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'UFC Fight Night 212: Grasso vs. Araujo' fight-by-fight preview

Let's break down Saturday's Las Vegas fight card, top to bottom.

It's nine events in 10 weeks to close out the 2022 UFC fight calendar, starting this Saturday with a card headlined by a critical flyweight matchup.

The sprint to the finish and jockeying for position across divisions is going to be fascinating this year, as it is every year, so let's dive right into the action on tap this weekend at the UFC Apex and get ready to soak it all in.

Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo

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Alexa Grasso (14-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) and Viviane Araujo (11-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) clash in a five-round matchup between top contenders in the flyweight division, with the winner heading into 2023 near the top of the list of potential title challengers in the 125-pound weight class.

Grasso has been perfect since transitioning to the division in the summer of 2020, posting three wins in as many starts to push her overall record to 14-3. After earning unanimous decision wins over Ji Yeon Kim and Maycee Barber in her first two appearances, the former Invicta FC standout collected a first-round submission win over Joanne Wood in March to climb into the top 5 and truly establish herself as a threat in the division.

Araujo hasn't quite been able to get all the way to the top of the list of contenders yet, but that's because she's run into a pair of former title challengers, including Katlyn Chookagian two fights back. But she rebounded from that setback at UFC 262 with her most impressive performance to date in May, showcasing her full arsenal in a unanimous decision victory over Andrea Lee, and can take another step towards a title opportunity by halting Grasso's run this weekend.

It's not inconceivable that the winner of this contest fights for the flyweight title next time out. Current champ Valentina Shevchenko has dispatched each of the four fighters ranked ahead of these two women in the rankings, and a strong effort from either would make them the clubhouse leader in the chase for the next title shot ahead of Chookagian's bout with Manon Fiorot next week in Abu Dhabi.

Cub Swanson vs. Jonathan Martinez

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Veteran Cub Swanson (28-12 MMA, 13-8 UFC) makes the move down to bantamweight for the first time, where he'll share the cage with Jonathan Martinez (16-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) in what should be a competitive, compelling matchup on this weekend's main card.

Despite having won three of his last four and coming off a first-round stoppage win over Darren Elkins at the end of last year, Swanson has opted to end his 33-fight run of competing in the featherweight division to test the waters in the 135-pound ranks. The 38-year-old brings a wealth of experience and a diverse, dangerous skill set to the already stacked division, so it will be interesting to see how he fits in to his new surroundings.

Martinez is an excellent initial test for "Killer Cub" – a 28-year-old ascending talent on a three-fight winning streak that trains with a great camp (Factory X) but has yet to show he's ready to hang with the big boys in the division. He's been a little more methodical and measured sine his knockout loss to Davey Grant last year, but at 16-4 overall and 7-3 in the UFC, this is Martinez' opportunity to beat an established veteran and take another step forward in the division.

Can Swanson tap into some of that success Jose Aldo found by moving down to bantamweight following a lengthy featherweight career, or will Martinez spoil his arrival on Saturday night?

Askar Askarov vs. Brandon Royval

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With the final showdown between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno set to take place in January, top contenders Askar Askarov (14-1-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC) and Brandon Royval (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC) look to make their individual cases for facing the undisputed champion – whomever that may be – later in 2023 when they face off on Saturday night.

Askarov returns for the first time since suffering the initial defeat of his professional career — a close, competitive decision setback against Kai Kara-France in March. The 29-year-old boxer and wrestler had posted consecutive victories over Tim Elliott, Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Benavidez prior to that, as well as battling Moreno to a draw in his promotional debut, and can get right back into the thick of the title conversation with a win over Royval in Las Vegas.

Another member of the Factory X squad, Royval has been hovering on the fringes of title contention for the last couple years. After debuting with submission wins over Elliott and Kara-France, he dropped back-to-back contests to Moreno and Pantoja, but has since rebounded with wins over Rogerio Bontorin and Matt Schnell already this year.

There are others in line to challenge for the title at flyweight at the moment – namely Pantoja – but a dynamic effort from either fighter would put them on the short list to face whoever emerges from the UFC 283 title unification quadrilogy between Figueiredo and Moreno.

