This month's slate of action inside the octagon wraps up on Saturday with a second consecutive event at the UFC Apex.
After last weekend's festivities featured a potential title eliminator in the light heavyweight division atop the bill, this weekend's card is capped by bantamweights looking to similarly punch their ticket to a championship opportunity next time out. Bolstered by a host of intriguing names and competitive matchups, Saturday's event should close out the month in style.
Here's a closer look at what's on tap.
Holly Holm vs. Ketlen Vieira
Former champ Holly Holm (14-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC) and talented Brazilian Ketlen Vieira (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) clash in this critical bantamweight matchup that could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the title.
Saturday will mark Holm's first appearance since earning a unanimous decision win over Irene Aldana on Fight Island on October 4, 2020. Since then, "The Preacher's Daughter" has been scheduled to compete twice, but forced out each time, once due to a medical issue, and then by a knee injury.
Vieira cemented her standing as one of the top contenders in the 135-pound weight class last November, bouncing back from a questionable split decision loss to Yana Kunitskaya in February with a "no doubt about it" decision win over Miesha Tate. The 30-year-old Nova Uniao representative has been on the brink of challenging for championship gold for a couple years now, and a victory over Holm could finally earn her that opportunity.
Along with being a pivotal fight in terms of the championship chase, this is a compelling stylistic matchup as well, as each woman is best known for one skill — Holm as a kickboxer, Vieira as a grappler — yet each has shown greater diversity and consistent improvement in the other parts of their games. Holm has a wealth of experience in five-round fights, but Vieira grew stronger as her main event debut opposite Tate progressed, so it will be interesting to see which of these two is able to control this contest and establish herself as the No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division.
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Michel Pereira
Ponzinibbio made his return to action after more than two years away last year, competing three times and reminding everyone why he’s been a fixture in the welterweight division for the last half-dozen years. After dropping his first appearance to Li Jingliang, the "Argentine Dagger" collected a unanimous decision win over Miguel Baeza before battling Geoff Neal shot-for-shot for 15 minutes at UFC 269.
Pereira built on his two-fight winning streak to close out 2020 with a victory in his lone appearance of 2021, and already extended his run of success to four by defeating Andre Fialho earlier this year. The 28-year-old Brazilian has reined in the wildness during the course of his winning streak, showing more craft and skill, while remaining a threat to unleash something crazy at all times.
Business in the 170-pound weight class should ramp up in the second half of the year, and this is a chance for each of these men to get a head start on the competition by collecting a quality win over a respected adversary.
Chidi Njokuani vs. Dusko Todorovic
Middleweight graduates from Dana White's Contender Series meet on the main card as Class of '21 alum Chidi Njokuani (21-7 MMA, 1-0 UFC) takes on Dusko Todorovic (11-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC), who was part of the Class of '19.
Njokuani made an absolute splash in his promotional debut, needing just 16 seconds to dispatch Marc-Andre Barriault. The victory gave the dangerous veteran a third consecutive victory and put everyone both in the division and watching at home on notice that a new threat had arrived in the 185-pound weight class
Todorovic has struggled to find consistency since arriving in the UFC with a perfect 9-0 record, sandwiching the first two setbacks of his career between stoppage wins over Dequan Townsend and Maki Pitolo. The 27-year-old from Serbia looked more crisp and patient in his victory over Pitolo last December, so this matchup is an opportunity to determine if that was a developmental advancement or a one-night-only situation.
Jailton Almeida vs. Parker Porter
Rather than miss out on an opportunity to compete, freshman Jailton Almeida (15-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) jumps up to heavyweight this weekend for a clash with quietly streaking New Englander Parker Porter (13-6 MMA, 3-1 UFC).
Originally slated to face Maxim Grishin, Almeida picked staying active and stepping up a division over waiting to fight later in the year. The Brazilian was dominant in his promotional debut opposite Danilo Marques in early February and looks to add to his growing buzz by taking out Porter on Saturday.
Four-fight winning streaks in the heavyweight division are hard to come by, regardless of who you’re fighting, so if the veteran can keep his run of success intact through the weekend, he could be looking at a step up in competition next time out.
Eryk Anders vs. Junyong Park
Middleweights coming off stoppage losses in their most recent outings look to get things moving in the right direction again, as Eryk Anders (14-6 MMA, 6-6 UFC) faces off with Junyong Park (13-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC) on Saturday night.
A two-fight series with Darren Stewart accounted for the first half of Anders' 2021 campaign, with the former linebacker earning a unanimous decision victory in the sequel after the opening bout was halted due to a foul. He returned in December against Andre Muniz and became the third straight competitor to get armbarred by the Brazilian, and now he makes his 2022 debut hoping to return to the win column.
Park carried a three-fight winning streak into his second appearance of last year after successfully navigating a foul-filled engagement with Tafon Nchukwi, but he wasn't able to survive a firefight against Gregory Rodrigues. While taking home "Fight of the Night" honors likely lessened the sting of the loss a little, "The Iron Turtle" will assuredly trade victory for post-fight plaudits this weekend.
