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Guide to UFC 272: Covington vs. Masvidal

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC 272: Covington vs. Masvidal.

UFC 272
Date: March 5, 2022
Location: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+ PPV

Welterweights: #1 Colby Covington vs. #6 Jorge Masvidal

Overall Records: Covington 16-3, Masvidal 35-15
UFC Records: Covington 11-3, Masvidal 12-8
Last Fight: Usman def. Covington (title fight)–UDec–UFC 268 (11/6/21), Usman def. Masvidal (title fight)–R2 KO–UFC 261 (4/24/21)
Last Five Fights: Covington 3-2, Masvidal 3-2
Betting Odds: Covington -335, Masvidal +260
Background: The main event sees the former teammates and close friends who have become heated rivals who hate each other finally square off inside the Octagon as Covington and Masvidal look to settle their differences, or some of them, at least for now. The story between these two goes back several years as the two lived together at one point and trained together at American Top Team, and would often be in the corners of one another during fights. However, egos, success and Covington stiffing coaches on pay, some of whom Masvidal set him up with, led to Covington being thrown out of American Top Team, hated by virtually all of the gym, and the heated rivalry with Masvidal. There have been confrontations at UFC events, and both men have been calling each other out for years. Title fights have gotten in the way, as both men have twice fought Kamaru Usman for the UFC Welterweight Championship within the past two-and-a-half-years, with both coming on the short end of those title fights. With neither having a clear direction, the time is now to settle the grudge, leading to one of the most anticipated fights of 2022. It’s also a pivotal fight for both if they ever have aspirations of becoming the UFC Welterweight Champion. Covington is coming off a close decision loss to Usman at UFC 268 in November, while Masvidal is coming off back-to-back losses to Usman, with the last one coming at UFC 261 in April. He hasn’t fought since then, as a scheduled fight against Leon Edwards in December was cancelled after Masvidal suffered an injury.

How they match up: It would not surprise me if Masvidal starts out trying to do something crazy, like a running knee to start the fight ala the Ben Askren fight, to put Covington away early. It kind of should be expected because after that, it could be Covington’s fight to lose. Covington is not the knockout artist that Masvidal is, but he’s a durable fighter that will keep pressuring and landing with a high amount of volume, and he never seems to get tired, even over 25 minutes. Masvidal has become a more patient fighter as the years have gone on, and he doesn’t mind fighting at the pace of his opponent. His counters have become deadly as he caught Darren Till with a vicious knockout punch as Till was coming after him. Covington has had trouble lately being the aggressive fighter, so he may use a more patient approach here, which could cost him as it will give Masvidal time to figure out his timing and his tells. Masivdal is a veteran of the fight game- you’re not likely to do anything he hasn’t seen before. Masvidal can be taken down and Covington is a fantastic offensive wrestler, but Masvidal is also good at working his way up from the back. Masvidal has the better finishing ability of the two, but I see this becoming a grueling war on the feet and some on the ground, and Covington’s pace being the key factor in this fight, leading him to a decision win. Though, as I said at first, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Masvidal finished him early.

What’s at stake: Title contention in the welterweight division is on the line. The winner keeps themselves in the mix for a possible third fight with Usman in future, or right there if a new champion emerges. The loser is likely out of title contention for good barring a resurgence. However, title contention is likely the least on the mind for both guys in this one. They both want to be the one that can say they beat the other. Bragging rights are on the line. The King Of Miami crown is on the line. This is a big one.

Pick: Covington

160-pound Catchweights: #6 (LW) Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Renato Moicano

Overall Records: Dos Anjos 30-13, Moicano 16-4-1
UFC Records: Dos Anjos 19-11, Moicano 8-4
Last Fight: Dos Anjos def. Felder–SpDec–UFC On ESPN+ 40 (11/14/20), Moicano def. Hernandez–R2 SUB–UFC 271 (2/12/22)
Last Five Fights: Dos Anjos 2-3, Moicano 3-2
Betting Odds: Dos Anjos -180, Moicano +155
Background: This fight wasn’t on the fight card when the week started, but a late change to the co-main event sees Moicano stepping in on about five days’ notice to take on Dos Anjos here. Moicano replaces Rafael Fiziev, who was forced out after testing positive for COVID-19. That fight was supposed to be a five-round co-main event bout, and this fight will keep that status, but will be contested at a 160 lb. catchweight. Dos Anjos is eager to get back inside the Octagon as this will be his first fight since November 2020, when he scored a split decision win over Paul Felder. The circumstances in that fight were eerily similar to this one, as Felder also stepped in on the week of the fight. This is Dos Anjos’ second fight since his lightweight return as he looks to make a run at becoming a UFC Lightweight Champion once again. Moicano fights again just three weeks after his most recent outing, which was a second-round submission win over Alexander Hernandez. It marked his second straight win, both of which have been by submission. He talked about wanting big checks and big fights and big steaks after his last win, and this fight should come with a nice pay day, especially considering he was in Brazil at the time of the call and traveled 19.5 hours to make it to Las Vegas on Wednesday to save this fight.

