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OK, apparently this card is gonna double up as the TUF Finale. So if you’re one of the 4 people on the planet still following TUF, there might be spoilers in here closer to the night of the show. ESPN+ MAIN CARD Edson Barboza vs Giga Chikadze Bryan Battle vs Gilbert Urbina - Middleweight Finale Ricky Turcios vs Brady Hiestand - Bantamweight Finale Kevin Lee vs Daniel Rodriguez Andre Petroski vs Micheal Gillmore Gerald Meerschaert vs Makhmud Muradov ESPN+/FIGHT PASS PRELIMS Alessio Di Chirico vs Abdul Razak Alhassan Sam Alvey vs Wellington Turman Dustin Jacoby vs Darren Stewart JJ Aldrich vs Vanessa Demopoulos Pat Sabatini vs Jamall Emmers Mana Martinez vs Guido Cannetti I reckon that bout order will change yet. Surely Brady vs Lee will be co-main, unless they’re going with the two Finales right under the main event. I could see that. Just seems weird a fight as good as Brady vs Lee being so far down on a Fight Night. Especially in light of some of the cack we’ve seen on main cards this year. Whatever. You’ll never see me complain about a good fight wherever it falls on a show. This card as a whole looks ace in its current form as well. How long it stays intact is anyone’s guess but let’s try to be glass half full. Edson Barboza vs Giga Chikadze headlines. Excellent bit of matchmaking this. And I’m chuffed that it’s main eventing and they get 5 rounds to play with. Definitely feels like they’ve both earned this spotlight recently so it’s good to see them rewarded. Barboza’s coming off a big finish over Shane Burgos at UFC 262 in May. Easily his best performance since dropping to 145lbs a few fights ago. He’d lost a narrow split decision in his Featherweight debut against Dan Ige, then he outpointed Makwan Amirkhani in his next fight. The Burgos fight was vintage Barboza though. He looked as sharp as ever and got the knockout in the third round. It was a weird one. Barboza caught him good but there was quite a delayed reaction from Burgos before it seemed to fully register and then he went down. It was almost like he got knocked out from the feet up and it took a few seconds for the effect to reach his head. Scary. Burgos is known for being a tough scrapper as well so that made Barboza’s overall performance and the finish all the more impressive. Whether the style was just favourable for Barboza or what, it was definitely the most comfortable and at home Barboza has looked since dropping to Featherweight. If he can build on that then we could be in for an exciting ride. Some potentially tremendous fights await him at the top end of the division if he can keep the ball rolling. This being the first of many. Giga Chikadze has kind of slowly been sneaking up on us for a bit now. He came into the UFC back in 2019 and it was just some bloke from Georgia who was 7-2 in MMA and had kickboxed a bit previously. I don’t think anyone really took a great deal of notice. I remember seeing a few clips of him though from his Kickboxing days and he was just folding sods left and right with body kicks. I had a feeling I’d like him but he didn’t exactly knock anyone’s socks off in his first few fights in the Octagon. He was getting the wins but always on points and there was nothing particularly spectacular or memorable about it. He just quietly went about his business collecting wins on the prelims. To his credit though, he stayed very active. He won 5 fights in just over a year after his UFC debut. Then in May this year, it paid off and he got his big opportunity, facing respected veteran Cub Swanson as the co-main event on the Reyes vs Prochazka card. It took him about a minute to put Cub away… And with the old liver quiver again for good measure. This was a big statement. Like I said, he’d been starting to be looked at as a bit of a decision merchant when he first came in. He did break that streak in his fight before this, stopping Jamey Simmons in a round. But that was ham and egger Jamey Simmons. Making a tough, battle tested vet like Cub Swanson look like a jobber was another thing entirely. Granted, Cub’s no spring chicken these days but he’s still a hard bastard who only really gets finished by top guys. Chikadze seems to feel right at home now. He’s definitely more vocal about what he wants. Got to love it. It’s not gonna happen like that, obviously. But I admire the man’s ambition. Looking back at Chikadze’s UFC run, I think he might be the kind of fighter who rises to the occasion and steps it up when he feels like he’s got a real challenge in front of him. And make no mistake, Barboza’s a challenge and a half. Stylistically it’s a fantastic fight on paper and the timing of it seems perfect for the best possible fight out of these two as well, I reckon. Barboza seems fully acclimated to 145 now and, after a bit of a lacklustre start, Giga’s feeling it in the UFC now and he’s coming in confident and dangerous. Top fight. Kevin Lee vs Daniel Rodriguez. OK then. Not the original plan. Lee has been all set to fight Sean Brady twice now this year, it’s just not happening. First it was scheduled for UFC 264 in July but Lee pulled out with an injury. Now it’s been scratched from this card due to Brady getting some infection in his foot. Shame because it was an interesting fight. Hopefully they’ll still cross paths somewhere down the