I’ve been questioning myself after the Julian loss and, of course, people say a lot of things trying to console me, but I need to go through that all by myself.

MORE UFC FIGHT NIGHT: Megan Olivi Sits Down With Chris Daukaus | Derrick Lewis’ Best Mic Moments

“I’m not unsatisfied by the performance; I’m unsatisfied by the result,” continued the thoughtful and engaging 26-year-old. “He caught me with those long arms — I didn’t expect that from the position we were standing in. He didn’t have my back, he didn’t have nothing, and he just jumped on my neck from so far away. I never expected that to get sunk in, so fair play to him.

“Every time I’ve lost in the UFC, the guy has had 30-plus fights,” added Jourdain. “Experience plays a huge factor and I think I got intimidated by that. It was the first time that arriving for fight week, I was asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ to a point where I didn’t want to be there.”

Part of what was weighing on Jourdain was the stress and strain stemming from the myriad changes and delays he’d dealt with throughout the year.

Charles Jourdain Wins By TKO | UFC Fight Night: Edwards vs Muhammad

Charles Jourdain Wins By TKO | UFC Fight Night: Edwards vs Muhammad

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He was originally scheduled to face Steve Garcia in March, but three weeks before the fight, the New Mexico native withdrew and was replaced by Rojo. After securing that victory, he was paired off with unbeaten British up-and-comer Lerone Murphy, first for a bout in August, and then for September.

Erosa tagged in for “The Miracle” just 10 days before the bout, and while shifting dates and shuffling of opponents is par for the course in this sport, especially in the current climate, they’re hazards that no fighter wants to encounter on the way to the Octagon.

“Mentally, I was very fatigued,” said Jourdain, who admitted he was riding high following his win over Rojo and eager to share the cage with Murphy, who eventually fought Makwan Amirkhani at UFC 267, registering a second-round knockout win. “We got back in camp and then they postponed for one month, and then it was one month again, so it was a very grueling camp; very intense on the mind and the body.

“When I arrived, the opponent switched — ‘Okay, you were fighting a striker, now you’re fighting this six-one guy that is very different’ — but I was happy I had a fight. I was like, ‘Let’s have fun. I’m in the UFC. Let’s do it.’ Then I didn’t get my hand raised and it was really hard on my mind.”

View Jourdain’s Athlete Profile Here

In the time since that loss, Jourdain has been working to find ways to better navigate the ups and downs that come with competing at the highest level in the sport, trying to keep work from impacting life at home, and finding ways to remind himself that his results inside the Octagon don’t have to control how he feels about himself either.

“Coming back off a loss, everyone around me doesn’t have to suffer,” said Jourdain, explaining the work he’s doing to not allow frustrations and disappointment from his professional life to spill over and impact his personal life. “They don’t have to because it’s not about them — it’s all about me — and if I want better results, I need to work harder.

“When you win, your attitude must stay the same or get better. Sometimes you win and you think you’re the king of the world, but you’re just a human being. If you lose, it doesn’t make you less of a man, and if you win, it doesn’t make you more of a man. At the end of the day, you are how you treat other people and how you conduct yourself, more than what you achieve.

Charles Jourdain reacts after his victory over Marcelo Rojo of Argentina in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I was asking myself, ‘If you had a million dollars right now, what would you do?’ Of course, I would sleep in a much more comfortable bed, but I would wake up, go to the gym, have fun with the guys,” he said with a laugh. “There are so many things that I’m grateful for, and my attitude doesn’t change.”

Heading into Saturday’s final event of the year, he’s grateful to be facing a fellow striker, at least in theory.

“In theory, because every time I think that, they go for my legs right away,” he said of the pairing with Ewell, who has teased a move to featherweight for some time and finally makes the jump after missing weight ahead of his loss to Julio Arce in July. “I’m very happy about that matchup — he’s a lanky fighter; not great cardio, but great explosiveness. He has great hands, and when he’s hurt he has a tendency to smile and make you think that you didn’t hurt him, so I need to be aware of that.

“It’s a very nice matchup; I’m very happy about it,” he added. “I just hope there is no injury one week before and I have to fight someone else.”

