Anyone else out there besides me a fan of "Hot Ones," the show with hot questions and even hotter wings?
I know that Dustin Poirier and Kamaru Usman are, as both have been on the program, and I would imagine that I’m not the only one whose Venn diagrams overlap when it comes to fighting and chicken wings.
Here's why I ask:
Saturday's fight card is the first of at least 11 consecutive weekends featuring a UFC event, and the lineup feels like the first sauce in the "wings of death" gauntlet – it’s just a classic, "good way to get things started" card that everyone enjoys and sets the table for what's to come.
Things are going to get spicier and hit harder as we move forward through this assemblage of events over the next few months, so let's all ease into our return to Saturdays watching fights with this well-rounded, thoroughly enjoyable selection of matchups slated to take place this weekend.
Alexander Volkov vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Volkov returns for his second appearance of 2022, looking to bounce back following his first-round stoppage loss to Tom Aspinall earlier this year in London. The Russian veteran is 8-4 inside the octagon, with each of those losses coming against fighters currently stationed ahead of him in the rankings.
The same is true of Rozenstruik, who has alternated wins and losses over his last six outings, bringing his record to 12-3 overall. "Bigi Boy" has consistently fought top-10 competition since closing out his rookie season in the UFC with a walk-off, last-second win over Alistair Overeem, and has earned 11 of his 12 career victories inside the distance.
These men are in comparable positions and situations heading into Saturday's main event as each is coming off a loss to a highly ranked, highly regarded talent, and seeking to start stringing together victories. They are tandem stalwarts in the top 10 and each the kind of dangerous competitors every division needs, and ascending hopefuls must defeat in order to take the next step forward in their careers, so there is a little bit of a Highlander vibe to this one … "There can be only one.:
Dan Ige vs. Movsar Evloev
Saturday's co-main event is an absolute belter in the featherweight division, where Dan Ige squares off with Movsar Evloev in what is another top-flight pairing for the Hawaiian standout and the toughest test to date for the unbeaten Russian rising star.
Ige is one of those dudes that just doesn’t get enough love for the strength of schedule he’s fought as of late. Since the start of 2020, the Xtreme Couture product has faced Mirsad Bektic, Edson Barboza, Calvin Kattar, Gavin Tucker, Chan Sung Jung, and Josh Emmett, going 3-3 in those six outings, and going the distance in his losses to Kattar, Jung, and Emmett, all of whom reside in the top 10.
Now he's raised his hand and signed on to face off with the surging Evloev in yet another ultra-competitive, dangerous assignment that not many other people were lining up to take.
Unbeaten in five UFC starts and perfect through the first 15 appearances of his career, Evloev has been on the radar as an elite prospect to watch in the featherweight division since his arrival in the spring of 2019. Last year, he posted victories over Nik Lentz and Hakeem Dawodu to climb into the rankings for the first time, and now he tries to force his way into the top 10 by taking out Ige this weekend.
This is one of those fights where we're going to gain a greater appreciation for how skilled each of these men are because no matter how it shakes out, it's going to speak volumes about the victor, and probably the vanquished as well. Ige is notoriously tough to put away and can absolutely crack, while Evloev has solid boxing and excellent grappling, which means this should be an absolutely fantastic fight for as long as it lasts, and one that has legitimate ramifications on the featherweight rankings going forward.
Michael Trizano vs. Lucas Almeida
Trizano returned following nearly two years on the sidelines last May with a unanimous decision victory over Ludovit Klein, putting him back in the win column. Earlier this year, the Team Tiger Schulmann representative dropped a unanimous decision to Hakeem Dawodu, leaving him in a position to once again work to get things headed in the right direction here.
Almeida competed last fall on Season 5 of the Contender Series, dropping a decision to undefeated prospect Daniel Zellhuber, who is slated to debut in the fall. The loss was the first of Almeida's career and he quickly bounced back with a first-round submission win to successfully defend his Jungle Fight lightweight title, earning him a call to the octagon.
This is more a difference of approaches and end results than a traditional clash of styles, as both Trizano and Almeida are well-rounded, but the former has been more apt to see the scorecards through his first five UFC appearances and the latter has earned finishes in each of his 13 career victories.
Will Trizano spoil Almeida's debut or will the Brazilian newcomer begin his UFC adventure with a stoppage victory?
Karine Silva vs. Poliana Botelho
The 28-year-old Silva punched her ticket to the UFC with a second-round submission win over Yan Qihui on Week 9 of last season's 10-week DWCS slate. The victory pushed her winning streak to five and her record to 14-4 overall, with all her wins coming by way of finish.