Joseph Holmes vs. Alen Amedovski
DWCS alum Joseph Holmes (7-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) looks to show what he can do with a full training camp, while Alen Amedovski (8-2 MMA, 0-2 UFC) returns to action for the first time in more than two years in this middleweight clash.
Called up on short notice to face Jamie Pickett in January, Holmes suffered a unanimous decision loss that halted his seven-fight winning streak and left a sour taste in his mouth. Brandishing good size and a nose for finishing fights, "Ugly Man Joe" aims to give a more complete representation of himself and his skills this weekend in his second trip into the octagon.
Amedovski arrived on the UFC roster with an 8-0 record and coming off a 12-second stoppage win but suffered losses to Krzysztof Jotko and John Phillips in his first two appearances. The 34-year-old has been forced out of his last three bookings for various reasons but hopes to make up for lost time on Saturday when he stands across the cage from Holmes.
Polyana Viana vs. Tabatha Ricci
After debuting with a first-round submission win over Maia Stevenson, Viana dropped three straight to leave her reeling heading into 2020. A submission win over Emily Whitmire snapped her losing streak and a second consecutive first-round armbar finish over Mallory Martin at UFC 258 sends her into this one on a two-fight run of success.
Ricci made her UFC debut last June, fighting up a division against the considerably larger, considerably more powerful Manon Fiorot in a fight that went how you would expect a fight carrying those qualifiers to go. She returned to the strawweight ranks in October and collected a unanimous decision win over Maria Oliveira, pushing her record to 6-1 and giving her a solid foundation to build from as she looks to wrap up her first year on the UFC roster.
Viana boasts a considerable height and reach advantage in this matchup, so it will be interesting to see how Ricci contends with those threats and works to impose her will on the proceedings. This should be a fast-paced, action-packed affair from the outset.
Omar Morales vs. Uros Medic
Despite beginning his career with 10 consecutive victories in the 155-pound weight class, including wins in each of his first two UFC appearances, Morales opted to shift to featherweight. Losses to Giga Chikadze and Jonathan Pearce on opposite sides of a win over Shane Young have prompted the veteran from Venezuela to reassess things and make a move back to the lightweight division.
Medic began his career with seven straight stoppage wins, including first-round finishes in his DWCS appearance and his UFC debut. His sophomore outing in September didn’t go as well, with the Kings MMA man landing on the business end of a first-round stoppage result opposite Jalin Turner, sending him into his 2022 debut looking to rebound.
These two Contender Series graduates both come from kickboxing backgrounds and have a penchant for finishing fights, with 14 of their 18 combined victories coming inside the distance. With each man aiming to get back into the win column and build some momentum heading into the second half of the year, don’t be surprised if both Morales and Medic come out looking to finish things early, resulting in a frenetic and entertaining fight on Saturday’s prelims.
Jonathan Martinez vs. Vince Morales
Martinez bounced back from a March knockout loss to Davey Grant with a decision win over Zviad Lazishvili in October, and the followed it up by out-hustling Alejandro Perez in a featherweight engagement in February. The 28-year-old Factory X Muay Thai representative has won six of his last eight (and it should be seven, honestly) to establish a solid foundation upon which to continue building.
Morales entered 2021 needing to get things moving in a positive direction, having gone 2-5 in his previous seven outings, including a second-round stoppage loss to Chris Gutierrez in his lone bout of 2020. In August, he outworked Drako Rodriguez to get back into the win column, and in December, he closed out the year in style with a first-round finish of Louis Smolka.
Chase Hooper vs. Felipe Colares
Now entering his "junior year" on the UFC roster, the 22-year-old Hooper competes for the first time in 11 months, having most recently dropped a unanimous decision to veteran Steven Peterson. The former DWCS developmental prospect has split his first four trips into the pctagon and will be looking to show the improvements and growth he’s made during the longest layoff of his young career when he returns on Saturday.
Colares has bounced between bantamweight and featherweight during his five-fight UFC tenure, amassing a 2-3 record. He claimed a victory in a featherweight contest against Luke Sanders last May before returning to the 135-pound ranks and taking a loss in October, continuing his pattern of alternating outcomes each time he steps into the Octagon.
Elise Reed vs. Sam Hughes
Reed debuted up a division at flyweight and fell to Sijara Eubanks in the first round. In mid-March, she returned to the 115-pound weight class and out-hustled Cory McKenna, landing on the happy side of a split decision verdict to secure her first UFC victory and push her record to 5-1 overall.
Hughes opened her UFC tenure with three straight setbacks, never quite bringing the tenacity and gumption needed to claw out a victory. She moved to Dallas and began training with the team at Fortis MMA following her November loss to Luana Pinheiro, and immediately saw positive returns, rallying from a slow start to secure a majority decision win over Istela Nunes last month.
Each of these women showed promise while competing for quality regional outfits, and started exhibiting glimpses of upside in their most recent outings. Both will be looking to build on those performances this weekend, which means we should be treated to a spirited battle to start the festivities.
This story first published at UFC.com.