road. Lee’s had a bumpy last few years with a bunch of setbacks. You look back at his career and he’s had some real quality wins over names like Barboza and Chiesa, he was giving Tony Ferguson issues early in their fight, nearly beheaded Gregor Gillespie with that headkick. He’s certainly had his moments. But he’s come up short so many times now in crucial fights, to the point he basically locked himself out of the title picture at both Lightweight and Welterweight. He’s one of those guys people have talked up over the years as some potential huge star but I’ve never seen it myself. He’s got skills, he’s got some personality and he’s likeable enough on podcasts and stuff but I just can’t see him ever putting it all together and going on a proper run. At this point he’s throwing anything at the wall. Maybe his hideous new head tattoo will bring him luck? Rancid. He’s still only 28, it’s hardly like he’s on the scrapheap. There’s still some time. But there’s always been a handful of better fighters than him around so I can’t see him ever making any serious consistent progress. Unfortunately for him, the weight range he’s competing at between 155 and 170 is rammed with killers. Rodriguez isn’t all that well known in the division but he’s certainly nobody to take lightly. He’s 15-2 with 12 finishes and has won 11 of his last 12 fights. Hasn’t mixed at the top level yet but he’s already beaten Mike Perry on points, submitted Tim Means and knocked out Dwight Grant. He’s dangerous. He’s taking it on short notice but it’s a switch for Lee as well. He was prepping for Brady who presumably would’ve been coming in with a grappling heavy gameplan. That’s his bread and butter. Now he’s got D-Rod trying to knock his head off. I saw some negative reaction when Rodriguez was announced as the replacement, with people acting like Rodriguez is a bum and saying Lee deserved a bigger name etc. Load of shite. If you‘ve actually watched Rodriguez you know he’s no joke. And like I said, he’s 11-1 in his last 12. Lee’s barely fought the last 2 years and has lost 4 of his last 6. Throwing him straight back in with one of the top ranked guys again, after a year plus layoff, would’ve been detrimental to him if anything. This is a tough test but not an insurmountable one on paper. Good fight. Gerald Meerschaert vs Makhmud Muradov is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** for this card. He’s back! Good Ol’ GM. The UKFF’s favourite bloodhound faced battler. Honestly, if you don’t like Gerald, you’re the problem. A top bloke. And despite the ups and downs, a pretty damn good fighter. Yeah he got put on his arse by Khamzat Chimaev in 17 seconds and that’s the fight that gets brought up most when Gerald’s name comes up. But Chimaev might go on to be something a bit special yet. That loss mightn’t age so badly in time. Meerschaert has had 45 other fights in his MMA career. It’s unfair to define him by those 17 miserable seconds. It’s total bollocks actually. While he’s never been ‘the guy’ or a world beater, he’s 32-14 and has finished 30 of those 32 victories. He’s a BJJ black-belt, a fixture at the Roufusport gym in Milwaukee and earned his stripes in all manner of promotions before making it to the UFC. He’s “paid his dues” as the pro wrestling folk say. He’s coming into this fight off a sweet first round submission over Bartosz Fabinski as well. I remember him saying in his post-fight interview that he was gonna become a dad any day as well. It was just a lovely moment all-round. Especially coming back after that Chimaev disaster. He’s up against it here though. He really is. Makhmud Muradov is no joke. He came into the UFC in 2019 and already had a little bit of buzz around him. Purely because he was the only MMA fighter managed by Floyd Mayweather at that time. It quickly became apparent though, that he was more than just ‘Floyd’s boy’. He’s gone 3-0 in the UFC so far. And he’s stopped his last 2 opponents in devastating fashion. Trevor Smith got completely destroyed, as you can see in the gif above. That was December 2019 and he hasn’t fought since. Then in January this year, he bashed up Andrew Sanchez. He’s 25-6 overall now with 20 finishes. Maybe the most scary thing about him though, is that we haven’t even seen what he can do after a full training camp in the UFC yet! He’s taken all 3 of his fights so far on short notice. That doesn’t sound good for our Gez, does it? I haven’t been this worried for one of my favourites since Gerald McClellan was brought over to batter Nigel Benn back in 1995. Alessio Di Chirico vs Abdul Razak Alhassan. OK then. This one’s been patched together from the rubble of two other cancelled fights. Di Chirico was supposed to fight UFC newcomer Aliaskhab Khizriev, Alhassan was meant to face Antonio Braga Neto. Both went tits up and here we are. Di Chirico’s Italian, 13-5 record. He’s had his ups and downs in the UFC and was on a 3 fight losing streak until recently. He got well back on track in January though, knocking out Joaquin Buckley in a round. Buckley was the talk of the town going in because he was coming off that mad knockout late last year but Di Chirico gave no fucks and wiped him out. Alhassan’s from Ghana. He burst into the UFC in 2016, unbeaten at 6-0 with 6 knockouts and he kept that up for most of his early Octagon appearances. Aside from a split