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'UFC on ESPN 41: Vera vs. Cruz' fight-by-fight preview

To get you ready for Saturday's event in San Diego, we break down the whole card from top to bottom.

Last Saturday in Las Vegas, all 10 fights ended inside the distance for the first time since November 2014. It was incredible to watch happen and a truly cool moment that clearly doesn't happen all that often. Is there something in the air, with this weekend's collection of competitors not wanting to be overshadowed or overlooked in the wake of a magical evening in the octagon?

We'll find out soon … in the meantime, here's a look at what's on tap in San Diego this weekend at UFC on ESPN 41.

Marlon Vera vs. Dominick Cruz

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Marlon Vera (21-7-1 MMA, 13-6 UFC) brings his three-fight winning streak to Dominick Cruz's (24-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) backyard, where the former champion looks to turn back the ascending fighter from Ecuador and move closer to challenging for UFC gold once again.

"Chito" has been on a really nice run as of late, one that honestly dates back four years to the night he stopped Wuliji Buren at UFC 227. That victory kicked off a five-fight run of success, which was followed by a debated defeat at the hands of Song Yadong, his win over Sean O'Malley, and a close loss to Jose Aldo.

Since that loss, Vera has posted three straight victories, earning bonuses each time. In his last outing, he battered Rob Font, besting the New England Cartel member to claim victory in his first main event assignment.

Cruz seemed like he was close to the end when he lost to Henry Cejudo at UFC 249. It was his first appearance in a number of years, he got stopped – though he protested the stoppage – and the years and miles felt like they were finally getting the better of him. He returned 10 months later and edged out Casey Kenney on the scorecards in a fight that didn't exactly make anyone think Cruz would be a contender again, but after out-hustling Pedro Munhoz at UFC 269 last December, "The Dominator" is a win on Saturday away from potentially returning to the top 5 in the 135-pound weight class.

This is such a compelling matchup, for a number of reasons. On top of the obvious stylistic cat-and-mouse game that comes with every Cruz appearance, the fact that it's taking place in San Diego adds another wrinkle to things. Mix in that this bout kicks off a series of critical fights at the top of the division over the coming weeks and months, and you have the makings of an ultra-important, hyper-competitive matchup to close out Saturday's event.

Nate Landwehr vs. David Onama

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Briefly slated to face one another earlier this year in Columbus, featherweights Nate Landwehr (15-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC) and David Onama (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) will finally share the octagon with one another this weekend in Southern California.

It's been "miss-and-hit" for Landwehr through his first four UFC starts, alternating losses and wins while always bringing his personal brand of entertainment into the cage with him. In his last outing, the former M-1 titleholder showed off his submission skills, latching onto a third-round anaconda choke to finish Ludovit Klein and collect a "Performance of the Night" bonus.

The 28-year-old Onama has posted a pair of victories already this year, most recently collecting a second-round submission win over Garret Armfield at the start of July. It wasn't as clean a performance as his win over Gabriel Benitez in February, but the Glory MMA & Fitness featherweight handled his business, secured another stoppage victory, and further cemented his position as one of the top young fighters to watch in the 145-pound weight class.

Yazmin Jauregui vs. Iasmin Lucindo

It's a meeting of promotional newcomers in the 115-pound weight class as Mexico's Yazmin Jauregui (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) takes on Brazil's Iasmin Lucindo (13-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in this main card matchup.

A jiu-jitsu player training out of Tijuana's Entram Gym, Jauregui has earned victories in all eight of her professional appearances, collecting six finishes and a bushel of hype along the way. Just 23 years old, she enters her debut following consecutive first-round knockout wins, and looks like the kind of prospect to keep close tabs on this weekend.

Lucindo steps in for her countrywoman Istela Nunes, who was originally tabbed to face Jauregui, but was forced to withdraw. Already 17 fights into her career despite turning 20 in January, Lucindo holds a win over former UFC competitor Sarah Frota and heads into the weekend on a seven-fight winning streak.

It's rare that you see two debuting fighters square off on the main card, but this feels like a competitive matchup between two intriguing first-time starters, and it will be interesting to see how each of them handle competing on the biggest stage in the sport and all that comes with it this weekend.

Devin Clark vs. Azamat Murzakanov

Veteran Devin Clark (13-6 MMA, 7-6 UFC) moves back down to his natural surrounds at light heavyweight, where he faces off with unbeaten Russian Azamat Murzakanov (11-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC).

Clark snapped a two-fight skid with a third-round stoppage win over William Knight in an impromptu heavyweight pairing in April. A plus athlete who has never quite been able to put things together consistently at this level, the 32-year-old "Brown Bear" looked sharp last time out and will aim to carry that over in his second appearance of the year on Saturday.

