“Fight Island” was a concept that was first considered outlandish by many. Now that it’s slowly becoming a normal idea for many, the location from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates is holding it’s fourth and final event. Headlining the extensive 15-fight card is former UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker and ranked middleweight Darren Till. Here’s a preview of the card.
Preliminary Card (5:00PM EDT / 1:00AM GST) (ESPN / TSN 5)
Bout 1: Nathaniel Wood (16-4) vs. John Castaneda (17-4) (Bantamweight)
UFC’s preliminary card is a packed one, as the promotion will fit eight fights into a three-hour period of time. The prelims often operate of a pace that allows two fights per hour, meaning some stoppages might be needed to finish the show on time.
The first fight on the prelims sees Nathaniel Wood return to face short-notice opponent John Castaneda. Wood was meant to face Umar Nurmagomedov, although things changed once Nurmagomedov withdrew. Castaneda is a fighter in regional promotion Combate Americas. His last fight saw him defeat Marcelo Rojo, breaking a two-fight losing streak.
Wood got his first UFC loss in his last appearance, being stopped by John Dodson in the third round. Before then, Wood had three consecutive wins in the UFC.
Bout 2: Ramazan Emeev (18-4) vs. Niklas Stolze (12-3) (Welterweight)
Continuing the trend of fighters facing short notice opponents, Niklas Stolze will step in to face Ramazan Emeev. Stolze replaces Shavkat Rakhmonov who withdrew. The fight is his UFC debut, with his last four fights being wins on the regional scene. Emeev will attempt to bounce back from a November loss to Anthony Rocco Martin which snapped a winning streak from before.
Bout 3: Bethe Correia (11-4-1) vs. Pannie Kianzad (12-5) (Bantamweight)
Longtime UFC bantamweight Bethe Correia will be matched with Pannie Kianzad on the prelims Correia recently battled back from a slump which saw two losses and a draw. In her most recent fight, Correia defeated Sijara Eubanks via decision. Kianzad has competed twice in the UFC, getting a win and a loss each. She last competed in November, defeating Jessica-Rose Clark via decision.
Bout 4: Raphael Pessoa (10-1) vs. Tanner Boser (18-6-1) (Heavyweight)
Shortly after his explosive win in June, Tanner Boser has returned to step in against Raphael Pessoa. Boser salvaged Pessoa’s booking, which had to have a new opponent after Justin Tafa withdrew. Boser’s last fight was a strong one, finishing Philipe Lins in the first round with punches. Pessoa got his first UFC win in his last fight, getting a decision over Jeff Hughes
Bout 5: Movsar Evloev (12-0) vs. Mike Grundy (12-1) (Featherweight)
Undefeated bantamweight Movsar Evloev has been successful through his first two UFC appearances. The former M-1 Bantamweight Champion gets his third UFC challenge against Mike Grundy. Coming off a layoff of over a year, Grundy’s last fight saw him win his UFC debut via decision. Having a similar record to Evloev, his sole loss is one of his older fights, dating back to his fourth appearance as a pro.
Bout 6: Jake Collier (11-4) vs. Tom Aspinall (7-2) (Heavyweight)
A cancelled March bout between Jake Collier and Tom Aspinall will get its second go on the prelims. Collier and Aspinall were meant to compete on UFC’s London, England show, although COVID-19 stopped that plan.
Collier has flipped between wins and losses since he joined the UFC in 2014. He’s been absent for a while now, with his last fight being in 2017. Since then injury and a USADA suspension kept him from competing. A win for Collier would give him a two-fight winning streak for the first time since joining the UFC.
Aspinall will make his UFC debut after many years on the British MMA scene. He rides a three-fight streak of first-round finish wins, two of which were in 2019.
Bout 7: Nicolas Dalby (18-3-1) vs. Jesse Ronson (21-10) (Welterweight)
After a successful UFC debut in September over Alex Oliveira, Nicolas Dalby will return on the prelims against Jesse Ronson. The fight is the Ronson’s first in the UFC, stepping in to replace Danny Roberts, who exited the card due to injury. Ronson’s last fight was February, winning in regional Canadian promotion BTC. The win saw him bounce back from two losses in high-level American promotion PFL.