Free Fights: Derrick Lewis vs Curtis Blaydes | Chris Daukaus vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

Provided the matchup remains in place, Jourdain offered a single word forecast of what to expect on Saturday night — “violence” — because in addition to entering off a loss, he’s also rolling the dice by stepping into the Octagon on the last fight of his contract.

“I’m playing with my job right now because I decided to do my fourth fight on the contract,” he said. “He doesn’t engage too much; he backs away and likes to hit you and go back. I hate that style — I like people that like to trade — so I have to pressure him, but we’re in the small Octagon, so that benefits me in the striking department.

“It’s going to be about damage,” he continued. “Plus, after my fight, I’m going to watch Cub Swanson fight Darren Elkins, so I need to be in shape for that, because that’s going to be intense.”

He cackled at his comment, clearly in good spirits, eager to get back into the cage and secure his future.

“I’m going in there and playing with my job,” he added. “It’s do-or-die and I’m going to be in his face. After this, I will be a free agent, so you have to expect violence.

“Violence, with less chit-chat, less touching of the hands, less smiling, and less hugs.”

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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus

Headlined by heavyweight knockout artists Derrick Lewis and Chris Daukaus and accompanied by a host of compelling, competitive matchups with divisional ramifications, this weekend’s lineup is an entertaining way to wrap up what has been an outstanding year of action inside the Octagon.

Here’s a closer look at the pairings set to hit the cage on Saturday night.

 

Derrick Lewis vs. Chris Daukaus

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Curtis Blaydes

Free Fight: Derrick Lewis vs Curtis Blaydes

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Derrick Lewis looks to maintain his place in the Top 5 while Chris Daukaus aims to establish himself as a legitimate championship contender as the proven finishers pair off in the final bout of the UFC’s 2021 campaign.

Saturday marks Lewis’ return to action after failing in his bid to claim the interim heavyweight title at home in Houston at UFC 265. “The Black Beast” had earned four straight victories ahead of that setback and is 12-4 dating back to the start of 2016.

ATHLETE PROFILES: Derrick Lewis | Chris Daukaus

Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis

Best Mic Moments | Derrick Lewis

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Daukaus has the opportunity to go from outside the UFC to inside the Top 5 in less than 18 months with a win this weekend. The former Philadelphia police officer has logged four stoppage wins in as many appearances since joining the UFC in August 2020, earning Performance of the Night bonuses for each of his last three victories.

Next year promises to be a busy one in the heavyweight ranks, with the championship unification bout between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane slated to take place in late January, with this one serving as a little “teaser trailer” for what’s to come. The victor will be in the thick of the title hunt and the vanquished will still maintain a place in the Top 10, and figuring out who will occupy each role promises to be exhilarating.

Stephen Thompson vs. Belal Muhammad

Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson poses for a picture during UFC 264 media day (Photo by Braydon Jackson/Zuffa LLC)

Good dudes and Top 10 welterweights Stephen Thompson and Belal Muhammad clash in the co-main event of the evening.

After closing out 2020 with a main event victory over Geoff Neal, “Wonderboy” looks to end 2021 on a high note as well by getting back into the win column this weekend. The 38-year-old karate stylist was out-grappled by Gilbert Burns last time out, but remains a permanent presence in title conversations in the 170-pound weight class.

Watch The Fights On ESPN+

2021 has already been a breakout year for Muhammad, who climbed into the Top 10 on the strength of victories over Dhiego Lima and Demian Maia, and a high-profile pairing with Leon Edwards that ended with an accidental eye poke. Unbeaten in his last six outings, a win over Thompson would be the biggest of the Chicagoland native’s career and lift him to new heights in the welterweight division.

Amanda Lemos vs. Angela Hill

Amanda Lemos of Brazil reacts after her victory over Montserrat Conejo of Mexico in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Amanda Lemos of Brazil reacts after her victory over Montserrat Conejo of Mexico in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Streaking Brazilian Amanda Lemos looks for her third win of the year, while Angela Hill aims to halt her momentum by getting back in the win column in this matchup of Top 15 strawweights.

Lemos is now 4-0 since moving to the strawweight division, but has used 2021 to catapult herself into the rankings. After battering Livinha Souza in March at UFC 259, the 34-year-old delivered one of the prettier finishes of the year in July, hitting Montserrat Conejo with a step-back right hand that stopped her dead in her tracks.

