The UFC is on fire right now with Dana White’s Contender Series in full swing, and with TUF 31 still airing its last few episodes. Fight fans can expect to be spoiled this month, especially with another nice fight card this Saturday. Taking place in the UFC Apex in Los Vegas, Nevada, the main card will feature two tough Brazilian UFC veterans in Vicente Luque and Rafael dos Anjos. Before we examine the final fight of the card, lets take a look at the rest of the main card.
This middleweight bout will feature two fighters who need a win to secure another UFC contract. Jamie Pickett was knocking at the door of the UFC since 2017, when he first appeared on Contender Series. After losing his first time on the show, he scored two first round finishes to earn another opportunity. There, he faced the tough Punahele Soriano, where he picked up a decision loss. It was in his third and final attempt that he finally broke through, and Pickett scored a second round TKO to earn his spot in the octagon. Pickett has had mixed results in the UFC, starting off with two losses and then immediately scoring two decision wins. Since then, Pickett has faced strong competition, losing his last three to Kyle Daukaus, Denis Tiuliulin, and Bo Nickal. This fight will mark Pickett’s first winnable fight since his win against Joe Holmes in early 2022, so expect this one to be more competitive.
Josh Fremd has had a smaller sample size in the UFC with only three fights so far, but he has a similar win percentage, holding a 1-2 record in the big show. Fremd debuted in the UFC against Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez, and managed to get to the scorecards despite losing the fight. While he certainly would have preferred to leave with the win, Fremd should be proud of the fact that he was the only fighter who Hernandez beat, that he couldn’t finish. In his next fight, Fremd got caught in a strange guillotine from a unique position, and was finished by submission for the first time in his professional career. He must have taken this personally, as Fremd went out and got a guillotine of his own against Sedriques Dumas in his next time out. This fight truly serves as a crossroads fight for Fremd, who will be 1-3 in the UFC with a loss, but will be riding a win streak with a win. Fremd is much more of a finisher than Pickett, taking more risks, but Pickett presents a unique puzzle with his 80” reach. Fremd should be better everywhere, but he’s been known to make bad decisions in certain moments, so his key to success will be listening to his coaches.
This matchup features another set of fighters who will likely be fighting for their spot in the UFC in this matchup. At 6-2, AJ Dobson is a hard-hitting striker with ground skills. The Ohio native was perfect in his career heading into the UFC, scoring a first-round submission in his Contender Series fight to secure his spot in the promotion. From there, he started experiencing a bit of adversity, dropping consecutive decisions to Jacob Malkoun and Armen Petrosyan. After a rocky 2022, he’s looking to get his career back on track against Tafon Nchukwi in a fight that he hopes will deliver his first UFC win.
At 6-3, Tafon Nchukwi comes into this bout with a very similar record. While Dobson has been known to take the fight to the ground occasionally, Nchukwi is much more of an out-and-out striker. Bringing his kickboxing credentials into the octagon, Nchukwi has fought as high as at heavyweight before, and has dabbled with both middleweight and light heavyweight in the UFC. Now making his return to 185, Nchukwi’s frame should be much more suitable for the division. After earning a head kick KO on Contender Series in 2020, Nchukwi quickly earned his first UFC win against Jamie Pickett just three months later. Following the result, he lost a close majority decision against surging contender Jun Yong Park, and likely would have won if he wasn’t penalized for groin strikes. Following the loss, Nchukwi went up to 205 to try his luck there. He won his first fight, but was finished in his next two fights by formidable contenders in Azamat Murzakanov and Carlos Ulberg. At 2-3 in the UFC, Nchukwi should be favored in this fight based on his striking prowess, and a great ability to keep the fight standing. At middleweight, this fight should be a banger that takes place on the feet, and I’m expecting one of these guys to earn their first finish in the octagon.
At 31 years old, Polyana Viana has grown up before our eyes in the UFC. Arriving in the big show in early 2018, Viana immediately scored a submission win in the first round to show that she was one to watch in the strawweight division. Following the result, she dropped her next three fights, with one coming by first-round armbar against Veronica Hardy. She got her revenge in her next two fights, nabbing two first-round armbars of her own. This led her into 2022, where she had an opportunity to enter the strawweight rankings, but fell short to fellow grappling wiz Tabatha Ricci. Viana came back with a vengeance, showing a new wrinkle to her game in her most recent fight against Jinh Yu Frey, who she finished with strikes in the first round. Viana has clearly shown a proficiency at getting the finish, which is refreshing in a decision-heavy division.
Standing in her way is one of the UFC’s youngest and most promising female prospects in Iasmin Lucindo. We all remember her all-out banger with Yazmin Jauregui, which could honestly be one of the best women’s fights in the history of the UFC. Her striking pedigree is obvious, opting for a volume-based style where she stays in your face with relentless punches. Lucindo has a long, fruitful career in front of her in the UFC, and has started her career at 1-1. In today’s day and age, we rarely see 21 year-old prospects make it straight into the UFC without proving themselves on the Contender Series, but it’s clear that UFC sees something in this young Brazilian. This fight is a clear striker-versus-grappler matchup, and both fighters’ best chance of victory comes in the way of keeping the fight in their wheelhouse. Viana may be falling in love with her striking, which could actually serve as a disadvantage against a experienced striker like Lucindo.
