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'UFC on ESPN 38: Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot' fight-by fight preview

To get you ready for "UFC on ESPN 38: Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot," we break down the whole card from top to bottom.

Coming off last Saturday's electric night of action in Austin, Texas, business shifts back to the UFC Apex this weekend for a fight card featuring some of the top emerging names in the most competitive and talent-rich divisions in the sport.

If UFC 275 was the main course and last weekend's event was the decadent dessert in this weekly progression through the June fight menu, Saturday's lineup is the thoroughly enjoyable final glass of wine or top-shelf spirit of your choosing to close out a tremendous month inside the octagon.

Here's a closer look at what's on tap this weekend.

Arman Tsarukyan vs. Mateusz Gamrot

Surging lightweights Arman Tsarukyan (18-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) and Mateusz Gamrot (20-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) meet in a main event pairing that could very well elevate the winner to the fringes of the title conversation.

Despite coming out on the wrong side of the result, Tsarukyan made an instant impression in his promotional debut, pushing current top contender Islam Makhachev to a decision in Saint Petersburg, Russia three years ago. Since then, the 25-year-old has reeled off five consecutive victories, including back-to-back stoppage wins over Christos Giagos and Joel Alvarez.

Gamrot also dropped his promotional debut, losing a close fight with Guram Kutateladze on UFC Fight Island. In his three fights since, the Polish standout has scored a knockout win over Scott Holtzman, a submission finish of Jeremy Stephens, and a TKO victory over Diego Ferreira to climb into the top 15.

Currently positioned next to each other in the rankings, Tsarukyan and Gamrot are two of the absolute best up-and-coming talents on the UFC roster, let alone within the lightweight division. This should be a technical, tactical battle between two highly skilled competitors, and regardless of the outcome, each man should be viewed as a long-term threat in the 155-pound ranks.

A move into the top 10 is likely for the victor, while the vanquished shouldn't lose any ground, putting each in a position for another marquee assignment in the second half of the year and the chance to continue making noise in the consistently entertaining lightweight division going forward.

Neil Magny vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov

Neil Magny (26-8 MMA, 19-7 UFC) and Shavkat Rakhmonov (15-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) square off in a clash of top-15 welterweights looking to make a serious statement on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Magny is tied with Georges St-Pierre for the most wins in UFC welterweight division history with 19 and widely accepted to have fought one of the toughest schedules of any active competitor in the UFC right now. Individually, those things tell you a lot about the former "The Ultimate Fighter" contestant, and combined, they demonstrate the competitive fire and undeniable skill that the 34-year-old Elevation Fight Team member carries with him each and every time he steps into the octagon.

Through his first three UFC appearances, Rakhmonov has managed to exceed expectations while maintaining an unbeaten record. After posting back-to-back submission wins over Brazilian veterans Alex Oliveira and Michel Prazares in his first two outings, the 27-year-old from Kazakhstan collected a first-round stoppage win over Carlston Harris in February that pushed his record to 15-0 and vaulted him into the welterweight rankings.

This is a massive opportunity for each man and should be a tremendous fight no matter how it shakes out. Magny gets the opportunity to hand the unbeaten Rakhmonov his first career defeat while pushing his winning streak to three and further bolstering his position within the top 10, while the streaking "Nomad" gets his first chance to topple a ranked opponent and continue his push towards the top of the division.

You are not going to want to miss this one.

Josh Parisian vs. Alan Baudot

Josh Parisian (14-5 MMA, 1-2 UFC) and Alan Baudot (8-3 MMA, 0-2 UFC) square off in this matchup of heavyweights hoping to get things moving in the right direction heading into the second half of 2022.

A two-time winner on Dana White's Contender Series, Parisian has struggled to replicate that success since graduating to the octagon. He dropped his debut to Parker Porter before edging out Roque Martinez for his first UFC victory, but fell to fellow DWCS alum Don’Tale Mayes in December, leaving him sitting at 14-5 overall and 1-2 in the UFC heading into this weekend.

A training partner of former interim champ Ciryl Gane, Baudot accepted a short-notice assignment opposite Tom Aspinall in October 2020 that did not go his way and has struggled to find success since. His stoppage loss to Rodrigo Nascimento was deemed a no contest after the Brazilian tested positive for a banned substance, but he joined Parisian in losing a decision to Porter in February to leave him looking to snap a three-fight run without a victory this weekend.

Both of these men enter with their backs against the wall, which should create increased urgency and focus on Saturday night. Each showed flashes of promise prior to arriving in the UFC and a couple glimpses since, but they will need to string together those positive moments more consistently if either of them hopes to emerge with a victory here.

Thiago Moises vs. Christos Giagos

Thiago Moises (15-6 MMA, 4-4 UFC) and Christos Giagos (19-9 MMA, 5-5 UFC) square off in this main card fixture between skilled lightweights that each ran afoul of elite competitors in 2021 as they aim to start fresh in their joint 2022 debuts this weekend.