HIGHLIGHT: Lemos Gets The 2nd Fastest KO In Strawweight History

Entering the year off a pair of frustrating split decision losses, Hill got back in the win column in March with a unanimous decision win over Ashley Yoder. Five months later, she finally landed the Tecia Torres rematch she’d been chasing for some time, only to once again drop a decision to her fellow TUF 20 alum, leaving her with a 1-3 record over her last four heading into this one.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Ricky Simon

Chris Daukaus Sits Down With Megan Olivi | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus

Chris Daukaus Sits Down With Megan Olivi | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus

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Veteran stalwart Raphael Assuncao and former Contender Series competitor Ricky Simon square off in a meeting of bantamweights.

Assuncao arrives back in Las Vegas mired in the first three-fight losing streak of his career, having suffered consecutive defeats in marquee assignments opposite Marlon Moraes, Cory Sandhagen, and Cody Garbrandt. The 39-year-old has been a permanent presence in the Top 15 for nearly a decade and remains the dangerous veteran test hopefuls need to pass in order to land a spot in the rankings and take a big step forward in the talent-rich 135-pound weight class.

Simon touches down at the APEX on a three-fight winning streak, building on his win over Ray Borg from last year with victories over Gaetano Pirrello and Brian Kelleher at the start of this year. The former LFA champ is 6-2 inside the Octagon, but stumbled the last time he faced a test like this, so it will be interesting to see what that initial experience taught him and how he applies those lessons here.

Bantamweight is absolutely brimming with talent at the moment and competition for the 15 spots in the rankings is rugged, with each of these men focused on having a number next to their name as we head into 2021.

Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Gamrot

Free Fight: Chris Daukaus vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

Free Fight: Chris Daukaus vs Shamil Abdurakhimov

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Diego Ferreira hopes to halt a two-fight skid and secure his footing in the Top 15, while Mateusz Gamrot aims to close out an already impressive 2021 campaign with a third straight victory as these two meet in a compelling lightweight battle on Saturday’s main card.

Fortis MMA’s Ferreira entered the year on a six-fight winning streak before landing on the sour side of a split decision verdict in a rematch with Beneil Dariush that won Fight of the Night honors in February. While that setback wasn’t so bad, his follow-up effort in May stood out for all the wrong reasons, as the veteran missed weight by a considerable margin before fading hard and being finished by Gregor Gillespie in the second round.

After dropping a split decision to Guram Kutateladze in his promotional debut last fall on Fight Island, Poland’s Gamrot got things moving in the right direction again with a beautiful second-round knockout win over Scott Holtzman in April. As an encore, the former two-weight KSW world champion welcomed Jeremy Stephens back to the lightweight ranks in July, submitting the veteran in just 65 seconds to earn his 19th victory in 21 career starts.

This is a tremendous matchup where each man has an opportunity to make a statement with a victory. Everything about Ferreira’s fight with Gillespie feels like an outlier compared to what he’s shown in the past, while Gamrot returned to the form that made him such a highly regarded new arrival when he first debuted with the UFC last year, setting the stage for this critical showdown in the stacked 155-pound weight class.

Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins

Cub Swanson punches Kron Gracie of Brazil in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Cub Swanson punches Kron Gracie in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Featherweight veterans with a combined 44 UFC appearances finally cross paths on Saturday night as Cub Swanson and Darren Elkins share the Octagon in what is guaranteed to be an entertaining scrap.

“Killer Cub” steps into the UFC cage for the 21st time this weekend looking to rebound following a first-round stoppage loss to Giga Chikadze earlier in the year. A long-time purveyor of beautiful violence, the 38-year-old earned a victory over Daniel Pineda last December and closed out 2016 with a victory over Dooho Choi in the eventual Fight of the Year, and will look to earn a similar result against Elkins this weekend.

RELATED: Cub Swanson Career Retrospective

There are no words to accurately describe the kind of toughness, heart, and drive Elkins possesses; they are intangible qualities that are at the core of what makes the veteran such an undeniable fan favorite. In each of his last two fights, Elkins did what Elkins does, rallying while bloodied to earn stoppage wins over Eduardo Garagorri and Darrick Minner.