A member of the Dana White's Contender Series graduating class of 2021, Murzakanov started fast and then slowed even faster in his debut opposite Tafon Nchukwi in March. But just when it seemed like Nchukwi had things going in his favor, Murzakanov connected with a flying knee, securing the finish to maintain his perfect record.

This feels like it could be a barnburner to start and perhaps a war of attrition if it does go longer than the opening five minutes, but given the effort each man put forth in their most recent bouts, we recommend staying glued to your screen from start to finish.

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Nina Nunes

Cynthia Calvillo (9-4-1 MMA, 6-4-1 UFC) and Nina Nunes (10-7 MMA, 4-4 UFC) share the octagon in this delayed clash of veteran competitors looking to get things moving in the right direction again. First booked for July 9 in Las Vegas, the bout was postponed the day of the contest when Nunes fell ill, and was subsequently added to this weekend's slate.

The 34-year-old Calvillo debuted in the UFC flyweight division with a main event win over Jessica Eye in the summer of 2020, but it has been downhill ever since. Losses to top contenders Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Andrade followed before her corner threw in the towel after the second round of her fight with Andrea Lee last November, leaving her on a three-fight slide heading into this one.

Nunes returned for the first time following the birth of her daughter on April 10, 2021, landing in a nightmare matchup against Mackenzie Dern that ended with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion snatching up an armbar late in the first round. Now Nunes moves up to flyweight for the first time in her UFC career, looking to snap a two-fight skid and earn the second victory for her family, following Amanda Nunes' win over Julianna Peña at UFC 277.

This is one of those bouts that is extremely difficult to diagnose, as each struggled in their latest appearances, but have also had substantial time since then to address any issues and get locked in hopes of getting back into the win column. Each woman is experienced and confident, so we should be treated to a spirited affair between the two to close out Saturday's preliminary card.

Bruno Silva vs. Gerald Meerschaert

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Veteran middleweights Bruno Silva (22-7 MMA, 3-1 UFC) and Gerald Meerschaert (34-15 MMA, 9-7 UFC) open up the main card in a clash between two proven finishers looking to get back into the win column.

Silva picked up stoppage wins in each of his first three UFC assignments to gain a little momentum and buzz out of the gate, but all of that was halted in March when he ran into impending title challenger Alex Pereira. While he went the distance with "Poatan," Silva struggled in the matchup with his countryman, and will look to return to the form that produced finishes over Jordan Wright, Andrew Sanchez and Wellington Turman before that on Saturday.

Meerschaert similarly had a three-fight run of success halted in his most recent appearance, landing on the wrong side of the scorecards in an April matchup with Krzysztof Jotko. Prior to that, "GM3" had earned consecutive submission finishes over Dustin Stoltzfus, Makhmud Muradov and Bartosz Fabinski, and he'll be angling to get back to his winning ways this weekend.

These two middleweights have 56 career victories between them – 51 of those have come by way of finish. Need we say more?

Angela Hill vs. Loopy Godinez

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A late addition to the fight card, veteran Angela Hill (13-12 MMA, 8-12 UFC) squares off with emerging Mexican Canadian Loopy Godinez (8-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) in a 120-pound catchweight fight to close out the prelims.

Hill, who resides in San Diego, enters on a three-fight skid and having dropped five of her last six. Now, three of those were close, split-decision losses, and all of them came against ranked competition, but after getting close to cracking the top 5 not too long ago, "Overkill" could really use a victory to right the ship this weekend.

Godinez followed up her impressive rookie campaign with her most dominant effort to date in May when she ran through powerful Brazilian Ariane Carnelossi at UFC 274. Now 8-2 for her career, the 28-year-old has quickly established herself as arguably the top emerging force in the strawweight division, and can take a big step forward with a third-straight victory on Saturday.

Martin Buday vs. Lukasz Brzeski

Martin Buday (10-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and Lukasz Brzeski (8-1-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) meet on Saturday in a clash of European heavyweights that graduated to the UFC through last season of Dana White's Contender Series.

After securing a contract with a first-round stoppage win over Lorenzo Hood, Buday earned a victory in his promotional debut in April, defeating Chris Barnett by technical decision, running his winning streak to nine in the process. A massive human being, the 30-year-old Slovakian is an intriguing addition to the heavyweight ranks and can add to that intrigue by extending his winning streak to double digits by dispatching Brzeski in San Diego.

Brzeski's road to the octagon hasn't been nearly as straightforward, as the Polish heavyweight's DWCS win was overturned when he tested positive for a banned substance following the bout. He retained his contract and makes his debut this weekend, entering on a seven-fight unbeaten streak and looking to quickly put last fall's troubles behind him.