Jordan Wright vs. Dusko Todorovic

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Dana White's Contender Series alums and proven finishers Jordan Wright (12-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) and Dusko Todorovic (11-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) face off in what should be an explosive middleweight contest.

Wright is a full-fledged "kill or be killed" competitor, boasting a 12-3 record with one no contest. He's seen the second round only twice, and neither of those visits lasted more than a minute. After beginning his career with 11 victories and one no contest verdict, the 30-year-old enters this weekend's card having dropped two straight and three of his last four.

A member of the DWCS Class of '19, Serbia's Todorovic has also struggled to find consistency inside the octagon. The 28-year-old returns to Las Vegas having gone 2-3 through his first five UFC appearances, and is looking to rebound from a first-round knockout loss to Chidi Njokuani in May.

This is guaranteed fireworks because neither man knows anything other than to come forward looking to get their opponent out of there in a hurry. Someone is getting finished and the action leading up to finding out who that is should be electric.

Misha Cirkunov vs. Alonzo Menifield

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After a two-fight dalliance at middleweight, Misha Cirkunov (15-8 MMA, 6-6 UFC) returns to the light heavyweight division this weekend, squaring off with fellow physical specimen Alonzo Menifield (12-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) in an intriguing preliminary card pairing.

Cirkunov, who was previously ranked in the top 15 in the 205-pound weight class, dropped to middleweight following a first-round stoppage loss to Ryan Spann in March 2021. That two-fight trip down in weight resulted in a tepid decision loss to Krzysztof Jotko and a second-round submission defeat to Wellington Turman in February, prompting this weekend's return to his more natural surroundings.

The 34-year-old Menifield is an explosive athlete still working on the finer points of being a mixed martial artist. The Fortis MMA representative is 5-3 in the UFC, including a first-round stoppage win over Paul Craig, and has been putting things together much better as of late, resulting in victories in three of his last four appearances.

Can Cirkunov return to light heavyweight and the win column, or will Menifield be the second consecutive Fortis MMA product to turn him back in the 205-pound weight class?

Nick Maximov vs. Jacob Malkoun

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Nick Maximov (8-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) and Jacob Malkoun (6-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) meet in a clash between middleweight wrestlers looking to get things moving in the right direction before the year is out.

After opening his career with eight straight wins, Maximov enters Saturday's contest coming off a loss for the first time. Back in May, he ran into fellow grappler Andre Petroski, and the surging Philadelphia-based "TUF" alum put him to sleep with an anaconda choke just 76 seconds into the contest.

Malkoun put together back-to-back strong efforts against Abdul Razak Alhassan and A.J. Dobson to bring his record to 6-1 overall, but in June, he ran into Brendan Allen at UFC 275 and was handed a second career loss. The Australian has shown improvements since arriving in the UFC and it will be interesting to see how his grappling game matches up with Maximov this weekend.

Both of these men are still relatively young in their respective careers – Maximov has nine fights, Malkoun eight – so how they've addressed the holes that were exposed in their game in their most recent appearances will go a long way to determine who emerges victorious on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Victor Henry

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The first bantamweight battle of the evening is another intriguing one, as divisional stalwart Raphael Assuncao (27-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) squares off with UFC sophomore Victor Henry (22-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC).

Assuncao, who turned 40 over the summer, enters on a four-fight slide, though it's hard to knock him for losses to Marlon Moraes, Cory Sandhagen, Cody Garbrandt and Ricky Simon. The Georgia-based Brazilian had been a fixture in the top 15 prior to his recent woes and is the kind of experienced, crafty veteran that could certainly keep Henry from collecting a second straight victory to start his UFC career.

After traversing the globe over the course of his first 26 fights, the 35-year-old Henry touched down in the octagon in January and collected a unanimous decision win over Raoni Barcelos to instantly establish himself as a person of interest in the 135-pound weight class. The Josh Barnett protege has faced quality competition throughout his career and has a well-rounded skill set, which makes him an intriguing dark horse in the talent-rich division heading into this weekend.

Bantamweight is packed with talent, and this contest should determine which of these two moves further up the hierarchy and who is forced to take a small step back.

