On Friday, the UFC confirmed that the fight is off due to "weight management issues" with Askarov. Royval posted on social media that Askarov also refused to fight at catchweight. That is a horrible look for Askarov, particularly since he is coming off a loss. Askarov fought to a draw with Brandon Moreno three years ago, and had he won this fight against Royval, he would have been a top candidate for a rematch, with the added potential of it being a title fight. Instead, Askarov is bound to drop from his fourth spot in the rankings, no doubt replaced by fifth-ranked Royval.
Askarov (14-1-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC) suffered his first defeat last March to Kai Kara-France, and this bout against Royval (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC) was his opportunity to reassert himself as a top contender in the division.
"I wasn't 100 percent against Kara-France last time after surgery, but I needed to compete," Askarov told Sports Illustrated earlier this week through a translator. "In my mind, I won that fight. Nothing will break me."
Oliveira, Makhachev to decide lightweight division
Charles Oliveira seeks to regain the lightweight title next week at UFC 280.
For Islam Makhachev, this title bout represents what he believes is his destiny.
"I always knew I would be here, fighting for the title," said Makhachev. "Even when I was growing up, I knew I would be here. I have worked my life for this."
Dominant in his last 10 bouts, Makhachev (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) has not tasted defeat since 2015. He possesses a grappling and striking skillset uniquely equipped to defeat Oliveira, yet he remains unproven against an opponent of this caliber. Oliveira (33-8 MMA, 21-8 UFC) has won 11 fights in a row, powering through multiple top-five opponents.
"I respect where he comes from," said Makhachev. "He's come from a hard life. He has had many hard fights in this sport to get where he is now."
The lightweight title is vacant after Oliveira was stripped for failing to make weight prior to his bout against Justin Gaethje last May. He then put forth a statement performance, submitting Gaethje before the fight could even reach its fourth minute. While Oliveira has yet to receive the global attention he deserves, he is too busy making his claim as the best in the world to notice the slight. Remarkably, he enters this fight as the underdog, though that also speaks to the overwhelming hype surrounding Makhachev.
Most recently, Makhachev's string of victories includes Bobby Green, Dan Hooker, Thiago Moses and Drew Dober. No one in that category is anywhere near the world-class level of Oliveira – or Gaethje, Dustin Poirier or Michael Chandler. Yet Makhachev is not intimidated by his opponent. Undefeated in more than seven years, Makhachev plans to extend that streak in his championship bout at 280.
"I have trained so hard for this moment," said Makhachev. "This is the day I have waited for. It is very soon and very close. It is my time to be UFC champion."
Grasso positioning herself for a title shot
Araujo (11-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has won three of her last four fights, so this would be a significant win. Grasso (14-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) moved from strawweight to flyweight two years ago, and she started her run in the division by winning her first three fights. All of her performances have been impressive, and she is on the cusp of a title shot.
It is a long time coming for her – she looked like the next big thing seven years ago when she put on a masterful striking performance against Mizuki Inoue, but she simply has not generated enough momentum since. Perhaps that will change Saturday. If Grasso is victorious, especially in a convincing manner, she should be next in line for reigning champ Valentina Shevchenko.
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.