How they match up: Dos Anjos is likely going to have to shake off some ring rust early on, but he has a good opponent to do that against here. Moicano is traditionally a slow starter who is willing to give up the first round. He does get dangerous in the second and latter rounds. However, conditioning will come into play as Moicano just fought and has had zero preparation for this as the main focus is making weight. Dos Anjos has struggled of late against opponents who pressure him, and I don’t see that being a thing that Moicano is going to do here. Dos Anjos is very solid on his feet, perhaps even underrated with his striking, but he gets things really going once he gets the fight to the mat and smothers from the top. Both men are fantastic grapplers, and Moicano has nine submission wins, but the battle on the mat could be cancelled out considering the skills of both. Moicano is going to need to pick apart Dos Anjos at range on the feet and not allow Dos Anjos to start working in his boxing. I do see Dos Anjos taking Moicano down and zapping whatever energy he had left. This should be a safe pick in seeing Dos Anjos getting either a late finish or the decision victory.

What’s at stake: Dos Anjos’ goal of moving back to the lightweight division was becoming a UFC champion for a second time. A win would put him possibly just a win away from a title shot. His next move would also be interesting, as win or loss, his name will always been in the conversation for potential opponents for Conor McGregor. A win for Moicano would instantly put him into the top 15 of the lightweight rankings and likely into another main event opportunity. It would also put him right at the top of the title mix at lightweight. Even with the short-notice circumstances, this is a pretty big fight for both.

Pick: Dos Anjos

Featherweights: #10 Edson Barboza vs. #11 Bryce Mitchell

Overall Records: Barboza 22-10, Mitchell 14-0
UFC Records: Barboza 16-10, Mitchell 5-0
Last Fight: Chikadze def. Barboza–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN 30 (8/28/21), Mitchell def. Fili–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 39 (10/31/20)
Last Five Fights: Barboza 2-3, Mitchell 5-0
Betting Odds: Barboza +150, Mitchell -170
Background: A featherweight bout that will have an impact in the top ten of the rankings takes place here as Barboza looks to become the man to hand undefeated Bryce Mitchell his first career loss. Barboza had an up-and-down 2021, which started with signing a new six-fight UFC contract, then hit a high with a third-round finish of Shane Burgos at UFC 262 in May, but then ended on the wrong foot with a third-round knockout loss to Giga Chikadze in August. He’s on two of his last three and is hanging on to the tenth-ranked position in the lightweight rankings as he looks for the 15th stoppage win in his career. Mitchell returns to action for the first time since October 2020 as he looks to remain undefeated and move to 15-0. He’s gone 5-0 since his UFC debut, which followed a stint on The Ultimate Fighter, where he was submitted by Brad Katona on the show. Lucky for him, that doesn’t count as an official loss, so he can still attempt to become an undefeated UFC Featherweight Champion. Mitchell has scored nine of his 14 career wins by submission.

How they match up: Mitchell fashions himself as a fighter, though he has dominated with the takedowns and grappling during his wins, with claims that his striking is just as good. That is going to be put to the test here as Barboza is, by far, the most talented striker Mitchell has fought to date. In fact, Barboza is still one of the most talented strikers in the sport still. Barboza has vicious leg kicks and can finish with both his hands and feet. He struggles against opponents who apply a certain amount of pressure on him, but Mitchell isn’t an overly pressure kind of fighter. He’s going to need to pressure here, though, and go for the takedowns right away. Barboza has strong takedown defense, defending 78% of takedowns attempted on him, but if Mitchell is able to get him down, he has a tough top game that is hard to get out from. This is going to come down to where the fight stays. If it stays on the feet, I can see Barboza chopping down the legs of Mitchell, doing lots of damage and getting the finish. If it goes to the mat, I can see Mitchell just smothering from the top and finding a submission at some point. I’m going to go with Mitchell being able to get Barboza down, but I’m not overly confident. This will be a close fight.