Bout 8: Francisco Trinaldo (25-7) vs. Jai Herbert (10-1) (Lightweight)
Finishing off the prelims is a lightweight matchup between veteran Francisco Trinaldo and Jai Herbert. Trinaldo is a longtime UFC fighter, having competed 21 times since his promotional debut in 2012. He faces Herbert, a former Cage Warriors Lightweight Champion who is making his UFC debut. Herbert has won his last six, five of which were stoppages.
Main Card (8:00PM EDT / 4:00AM GST) (ESPN / TSN 5)
Bout 9: Khamzat Chimaev (7-0) vs. Rhys McKee (10-2-1) (Welterweight)
Only a few days ago, Khamzat Chimaev had his UFC debut, stopping John Phillips in the second round with a d’arce choke. The dominant victory left the undefeated prospect somewhat unscathed, allowing him to face Rhys McKee on this show.
McKee will be making his respective debut, joining the card after earning three consecutive victories in Cage Warriors.
Bout 10: Alex Oliveira (21-8-1) vs. Peter Sobotta (17-6-1) (Welterweight)
After an extended absence from professional MMA, Peter Sobotta returns on the main card to face Alex Oliviera. Sobotta’s last fight was in early 2018, being stopped late in the third round against Leon Edwards. Oliveira snapped a three-fight losing streak last March, defeating Max Griffin via split decision at UFC 248.
Bout 11: Paul Craig (12-4-1) vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6) (Light Heavyweight)
After troubles stopped Gadzhimurad Antigulov from fighting three times from late 2019 to 2020, he finally returns to the cage on Saturday against Paul Craig. Antigulov looks to bounce back from his last two fights, which were both first-round stoppage losses. Craig also looks to get back in the win column, as his November fight against Mauricio Rua ended with a split draw.
Bout 12: Carla Esparza (16-6) vs. Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2) (Strawweight)
In her fifth UFC fight, Marine Rodriguez will face longtime UFC fighter Carla Esparza. Rodriguez has had an interesting UFC run, winning two fights and going to a draw twice. Nonetheless, the Brazilian has retained her undefeated record through 14 fights. Her most recent fight was in December where a majority draw happened against Cynthia Calvillo. Esparza fought recently, getting a split decision win over Michelle Waterson. The win was her third-in-a-row.
Bout 13: Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (18-6) (Heavyweight)
Coming back from a brief retirement period, Alexander Gustafsson makes the move up to heavyweight to fight Fabricio Werdum on UFC’s main card. Gustafsson’s lost his last two fights. In December of 2018, Gustaffson lost in a rematch to Jon Jones, failing to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. In June of 2019, he lost a main event bout to Anthony Smith. Now, he returns in a heavier division.
Werdum made his return in May, losing a split decision to Alexey Oleinik. Before then, his last fight was in March of 2018 where he was stopped in the fourth round by Alexander Volkov.
Bout 14: Mauricio Rua (26-11-1) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (23-9) (Light Heavyweight)
The co-main event of the show sees two fighters who are nothing short of the description of “veteran.” In their trilogy bout, Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will battle.
Their first meeting came in 2005, where Rua won via decision at Pride FC’s “Critical Countdown 2005.” 10 years later, they faceed off at UFC 190, where Rua won once again. Five more years later, we have the trilogy bout.
Rua’s last fight was a draw against Paul Craig in November. Before then, he had a 2018 win against Tyson Pedro. Nogueira lost his last bout, which was a first-round finish victory by Ryan Spann in May of 2019 at UFC 237.
Bout 15: Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs. Darren Till (18-2-1) (Middleweight)
The main event of UFC’s show sees two high ranked middleweights collide. First place Robert Whittaker will battle Darren Till in a five-round matchup.
For former UFC Middleweight Champion Whittaker, the fight begins his campaign back into the title picture. His last fight was a loss to now-champion Israel Adesanya, who finished him in the second round with strikes. The fight ended Whittaker’s impressive nine-fight string of wins before which included many finished due to strikes.
For Till, this fight is one where he tries to recapture the momentum he had before. His six-fight stint from 2015 to 2018 in the UFC was a strong one, quickly thrusting the young 185-pound fighter into the title picture. Some realized too late that a title shot in 2018 was too soon for Till, who got finished in the second round by then-champion Tyron Woodley. His follow-up fight in 2019 wasn’t any better, making an ill-advised move up to welterweight only to be stopped by Jorge Masvidal in the second round with punches.
He got back on the right path last November, making the move back to middleweight and defeating Kelvin Gastelum via split decision. Till has the chance to continue a new streak on Saturday, and no way to do so than against a former champion.