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UFC Rio Rancho: Fight By Fight

Go inside the UFC Rio Rancho fight card with this edition of Fight by Fight
COREY ANDERSON VS. JAN BLACHOWICZ

Saturday’s main event is a multitude of things: it’s a matchup between the top two contenders in the light heavyweight division; a rematch from UFC 191, which Anderson won handily; and, most importantly, a case study in allowing fighters time to develop once they reach the UFC.

Anderson won the light heavyweight competition on Season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter, and while there were some ugly losses along the way, the last two years have been the return on investment Anderson and those around him foresaw when he came off the show, as the hard-working former collegiate wrestler has developed into a more complete mixed martial artist and an undeniable threat in the light heavyweight ranks.

Over his last four fights, the 30-year-old Anderson has registered decision wins over Patrick Cummins, Glover Teixeira, and Ilir Latifi, and quickly shut down any talk of Johnny Walker being next in line for a title shot by stopping the Brazilian a little over two minutes into their meeting at UFC 244.

Watch UFC Rio Rancho On ESPN+

Blachowicz arrived in the UFC as an established name to those who follow European MMA, having ruled the light heavyweight ranks in KSW, rounding out his time with the Polish promotion by posting wins over UFC veterans Sokoudjou, Mario Miranda, Houston Alexander, and Goran Reljic. After winning his debut in impressive fashion, Blachowicz dropped four of his next five fights, including his first meeting with Anderson, leaving him in dire need of a win and observers wondering if he had what it takes to compete at this level.

The 36-year-old standout is 6-1 since then, earning victories over the likes of Jared Cannonier, Jimi Manuwa, Nikita Krylov, and Luke Rockhold, with his only setback coming against recent title challenger Thiago Santos. He’s gotten back to fighting the way he did under the KSW banner — moving confidently, playing to his strengths, not allowing opponents to dictate the terms of engagement — and it has elevated him into the championship mix.

Although there are never any guarantees when it comes to what opportunities the future may hold, these two are unquestionably the top two contenders in the 205-pound ranks at the moment and the victor will have an unassailable case for challenging for the title at some point later this year.

It was an intriguing matchup the first time it transpired, but it’s even more compelling now, and should be a fantastic close to an action-packed night of fights in Rio Rancho on Saturday. 

Look Ahead: Anderson vs Blachowicz
Look Ahead: Anderson vs Blachowicz
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DIEGO SANCHEZ VS. MICHEL PEREIRA

The co-main event of this weekend’s inaugural stop at the Santa Ana Star Center provides “The Original Ultimate Fighter,” Diego Sanchez, with his first fight in his home state in more than five years as he squares off with Brazilian Michel Pereira.

Sanchez is as resilient as they come; a guy who has been written off as “finished” too many times to count, only for him to walk out, mean mug his opponent, and collect an unexpected, dominant victory. Prior to losing his last appearance against new welterweight contender Michael Chiesa, the 38-year-old had earned back-to-back impressive wins and though his resume features a couple more ticks in the loss column over the last several years, there is no denying that Sanchez still brings it on Fight Night and can be counted on to leave it all in the Octagon.

Pereira is an unpredictable wild man, and I mean that with the utmost affection and appreciation. The 26-year-old became a viral sensation in the MMA community prior to arriving in the UFC for doing backflips off the fence in the middle of a fight and his generally frenetic, frantic fighting style and that has all carried over into the Octagon.

After winning his promotional debut in spectacular fashion, Pereira missed weight and then was outworked by short-notice replacement Tristan Connelly last time out, sending him into this contest with something to prove. Sanchez may no longer be a contender, but he remains a marquee name and a tough out for any hopeful trying to climb the ranks at his expense.

Given their respective styles and overall approaches, this one could play out in any number of ways, all of them great.

An early Fight of the Year contender? Maybe.

A crazy first-round finish on either side? Perhaps.

An exciting contest no matter how it shakes out? Guaranteed.

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MONTANA DE LA ROSA VS. MARA ROMERO BORELLA

Flyweights looking to hit the reset button and resume their climb towards the top of the division a week after the championship was in the spotlight at UFC 247 square off in what should be a competitive affair that further clarifies things in the 125-pound ranks.