What’s at stake: As noted, Mitchell’s undefeated record is on the line, which would be the biggest thing at stake in this one. The top-ten status of Barboza is also on the line here, as a loss would move him outside of that spot, and it could possibly put Mitchell into the position. Barboza would love to be the one to hand Mitchell his first loss, and it would help keep Barboza in that title contention picture. A win would move Mitchell right into that mix alongside the likes of Arnold Allen, Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett, and could also put him into his first main event. Of course, a win also means he remains undefeated.

Pick: Mitchell

Welterweights: #14 (MW) Kevin Holland vs. Alex Oliveira

Overall Records: Holland 21-7 1 NC, Oliveira 22-10-1 2 NC
UFC Records: Holland 8-4 1 NC, Oliveira 11-9 1 NC
Last Fight: Holland NC Daukaus–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21), Price def. Oliveira–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21)
Last Five Fights: Holland 2-2 1 NC, Oliveira 2-3
Betting Odds: Holland -350, Oliveira +270
Background: A moment that a lot of people have been anticipating for some time finally happens here as Holland moves down to the welterweight division as he looks to get back on track against the slumping Oliveira. Holland had been fighting at middleweight, but always been under-sized, and that has started to show as he comes in winless in his last three fights. Holland had a lot of success, winning eight of nine fights at one point, but he’s been in danger of falling out of the middleweight rankings after falling out of the title picture. A new division brings a fresh start. It’s a tough fresh start at 170 lbs. for Holland as he battles the tough veteran Oliveira in his 22nd UFC bout. Oliveira comes into this fight looking to end a three-fight losing skid. He last fought in October, dropping a decision to Niko Price. After some success, Oliveira has hit tough times, losing six of his last eight fights. He has 17 wins by finish.

How they match up: The physical tools that Holland had at middleweight should translate very well to the welterweight division. He has a four-inch height advantage and a five-inch reach advantage over Oliveira. This should be a great first test at 170 for Holland, who is a sharp striker who delivers crisp combinations with solid power. Holland has been working on his wrestling, and it has improved, but Oliveira isn’t some superior kind of wrestler to where Holland will need to worry about his defensive wrestling. Oliveira does have power in his hands, but he tends to fight at a distance and lunge in, and Holland’s reach and counters will be deadly if he does that. Holland’s reach advantage is going to be a huge factor in this one, and I see him landing lots of strikes on Oliveira and finishing it inside the first two rounds.

What’s at stake: Oliveira’s UFC future could be on the line as a fourth straight loss in a tough welterweight division isn’t the best of things. A win, however, would breathe new life into his UFC future and would be a big upset. Holland isn’t going anywhere, having signed a new UFC deal recently, but he needs a win if he’s going to have a future that involves a run at UFC gold. He was already becoming a gatekeeper at middleweight, and a loss in his welterweight debut could establish him in the same role here. Realistically, it’s a must win fight for both.

Pick: Holland

Heavyweights: Serghei Spivac vs. Greg Hardy

Overall Records: Spivac 13-3, Hardy 7-4 1 NC
UFC Records: Spivac 4-3, Hardy 4-4 1 NC
Last Fight: Aspinall def. Spivac–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Tuivasa def. Hardy–R1 KO–UFC 264 (7/10/21)
Last Five Fights: Spivac 3-2, Hardy 2-3
Betting Odds: Spivac -200, Hardy +170
Background: A fight that was supposed to happen in January, but was pushed back due to a late injury, sees Spivac and Hardy square off in the main card opener, even if some, like me, don’t feel like it’s warranted positioning on the main card. Hardy injured his finger late in fight camp and their bout at UFC 270 was postponed to this card. Spivac was taking that fight on just about a week’s notice, so the postponement actually works out in his favor as it gave him more time to prepare for this fight. Spivac is trying to bounce back from being taken out in the first round by Tom Aspinall in September. That ended Spivac’s three-fight win streak that had saw him move near, or even inside, the heavyweight rankings. The 27-year-old has eleven wins by finish. Hardy is looking to end a two-fight losing skid as he competes in what is supposedly the final fight on his current UFC contract. He’s coming off being knocked out by Tai Tuivasa in just 67 seconds at UFC 264 in July. Hardy has just two wins over his last six fights and hasn’t shown much improvement, and he claimed to be 295 pounds on Wednesday, which means he has a lot of weight to cut. He almost became the first fighter to miss weight as a heavyweight at one point, though he eventually made it.