Botelho began her UFC career with consecutive victories and her time at flyweight with a win, but arrives in Las Vegas having lost consecutive outings and three of her last four fights. The 33-year-old has been in there with considerably more experienced competition than Silva and proven to be a tough out since relocating to the 125-pound weight class, both of which should serve her well against the promotional newcomer on Saturday.
This should be a competitive clash between the younger, more dynamic newcomer and the more seasoned, more polished veteran. There is a generational shift beginning to take root in the flyweight division, so it will be interesting to see if the new guard rules the day or the old guard can hold steady in this one.
Alonzo Menifield vs. Askar Mozharov
Fortis MMA representative Alonzo Menifield looks to follow in the footsteps of his teammate Sam Hughes by picking up a victory in his 2022 debut this weekend, where he squares off with promotional newcomer Askar Mozharov.
A two-time winner on Dana White's Contender Series, Menifield has garnered mixed results through his first seven UFC appearances, registering wins over Paul Craig and Ed Herman while dropping fights against Devin Clark and William Knight on the way to a 4-3 record inside the octagon. The 34-year-old has tantalizing power and explosiveness but is still trying to figure out how to best put it all together and deploy his weapons inside the cage.
After being linked to a pair of fights in 2021, Mozharov finally makes his UFC debut here, stepping in for Nicolae Negumereanu on Saturday. An absolute tank of a man, Mozharov sports a 25-7 record and carries a three-fight winning streak into this showdown with Menifield, which is his first MMA appearance since November 2020 and a solid step up in competition.
All signs point to this being an old-fashioned "Hoss Fight" between two large, powerful light heavyweights looking to end things early. Big shots will be thrown from the outset, and should something considerable land, a highlight reel finish could follow.
Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Herrig last competed in the summer of 2020, suffering a first-round submission loss to Virna Jandiroba. It was her first appearance in nearly two years, and her third consecutive defeat; a run that began with a split decision setback against Kowalkiewicz at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York.
That victory over Herrig was the last time the Polish veteran had her hand raised, as she enters Saturday's rematch on a five-fight slide bookended by first-round finishes. The 36-year-old has faced a cavalcade of ranked fighters and former title challengers over the course of her last eight fights but will be eagerly looking to recapture the form that carried her to a championship opportunity of her own all the way back at UFC 205.
Their first meeting was competitive and entertaining, and there is no reason to assume the sequel will be any different this weekend.
Joe Solecki vs. Alex da Silva
The 28-year-old Solecki stated his UFC tenure with three consecutive victories after graduating to the octagon as a member of the DWCS Class of '19, earning wins over Matt Wiman, Austin Hubbard and Jim Miller. Last October, his six-fight winning streak was snapped with a split-decision loss to Jared Gordon, and now the North Carolina-based Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt works to start another run of success with a win over da Silva on Saturday.
"Leko" last competed at UFC 253, dropping a unanimous decision to New Zealander Brad Riddell in Abu Dhabi. He's only fought three times since the start of 2019, which coincides with the beginning of his time in the UFC, so it will be interesting to see if the 26-year-old can shake off the rust and get things moving in the right direction this weekend.
Each man has flashed promise in the past and their most recent setbacks each came against quality competition, which makes Saturday’s battle a chance to see which one will steady themselves in the talent-rich 155-pound weight class and which one will need to go back to the drawing board once again.
Damon Jackson vs. Daniel Argueta
Jackson has gone 3-1 to begin his second tour of duty in the UFC after earning a loss, a draw, and a no contest verdict in his initial three-fight stint several years ago. Last time out, "The Leech" secured a second-round submission win over Kamuela Kirk, dominating on the ground and building on his victory over Charles Rosa five months earlier.
Just a couple weeks after claiming the vacant LFA bantamweight title with a split-decision win, Argueta gets the short-notice call to replace Darrick Minner and make his UFC debut. A member of Team Ortega on Season 29 of "The Ultimate Fighter," the New Mexico-based grappler lost to Ricky Turcios in a spirited three-round scrap during the competition, but has yet to be bested otherwise.
Ode' Osbourne vs. Zarrukh Adashev
Each of Osbourne's first four UFC appearances has come in a different weight class, as he debuted with a loss to Brian Kelleher at bantamweight, earned his first win over Jerome Rivera at featherweight, dropped to flyweight and lost to Manel Kape, and then beat CJ Vergara in a catchweight contest after the newcomer missed weight class time out.
The 30-year-old southpaw looked sharp in his win over Vergara, showing the work he's done since relocating to Las Vegas in order to take advantage of the UFC PI and train at Syndicate MMA, and aims to build upon those efforts here.
After suffering a loss to Tyson Nam in his short-notice debut, Adashev gave a much better accounting of himself in a unanimous decision loss to Sumudaerji at the start of last year before rebounding with his first UFC triumph on the final day of July. The 29-year-old is just 4-3 in his mixed martial arts career, but logged close to 20 professional kickboxing appearances, and has looked more and more comfortable and confident each time out.