De La Rosa came off Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter on fire, earning a trio of submission wins after getting bounced by the inaugural flyweight champ Nicco Montano in the quarterfinals. Those efforts carried her into the rankings and earned her a bout with Andrea Lee, where she landed on the wrong side of the results.

She turns 25 the day before this fight (Happy Birthday!) and has already garnered a great deal of experience, both prior to arriving in the UFC and since matriculating to the Octagon, all of which should serve her well as she continues to refine her skills and tries to work her way into contention in the deep and competitive flyweight division.

Borella burst on the scene with a first-round submission win over Kalindra Faria at UFC 216, but has been plagued by inconsistency throughout her UFC run, alternating wins and losses over her first four fights. Her setbacks have come against recent title challenger Katlyn Chookagian and former Invicta FC bantamweight champ Lauren Murphy, so she’s losing to tough competition, and there have been a number of memorable moments throughout her last three appearances that indicate she has the potential to start stringing together wins and make a run at the top of the rankings. So, a dominant effort over a well-regarded young talent like De La Rosa would certainly jumpstart such a move.

BROK WEAVER VS. KAZULA VARGAS

After being forced out of his first scheduled UFC appearance, Contender Series favorite Brok Weaver will finally make the trek to the Octagon on Saturday, squaring off with Mexican veteran Kazula Vargas in the middle of the main card.

Charismatic and engaging, Weaver was one of the breakout stars of last summer’s Contender Series, impressing the UFC brass and MMA observers with his in-cage performance and the energy he brought to his post-fight interview. Weaver is one of those guys who has quietly put in quality work on the regional scene, earning good wins over solid competition, and now gets the opportunity to try and continue his run of success at the highest level in the sport.

A 34-year-old beginning his 10th year as a pro, Vargas made his UFC debut last August when he landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against Brazilian Alex da Silva. Prior to that, he earned an 18-second knockout win over UFC veteran Mike De La Torre and had won seven of his previous eight bouts, all but one of them by way of stoppage.

This should be a spirited affair from start to finish and a great opportunity to get an initial impression on where Weaver fits in the lightweight division.

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ROGERIO BONTORIN VS. RAY BORG

One of several crucial flyweight fights on deck in the coming weeks, this one features a former title challenger returning to the division to square off against one of the top emerging contenders in the 125-pound ranks.

Borg hasn’t competed at flyweight since challenging Demetrious Johnson for the belt at UFC 216 in Detroit, as he missed all of 2018 with injuries and familial obligations and fought twice at bantamweight upon his return last year. He struggled on the scale at times in the past, but from a skill and talent standpoint, there is no questioning that when he’s dialed in, Borg is one of the most dynamic and dangerous fighters in the division.

After earning a UFC contract with a submission victory on one of the all-Brazilian tapings of the Contender Series in the summer of 2018, Bontorin arrived in the UFC last year and maintained his winning ways. First, he landed on the happy side of a split decision verdict against the highly regarded Magomed Bibulatov, and then he earned a stoppage win over fellow Brazilian Raulian Paiva, pushing his winning streak to four and his overall record to an impressive 16-1.

With the vacant belt up for grabs in a couple weeks and important bouts in the division taking place on seemingly every card, this is a must-win matchup for both men as they look to establish their place in the pecking order.

LANDO VANNATA VS. YANCY MEDEIROS

There are some fighters you need to tune in to see compete every time out and both of these guys are one of those guys.

The 32-year-old Mederois is allergic to being in a boring fight. Each of his 13 previous appearances inside the Octagon have produced excitement, though sometimes at his own expense, and while he enters on a two-fight slide, he’s firmly entrenched as one of those athletes whose record and most recent results don’t matter as much as others; you just want to see him compete two or three times a year in fun, entertaining matchups.

All of those same descriptors apply to Vannata as well, as the self-described “Level 27 UFC Fighter” debuted with an electric performance, albeit in a losing effort, against Tony Ferguson and has been entertaining UFC audiences since. Through eight fights, Vannata has as many wins as he has draws (two) and twice as many losses, but again, it doesn’t really matter because you know regardless of the outcome or opponent, the groovy 27-year-old is going to deliver an exciting performance every time out.