How they match up: Spivac is one of the best wrestlers and grapplers in the heavyweight division, which bodes not-so-well for Hardy. Hardy has struggled against grapplers, looking completely lost on the mat when he’s been taken down. Hardy does have a lot of power in his hands, and Spivac was finished in his last fight, so Spivac is going to have to be careful when he shoots for the double-leg. Hardy should have a pretty big size advantage, but Spivac is no small heavyweight, either. Hardy’s conditioning is also quite terrible, so he’s going to need to finish this one quick for his best chance to win. Patience and pressure will be the name of the game for Spivac, and I do think he’ll be able to get Hardy to the mat, where it will be the beginning of the end of Hardy’s final UFC bout.

What’s at stake: If this is truly Hardy’s last fight on his contract, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any more of him after this fight. That’s almost a guarantee if he loses, and, even if he wins, that’s no guarantee. He’s going to demand big money to fight, and he just doesn’t deserve it when there are far more deserving fighters who should be making what he is. He’s been a failed experiment spurned on from a bad idea, and it really is time to just cut bait with him, especially if he loses. For Spivac, he’ll be fine win or loss as he has a much more bright future, but a win would do him some good to avoid a losing streak. This is a big fight for Spivac.

Pick: Spivac

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Lightweights: Jalin Turner vs. Jamie Mullarkey

Overall Records: Turner 11-5, Mullarkey 14-4
UFC Records: Turner 4-2, Mullarkey 2-2
Last Fight: Turner def. Medic–R1 SUB–UFC 266 (9/25/21), Mullarkey def. Smith–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21)
Last Five Fights: Turner 4-1, Mullarkey 3-2
Betting Odds: Turner -150, Mullarkey +130
Background: The featured preliminary bout is a lightweight battle between an intriguing prospect against an Australian on a win streak as Turner takes on Mullarkey. Turner comes into this fight on a three-fight win streak that has seen him build confidence with each fight. All three wins have come via a finish, with a first-round submission win over Uros Medic coming in his most recent appearance in September. He’s won four of his last five since moving back down to lightweight following a short-notice debut at welterweight, which he lost to Vicente Luque. All eleven of his career wins have come by finish, with eight by knockout and three submissions. Mullarkey enters this fight off of two consecutive knockout wins, both of which have come over impressive prospects. He finished Khama Worthy in 46 seconds last March, and then followed it up with a second-round finish of Devonte Smith in October. Those wins have him firmly established on the roster following two losses to start his UFC career. 13 of his 14 career wins have come by stoppage, with ten wins by knockout.

How they match up: Turner is going to have three inches in height and reach over Mullarkey, and he tends to use his length well as he’s a high-volume striker with a good submission game. Mullarkey has shown that he has some really strong power in his hands and is also a quite durable fighter. He’s been in some battles, including his debut against Brad Riddell, and is tough to finish. Mullarkey doesn’t have the best defense on the feet, partially because he trusts his chin, but Turner won’t let his power fail him, and Turner could also turn this into a grappling battle and use his superior submission game. There could be a finish on either side, and it could go the distance. I see Turner pulling out the win after getting Mullarkey down and submitting him.

What’s at stake: A win for Turner would make it four straight for the 26-year-old and would put him into a position where he could be fighting for a spot in the rankings in his next appearance. Turner has the talent to take him to title contention, and if he can continue to put together impressive wins, he’s got a super bright future. Mullarkey is looking to continue to play the spoiler and stop the momentum of yet another bright prospect. Another finish would also move him closer to fighting a ranked opponent within the next fight or two. This should be a pretty exciting fight while it lasts.

