After last week's incredible PPV which was stacked from top to bottom with incredible performances, UFC is venturing out to the Moody Center in Austin, Texas for their first Fight Night card away from the Apex in what seems like forever. Headlined with what is guaranteed to be fireworks is a Featherweight scrap between Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett, which will go a long way in determining who will be eyeing up a title fight in their future, and who will need to continue to fight for their place in the top ten.
Further down the card, we see two veterans of the game go to war in what may very well be the final fight of both men's legendary careers, the return of Kevin Holland as he looks to take over the Welterweight division, as well as two fights pitting together Middleweight bruisers, and an exciting clash between two of UFC's best kept secrets.
After being on the receiving end of one of the most one sided beatdowns against Max Holloway at the beginning of 2021, many wondered if the damage Calvin Kattar received was going to have severe and long lasting impacts on his fight career. Returning a year later against the fast rising Giga Chikadze, Calvin silenced everyone, putting on his own 5 round masterclass against the apparent future title contender, racking up 144 significant strikes en route to a dominant win, and reaffirming his status as top tier Featherweight talent.
Josh Emmett's rise up the featherweight rankings has come off the back of a four fight win streak, picking up two performance bonuses along the way. The Arizona native is known for his thunderous punching power, and averages 2.2 knockdowns per 15 minutes of fighting - a statistic only rivalled by Conor McGregor.
In what will undoubtedly be a contest of volume vs power, we will likely see these two stand and trade for as long as necessary, answering a few questions along the way. Calvin Kattar has one of the toughest chins in the UFC, whilst Josh Emmett hits harder than anyone Calvin has previously faced. Will Calvin be able to withstand the heavy hitting of his foe and wear him down with slick and pristine boxing over time, or will Emmett score the elusive knockdown on Kattar that has eluded so many of Calvin's prior opponents and be able to finish him?
The Verdict community has great faith in Kattar to rise to the ocassion once again, with 39% confident in the Boston native getting the nod from the judges, and another 38% believing he won't even need them, finding the finish inside 25 minutes. Whatever way it goes, this one is certain to be fun however long it lasts.
All eyes are on Kevin Holland as he makes the walk to the octagon for his second appearance as a Welterweight in the UFC - the weight class that most definitely looks perfect for him. Making himself well known to UFC fans as the brash, loud mouthed fighter that won't stop talking during his fights, Kevin made his biggest splash in 2020, becoming the first fighter to record five wins in a calendar year since Neil Magny achieved the feat in 2014, punctuating the streak with the famous KO of Jacare Souza from his back. The fast acceleration up the ranks saw Holland's weaknesses exposed, as his clear undersizing for the Middleweight division saw him outwrestled by Marvin Vettori and Derek Brunson before a no contest against Kyle Daukaus finally saw Holland decide to make the move down to his natural weight class where he emphatically dispatched Alex Oliveira to put the division on notice. Holland's background of Kung Fu largely rests on slick movement and his natural range advantage to be elusive on the feet whilst maintaining aggression, and his Jiu Jitsu black belt similarly lends to an aggressive ground game. Coming to the Welterweight division, Holland will be looking to make a walk up the rankings, and could very well pose a big threat to the division as the young fighter from California continues to improve with each fight.
Sharing the cage with Holland is the well tenured 'Dirty Bird', Tim Means. An unconventional and wily kickboxer, Means will be equally as aggressive as Holland, and will look to stand and exchange in the pocket, throwing an inordinate amount of elbows when on the inside, and mix in a solid amount of kicks whilst at range. After bouncing between wins and losses repeatedly for three years, Means finds himself in the middle of a 3 fight win streak for the first time since 2015, scoring definitive wins against the likes of Laureano Staropoli, Mike Perry, and Nicholas Dalby.
Both fighters are well known for throwing caution to the wind and attacking relentlessly, sacraficing their defence and taking a hit to land an even harder one. It's hard to see this one going the distance as both fighters will be looking to put each other away, and the Verdict community agrees. Nearly three quarters of people see this fight finishing inside the distance, with an overwhelming 62% of people seeing Holland picking up the knockout. Expect to see fireworks with this one!