This matchup has Fight of the Night written all over it.

TIM MEANS VS. DANIEL RODRIGUEZ

It’s not often that you get a matchup featuring one fighter making his 21st appearance in the Octagon and the other crossing the threshold into the UFC cage for the first time, but that’s exactly what we have here as veteran Tim Means welcomes new arrival Daniel Rodriguez to the big leagues.

Means is another one of those guys like Vannata and Medeiros who is incapable of being in a boring fight, and while it doesn’t always go his way, you can always count on “The Dirty Bird” leaving it all out there on fight night. After getting caught trying to close things out against Niko Price early last year, Means bounced back with a first-round submission win over Thiago Alves in early December, and makes the relatively quick return looking to build on that result.

Initially scheduled to face Ramazan Emeev, he’ll instead face Rodriguez, a 33-year-old veteran who scored a good win on the Contender Series last summer, but failed to come away with a contract. Following that bout, Rodriguez went out and collected another victory, extending his winning streak to six and making him an obvious choice for an opportunity like this.

Means has been a fixture in the middle of the welterweight ranks for some time, which makes this a tremendous opportunity for Rodriguez to impress in his promotional debut.

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JOHN DODSON VS. NATHANIEL WOOD

Anyone who reads The 10 knows how I feel about this bantamweight matchup. For those who haven’t or don’t — one, fix that, and two, I absolutely adore this fight and can’t wait to see it.

Following an extended run as an elite contender at flyweight, Dodson has become the guy you’ve got to beat in order to be taken seriously as a contender in the bantamweight division. He’s one of the most experienced fighters in the division, still moves well, and can still crack, as exhibited by him sitting down Petr Yan last time out.

Where Dodson is as established as they come, Wood’s ceiling remains unknown, which is what makes this such an intriguing contest.

The 26-year-old former Cage Warriors champ has gone 3-0 with three submission wins to begin his UFC tenure and he’s won eight straight overall to cement his standing as one of the top up-and-comers in the sport. Wood has looked like a future contender thus far, but plenty of promising talents have stumbled once forced to share the Octagon with a battle-tested foe like Dodson, so it will be interesting to see if the streaking Brad Pickett protégé can maintain his winning ways and add his name to the growing list of young standouts currently making waves in the bantamweight ranks.

JIM MILLER VS. SCOTT HOLTZMAN

Every week, there is one fight that reiterates just how damn stacked the lightweight division is and Saturday in Rio Rancho, this is that fight.

When he makes the walk this weekend, Miller will once again draw level with Donald Cerrone for the most appearances in UFC history (34) and go looking for his record-extending 20th victory in the UFC lightweight ranks. Though he’s admittedly in the twilight of his career, the 36-year-old outdoorsman from Sparta, New Jersey is clearly still a dangerous man to share the Octagon with, as he’s earned back-to-back first-round submission wins and three of his last four in less than two-and-a-half minutes.

Saturday’s contest marks Holtzman’s tenth trip into the Octagon, with the Tennessee-based talent carrying a 4-1 record in his last five into this weekend’s showdown with Miller. A late arrival to MMA, “Hot Sauce” has only lost to quality competition (Drew Dober, Josh Emmett, Nik Lentz) and arrives in New Mexico off a blistering effort against Dong Hyun Ma last summer.

This is the UFC equivalent of an album cut — a tremendous matchup that may not register with the mainstream audience, but one that true connoisseurs of the sport will really appreciate.

Jim Miller's Best Finishes
Jim Miller's Best Finishes
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CASEY KENNEY VS. MERAB DVALISHVILI

There have been a few familiar themes to this series over the first several events of 2020 and one of them is that bantamweight is absolutely bustling with talent right now.

A member of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Dvalishvili earned his way onto the UFC roster with a six-fight winning streak on the regional circuit that included victories over recent debuting bantamweight Tony Gravely and Roufusport prospect Raufeon Stots. After dropping his first two appearances, the 29-year-old from Georgia has registered back-to-back wins, most recently handing TUF winner Brad Katona the first loss of his career.

