Coming off an exhilarating night in Phoenix where Charles Oliveira cemented his standing as the top lightweight in the world and Carla Esparza returned to the top of the strawweight division, action shifts back to the UFC Apex for an outstanding fight card that promises to be non-stop excitement.
Headlined by a light heavyweight bout between former champ Jan Blachowicz and surging contender Aleksandar Rakic and laced with loads of compelling matchups, Saturday's event should be electric from the word, "Go!"
Here's a closer look at what's on tap this weekend on the evening's main card.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Just under a month before the light heavyweight title goes on the line again, Blachowicz (28-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) and Rakic (14-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC) face off in a bout that could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the title.
Fighting for the first time since dropping the strap to Glover Teixeira at the end of October, Blachowicz looks to make an immediate return to the win column with a statement victory over the talented Austrian. A neck injury caused him to withdraw from the initial late-March assignment date, but now recovered and ready to go, the former champion aims to return to the form that earned him the title in the first place and produced a breakthrough win over Israel Adesanya last March.
Rakic has been happy to bide his time, waiting for this opportunity, believing that he’s one more win away from finally challenging for championship gold. The 30-year-old contender has earned consecutive unanimous decision wins over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos since his questionable split decision loss to Volkan Oezdemir at the end of 2019 and carries a 14-2 overall record into his second main event assignment this weekend.
Will Blachowicz once again display the "legendary Polish power," or will Rakic keep racking up wins over elite competition and punch his ticket to a title shot?
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
The 30-year-old Spann struggled to find consistency after advancing to the point of facing top-15 talents, squeezing a first-round stoppage win over Misha Cirkunov between first-round stoppage losses to Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. He had positive moments in each of those losses and has considerable weapons and natural gifts for the weight class; now it’s about bringing it all together and starting to string together consistent results that can carry him further up the divisional ladder.
Sporting a 5-5-1 record through his first 11 starts inside the octagon, Cutelaba remains an uncontrollable bundle of energy tenuously held together by ever-fraying ropes. When he's calmer and more composed, he shows flashes of being a potential nightmare in the division, but when the ropes fray and the energy gets the better of him, chaos often ensues. Cutelaba was more contained, more dialed in last time out, so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that here.
Light heavyweight is one of those divisions where three consecutive quality victories can carry you a long way, and with Spann holding down a place in the lower-third of the rankings, it might only take two big efforts for either of these men to vault into the top 10 and land opposite an established contender. There may not be immediate divisional stakes on the line here, but this is a crucial moment in each of these men's quest to work their way into the elite class in the 205-pound weight division.
Nick Maximov vs. Andre Petroski
Middleweight grapplers that have each started their UFC tenures with consecutive victories clash here as Nick Maximov (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) of the Nick Diaz Academy takes on Philly product Andre Petroski (7-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC).
Maximov earned a win over the much bigger, much more experienced Oscar Cota on Season Four of Dana White's Contender Series but didn’t earn a contract. He focused on grappling for much of the next year and got the call to compete on the big stage alongside his mentor at UFC 266 last September, where he was able to grind out a win over Cody Brundage. At the start of February, the unbeaten 24-year-old edged out Punahele Soriano to push his record to 8-0 and continue gaining traction in the 185-pound weight class.
A semifinalist on Season 29 of "The Ultimate Fighter," Petroski landed an opportunity to compete on the finale and has made the most of it, securing a third-round stoppage win over fellow Team Ortega representative Micheal Gillmore before earning a similar result against Hu Yaozong two months later in Abu Dhabi. Now 7-1 for his career, the Daniel Gracie disciple looks to keep rolling and halt Maximov's winning streak on Saturday night.
If you like grappling, you won’t want to miss this one, as both Maximov and Petroski are at their best on the canvas and will likely engage in a scramble-heavy battle inside the octagon. The victor will be on a three-fight run of success in the UFC, which would likely mandate another step up in competition, so keep close eyes on this one to find out who will move forward and who will be forced to take a half-step backwards.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
Perennial flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian (17-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) looks for her fourth consecutive victory as she welcomes Amanda Ribas (11-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) back to the 125-pound weight class for an intriguing clash between ultra-talented fighters.
The 33-year-old Chookagian is a top-3 fixture in the division who sports a 17-4 mark overall and an 8-3 record since relocating to flyweight. She's posted three straight wins over top-10 opponents, and victories in six of her last eight appearances, with those setbacks coming against champion Valentina Shevchenko and Brazilian dynamo Jessica Andrade.
Ribas rebounded from a loss to Marina Rodriguez at the start of last year with a quality performance opposite Virna Jandiroba at the end of October and was scheduled to face Michelle Waterson in a strawweight fight before the veteran was forced to withdraw. Rather than wait too long to get rescheduled, Ribas opted to bounce up to flyweight, where she previously earned a first-round submission win over Paige VanZant and will test herself against Chookagian.
Because of Chookagian’s presence as the No. 2 fighter in the division behind Shevchenko, it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out and what a win for Ribas would mean for the Brazilian competitor. She’s ranked in the top 10 at strawweight, but could a win this weekend jump her to the front of the line in the 125-pound weight class?
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
Dana White's Contender Series graduate Jake Hadley (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) makes his highly anticipated promotional debut this weekend, stepping with dangerous Brazilian Allan Nascimento (18-6 MMA, 0-1 UFC) in this exciting flyweight matchup.
The undefeated Hadley caused quite a stir last fall on the annual talent search series, missing weight for his bout with Mitch Raposo. He dominated the former "TUF 29" contestant, securing a second-round submission win, but seemed destined to be told "Sorry" at the end of the night because of his miscue on the scale.
White inked the former Cage Warriors champ to a contract nonetheless, and now the flyweight from Birmingham looks to show that decision was the right one by picking up a win this weekend.
Nascimento gave Tagir Ulanbekov all he could handle – and arguably more – in his promotional debut at UFC 267, going move-for-move and attack-for-attack with the talented Russian on the canvas. He landed on the wrong side of a questionable split decision verdict but proved he's more than capable of handling himself amongst the best flyweights in the world, and would like nothing more than to spoil Hadley's debut on Saturday.
This is a terrific initial test for the 8-0 Hadley, as Nascimento is someone who should, in theory, be able to match his efforts on the canvas. The Brazilian has considerably more experience, but the British newcomer is an intriguing prospect with considerable upside, so expect a competitive fight that answers a great many questions about where each man stands in the division.
Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick
More than a dozen years after making his promotional debut, Johnson steps into the octagon on Saturday looking to halt a four-fight slide and collect his first win since beating Artem Lobov in October 2018. "The Menace" has consistently fought top competition but has gone 0-3 since returning to the lightweight ranks, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Clay Guida last February.
Patrick hasn't fought since his June meeting with Mason Jones was halted prematurely due to an accidental eye poke. Prior to that, the Brazilian had dropped consecutive contests to Scott Holtzman and Bobby Green, leaving him, like Johnson, searching for his first victory since 2018.
Something has got to give when these two square off on Saturday, and there should be an increased sense of urgency from each man to avoid another setback, which should make for an exciting scrap between these struggling veterans.
This story first published at UFC.com.