These two are familiar with one another, having been rumored to fight on the European circuit prior to their UFC arrivals. This feels like a "there can only be one" kind of pairing designed to determine the top emerging European heavyweight, and finding out which man goes forward with that mantle should be all kinds of entertaining.

Gabriel Benitez vs. Charlie Ontiveros

Veteran Gabriel Benitez (22-10 MMA, 6-6 UFC) once again returns to lightweight on Saturday, looking to halt a two-fight slide when he takes on Charlie Ontiveros (11-8 MMA, 0-2 UFC) on the prelims.

"Moggly" made a two-fight return to the 155-pound ranks in 2020, dropping a competitive decision to Omar Morales before stopping Justin Jaynes in the first round, but his return to featherweight produced consecutive stoppage losses to Billy Quarantillo and David Onama in a fight where he missed weight. Now, the 34-year-old Mexican stalwart moves back up, looking to secure a second straight lightweight win and avoid slipping to 1-5 in his last six fights.

Ontiveros debuted at welterweight against Kevin Holland during his impressive 2020 run, suffering a neck injury while being slammed to the canvas early in the fight on Halloween. He returned nearly a year later, moving down to lightweight, but again landing on the wrong side of a finish in a back-and-forth battle with Steve Garcia.

Each of these men could really use a win and combining that with their respective approaches feels like a combustible situation to enjoy on Saturday night.

Ode' Osbourne vs. Tyson Nam

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Ode' Osbourne (11-4 MMA, 3-2 UFC) and Tyson Nam (20-12-1 MMA, 2-3 UFC) face off in this flyweight engagement early in the fight card that has "explosive" written all over it.

After losing his divisional debut to surging contender Manel Kape, Osbourne has settled in, registering consecutive victories over CJ Vergara and Zarrukh Adashev. A member of the DWCS Class of '19, the 30-year-old Osbourne seems to be coming into his own since relocating to Las Vegas, and will look to continue his winning ways this weekend in San Diego.

A veteran knockout artist, Nam returns for the first time since suffering a split decision loss to Matt Schnell in early 2021. He'd earned consecutive stoppage wins before that at bantamweight, and heads into this one still searching for his first UFC victory in the 125-pound weight class.

Osbourne is a bundle of kinetic energy and quick-twitch movements, while Nam is a "plant-and-fire" powerhouse that only needs to land one to end your night. The chess match between the two, and the fireworks that it produces, should come early and often.

Youssef Zalal vs. Da'Mon Blackshear

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Back for the first time in well over a year, Youssef Zalal (10-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC) aims to get back on track when he welcomes Da'Mon Blackshear to the octagon this weekend.

Zalal registered three consecutive decision wins in seven months to start his UFC tenure, but since then, the former LFA standout has since dropped three straight, going the distance each time. Still just 25 years old, the Factory X Muay Thai representative has flashed upside in the past, and will look to tap back into that when he ends his extended hiatus on Saturday.

Making his promotional debut on short notice, Blackshear's resume is dotted with familiar names, and he touches down in the octagon for the first time riding a four-fight winning streak. The CFFC bantamweight champ trains at Jackson-Wink MMA, has a slick ground game, and his last two losses have come against Danny Sabatello and Pat Sabatini, which tells you the kind of company he keeps.

Fingers crossed, this has the makings of a scramble-heavy grappling match between two talented young fighters looking to show they belong in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.

Ariane Lipski vs. Priscila Cachoeira

After being postponed last weekend, Ariane Lipski (14-7 MMA, 3-4 UFC) and Priscila Cachoeira (11-4 MMA, 3-4 UFC) will once again try to meet in the octagon to determine which of them turns a win in their most recent effort into a two-fight run of success.

Last time out, Lipski halted a two-fight skid with a unanimous decision win over Mandy Bohm, bringing her record to 14-7 overall and 2-3 inside the octagon. The former KSW standout is still only 28 and has flashed tremendous upside in the past, so it will be intriguing to see if her victory over Bohm is the start of something bigger or simply just a much-needed win.

Cachoeira followed up her UFC 262 rally against Gina Mazany by missing weight and getting submitted by Gillian Robertson at UFC 269, but she quickly responded with a hard-fought victory over Ji Yeon Kim in a "Fight of the Night"-winning battle in February. The enigmatic "Zombie Girl" is both 3-4 inside the octagon and 3-1 over her last four at the same time, making her one of the more challenging fighters to project at the moment.

One of these women will collect a second 2022 victory and take a half-step forward in the divisional ranks, while the other will once again get backed into a corner. Figuring out who does what should be all kinds of fun on Saturday.

This story first published at UFC.com.