Pick: Turner

Women’s Strawweights: #3 Marina Rodriguez vs. #4 Yan Xiaonan

Overall Records: Rodriguez 16-1-2, Xiaonan 13-2 1 NC
UFC Records: Rodriguez 5-1-2, Xiaonan 6-1
Last Fight: Rodriguez def. Dern–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Esparza def. Xiaonan–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 46 (5/22/21)
Last Five Fights: Rodriguez 3-1-1, Xiaonan 4-1
Betting Odds: Rodriguez -260, Xiaonan +210
Background: This might arguably be the most important fight on the card, or, at the very least, the second most important fight on the card as Rodriguez and Xiaonan battle in a strawweight fight. This one really should be on the main card as it is a potential title eliminator bout. Rodriguez comes into this one off of two straight main event appearances, and she is riding a three-fight win streak, scoring wins over Amanda Ribas, Michelle Waterson and Mackenzie Dern. The lone loss of her 18-fight career came to Carla Esparza just under two years ago, and a win here could set her on a path for an eventual rematch with Esparza. Like Rodriguez, Xiaonan has one UFC loss, coming to Esparza, which came in her last appearance inside the Octagon in May. That ended the six-fight win streak Xiaonan was on to start her UFC career, which included wins over Angela Hill and former title challengers Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Claudia Gadelha. She is still in search of her first finish inside the Octagon, and one in this fight would be quite the statement.

How they match up: Both women are high-volume strikers that land a lot during their fights. Rodriguez is the more accurate striker of the two and has the better power of the two, as well as better variety when at range. Xiaonan has the speed edge and better defense, though Rodriguez is likely going to be able to match her strike-for-strike. Esparza had a great blueprint for beating Xiaonan, and Rodriguez could follow it. Rodriguez is not the wrestler that Esparza is, but Xiaonan is the worst wrestler she’s probably fought since signing her UFC contract. However, this fight will likely stay on the feet for most of it and is going to come down to who has the better output on the feet. Xiaonan may throw more and might land slightly more, but it’ll be Rodriguez who lands the cleaner shots and becomes the more aggressive fighter over the course of the fight. It’ll probably be a very good fight, but I see Rodriguez scoring the win on the scorecards.

What’s at stake: It is likely that the winner is going to be next in line to challenge for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship. That is currently held by Rose Namajunas, who is expected to defend against Carla Esparza in the coming months. Rodriguez is pretty much guaranteed to get a shot with a win, especially if Namajunas retains the title. Xiaonan may need another win, but she may not, especially if she scores a stoppage in this one. This actually has the highest stakes of any fight on the card when it comes to immediate title picture implications, so this is a big fight.

Pick: Rodriguez

Light Heavyweights: Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu

Overall Records: Negumereanu 11-1, Nzechukwu 9-2
UFC Records: Negumereanu 2-1, Nzechukwu 3-2
Last Fight: Negumereanu def. Villanueva–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 54 (10/23/21), Jung def. Nzechukwu–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN+55 (11/13/21)
Last Five Fights: Negumereanu 4-1, Nzechukwu 3-2
Betting Odds: Negumereanu +115, Nzechukwu -135
Background: A light heavyweight bout that could have fireworks takes place here as Negumereanu takes on Nzechukwu, who comes into this one on short notice. Nzechukwu replaces Ihor Poteria, who was forced out due to undisclosed reasons, with Nzechukwu taking the fight on less than a month’s notice. Negumereanu will be looking to notch his third straight win after scoring back-to-back wins over Aleksa Camur and Ike Villanueva in 2021. Negumereanu started his career with a 9-0 record before his UFC debut, but suffered the lone defeat of his career in his debut to Saparbeg Safarov in March 2019 before his two recent wins. Ten of his eleven wins have come via a finish. Nzechukwu is looking to get back into the win column here. He was last in action in November when he was finished in the first round by Da Un Jung. That ended his three-fight win streak which saw him win a decision over Darko Stosic and knockouts of Carlos Ulberg and Danilo Marques. Six of his nine career wins have come by knockout.

How they match up: Nzechukwu is going to have a massive size advantage over Negumereanu, as he will have five-inch advantages in both height and reach. He’s also build pretty well, so Negumereanu isn’t going to be able to bully him around easily. Nzechukwu tends to start slow while Negumereanu is more of an aggressive kind of fighter that doesn’t land all that many strikes. Nzechukwu has the power edge and lands more, and Negumereanu tends to get hit quite often. Negumereanu is durable, but his conditioning is a question mark. Nzechukwu has often had opponents start strong and fade quickly, and he’s taken advantage in those bouts. This could be another similar story. Despite both men being young in their careers, there is a gap in skill between the two and Nzechukwu is just technically better and has more potential, so he should be able to pull off the win here.

