The final two months of the UFC's 2022 schedule kicks off with an absolute banger of a card this weekend at the UFC Apex, headlined by Brazilian strawweight standouts Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Lemos and featuring a number of critical matchups and intriguing assignments throughout the rest of the card.
It's the appetizer to next weekend's return to Madison Square Garden and New York City and it should be outstanding.
Here's a look at what's on tap at UFC Fight Night 214.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Lemos
Rodriguez (16-1-2 MMA, 6-1-2 UFC) and Lemos (12-2-1 MMA, 6-2 UFC) get the five-round, main event treatment a fight of this magnitude deserves, as the Brazilians battle it out for position in the title conversation of the 115-pound weight class.
Entering on a four-fight winning streak with a 6-1-2 record overall inside the octagon, Rodriguez profiles as the top new name in the championship mix in the strawweight division. Her lone loss was a close, debated split decision defeat to current champ Carla Esparza, and in her last two outings, the Marcio Malko protege has posted decision victories over last month's headlining tandem of Mackenzie Dern and Yan Xiaonan.
After starting the year with a first-round submission loss to former champ Jessica Andrade, Lemos got right back into the win column less than three months later, snatching up a second-round submission win over Michelle Waterson-Gomez on Long Island. Now 6-1 since relocating to strawweight, a victory over Rodriguez would put Lemos in the thick of the title chase.
With Esparza set to defend against Zhang Weili next weekend, the outcome of this contest could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the title. Rodriguez feels like the clubhouse leader amongst the pack of fighters that haven't previously worn gold, and if Lemos can topple her, she should claim that position for herself.
This should be an ultra-competitive, high-energy fight for as long as it lasts, and one you do not want to miss.
Neil Magny vs. Daniel Rodriguez
Originally scheduled to take place in mid-October, Neil Magny (26-9 MMA, 19-8 UFC) and Daniel Rodriguez (17-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) now square off this Saturday, as each looks to cement their standing in the welterweight division.
A fixture in the top 15 for the last seven years, Magny returns for the third time in 2022, aiming to remind everyone of just how good he is after losing to unbeaten rising star Shavkat Rakhmonov last time out. The Elevation Fight Team member is 7-3 over his last 10 fights, including wins over Li Jingliang, Robbie Lawler and Geoff Neal, and has not dropped consecutive contests since his second and third fights in the UFC.
Rodriguez was part of the great UFC 279 reshuffling, coming away with a split decision win over Li that extended his winning streak to four. Dating back to the start of 2018, "D-Rod" is 13-1 overall, including 7-1 in the UFC, and has the kind of fundamentally sound, unflappable approach that makes him a challenging matchup for anyone, including the seasoned Magny, on Saturday.
Currently stationed in the lower-third of the top 15, we might be looking at a battle to determine which of these veterans remains in the rankings and which one loses the number next to their name. Welterweight is brimming with emerging talent, and a setback for either man could cost them their place in the hierarchy, which should ensure we get the best from both fighters when they throw down this weekend.
Chase Sherman vs. Josh Parisian
Sherman halted a four-fight slide and picked up his fourth career UFC victory last time out, rallying to stop Jared Vanderaa in the third round of their clash in early July. The Mississippi native is a tough cuss and always game to get after it, and with a similar dance partner here as he had last time, a similar result is certainly not out of the question.
A member of the Dana White's Contender Series Class of 2020, Parisian has alternated losses and wins since arriving in the UFC, and comes into this one off a victory, having rallied to stop Alan Baudot in June. The 33-year-old has flashed great upside in the past, so perhaps his come-from-behind triumph earlier this year will unlock another gear for the Michigan-based heavyweight.
Which of these two men will secure a second consecutive UFC victory and which will be forced to once again deal with the bitter taste of defeat?
Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Nate Maness
Ulanbekov, who trains with new lightweight champ Islam Makhachev and the last man to beat Maness, Umar Nurmagomedov, returns to Las Vegas looking to get back in the win column after losing to Tim Elliott at UFC 272 in March. The loss snapped a five-fight winning streak for the 31-year-old, who has been limited to just three appearances since signing with the UFC in 2020.
Maness went 3-1 in four UFC bantamweight appearances, going the distance in a losing effort opposite the unbeaten Nurmagomedov last time out. He's got tremendous size for the weight class and if his power and finishing prowess transfer with him, "Mayhem" could quickly become a person of interest in the 125-pound weight class.
This is an outstanding matchup that should answer a great number of questions about each man, including where they stand in the flyweight division at the moment and how that could potentially change in 2023 and beyond.
Grant Dawson vs. Mark O. Madsen
Dawson jumped at the chance to face the unbeaten former Olympic medalist, looking to build off his April stoppage win over Jared Gordon and continue his unbeaten run in the UFC. The 28-year-old is 18-1-1 overall, 6-0-1 inside the octagon, and showed no signs of struggle after switching gyms and taking a step up in competition last time out.
Madsen was slated to face Drakkar Klose on last weekend's fight card, but Klose suffered a knee injury and was forced to withdraw. A perfect 12-0 in his MMA career, "The Olympian" is coming off an excellent win over Vinc Pichel in early April and will look to show the improvements he's continued to make since moving to the United States and training with the Fight Ready crew full time.
Though it's brutally hard to break into the lightweight rankings, the winner of this one will garner consideration, and at the very least head into 2023 as a dark horse destined to face someone with a number next to their name in the opening half of the year.