After going 1-1 on Season One of the Contender Series, Kenney used a four-fight winning streak under the LFA banner that included winning interim titles in two weight classes to earn a short-notice call-up to the UFC. Since then, he’s added dominant decision wins over Ray Borg and Manny Bermudez to his resume, pushing his winning streak to six and establishing him as someone to watch in the 135-pound weight class.

This is a tremendous matchup that should provide further clarity on where each of these men fit within the divisional hierarchy and position the winner for an even bigger opportunity later this year.

MACY CHIASSON VS. SHANNA YOUNG

 Macy Chiasson was initially scheduled to face fellow former Ultimate Fighter winner Nicco Montano, but after the inaugural flyweight titleholder was forced to withdraw, she’ll now step into the cage opposite Shanna Young.
 
After dispatching Pannie Kianzad to claim the crown as the female featherweight winner on Season 28, Chiasson came out of the gate like gangbusters, registering consecutive stoppage wins over veterans Gina Mazany and Sarah Moras to push her record to 5-0 and garner some buzz. Her unbeaten run ended last time out against Lina Lansberg, who used her superior strength and experience to out-work the New Orleans native.
 
With her teammates at Fortis MMA having a rough night last weekend in Houston, you can be sure the promising Chiasson is extra motivated to deliver an impressive performance on Saturday night.
 
Young competed on Season 3 of the Contender Series, going toe-to-toe with Sarah Alpar in a spirited contest before getting submitted in the second round. Since then, the 28-year-old competed in Invicta FC’s second Phoenix Rising tournament, losing to eventual winner Miranda Maverick in the semifinals, and registered a unanimous decision win over Maiju Suotama. Always in excellent shape, Young jumped at the opportunity to step into the Octagon and try to make a splash by knocking off Chiasson.

MARK DE LA ROSA VS. RAULIAN PAIVA

For the first time in UFC history, a husband and wife combo will compete on the same card as Mark De La Rosa makes the walk to the Octagon to face Raulian Paiva ahead of his wife Montana’s fight later in the evening.

The 25-year-old De La Rosa had a great 2018, winning both of his UFC appearances, followed by a frustrating 2019, where he landed on the wrong side of unanimous decision verdicts both times out. After starting his run in the UFC with a loss to Tim Elliott, “The Bumblebee” aims to get back to .500 in the Octagon, start 2020 on a positive note, and hold up his end of things in hopes of producing a “De La Rosa Double” on Saturday night in New Mexico.

Paiva earned his way onto the UFC roster with a Contender Series win in 2018, but his days since then have been marked by personal tragedy outside the cage and tough assignments inside the Octagon. The 24-year-old lost his girlfriend in a car accident just a few months after his victory in Las Vegas. Fighting on in her honor, Paiva has come out on the wrong side of the results against Kai Kara-France and Rogerio Bontorin in his first two appearances.

Both men are eager to put the disappointments of the past behind them and start fresh this year, and while that will only be a reality for one of them following this contest, the process of determining who that will be should be entertaining from start to finish.

DEVIN CLARK VS. DEQUAN TOWNSEND

Devin Clark was initially slated to face Gadzhimurad Antigulov on Saturday night, but the Russian was pulled from the fight card, opening the door for Dequan Townsend to make a quick turnaround as he continues to search for his first UFC win.

The 29-year-old Clark is one of those guys who has largely alternated wins and losses since reaching the UFC, teasing with potential and then stumbling in his biggest moments to date. A compact, powerful fighter, his last three losses have all come against quality competition and he’s shown clear indications of upside throughout his eight previous trips into the Octagon, but he’s yet to put it all together.

Townsend spent the first eight-plus years of his career grinding away on the tough Midwest regional circuit, posting a 6-1 record over his last seven fights before accepting a short-notice opportunity to compete in the UFC. After getting stopped in his debut, the 33-year-old dropped back down to middleweight late last month, losing a unanimous decision to Bevon Lewis, and now he returns just a couple weeks later against another Jackson-Wink MMA representative.

Can Clark kick off his 2020 campaign with a breakout performance or will the third time be the charm for Townsend?

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