It’s surprising these two haven’t crossed paths before, given their shared standing as two of the longer tenured fighters in the division. Both men are incapable of being in a boring fight and Saturday’s clash should be no different. Make sure your drinks and snacks are replenished before this one starts because you’re not going to want to miss a second of the action.

Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Gerald Meerschaert

It’s a meeting of middleweights whose intended opponents were unavailable as Contender Series graduate Dustin Stoltzfus takes on submission ace Gerald Meerschaert on Saturday night.

Entering on a two-fight skid, Stoltzfus had two different opponents fall out of this weekend’s booking, as both Anthony Hernandez and Caio Borralho were slated and then scratched from Saturday’s fight card. The 30-year-old middleweight, who lives and trains in Germany, is still searching for his first UFC victory after punching his ticket to the Octagon by pushing his winning streak to 10 with a win over Joseph Pyfer in the summer of 2020.

Meerschaert has enjoyed a nice bounce-back year after ending 2020 with a pair of quick losses, earning submission wins over Bartosz Fabinski and Makmud Muradov in April and August, respectively, collecting a Performance of the Night bonus each time. It’s been more than eight years since Meerschaert won a fight by decision and only two of his 33 career wins have come on the cards, so you best believe “GM3” will be hunting for a finish from the word “Go” on Saturday night.

Will Stoltzfus get his first UFC victory in his third appearance, against his third opponent or will Meerschaert make it three straight in 2021?

Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry

After having his nine-fight winning streak snapped last time out, Brazilian veteran Raoni Barcelos looks to get moving in the right direction again when he takes on veteran newcomer Victor Henry on Saturday night.

Barcelos was on the cusp of cracking the Top 15 at bantamweight heading into his June engagement with Timur Valiev, having earned five straight victories inside the Octagon to advance his record to 16-1 overall. Unfortunately for the 34-year-old from Rio, he landed on the wrong side of a majority decision verdict, sending him into Saturday’s pairing looking to start a fresh winning streak.

A catch wrestling disciple of Josh Barnett, the 34-year-old Henry has been one of the top bantamweights operating outside the major North American promotions for a number of years. He holds wins over veterans like Hideo Tokoro and Masanori Kanehara, UFC alums Anderson Dos Santos and Albert Morales, and current UFC competitor Kyler Philips, and touches down in the Octagon having won eight of his last nine fights.

This is a wildly intriguing pairing between the established Barcelos and an absolute live wire in Henry, and no one should be surprised if this ends up setting the bar for the Fight of the Night bonus extremely high on Saturday night at the UFC APEX.

Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker

Heavyweights looking to get things moving in the right direction to close out the year clash in this preliminary card fight as Justin Tafa makes his fifth UFC appearance opposite returning sophomore Harry Hunsucker.

The 27-year-old Tafa has stumbled out of the gate to start his UFC career, entering this weekend’s contest on a two-fight skid and sporting a 1-3 record inside the Octagon. While his split decision loss to Carlos Felipe in January was questionable, Australia’s “Bad Man” needs a big effort in a bad way this weekend.

After appearing on Season Four of Dana White’s Contender Series, Hunsucker got a short-notice opportunity under the UFC banner in March, filling in for Don’Tale Mayes opposite Tai Tuivasa. That outing didn’t go particularly well for “The Hurricane,” who looks to avoid a second consecutive defeat at the hands of an Australian heavyweight when he steps in with Tafa on Saturday.

Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto

Eubanks vegas 32

After impressive performances in the summer, Sijara Eubanks and Melissa Gatto meet this weekend looking to build off those efforts and establish themselves as competitors to watch in the flyweight division in 2022.

Eubanks returned to the 125-pound weight class in July following a 2-4 stint at bantamweight, looking dominant while securing a first-round stoppage win over newcomer Elise Reed. Struggles making the flyweight limit is what got “SarJ” shipped to bantamweight in the first place, but if she can hit the mark reliably, the former TUF standout could be an intriguing contender next year having already beaten divisional stalwarts Roxanne Modafferi and Lauren Murphy.

More than two years after her initial UFC appearance was booked, Gatto finally crossed the threshold into the Octagon for the first time in August, securing a second-round stoppage win over Victoria Leonardo in a bout she dominated from start to finish. Just 25 years old and sporting a 7-0-2 record, a similar effort this weekend against Eubanks could put the promising Brazilian in position to challenge for a place in the Top 15 in the first half of next year.