What’s at stake: This is a pivotal bout for both men for different reasons. This is Negumereanu’s fourth fight under his first UFC deal, so this could very well be the final fight on his contract. A win would likely see him being re-signed, while a loss puts his future very much in question, especially if Nzechukwu finishes him. Nzechukwu doesn’t want a second straight loss, though his future seems secure even with it, especially since he is the one taking this on short notice. Both men want to work their way up the light heavyweight ladder, so this will be a big win for whomever comes out on top.

Pick: Nzechukwu

Women’s Flyweights: Maryna Moroz vs. Mariya Agapova

Overall Records: Moroz 10-3, Agapova 10-2
UFC Records: Moroz 5-3, Agapova 2-1
Last Fight: Moroz def. Silva–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 28 (3/14/20), Agapova def. Mazo–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21)
Last Five Fights: Moroz 3-2, Agapova 4-1
Betting Odds: Moroz +160, Agapova -190
Background: If you think the two in the main event hate each other, these two may genuinely hate each other more than Covington or Masvidal do as flyweights Moroz and Agapova step inside the Octagon to settle their differences. These two are former teammates at American Top Team, but while Agapova was out due to knee surgery in 2020, she switched camps. Moroz was the one who came out publicly saying Agapova was kicked out of the gym due to drug use, threatening to stab teammates, and stalking the wife of a fighter. All of those stories coming out didn’t sit well with Agapova, and the bad blood has been there, which led to the two being naturally matched up. Moroz hasn’t fought in nearly two years as her last appearance inside the Octagon came at the first empty arena show in Brazil before the two-month COVID-19 shutdown. She’s won two-in-a-row, both of which have come since her return to the flyweight division. Agapova is looking to score her second straight win after scoring an impressive third-round submission of Sabina Mazo in October.

How they match up: Agapova fights like a not-as-good version of Joanna Jedrzejczyk as she has aggressive striking and is always coming forward and mixes her punches and kicks well. She looked fantastic in her win over Mazo, every bit of a fighter who could become a title contender. Moroz has been battling injuries and visa issues over the last two, and the war going on in her home country of Ukraine could be another distraction heading into this one. She will have some ring rust to shake off. It’s very possible Agapova could be fighting with a lot of emotion and it could make her reckless, and Moroz is a veteran of the Octagon and is often composed enough to take advantage of mistakes. Moroz isn’t very accurate with her strikes and Agapova can catch her with her shots as long as she stays composed. Agapova is quite the talent, and this fight does favor her to score a finish.

What’s at stake: The bad blood likely won’t be settled between the two regardless of the outcome as those are serious allegations that Moroz made against Agapova. A win from Agapova would give her some form of closure and would show that she has the potential to compete with the ranked fighters in the flyweight division. A win for Moroz would be her third straight and could get her inside the top 15 of the rankings and would set her up with a ranked opponent next. The hatchet might not get buried, but I doubt either one even truly cares.

Pick: Agapova

Early Preliminary Card
Start Time: 6:00 p.m. ET, 3:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Featherweights: Brian Kelleher vs. Umar Nurmagomedov

Overall Records: Kelleher 24-12, Nurmagomedov 13-0
UFC Records: Kelleher 8-5, Nurmagomedov 1-0
Last Fight: Kelleher def. Croom–UDec–UFC On ESPN 32 (1/15/22), Nurmagomedov def. Morozov–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN 20 (1/20/21)
Last Five Fights: Kelleher 3-2, Nurmagomedov 5-0
Betting Odds: Kelleher +500, Nurmagomedov -720
Background: A bout taking place at featherweight between two guys who usually fight at bantamweight caps off the early prelims as the veteran Kelleher looks to hand “Cousin Umar” his first professional loss. Kelleher has been one of the more busy UFC fighters during the pandemic, switching between the two divisions and fighting for the seventh time in less than two years. He’s won two straight, with his most recent win being a decision over Kevin Croom in January. Since the start of 2020, Kelleher is sporting a 5-2 record, and 18 of his 24 career wins have been by stoppage. In that same time frame, Nurmagomedov has only fought once, which was his UFC debut over a year ago. He scored a second-round submission of Sergey Morozov in Abu Dhabi in January 2021, which kept his professional record a perfect 13-0. He has scored seven of those wins by finish, with six coming by submission. He is the cousin of Khabib, who will be in his corner on Saturday like usual.