Piera Rodriguez vs. Sam Hughes

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Strawweights looking to build off recent positive results clash in Sin City on Saturday, as Piera Rodriguez (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) makes her second UFC start against Fortis MMA representative Sam Hughes (7-4 MMA, 2-3 UFC).

The 29-year-old Rodriguez punched her ticket to the UFC with a dominant decision win over "Tina Black," Valesca Machado on Season 5 of Dana White's Contender Series. She debuted at UFC 273 and posted a similar result against Kay Hansen to extend her record to 8-0, and looks to keep rolling along unimpeded when she steps in with Hughes this weekend.

Hughes' UFC tenure began with a short-notice assignment opposite Tecia Torres that ended with her suffering an eye injury in Round 1 and was followed by consecutive decision losses to Loma Lookboonmee and Luana Pinheiro. But since connecting with Sayif Saud and the crew in Dallas, the former D-1 track athlete has posted back-to-back wins over Istela Nunes and Elise Reed, sending her into the weekend with a ton of momentum.

These are two of the top emerging talents in the 115-pound weight class and fans should be paying close attention to see which one comes away victorious. While still a couple wins away from cracking the top 15, the winner will be someone to keep close tabs on in 2023.

Tatsuro Taira vs. C.J. Vergara

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Flyweight prospect Tatsuro Taira (11-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) returns for his second UFC appearance on Saturday, stepping into the octagon against DWCS alum C.J. Vergara (10-3-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC).

Just 22 years old, Taira impressed in his promotional debut in May, pushing his record to 11-0 with a unanimous decision win over Carlos Candelario. A native of Okinawa, Japan, the former Shooto champion is poised, fundamentally sound, and has all the tools at his disposal, and profiles as someone that could develop into a legitimate top of the division fixture over the next several years.

Trained by UFC vet Pete Spratt, Vergara registered his first UFC victory in May as well, out-hustling Kleydson Rodriguez to garner a split decision victory. The San Antonio-based fighter had excelled under the Fury FC banner and looked outstanding in his DWCS win over Bruno Korea before stumbling in his promotional debut, which now stands as an outlier on his resume.

Will Taira keep rolling or will the older, more powerful Vergara be the one to end his unbeaten run?

Mike Jackson vs. Pete Rodriguez

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Mike Jackson (1-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) makes his fourth UFC start and second appearance of the year on Saturday, stepping in against Pete Rodriguez (4-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC).

Jackson returned to the octagon for the first time since his UFC 225 bout with CM Punk in Chicago in April, earning a victory over Dean Barry in a foul-filled battle that ended with the Irish newcomer getting disqualified for eye gouging. The 37-year-old has had a long, strange adventure in the UFC, and it will be interesting to see if he can go out and have a nice, normal fight with Rodriguez on Saturday.

Tagged in on short notice to face Jack Della Maddalena earlier in the year, the 25-year-old Rodriguez now gets a full camp and a far more reasonable dance partner for his sophomore appearance in the octagon. He'd posted four straight first-round finishes prior to running into "Della" in January and will look to get back to that form this weekend against "The Truth."

Weirdness seems to follow Jackson every time he steps into the octagon, so I recommend being locked in to catch Saturday's action so that you don't miss whatever transpires.

Mana Martinez vs. Brandon Davis

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It's a meeting of all-action bantamweights on Saturday's prelims as Mana Martinez (9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) takes on fellow DWCS alum Brandon Davis (14-9 MMA, 2-6 UFC).

Martinez came up short in his quest to claim a UFC contract through the annual talent search series but scored a pair of regional circuit wins following his appearance in Las Vegas to earn the call to the octagon. After edging out Guido Cannetti in his promotional debut, the Texas native dropped a competitive fight to Ronnie Lawrence last time out, hanging tough throughout and nearly getting Lawrence out of there in the third.

The 32-year-old Davis is on his second tour of duty with the UFC, called back after earning four wins in 11 months following an entertaining 2-5 run following his contract-winning turn on the first season of Dana White's Contender Series. He landed on the wrong side of things in his return against Danaa Batgerel last October but looks to rebound here.

These two are allergic to being in boring fights independently and should combine to deliver an entertaining scrap on Saturday night.

This story first published at UFC.com.