Darrick Minner vs. Shayilan Nuerdanbieke
After posting a pair of victories over T.J. Laramie and Charles Rosa following his short-notice debut loss, Minner has suffered consecutive setbacks heading into this one, landing on the wrong side of the results against veterans Darren Elkins and Ryan Hall. The 39-fight veteran has rebounded in spots like this before and has a considerable experience advantage he can play on when he makes his second appearance of the year on Saturday.
Nuerdanbieke also dropped his UFC debut but has since collected consecutive decision wins over Sean Soriano and T.J. Brown. The 28-year-old has nearly 50 fights on his resume, but it's hard to know how much value to derive from those contests given that he made 30-plus starts in his first two years as a competitor, which is why his shift to training at Kill Cliff FC could prove pivotal.
This should be a grappling-heavy affair with plenty of submission attempts and competitive scrambles. If you're a fan of battles waged on the canvas, this is one you won't want to miss.
Miranda Maverick vs. Shanna Young
The 25-year-old Maverick snapped a two-fight skid last time out, securing a second-round submission win over Sabina Mazo. Now based in Colorado, the athletic and competitive Maverick is 12-4 overall while establishing herself as one of the top under-27 talents on the UFC roster.
Young also halted a two-fight slide in her most recent outing, garnering her first UFC victory with a come-from-behind finish of Gina Mazany in her return to the flyweight ranks. Now training at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, Young will look to secure consecutive victories for the first time since early 2019 when she steps into the octagon this weekend.
These two faced off in the semifinals of the Invicta FC Phoenix Rising tournament the fall of 2019, with Maverick earning a first-round submission win. Will she move to 2-0 against Young or can the veteran garner a measure of revenge on Saturday night?
Mario Bautista vs. Benito Lopez
After suffering a loss in his lone appearance of 2021, Bautista has made the most of his first two assignments this year, outworking Jay Perrin in February before snatching up a first-round submission win over Brian Kelleher in June. The MMA Lab representative is 4-1 in the UFC since losing his short-notice debut to Cory Sandhagen, and profiles as yet another emerging name to watch in the talent-rich 135-pound weight class.
Lopez returns for the first time in more than three years this weekend, looking to recapture the buzz he carried when the first landed in the UFC. Now 28, "The Golden Boy" is 10-1 for his career and earned a unanimous decision win over Vince Morales in his last appearance, which sets a sound baseline for what to expect this weekend.
Will Bautista pick up a third straight victory or will Lopez make a triumphant return to competition?
Polyana Viana vs. Jinh Yu Frey
The 30-year-old Viana had her two-fight winning streak snapped in May, landing on the wrong side of the cards in a clash with Tabatha Ricci. The Brazilian has struggled to find consistency in the UFC, entering Saturday's contest with a 3-4 mark through seven starts, but perhaps making a second appearance this year will produce a swift return to her more recent form this weekend.
Frey also had a two-fight winning streak snapped in her last appearance, as she fell on the unhappy side of a split decision verdict in her late June bout with Vanessa Demopoulos. The former Invicta FC champion looked good in her 2021 wins over Gloria de Paula and Ashley Yoder, and will look to use her size and physicality to outwork Viana in Las Vegas.
Each of these women likely feels like their back is against the wall, so expect both to come out aggressively, looking to make a statement and get back in the win column on Saturday afternoon.
Liudvik Sholinian vs. Johnny Munoz
A member of Team Ortega on Season 29 of "The Ultimate Fighter," Sholinian defeated Mitch Raposo in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual winner Ricky Turcios in the semis. He was tabbed to face Jack Shore on short notice last September, dropping a decision to the then-unbeaten Welshman, and has been out of action since as a result of the ongoing conflict in his native Ukraine.
After dropping a decision to Maness in their shared UFC debuts, Munoz rebounded nicely with a second-round submission win over Jamey Simmons a year later. He was unable to build on that result, however, as Munoz was knocked out just 68 seconds into his clash with Tony Gravely in June.
Can Sholinian collect his first UFC victory or will "Kid Kvenbo" once again rebound with another strong effort coming off a loss?
Carlos Candelario vs. Jake Hadley
Candelario made history last season as the first fighter to suffer a loss, but still earned a contract, getting called up the UFC despite dropping a split decision to Victor Altamirano early in the season. He made his promotional debut earlier this year against Japanese prospect Tatsuro Taira, battling hard to the end, and will be aiming to halt his two-fight slide on Saturday.
Hadley missed weight on the day leading up to his Contender Series victory over Raposo but garnered a contract nonetheless. He landed on the wrong side of the scores in a tough debut assignment opposite Allan Nascimento, and will look to show that the hype surrounding him prior to that contest was real in his second start of 2022.
Flyweight continues to add depth and become more competitive with each passing month, so if either of these men has ambitions of making noise in the 125-pound ranks in 2023, they need to set themselves up to do so with a strong showing this weekend.
Tamires Vidal vs. Ramona Pascual
The 24-year-old Vidal is 6-1 as a professional, with her lone loss coming against top 10 bantamweight Karol Rosa. Two fights back, she earned a DQ win over recent UFC debutant Ailin Perez, and in her last outing, she scored a second-round submission win by heel hook.
Pascual got the call to the UFC following an impressive first-round win under the Invicta FC banner in January but has struggled in her two trips into the octagon, losing decisions to Josiane Nunes and Joselyne Edwards. This will be her first fight at bantamweight since the end of 2019, so it will be interesting to see if she will carry a size and overall physicality advantage into this one.
Will the newcomer Vidal kick off the night's action by securing her sixth straight victory or can Pascual earn a win to close out her 2022 campaign?
This story first published at UFC.com.