UFC will declare the official start of their 2021 calendar of events on Saturday with a “Fight Night” card from the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The card is headlined by a high-profile featherweight fight between Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar. Here’s a full preview of the action.
The event will be UFC’s first appearance on American TV network ABC. The card has a different start time than usual, with prelims beginning at noon in the EST time zone, and with the main card three hours later.
The event will also be UFC’s first with a live crowd in nearly a year, as COVID-19 has forced them to hold lots of events behind closed doors through the majority of 2020. Along with Saturday’s event, UFC’s two other upcoming events at the Etihad Arena will have audiences.
Preliminary Card (12:00PM EST / 9:00PM GST) (ESPN+ / UFC Fight Pass)
Bout 1: Jacob Kilburn (8-3) vs. Austin Lingo (7-1) (Featherweight)
Jacob Kilburn and Austin Lingo will be UFC’s first fight of the year. Both are looking to earn their first UFC victory after losing their debut performance.
Lingo made his UFC debut in February of 2020, losing a decision to Youssef Zalal. The fight was Lingo’s first loss as a pro following seven wins on the regional scene.
Kilburn last fought over a year ago. His UFC debut was a loss to Billy Quarantillo in December of 2019, where Kilburn got caught with a triangle choke in the second round.
Bout 2: Sarah Moras (6-6) vs. Vanessa Melo (10-8) (Bantamweight)
Bantamweights Sarah Moras and Vanessa Melo will fight on the undercard of Saturday’s event.
Melo enters the fight still looking for her first UFC victory. She has lost three-in-a-row since joining the UFC in 2019. Her most recent bout was in July of 2020, where she dropped a decision to Karol Rosa.
Moras last competed in May of 2020, where she lost in a decision to Sijara Eubanks. Moras has lost four of her last five fights.
Bout 3: David Zawada (17-5) vs. Ramazan Emeev (19-4) (Welterweight)
David Zawada will return on the prelims when he fights Ramazan Emeev. Zawada’s last bout dates back to November of 2019, where he stopped Abubakar Nurmagomedov with a triangle choke in the first round, ending a two-fight losing streak.
Zawada has had trouble getting a bout since then, as two bookings in 2020 were blocked by COVID-19 issues.
Emeev bounced back from a loss in his previous fight. He last fought in July, where he won a decision over Niklas Stolze. Prior to then, Emeev took his first loss since joining the UFC, losing on scorecards to Anthony Rocco Martin.
Bout 4: Justin Tafa (4-1) vs. Carlos Felipe (9-1) (Heavyweight)
After both earning their first UFC win in their last outing, Justin Tafa and Carlos Felipe have been paired on Saturday’s card. Felipe earned his first win just a few months ago, defeating Yorgan De Castro via decision. His previous fight was a scorecard loss to Serghei Spivac.
Tafa earned a stoppage win in his last fight, finishing Juan Adams in the second minute of action with punches back in February of 2020.
Bout 5: Wu Yanan (11-3) vs. Joselyne Edwards (9-2) (Flyweight)
Stepping in on short notice for her UFC debut, Joselyn Edwards will fight Wu Yanan. Edwards took the place of Bethe Correia, who withdrew from the fight for surgery. Edwards enters the UFC with a record of nine wins and two losses. She last competed in July, where she defeated Pamela Gonzalez within a minute.
The fight will be Wu’s first in nearly a year-and-a-half. Her last fight was a split decision loss to MIZUKI in August of 2019.
Bout 6: Nassourdine Imavov (9-2) vs. Phillip Hawes (9-2) (Middleweight)
Both returning after recent UFC debut victories, Nassourdine Imavov and Phillip Hawes will close out the preliminary card.
Imavov won his pro debut just three months back, defeating Jordan Williams via decision. The win extended him to a six-fight win streak that he had started to build before joining the promotion.
Hawes had a quick UFC debut in October, stopping Jacob Malkoun in only 18 seconds with strikes. The win came just a month after he earned a contract on “Dana White’s Contender Series,” stopping Khadzhimurat Bestaev on the show.
Main Card (3:00PM EST / 12:00AM GST) (ABC / TSN 5)
Bout 7: Punahele Soriano (7-0) vs. Dusko Todorovic (10-0) (Middleweight)
Undefeated middleweights will kick off the main card, as Punahele Soriano will battle Dusko Todorovic.
Todorovic made his UFC debut in October, defeating Dequan Townsend in the second round with ground and pound. He entered the UFC a year before then, defeating Teddy Ash on the 2019 season of “Dana White’s Contender Series.”
Soriano returns after his UFC debut as well, although his debut was a little farther back. Soriano made his UFC debut in December of 2019, where he dropped Oskar Piechota with a left hook in the first round to win.
Bout 8: Joaquin Buckley (12-3) vs. Alessio Di Chirico (12-5) (Middleweight)
Viral sensation Joaquin Buckley will return for his third fight in four months, facing Alessio Di Chirico on the main card. Buckley is best known for his October win over Impa Kasanganay, where he delivered a knockout spinning back kick to the head while his other leg was being held.
Buckley has since won again, defeating Jordan Wright two months back at UFC 255.
Buckley now fights Di Chirico, who finds himself looking to resist falling into a four-fight losing streak. His current losing streak includes decision losses to Zak Cummings, Makhmud Muradov and Kevin Holland.
Bout 9: Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3) vs. Li Jingliang (17-6) (Welterweight)
Santiago Ponzinibbio will make his long-awaited return to the cage on Saturday, fighting Li Jingliang. Ponzinibbio hasn’t fought since late 2018, although he inherits a seven-fight win streak that he built before going on his absence.
Li will look to bounce back from a recent loss on the card. He last competed in March, where he lost a decision to Neil Magny at UFC 248.
Bout 10: Carlos Condit (31-13) vs. Matt Brown (22-17) (Welterweight)
Two absolute veterans of the sport in Carlos Condit and Matt Brown will fight in the co-main event of the card. With a combined record of 83 fights, the amount of experience in the cage will be tremendous.
Condit, a former WEC Welterweight Champion, returns after picking up a much-needed win back in October. Condit defeated Court McGee a few months back, concluding a five-fight losing streak that dated back to 2016.
Brown will look to bounce back from a finish loss that he took back in May to Miguel Baeza.
Bout 11: Max Holloway (21-6) vs. Calvin Kattar (22-4) (Featherweight)
Featherweights Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar will close out the show. The bout is a big one in the careers of both fighters.
For the past few years, Holloway has been consistently fighting at the championship level. Saturday’s main event will be his first non-championship fight since 2016. The past few years have seen him become the UFC Featherweight Champion and even attempt a push for the 155-pound belt.
Nearly two-and-a-half years after earning his 145-pound belt, he lost it in December of 2019 to Alexander Volkanovski. In a rematch last July, Holloway lost an airtight decision to Volkanovski in a rematch, pushing him out of the title picture for the time being at least.
A win on Saturday would arguably put Holloway in place for a new shot at the belt.
Kattar, however, has the ability to derail that plan. Riding the momentum of two wins in 2020, one a stoppage victory against Jeremy Stephens in May and the other a five-round decision win against Dan Ige, a win on Saturday would shoot Kattar higher in the division than he’s ever been.