Circle this fight as the most intriguing fight on the card, for various reasons. At 11-5, Khalil Rountree’s nasty striking has been lots of fun to watch as he makes his way in the UFC. Rountree started his UFC career in TUF 23, where he came just short of the crown as the runner up of the season. He would be submitted in next fight out by Tyson Pedro, immediately putting his back up against the wall. Rountree responded well, scoring three first round finishes in a row, including one against Paul Craig. He would then get stopped in the first round by Johnny Walker, and after a few more up-and-down performances, he went off to Thailand to shore up his striking and rebuild himself. Rountree returned from Thailand with a newfound love for Muay Thai and a dramatic increase in his striking prowess. He already had the power, but after adding the technique and patience, he looked like a renewed threat in the octagon. Rountree now sits inside of the UFC rankings at 205, riding a three-fight win streak. His last win against Dustin Jacoby was arguably a loss, but with the judges giving it to him, Rountree is looking to make this one his fourth in a row.
Former police officer Chris Daukaus was once just a fight or two away from challenging for the heavyweight belt, after starting his UFC career at 4-0 with four finishes. Since then, he’s fallen at the hands of some of the heaviest hitters in the division, getting brutally KO’d by Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Luckily, Daukaus has been listening to fans and pundits when they cried out for him to come down to 205. This fight will be his first opportunity at light heavyweight, and a win could put him right into the rankings. Daukaus’ heavy hands have been on display throughout his UFC run, and his vicious ground and pound from the top has also led to plenty of success. However, he’s shown a lack of striking defense and a suspicious chin in his most recent outings, giving fans questions about whether or not he belongs in the promotion. The stakes could not be higher for Daukaus, as a loss would make him 0-4 in his last four and put him at risk of being cut from the promotion, and a win would put him on a short path to potential title contention. The Philly native is as tough as they come, but should look to make this a dirty fight and try to take it to the ground.
“Mean” Hakeem Dawodu has sneakily been in the UFC for over five years now, making his way over from WSOF (now PFL). After losing his first fight in the UFC by first-round submission, he came back with a vengeance, scoring five straight wins in his next series of fights in the octagon. Movsar Evloev put that run to a halt in 2021, but Dawodu regained momentum in a win against Michael Trizano a year later. Dawodu dropped a close fight against Julian Erosa in his next time out, but he has a chance to return to the win column against UFC legend and fan-favorite Cub Swanson.
In his 23rd fight in the promotion, Swanson will be returning to the division that he called home for the majority of his career, in featherweight. After dropping down to 135 against Jonathan Martinez, Swanson decided that he would like to end his career in the division that he knows best. Before losing by TKO to leg kicks in his fight against Martinez, Swanson turned in one of his best all-time performances, where he KO’d Darren Elkins in the first round with punches and a wheel kick. Swanson has shown that he is done competing for title aspirations after dropping four in a row between 2017-2019 to Brian Ortega, Frankie Edgar, Renato Moicano and Shane Burgos. However, he’s done well to turn away any unworthy contender with recent wins against Elkins, Daniel Pineda and Kron Gracie. Swanson’s chin looks like it’s in much better shape than some of his veteran peers, but has recently shown a vulnerability against body and leg kicks. Hakeem Dawodu throws kicks, but he certainly prefers to square up in the middle of the cage and throw punches. Dawodu has a tendency to play into his opponents’ skillsets, leading to close fights and split decisions that could have potentially been much cleaner. He won’t get away with this against a grizzled veteran like Swanson, leading to an interesting matchup. Hakeem is the younger, fresher fighter, so he should get the job done, but don’t ever count out Cub Swanson.
The main event between Vicente Luque and RDA features two fan-favorite fighters who have always given their all in each and every one of their performances. Rafael Dos Anjos has been jumping between lightweight and welterweight as he approaches the end of his career, but has recently made a commitment to sticking with welterweight after losing by fifth round TKO against Rafael Fiziev in 2022. He made a great comeback after this loss, completely outclassing Bryan Barbarena on the ground and scoring a clean second-round submission in his return to 170.
He looks to keep the good times rolling against perennial contender Vicente Luque, who holds the tenth spot in the welterweight rankings. Just two years ago, it seemed like Luque was barreling his way into title contention. He lost a standup battle to Stephen Thompson in 2019, but responded with four consecutive finishes, including first-round submissions against Michael Chiesa and former champion Tyron Woodley. However, Luque lost a decision in a fight where he was heavily favored against an improved Belal Muhammad, in a rematch of a fight that he won by first-round KO. With such a disappointing result, he had an opportunity to right his wrongs against Geoff Neal later that year. Luque would lose this one in devastating fashion, with Neal earning a third-round KO. Luque has always been as tough as they come, with his greatest weapon always being his durability. With the loss against Neal, questions linger about this durability, and whether he’s entered the downside of his career. Fighters like Luque who have always put themselves in the fire and have thrown away concepts of head movement have always made for a fan-friendly style, but can one day pay the price of taking so much head damage. Luque apparently suffered a brain bleed after his last fight, adding further concern regarding the damage that he’s received in his career. He was however cleared to fight by doctors, so fans will keep their fingers crossed that his health is not as much of a concern.
Dos Anjos has shown an ability to hang with strikers on the feet, but it’s no secret that he does his best work on the ground, looking for submissions and maintaining control. Luque has one of the best D’arce chokes in all of MMA, making him a dangerous foe on the ground, even from the bottom. Without a single submission loss on his record, Dos Anjos will still have the edge on the ground, but Luque will have a clear power advantage when it comes to the striking. A competitive bout indeed!