How they match up: Kelleher is a veteran of the sport who has fought a lot of talented fighters and has just about seen it all inside the cage, and he’s always dangerous whenever he steps inside the Octagon. Nurmagomedov is extremely talented and, of course, has the strong wrestling base and a dynamic striking base. Kelleher isn’t going to make it easy for Nurmagomedov and he might actually be better on the feet. Nurmagomedov doesn’t get hit a lot and Kelleher does tend to get hit more than he lands. Kelleher does have the power and Nurmagomedov hasn’t been tested to the limits that Kelleher is going to test him. Nurmagomedov has to trust that he’s going to be able to consistently get Kellher to the mat. Kelleher has solid takedown defense, but he can be taken down, but he is dangerous on the mat as well. Kelleher has ten submission wins and can find them from any spot on the mat. The bad thing for Kelleher is that he tends to have slow starts, and Nurmagomedov is going to take advantage of that early and Kelleher will be unable to get it into second gear, leading to an early finish for Cousin Umar.

What’s at stake: Kelleher isn’t going anywhere with a loss. He’s a valuable guy to have on the roster even if he may never make it to title contention. He’s got a great personality, is easily likeable, and will fight anyone at any time on any kind of notice. He’s a guy you want around as he’s the perfect utility type of player. Nurmagomedov has the potential to be a champion at either featherweight or bantamweight, and this should be his big coming out party. His future is bright, so this is the fight to keep your eye on for him as he’ll be in big-time fights very quickly.

Pick: Nurmagomedov

Flyweights: #13 Tim Elliott vs. #15 Tagir Ulanbekov

Overall Records: Elliott 17-12-1, Ulanbekov 13-1
UFC Records: Elliott 6-10, Ulanbekov 2-0
Last Fight: Nicolau def. Elliott–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Ulanbekov def. Nascimento–SpDec–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Elliott 2-3, Ulanbekov 5-0
Betting Odds: Elliott +195, Ulanbekov -240
Background: A battle between a flyweight veteran and a flyweight prospect, both of whom are inside the top 15 of the divisional rankings, takes place here as former title challenger Elliott takes on rising contender Ulanbekov. Elliott is looking to rebound from a decision loss to Matheus Nicolau in October, which ended a two-fight win streak he was on. Prior to the win streak, Elliott had lost three straight, so his record over his last six is just 2-4, which has dropped him to 13th in the flyweight rankings. Ulanbekov, currently ranked 15th at 125 lbs., comes into this fight on a five-fight win streak, with the last two coming in his first two UFC bouts. Ulanbekov has just one loss in his career and is looked at as a future title challenger. He has scored seven wins by submission during his career.

How they match up: Elliott has a funky style that utilizes a lot of movement on the feet during fights, and it’s going to need to be at it’s best in this one. Ulanbekov will have a four-inch reach advantage but he’s not that much of a striker, preferring to get fights to the mat where he can hunt the submission. Elliott does have solid takedown defense, but the wrestling ability of Ulanbekov may be too much for him to overcome. Elliott is likely going to be fighting off his back often in this one, but he has some slick submissions and the ability to reverse and sweep on the mat. The best way to say this is that Elliott is very difficult to control and Ulanbekov will likely incur some trouble. Ulanbekov is the level of a grappler that can stay ahead of Elliott throughout the fight and his crisp striking will come into play while it is on the feet. There’s more paths to winning for Ulanbekov and the prospect should get the job done against the veteran.

What’s at stake: Elliott is the true gatekeeper at the moment in the flyweight division. A win could go a long way in trying to get that label removed from himself and would notch himself a top-ten opponent for his next fight. He’s not going anywhere with a loss, but with his recent run, it is a must-win if he still has title aspirations. This is the fight that will show Ulanbekov where he stands. He should beat Elliott, but it won’t be easy. A win means Ulanbekov is ready for top-ten competition and would go a long way in getting him ready for a title shot.

