The UFC returns to the Apex this weekend with an absolutely fantastic main event. Edson Barboza fights Giga Chikadze in what should be a striker’s delight. The conclusion of The Ultimate Fighter season 29 also takes place. Bryan Battle fights Gilbert Urbina in the middleweight finals, and Ricky Turcios fights Brady Hiestand in the bantamweight finals. However, if you look past those three fights, there are some under-the-radar-storylines.
Makhmud Muradov returns to the octagon for his fourth UFC fight. He is currently riding a 14-fight win streak that dates back to 2017. He knocked out his last two opponents, Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez. The Uzbekistan fighter is one of the most underrated and overlooked fighters in the middleweight division, and he is the only MMA fighter signed to Floyd Mayweather’s TMT. Next, he faces MMA veteran and submission ace Gerald Meerschaert. A win over Meerschaert should propel him into the upper-division and close to the top-15 rankings. Muradov is the real deal. Remember the name.
Banger of the week/Best fight on the card
Okay, okay, Chikadze vs. Barboza is the best fight on the card, but Kevin Lee vs. Daniel Rodriguez is right behind it. It is my banger of the week. This Lee’s first fight in just about 18 months. In that time, he tore both of his ACLs, which required major surgery and recovery. As a result, he is leaving the lightweight division and moving to welterweight, where he says he should have been for a while. Lee did have a welterweight fight against Rafael Dos Anjos, but he got submitted. “The Motown Phenom” was originally scheduled against Sean Brady, but after two fight cancelations, the fight was scrapped. Enter Daniel Rodriguez, who has been thriving since his UFC debut last year. “D-Rod” has fought five times since Lee has been out, winning four of them. It is a big fight for both men with a lot at stake.
Welcome to the UFC
Other than The Ultimate Fighter contestants making their debut and fighting for a spot on the roster, two other fighters are making their debut. Vanessa Demopoulos, who was training for a fight in LFA, replaces Tracy Cortez and will fight JJ Aldrich. Demopoulos is a former LFA strawweight champion and got back into the win column in her last fight when she knocked out her opponent in 13 seconds. She competed on Dana White’s Contender Series last season but lost a unanimous decision. Competing on the same season as Demopoulos was Mana Martinez, who is making his debut against Guido Cannetti. He got submitted on the Dana White’s Contender Series but then went on a two-fight winning streak, knocking both of his opponents out in less than a minute. Martinez was supposed to fight last weekend; however, he had to pull out of the fight. He is also Adrian Yanez’s main training partner. Both Martinez and Demopoulos are entertaining fighters and always look for the finish.
“Pretty Boy” Jamall Emmers makes his third UFC appearance this weekend after a scary scene his last time out. He was supposed to fight Chas Skelly in February; however, minutes before he was supposed to walk the octagon, he suffered back spasms, and the fight was canceled. Thankfully he recovered, and he is back. Emmers fights Pat Sabatini at UFC Vegas 35. Emmers is a very talented fighter who is 1-1 in the UFC, and many people thought he beat Chikadze in his UFC debut. Emmers is also known for beating Cory Sandhagen and Alexander Hernandez on the regional scene, giving both of them their first professional losses.
Several fighters are in desperate need of a win come Saturday, with most of them likely fighting for their job.
- Sam Alvey is on a five-fight skid, not winning a fight since 2018. Most fighters would have been back on the regional scene, but Alvey has been a company man since day one, taking whatever fights thrown his way.
- Welling Turman fights Alvey this weekend and is on a two-fight skid. He is 1-3 in the UFC and got knocked out cold in his last two fights. Alvey vs. Turman is the definition of a loser goes home fight.
- Abdul Razak Alhassan is on a three-fight skid. The first of his career. You have to feel for the Ghanaian fighter. He had two of his prime years stolen from him during a criminal case that ended up being bogus. Alhassan was supposed to fight Antônio Braga Neto last week, but Neto withdrew. He now fights Alessio Di Chirico. This is will his second fight at middleweight and his first camp with Elevation Fight Team out in Colorado.
- Darren Stewart faces the second potential three-fight losing streak of his UFC career. He will be fighting at light heavyweight for the second straight fight when he faces Dustin Jacoby.
- Guido Cannetti, who was mentioned earlier, is on a two-fight losing streak. The 41-year old fighter has been in the promotion since 2014 but has only fought six times. He faces Martinez.
MMA and Entertainment Journalist. Graduated from CSUN with a B.A in Journalism. I love MMA and have been watching consistently since 2004.