decision loss to Omari Akhmedov, it was all knockout victories. By the end of 2018 he was 10-1 with all his wins by knockout, all inside a round, 6 of them in less than a minute! Even Niko Price only lasted 43 seconds. It was around that time that the rape allegations came up. He went to trial and was found not guilty in 2020 but since resuming his career last summer, he’s gone 0-3. Don’t know what to make of him at this point, in the cage or out of it. Not a clue how this goes. Di Chirico’s inconsistent but Alhassan’s form has dropped right off a cliff lately. Sam Alvey vs Wellington Turman. Alvey again. Can’t escape the fucker, sick of the sight of him. He was meant to fight Roman Kopylov on the July 31st card but Kopylov had Visa issues and couldn’t get in the country. So here we are. Can’t be doing with Smilin’ Sam. He’s just not enjoyable to watch for me and something about him bugs me. On top of that, he hasn’t won a fight since 2018, he’s lost 5 of his last 6 and the fight he didn’t lose he only scraped a draw. I remember at one point the UFC were trying to line him up for a fight against Shogun. I’m so glad that never ended up happening. We’re talking washed up Shogun here, Alvey might actually have beaten him. Can you imagine a world where that’s reality? It was bad enough when he beat a shot to shit Rashad Evans. Turman’s been wheeled out here. 25 years old, BJJ black-belt, 16-5 record. On paper you’d fancy him to beat Alvey. He’s a decade younger for a start. But he’s also fresh off getting his head caved in from the horrifying ground and pound of Bruno Silva in June. He got fucked up in that one. Andrew Sanchez sparked him before that as well. I can see Alvey winning this. He’s gonna stick around forever, isn’t he? He is, isn’t he? Dustin Jacoby vs Darren Stewart has the potential to be a real sleeper bonus winner on this card, I think. Jacoby loves a scrap. He’s knocked about doing all sorts over the last few years. He had a short, unsuccessful stint in the UFC years ago, left in 2012 and he’s dabbled in a bit of everything since. Seriously, from WSOF to Bellator to GLORY Kickboxing to a Pro Boxing fight in 2019 to Dana White’s Contender Series. He finally wound up back in the UFC late last year and he’s done alright for himself. He wrecked Justin Ledet with leg kicks in his return fight, outpointed Maxim Grishin then went to a draw in a total dogfight with the madman known as Ion Cutelaba in his last outing in May. He’s been good value since he came back. For as much as the Light Heavyweight division lacks depth these days, there’s some real bomb throwers in the middle of the pack who always provide some quality slugfests. Stewart’s up at 205 here. He’s spent most of his career as a Middleweight. Not sure about him as a LHW, to be honest, but we’ll see. I like Stewart but I’m never sure what to make of him. There’ll be nights where he looks a handful but then others where it just isn’t happening for him. His last fight with Eryk Anders was inexplicably boring as well. Never expected a dud out of those two. He’ll have to bring it here because Jacoby definitely will be. Stewart definitely can have it as well. Anyone who never saw his war with Julian Marquez needs to get on that. Hopefully he’s up for this one or Jacoby will probably hurt him. JJ Aldrich vs Vanessa Demopoulos. This was supposed to be Aldrich vs Tracy Cortez but Cortez picked up an injury and withdrew. This is what we’re left with. I know I’ve seen Aldrich fight before but nothing is especially jumping out at me about her. She’s 9-4 and took a split decision off Cortney Casey in March. And she’s a training partner of Rose Namajunas but that’s about all I remember of her. Demopoulos is making her UFC debut here. 32 years old with a 6-3 record, which isn’t filling me with optimism. To be fair, one of the losses was supposed to be a full on 5 round war with Lupita Godinez in LFA last October. I’m not that fussed but I’ll probably give it a look. Pat Sabatini vs Jamall Emmers. Can’t say I’m up on either guy really. Especially Sabatini. He beat Tristan Connelly on points in his UFC debut in April but I don’t recall seeing it. He’s 14-3 overall, 11 finishes, mostly subs and is Renzo Gracie affiliated in some way. I do remember Emmers but nothing in particular is jumping out in the memory about him. Looking at his record though, he might be someone to keep an eye on. He’s 18-5, has won 5 of his last 6 and the loss was a split decision against Giga Chikadze. He also holds a 2017 win over Cory Sandhagen. Nobody knows him but he must have something about him. Mana Martinez vs Guido Cannetti. Not much of an opinion on this. Never seen Martinez and barely remember Cannetti. Martinez is 8-2 and all his wins have come by knockout. This’ll be his UFC debut. Apparently, Dana White noticed him at a recent Fury FC show and signed him outright off the back of whatever caught his eye there. He was supposed to face Trevin Jones on the Cannonier vs Gastelum card the week before this but pulled out for some reason but was quickly rebooked for this. Cannetti is 41 years old, 8-5 and has been submitted and knocked out in his last couple of fights. It’s about over for Marty Cannetti, I think. His career’s going straight through the barbershop window. And that’s the bottom line ‘cause Gerald ‘Big Saxy’ Meerschaert said so.