Since Buckley's sensational knockout of the year against Impa Kasanganay in 2020, 'New Mansa' has gone 3-1 in his last four fights, picking up two performance bonuses for knockouts along the way. Whilst not managing to find the finish in his last fight, Buckley also showed an improved wrestling attack against Abdul Razak Alhassan to get the nod from the judges, and levelled up his mixed martial arts game as a whole. This will be entirely necessary to level up again once more, as the smaller Buckley is up against a powerhouse of a wrestler in Albert Duraev. The Russian born grinder that buzzsawed his way through Dana White's Contender Series looked in great shape in his UFC debut back in October last year, and will be keen to continue his great form that has led to a 10 fight win streak.
The two fighters that used to be training partners will be desperate to keep the fight on their own terms as they both have the ability to exploit each other's weaknesses. Duraev has tended to have a slight blindspot to kick heavy attacks, whilst Buckley's smaller size should mean that Duraev should be able to have his way with New Mansa should the fight hit the ground, either suffocating him with ground and pound or looking for a choke. Knowing each other's fight style well will mean this fight should be very intriguing to play out - the Verdict community is giving Buckley a slight edge with 52% of people backing Buckley for the win, and a big majority of those plumping for a KO finish. Expect to see a closely contested fight here.
An extremely tantalising match up. Two of UFC's best kept secrets collide in what will hopefully raise the profile significantly of both fighters. Inactivity from both fighters has seen the spotlight shined elsewhere, as Ismagulov has only fought once since 2019 and Kutateladze has not fought since his UFC debut back in 2020 - a win against Mateusz Gamrot that has aged incredibly well given that Gamrot has gone on a tear since and will be headlining his first card next week.
Damir Ismagulov's win streak dates back to 2015, is the former M-1 Lightweight Champion, and since joining the UFC, has beaten notable names such as Rafael Alves, Thaigo Moises and Joel Alvarez. The Master of Hand to Hand Combat is incredibly well rounded; combining speed and power on the feet with a suffocating top game. He's a handful for any fighter and his 23-1 record has been consistently filled with extremely dominant performances. He'll meet his stiffest test this weekend however, as the 'Georgian Viking' also hasn't lost since 2015. The Muay Thai striker has incredibly long legs and whips them into his opponents incredibly quickly, landing with devastating force right from the opening bell. Guram will be looking to keep the fight standing so he can impose his heavy kicks on Ismagulov from a distance, but if taken to the floor, can also aggressively hunt submissions from his back to keep the Ismagulov at bay.
Whilst the Verdict community is leaning towards Damir Ismagulov to continue his incredible win streak, with 57% of people picking him for the win, it will almost definitely be a very close back and forth battle between two extremely high level fighters. With a strong enough performance from either one of them, the winner could be looking towards the Lightweight rankings for their next fight.
'The Cuban Missle Crisis' meets 'Robocop' in a Middleweight clash of top tier nicknames that pits two deadly finishers against one another. Since returning from an extended injury layoff, Julian Marquez has gone 2-0 in the UFC, securing finishes against Maki Pitolo and Sam Alvey. Whilst no one is breaking out the champagne for beating either of those two, the tenacity shown by Marquez to come from behind and secure a late finish against Pitolo was great to see, and following that up with the demolition job of Sam Alvey that absolutely put Alvey to sleep showed clear improvements in his game. Marquez is a wild man who is always in the fight looking for a finish, and can finish a fight both on the feet and on the ground with ease. He'll happily walk through damage to dish it out, and will need a granite chin to withstand the heavy bombs of 'Robocop'.
Rodrigues is coming off a split decision loss in his last fight to Armen Petrosyan (a fight which the Verdict community had Rodrigues winning), snapping a four fight win streak in the process. 'Robocop' cracks extremely hard, as evidenced by his ability to score a TKO against the notoriously tough 'Iron Turtle', Jun Yong Park. This more than makes up for his slight deficit in pace, as Rodrigues has the ability to put Marquez's lights out with any connection. Gregory's MMA background is not just limited to hitting hard though, and has a black belt in Jiu Jitsu under Henrique Machado (Jacare Souza's coach) and was the runner-up in Pan America's Wrestling Championship back in the day.
These two fighters are both incredibly versatile, with the ability to finish each other in every department at any moment. The Verdict community is confident in 'The Cuban Missile Crisis' getting his hand raised and providing us with another iconic post fight interview, with 69% of people picking him to get the victory. Interestingly, nearly a quarter of people believe Marquez is going to get the knockout and less than 10% are picking submission, even though his last three victories have all come by way of submission.
Without a doubt, this is an extremely strong follow up to what will go down as one of the greatest UFC cards of all time last week. From top to bottom, we're treated to exciting fights, in what is sure to be another memorable event. This won't be one to miss - see you all on fight night!