There have been different question marks hovering around each woman for a number of years, but both looked outstanding in their victories earlier this year, making this a fight with potential divisional ramifications on Saturday’s fight card.

Charles Jourdain vs. Andre Ewell

Entertaining French-Canadian Charles Jourdain welcomes Andre Ewell to the featherweight division for the first time in this preliminary card clash that promises to be exciting.

A two-division champion under the TKO banner before graduating to the UFC, Jourdain has struggled to find consistency inside the Octagon through his first six appearances, arriving in Las Vegas this week with a 2-3-1 record. A technical and dangerous striker, the 26-year-old from Beloeil, Quebec earned a third-round stoppage win over Marcelo Rojo in March before succumbing to a third-round D’arce choke against Julian Erosa in September.

RELATED: It’s ‘Do Or Die’ For Charles Jourdain

The 33-year-old Ewell moves up to the 145-pound ranks after amassing a 4-4 mark in eight starts at bantamweight. An entertaining competitor who likes to sling hands, “Mr. Highlight” dropped a decision to Chris Gutierrez in February and was stopped in the second round by Julio Arce in July, prompting his relocation to featherweight.

Both men prefer to strike and would really like to end the year on a high note, so there is a very strong likelihood that Jourdain and Ewell touch gloves and then don’t stop trading punches until one of them falls over or the final horn sounds this weekend.

Raquel Pennington vs. Macy Chiasson

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 20: Macy Chiasson reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Marion Reneau during the UFC Fight Night

Macy Chiasson reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Marion Reneau, March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Former title challenger Raquel Pennington goes in search of her second win of the year on Saturday night, squaring off with Macy Chiasson in a featherweight battle between ranked bantamweights.

Pennington returned from more than a year on the sidelines with a unanimous decision win over Pannie Kianzad in September, showing a more active, attacking style than she had in the past to secure her second straight victory. Currently positioned at No. 8 in the rankings, “Rocky” was originally slated to face Julia Avila this weekend before the “Raging Panda” was forced out with an undisclosed injury.

Chiasson dealt with her own set of fight cancellations earlier this year after pushing her winning streak to two with a win over Marion Reneau in March. Initially slated to face Aspen Ladd in July, the bout was rescheduled for October when the former TUF winner suffered an injury, then scrapped entirely when Ladd missed weight and was scratched due to health reasons.

Don’Tale Mayes vs. Josh Parisian

Graduates of Dana White’s Contender Series each coming off wins over Roque Martinez meet on Saturday as Don’Tale Mayes and Josh Parisian square off in heavyweight action.

Mayes needed three attempts to finally land a UFC contract, finally capturing the elusive offer from UFC President Dana White following a first-round finish of Ricardo Prasel in July 2019. After debuting with a loss to interim champ Ciryl Gane and a sophomore submission defeat against Rodrigo Nascimento, “Kong” finally captured his first win with a unanimous decision victory over Martinez in November.

Parisian also earned a pair of wins on the annual talent-search competition, with his first triumph landing him a place on TUF 28 and the second punching his ticket directly to the Octagon. He lost his debut last November against Parker Porter but rebounded with a split decision victory over Martinez in June, pushing his record to 7-1 over his last eight appearances.

Neither of these men want to head into the holidays with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths, so expect them to come out swinging from the start, looking to end things early and earn a second straight UFC triumph.

Jordan Leavitt vs. Matt Sayles

The night’s action begins in the lightweight division, as Contender Series graduates Jordan Leavitt and Matt Sayles meet in the opener.

Leavitt followed up his contract-winning effort in August 2020 with a 22-second knockout win over veteran Matt Wiman in his promotional debut four months later, sending him into this year as one to watch in the lightweight division. Unfortunately for “The Monkey King,” he came out flat and suffered his first professional loss to Claudio Puelles in June, returning to the APEX looking to rebound this weekend.

Sayles’ last appearance came two years ago, when he suffered a first-round submission loss to Bryce Mitchell. He suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2020 and has been working his way back since.

Each of these two have shown flashes, both on the Contender Series and inside the Octagon, and with each coming off frustrating efforts in their most recent outings, don’t be surprised if we see the best from both of them on Saturday night.

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