Brazil's Moises pushed his winning streak to three at the start of last year, out-hustling Alexander Hernandez in February. A main event assignment opposite Islam Makhachev resulted in a fourth-round submission loss, and then a pairing with Joel Alvarez produced a first-round stoppage, sending the 27-year-old into this one on a two-fight skid.

Like his opponent this weekend, Giagos also kept things rolling at the outset of last year, earning a second-round submission win over Sean Soriano that gave him consecutive victories inside the Octagon and wins in four of his last five fights. A date with Tsarukyan in September halted that tidy run of success, forcing Giagos to look to begin rebuilding here.

Individually, the results these two have accumulated illustrate just how treacherous life in the lightweight division can be, as they’ve each had a mixture of quality efforts and losses to more established, more seasoned competition. The competition isn’t getting any easier in the 155-pound weight class, so it’s incumbent on each man to deliver a quality effort here if they aim to get back into the win column and start making forward progress once again.

Nate Maness vs. Umar Nurmagomedov

Nate Maness (14-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and Umar Nurmagomedov (14-0 MMA 2-0 UFC) meet in here in a tremendously compelling clash between emerging threats in the bantamweight division.

The 30-year-old Maness is one of the best unheralded talents on the roster, entering Saturday’s contest with a 14-1 record overall and a 3-0 mark inside the Octagon, with his lone setback coming in a championship clash with former UFC standout Taylor Lapilus under the TKO banner. After going to a decision win over Johnny Munoz Jr. in his promotional debut, Maness has posted back-to-back second-round stoppage wins over Luke Sanders and Tony Gravely to establish himself as a dark horse working his way up the ranks in the 135-pound weight class.

In terms of hype and buzz, Nurmagomedov has been the exact opposite of Maness, arriving amidst much fanfare as the highly touted younger cousin of former lightweight ruler Khabib Nurmagomedov. To his credit, the 26-year-old has done his part to validate his advanced billing, securing consecutive stoppage wins over Sergey Morozov and Brian Kelleher to push his record to 14-0 in advance of this weekend’s showdown with Maness in Las Vegas.

Bantamweight is one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC top-to-bottom at the moment, and these two ascending standouts are in the thick of things. Each is looking to continue progressing forward and earning bigger assignments, and this main card clash should provide plenty of insight into where each man fits within the divisional hierarchy and how much further they may climb before the year is out.

Chris Curtis vs. Rodolfo Vieira

Middleweights draw the opening slot on the main card as Chris Curtis (28-8 MMA, 2-0 UFC) looks to secure his third straight UFC victory in a showdown with multiple-time Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion Rodolfo Vieira (8-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC).

Curtis was one of the coolest stories in MMA in 2021, as the veteran earned four wins in seven months to push his winning streak to five before volunteering for a short-notice assignment opposite Phil Hawes. The bout eventually came together a month later at Madison Square Garden, where the 34-year-old “Action-Man” collected a first-round knockout win.

As if that wasn’t enough, Curtis jumped back into the Octagon a month later in Las Vegas, handing Brendan Allen a second-round stoppage loss to give himself two UFC victories and six total wins for the year.

After beginning his MMA career with seven consecutive victories, including a pair of submission wins in his first two UFC assignments, Vieira tasted defeat for the first time when Anthony Hernandez submitted him last February. The 32-year-old BJJ standout got back into the win column with a submission finish over Dustin Stoltzfus in July, and looks to take a big step forward in his development by halting Curtis’ impressive run of success here.

I know I say it quite frequently in this space, but it’s because it’s true: there is always opportunities to advance in the middleweight hierarchy and a dominant effort from either of these competitors would move them to the doorstep of the rankings and set them up for an even greater test next time out.

Can Curtis keep rolling or will Vieira show continued improvements while collecting the biggest win of his career?

Carlos Ulberg vs. Tafon Nchukwi

Carlos Ulberg (4-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) and Tafon Nchukwi (6-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) face off here in a meeting of powerhouse light heavyweights still looking to establish their footing in the UFC.

A member of the City Kickboxing team and a DWCS graduate, Ulberg dropped his promotional debut last February when Kennedy Nzechukwu stopped him in a fight where he landed with impunity, but couldn’t put the Fortis MMA man down. He returned earlier this year and collected a unanimous decision win over Fabio Cherant, showing more patience, more composure, and a greater understanding of how to conserve his gas tank.

Nchukwi also arrived in the UFC via Dana White’s Contender Series. He split his first two UFC assignments at middleweight before returning to the 205-pound ranks, where he out-worked Mike Rodriguez last September before getting caught with a flying knee by newcomer Azamat Murzakanov in March.

These are two explosive, physical fighters still figuring out the best way to deploy their skills and make their obvious gifts work for them inside the Octagon. They come from quality teams and have shown improvements each time out, which leads me to believe this should be a competitive affair where each is at his best to close out Saturday night’s preliminary slate.

Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. TJ Brown

It’s a meeting of featherweights looking to keep their momentum going here as Shayilan Nuerdanbieke (36-10 MMA, 1-1 UFC) takes on “Downtown” TJ Brown (16-8 MMA, 2-2 UFC).

The 28-year-old Nuerdanbieke secured his first UFC victory in his second promotional start last November, outworking veteran Sean Soriano to earn a sweep of the scorecards. 

A member of the DWCS Class of ’19, Brown stumbled upon arriving in the UFC, suffering losses in each of his first two outings and missing weight for one of those assignments. Since then, however, the grappler has secured a split decision win over Kai Kamaka and a unanimous decision victory over Charles Rosa at lightweight to enter Saturday’s contest looking to extend his winning streak to three and his record to 17-8 overall.

Raulian Paiva vs. Sergey Morozov

Raulian Paiva (21-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) and Sergey Morozov (17-5 MMA, 1-2 UFC) meet in what should be a competitive, action-packed clash in the bantamweight division.

After beginning his UFC tenure in the flyweight division but struggling at times to make weight, Paiva moved up to the 135-pound weight class last year, debuting with a come-from-behind majority decision win over Kyler Phillips. That victory pushed his winning streak to three and landed him opposite Sean O’Malley at UFC 269 in December, where the Brazilian became another highlight aired on “The Sugar Show.”

Morozov may be just 1-2 inside the Octagon thus far, but each of those contests have been entertaining, competitive affairs. After losing to Nurmagomedov in his debut, the 32-year-old from Kazakhstan rebounded with a win over Khalid Taha last July before pairing off with Douglas Silva de Andrade for one of the most fast-paced, back-and-forth fights of 2022 earlier this year at UFC 271.

As previously discussed, bantamweight is brimming with talent at the moment and the battle to advance in the division has never been more fierce, so don’t be surprised if these two come out ready to set the cage and social media alight on Saturday night.

JP Buys vs. Cody Durden

Flyweights looking to rebound from recent struggles share the Octagon here as JP Buys (9-4 MMA, 0-2 UFC) faces off with Cody Durden (12-4-1 MMA, 1-2-1 UFC).

Buys made a pair of appearances on Dana White’s Contender Series, losing in Season One to UFC vet Joby Sanchez before rattling off five straight victories, including his contract-winning victory over Jacob Silva on Season Four. Since then, however, the South African grappler has suffered consecutive losses, entering this one off a unanimous decision defeat against Montel Jackson at bantamweight that made him reconsider which division is best for him.

Durden returns to Las Vegas following a first-round submission loss to uber-prospect Muhammad Mokaev in London earlier this year. The American veteran edged out Aoriqileng in his previous appearances, but carries a 1-2-1 mark in four UFC starts into this clash with Buys on Saturday.

Will the Contender Series grad Buys finally secure his first UFC win or will Durden bounce back while handing him a third straight defeat?

Brian Kelleher vs. Mario Bautista

Divisional staples coming off very different results meet in this bantamweight clash as veteran BBrian Kelleher (24-13 MMA, 8-6 UFC) shares the cage with ascending hopeful Mario Bautista (9-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC).

Never one to turn down a fight, Kelleher welcomed the opportunity share the Octagon with Nurmagomedov earlier this year, eager to see what the undefeated Russian was all about. It didn’t go so well, as Kelleher was submitted in the first round, ending his two-fight winning streak. Now, the 35-year-old Long Island native looks to bounce back once again as he steps in with another young talent this weekend.

After getting submitted by Cory Sandhagen in his short-notice promotional debut, Bautista earned quality wins over JinSoo Son and Miles Jones before getting caught with a lovely counter by Trevin Jones at UFC 259. The MMA Lab representative returned to action in February and turned in his most complete performance to date, sweeping the scorecards in a fight with Jay Perrin to move his record to 9-2 overall.

Kelleher is the type of game veteran every division needs at different points along the road to the top; battle-tested and capable of forcing hopefuls to fight to their best in order to move forward. This is another solid test for Bautista and one that should show whether he’s ready to take that next step forward or set to remain stationed where he is in the treacherous bantamweight ranks.

Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Jinh Yu Frey

Former regional champions finally starting to have success on the big stage meet in Saturday’s opening bout as Vanessa Demopoulos (7-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC) shares the Octagon with Jinh Yu Frey (11-6 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in what should be a spirited strawweight affair.

A former champion and standout under the LFA banner, Demopoulos secured her first UFC victory earlier this year, shaking out the cobwebs after getting clocked by Silvana Gomez Juarez in order to secure an armbar and force “La Malvada” to tap. The 33-year-old has faced quality competition throughout her career and looked more comfortable back down at 115 pounds after debuting with a loss to JJ Aldrich up a division.

Frey is a former Invicta FC atomweight champ who needed a little time to get used to competing in the strawweight ranks. After suffering losses to Kay Hansen and Loma Lookboonmee in her first two assignments, the Fortis MMA representative has since rebounded with consecutive unanimous decision victories over Gloria de Paula and Ashley Yoder.

This story first published at UFC.com.