Pick: Ulanbekov

Lightweights- Devonte Smith vs. Ludovit Klein

Overall Records: Smith 11-3, Klein 17-4
UFC Records: Smith 3-2, Klein 1-2
Last Fight: Mullarkey def. Smith–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 51 (10/2/21), Landwehr def. Klein–R3 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21)
Last Five Fights: Smith 3-2, Klein 3-2
Betting Odds: Smith -150, Klein +130
Background: A lightweight fight sees a late change to the scheduled bout as Smith remains on the card to fight late-notice replacement Klein in this one. Smith was originally scheduled to fight Erick Gonzalez in this one, but a late injury forced Gonzalez out, and Klein steps in on a week’s notice and moves up a weight class to take this opportunity. Smith came into the promotion by storm, earning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series as he moved to 8-1 in his career. He won his first two UFC bouts, looking every bit like a future challenger as he moved to 10-1. However, he’s dropped two of his last three, including a second-round knockout loss to Jamie Mullarkey in October. All eleven of his wins have been by a finish, with ten knockout wins. Klein is coming into this fight on short notice trying to get his UFC career back on track. He won his promotional debut at UFC 253 in September 2020, which was his eighth straight win, but he’s lost his last two fights. He last fought in October, where he was submitted by Nate Landwehr. Klein has won 16 of his 17 fights by stoppage.

How they match up: Smith is going to have some size over Klein as he’ll enjoy a four-inch reach advantage. Smith has fast hands and lots of power, as evidenced by all of his knockout wins, seven of which have come in the first round. He does throw solid shots from range, but he can also have explosive moments that put his opponents in lots of trouble as he’s fairly accurate with his punches. Klein tends to get hit a lot and hasn’t looked great in his last two appearances. Klein doesn’t fight well off his back foot and if Smith comes at him with constant pressure, it won’t be a fun night of work for Klein. Klein is also the short-notice fighter, which is something that has cost Smith in the past, but this match-up just favors Smith way too much.

What’s at stake: Smith needs a win if he’s going to live up to the expectations that he had when he entered the promotion. A loss would likely spell the end of any title hopes for the next few years, and could actually get him close to the chopping block. This is a must-win fight for him. It also really is for Klein, as he doesn’t want to suffer three straight losses. Taking this fight on a week’s notice likely means he gets a reprieve from being cut, and a win would secure him a few more fights. This is a big fight for both.

Pick: Smith

Light Heavyweights: Dustin Jacoby vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk

Overall Records: Jacoby 16-5-1, Oleksiejczuk 16-4 1 NC
UFC Records: Jacoby 4-2-1, Oleksiejczuk 4-2 1 NC
Last Fight: Jacoby def. Allan–UDec–UFC 268 (11/6/21), Oleksiejczuk def. Gamzatov–R1 TKO–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Jacoby 4-0-1, Oleksiejczuk 3-2
Betting Odds: Jacoby -200, Oleksiejczuk +170
Background: The night kicks off with a light heavyweight bout that is a fantastic opener and really should be higher on the card as Jacoby and Oleksiejczuk look to set an early tone. Jacoby has looked great in his second UFC stint here, being unbeaten in his five Octagon appearances since earning his second contract on Dana White’s Contender Series. He has won two straight, and the only mishap was a draw with Ion Cutelaba. His most recent fight came at UFC 268 in November in Madison Square Garden, where he put together a great showing in winning a decision over John Allan. Oleksiejczuk comes into this fight riding a two-fight win streak, going 2-0 in 2021 with wins over Modestas Bukauskas and Shamil Gamzatov. It rebounded Oleksiejczuk nicely from two straight submission losses. Oleksiejczuk has scored 12 of his 16 professional wins via a finish.

How they match up: Both these guys like to trade on the feet, but Jacoby is the one with a kickboxing background and he is far the better pure striker. Oleksiejczuk has a lot of power in his hands, but he’s not technically sound on the feet and he throws a lot of wild stuff in trying to be aggressive and get the finish. Jacoby will likely use the leg kicks to keep Oleksiejczuk away from being able to rush in and slow down the speed of Oleksiejczuk. Jacoby is a very durable fighter, so even if Oleksiejczuk hits him, Jacoby can take the shots well. Jacoby threw with a lot of volume in his last fight, and a repeat showing will see him blow Oleksiejczuk away in this one. Oleksiejczuk has fallen in love with the knockout, and he’s going to need one to score the win here.

What’s at stake: A win could realistically see Jacoby move into the top-15 of the light heavyweight rankings. A win should also set him up for some ranked opposition next and Jacoby would deserve it. He’s on a nice career resurgence and one that he wants to keep going. Oleksiejczuk is in a similar position, though a win would just move him closer to being ranked. Oleksiejczuk just turned 27 so he has plenty of years left in the sport, but a win here would cap off a nice birthday celebration and would show he’s still dangerous.

Pick: Jacoby

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