Business continues to roll for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), as UFC on ESPN 9 is set to go down later tonight (Sat., May 30, 2020) inside the promotion’s UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Headlining the event will be a pivotal Welterweight showdown as former division champion, Tyron Woodley, takes on Gilbert Burns. In the co-headlining act, Heavyweight bangers Blagoy Ivanov and Augusto Sakai will swing heavy leather.
It’s been more than one year since Tyron Woodley dropped the Welterweight title to Kamaru Usman at UFC 235. And it’s been that long since “The Chosen One” has competed, as well. Woodley has been very open about his struggles after losing his title, admitting that he fell into a deep depression. But after snapping out of it, “T-Wood” is ready to come out swinging on his road to redemption. He’s long considered himself the greatest 170-pound fighter of all time, though Georges St-Pierre has a couple of things to say about that. Still, Woodley is one of the elite, but another loss could be devastating for his championship dreams ... and perhaps his career. He won’t have an easy night against Burns, who has proven to be one of the most over-looked fighters in the division.
Fighting inside the Octagon for six years now, Burns has finally gotten the spotlight he’s been working so hard to get. Since 2018, “Durinho” has been on a tear, winning five in a row including big wins over Gunnar Nelson and Demian Maia. During that streak, Burns has proven to be a very well-rounded fighter, grinding out wins over 15 minutes, putting his submission skills to work, as well as demonstrating concussive knockout power (evidence here). Woodley will be the Brazilian ace’s toughest test to date, but can also be the one who gives him the biggest payoff. If Burns can defeat the former 170-pound champion, he could set himself up nicely for his first shot at winning UFC gold. Ranked No. 6 at the moment, “Durinho” can make a huge jump up the contender ladder. And if he doesn't end up with a title shot, he will at least put himself in a position to participate in a No. 1 contender elimination bout.
Dana White did say he wasn’t forcing anyone to compete during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seems a lot of top tier talent simply isn’t ready to risk it just yet, as the promotion’s upcoming cards are lacking quite a bit. Sure, a lot of it could be blamed on the fact that international fighters can’t fly due to travel restrictions, but that could all be resolved thanks to this. Also, “Fight Island” is taking longer than expected to launch, so UFC matchmakers have to do with all stateside talent willing to fight at the moment. This is not a terrible card, but I didn’t think Augusto Sakai and Blagoy Ivanaov would be co-headlining UFC cards so soon. It is what it is, I suppose.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
The actual line up of wasn’t revealed until last week, as the promotion has been trying to book as many fights as it can, as quickly as it can, because of the changes forced by COVID-19. The event was originally set to go down on May 23, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada, though Jamahal Hill — who takes on Klidson Abreu in “prelim” action — alluded to the possibility that the promotion would be staying in Jacksonville, Florida. But after UFC put the event on ice for a week, it was made official that the card would go down in “Sin City.”
Kevin Holland was forced out of his fight against Daniel Rodriguez after suffering an injury during fight week. He was ultimately replaced by UFC newcomer, Gabriel Green.
Brandon Royval will make his official Octagon debut tonight, taking on former Flyweight title contender, Tim Elliott. Royval is 5-1 over his last six bouts, with his lone loss coming to current UFC contender, Casey Kenney, at LFA 53. “Raw Dawg” has been around the block, competing not only for LFA but Combate Americas, World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and Kickdown MMA. Now that he’s got his chance to shine on the biggest stage of them all, he will look to capitalize, though it won’t be an easy task as Elliott is as experienced as they come. That being said, Elliott has had a rough stretch over the last four years, going just 2-4 including dropping his previous two bouts.
As mentioned earlier, Green got the call up to face Daniel Rodriguez on a few days notice after Holland suffered an injury. Winner of six in a row, Green has been putting in work all over the place, including competing under the Bellator MMA and Combate Americas banners, and has won his last six bouts.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
Antonina Shevchenko will look for her second straight win at the expense of Katlyn Chookagian in the main event of the “Prelims” undercard. At 8-1, Shevchenko is looking to make some noise in the women’s Flyweight division, which, coincidentally enough, is ruled by her sister Valentina. Chookagian, meanwhile, will look to bounce back from her most recent loss to, you guessed it, Valentina at UFC 247, coming up short in her first-ever UFC title fight. I think this is the first time in mixed martial arts (MMA) history a fighter faces sisters in back-to-back fights.
Billy Quarantillo and Spike Carlyle will collide in an agreed upon catchweight bout of 150 pounds, while Chris Gutierrez looks for his third straight win at Featherweight against Vince Morales, who is coming off a loss to Benito Lopez at UFC Fight Night 155. We already discussed Royval’s UFC debut against Elliott, as well as Hill’s bout against Abreu.
In other action, Louis Smolka will look for his sixth win in his last seven contests as he faces Casey Kenney, who came up short against Merab Dvalishvili in his last bout, snapping his six-fight win streak.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Elliott has been fighting for UFC on and off for eight years now, and even competed for the 135-pound title against Demetrious Johnson in 2016. It’s a shot he earned after winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Tournament of Champions." Elliott’s first stint with the promotion saw him go 2-4 before getting the boot. After winning the Titan FC Flyweight title, Elliott was invited to compete on TUF. While he did win the season, his second run with the promotion hasn’t gone that much better than the the first, as he is currently 2-4 in this current stint, as well. He’ll need to come up huge against Octagon newcomer, Royval, to avoid another possible pink slip.
Interest Level: 6 of 10
The main event will be interesting because we get to see if Burns is ready for the elite, as well as whether or not Woodley will come in violent enough to score a dominant win. But the rest of the card has me wanting more. Yes, Mackenzie Dern will make her long-awaited return, but I don’t know if it’s just me or the extended break (it’s been seven months since her last fight), but it feels as if Dern has fizzled a bit. Don’t get me wrong, she is still very promising, but after getting out-classed by Amanda Ribas in her last outing, it seems a lot of the Dern hype went out the window. She can get some of that momentum back if she can put on an impressive showing and get a win over Hanaah Cifers, who is coming off a loss to Angela Hill.
Full Fight Card:
UFC Fight Night Main Event on ESPN/ESPN+:
170 lbs.: Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns
UFC Fight Night Main Card on ESPN/ESPN+ (9 p.m. ET):
265 lbs.: Blagoy Ivanov vs. Augusto Sakai
170 lbs.: Daniel Rodriguez vs. Gabriel Green (Kevin Holland injured)
155 lbs.: Roosevelt Roberts vs. Brok Weaver
125 lbs.: Mackenzie Dern vs. Hannah Cifers
UFC Fight Night ‘Prelims’ Card on ESPN/ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):
125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Antonina Shevchenko
150 lbs.: Billy Quarantillo vs. Spike Carlyle (Catchweight)
205 lbs.: Klidson Abreu vs. Jamahal Hill
125 lbs.: Tim Elliott vs. Brandon Royval
135 lbs.: Casey Kenney vs. Louis Smolka
145 lbs.: Chris Gutierrez vs. Vince Morales
***Fight card, bout order and the amount of matches subject to drastic change because of the various global quarantine restrictions.***
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 9 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then remaining main card portion that will air on ESPN/ESPN+ proper at 9 p.m. ET.
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