Niklas Stolze vs. Benoit Saint Denis
Stolze landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in his promotional debut opposite Ramazan Emeev in the summer of 2020 and suffered an even worse fate a year later in his sophomore appearance. Jared Gooden stepped in to replace Mounir Lazzez and stepped into a right cross just 68 seconds into the contest that put Stolze on the canvas, handing "Green Mask" the first stoppage loss of his career.
France's Saint Denis carried an unbeaten 8-0 mark into his promotional debut against Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos at UFC 267, where he showed otherworldly toughness and grit in going the distance with the talented Brazilian veteran. Now the 26-year-old moves down a division with designs on showing more of the form that produced eight straight finishes prior to his arriving in the UFC.
Johnny Munoz vs. Tony Gravely
The 29-year-old Munoz got back into the win column last August with a second-round submission win over Jamey Simmons at UFC 265 in Houston, Texas. He was a perfect 10-0 when he got the call to the octagon before dropping his short-notice debut opposite Nate Maness, and he aims to continue his winning ways this weekend when he steps in with Gravely.
A DWCS graduate and former standout on the East Coast regional circuit, Gravely has won three of his last four since debuting with a loss to skilled Welsh veteran Brett Johns in his initial octagon appearance. Gravely, like Munoz, failed to get by Maness, but he bounced back earlier this year with a gritty, grating effort against Saimon Oliveira.
On paper, this looks like a bout that should play out on the canvas, with Munoz looking to deploy his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills and Gravely relying on his collegiate wrestling pedigree. If things go according to plan, this should be a scramble-filled affair that makes grappling nerds like me swoon on Saturday night.
Jeff Molina vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Molina has been impressive since graduating from Season 4 of Dana White's Contender Series, earning a unanimous decision win over Aoriqileng in his debut before collecting a second-round stoppage win over Daniel da Silva in his sophomore appearance. Schooled in mixed martial arts by James Krause and Jason High, "El Jefe" is not only technically sound, but also carries power in his hands, and has keen finishing instincts and the intangibles that often make the difference between being very good and being great.
Zhumagulov arrived in the UFC on a four-fight winning streak against quality competition but has failed to find similar success inside the octagon. Just 1-3 in his first four appearances, the 33-year-old from Kazakhstan secured his lone victory last July with a first-round submission win over Jerome Rivera, only to suffer a first-round stoppage loss to Manel Kape five months later.
This is a slight step up in competition for Molina and a chance for the Glory MMA & Fitness representative to potentially take a big step forward in the flyweight division if he’s able to get by the more experienced, battle-tested Zhumagulov on Saturday night.
Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Andreas Michailidis
Brandishing an impressive 18-1 record that includes a 55-second stoppage win over UFC veteran Eric Spicely in January of last year, Fakhretdinov is an intriguing new addition to the roster.
After debuting at light heavyweight with a loss against Modestas Bukauskas, Michailidis moved down to middleweight and secured a victory over KB Bhullar last May. Six months later, the Greek competitor was tasked with welcoming Alex Pereira to the octagon for the first time, a task that did not end favorably for Michailidis.
While each man has a history of competing at middleweight, this contest is slated to take place in the welterweight division, which means Friday’s weigh-ins are worth watching to see how each man has handled the move down to the 170-pound ranks.
Erin Blanchfield vs. JJ Aldrich
Talk about opening the show with a banger!
Erin Blanchfield goes in search of her third UFC victory in as many starts, while JJ Aldrich looks to halt her rise while adding to her own winning streak in this absolute gem of a flyweight fight to kick things off.
The 23-year-old Blanchfield is 8-1 in her professional career and has won five straight since her debated split decision loss to Tracy Cortez at Invicta FC 34. She earned consecutive "Performance of the Night" bonuses for victories over DWCS grad Victoria Leonardo and "TUF 30" competitor Brogan Walker prior to matriculating to the UFC and has subsequently turned in excellent performance opposite Sarah Alpar and Miranda Maverick in her first two trips into the octagon.
Aldrich has settled in nicely to life in the flyweight division, returning for her fifth consecutive fight in Las Vegas on a three-fight winning streak. After narrowly edging out Cortney Casey to start last year, she boxed up Vanessa Demopoulos in August, and did the same to Gillian Robertson earlier this year to pick up her 11th win in 15 career appearances.
This should be an outstanding opportunity to make further reads on where each woman stands in the deepening and competitive flyweight division. It profiles as a "grappler vs. striker" battle, so it will be interesting to see who can dictate the terms of engagement and leave the octagon with their winning streak intact.
This article first published at UFC.com.