Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns later tonight (Sat., May 8, 2021) to stage UFC Vegas 26 featuring a women’s Flyweight bout between Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez. In the co-main event, Donald Cerrone will face Alex Morono in Welterweight action.
In the revamped main event, Michelle Waterson will look to make the most of her opportunity in what will be her third headlining act in her last four bouts. Waterson always seems to be on the cusp of earning a title shot before disaster strikes. That was the case when Rose Namajunas derailed her championship dreams by choking her out in 2017. Two years later, “Karate Hottie” was once again inching closer to her first-ever shot at a UFC title before her three fight win streak went up in smoke thanks to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. After losing to Carla Esparza soon thereafter, Waterson finally bounced back with a razor-thin split decision win over Angela Hill. She has a very stiff test ahead of her in Marina Rodriguez, the No. 6 ranked women’s 115-pound fighter in the world.
Rodriguez has had an interesting run so far inside the Octagon. When she got the call to compete on the “Contender Series,” she came in undefeated at 9-0. After knocking out Maria de Oliveira Neta in the first round she earned a UFC contract. Her first UFC fight against Randa Markos was a draw, then she picked up huge back-to-back wins over Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar before fighting to another draw, this time against Cynthia Calvillo. In her next fight, Rodriguez suffered her first loss ever at the hands of former division champion, Carla Esparza, before bouncing back with a big TKO win over Amanda Ribas at UFC 257 on “Fight Island.” In short, Rodriguez has proven to be a legit threat after taking on some of the best.
As for her fight against Waterson, I’d give the more well-rounded edge to Rodriguez. While Waterson is a standup specialist, Rodriguez is no slouch on the feet. If it turns into a dog fight, it won’t bode well for “Karate Hottie.” Her best best is to stay on the outside, stick and move and try to convince the judges she did enough. Waterson’s last stoppage victory came against Paige VanZant, a rear-naked choke win in 2016. Trying to get one against Rodriguez will be a tough task to say the least since she’s never been finished in her six-year career. Plus, Rodriguez has a title fight against Namajunas in her sights, so to say she’s coming in hungry would be an understatement. Not to say Waterson won’t be on her best game, but Rodriguez is on a roll right now and has a lot more to gain with a win.
This card had the makings of a great “Fight Night” event, but an injury to T.J. Dillashaw, health problems from Holly Holm and Diego Sanchez’s release took it down a few notches, unfortunately. Despite the changes, it’s still a decent lineup.
Original Card vs Actual Card:
The original main event was set to feature a Bantamweight title eliminator bout between former division champion T.J. Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen. But after Dillashaw suffered a cut during training the bout was called off. Also, a much-anticipated scrap between former training partners Donald Cerrone and Diego Sanchez was iced after “The Nightmare” and UFC officials came to a head, leading to Diego’s release from the promotion. Talia Santos suffered a tear in her meniscus which ultimately forced her out of a scheduled bout against Roxanne Modafferi.
A fight between Ryan Benoit and Zarrukh Adashev was canceled the day before the fight after Benoit struggles to make weight in a worrisome scene during the weigh ins (more on that here). Also, Philipe Lins was not medically cleared the day before the fight and his Heavyweight scrap against Ben Rothwell was once again scrapped.
Aside from Dillashaw’s unfortunate injury, Nikolas Motta was forced out of his fight against Damir Hadzovic with an injury. Hadzovic will now face Yancy Medeiros in two weeks at UFC Vegas 28. JP Buys also suffered a health setback which forced him out of his fight against Francisco Figueiredo, who will now fight Malcom Gordon in July.
And finally, Holly Holm was supposed to face Julianna Pena on this card, but after “The Preacher’s Daughter” encountered kidney issues, she was forced out of the fight. As for Pena, she wound up getting a Bantamweight title fight against Amanda Nunes, which will go down at UFC 265 in August.
Carlston Harris will make his UFC debut against Christian Aguilera, who is hoping to bounce back after his loss to Sean Brady. Harris has been fighting for nine years now so he is glad he finally get the call up to the big show. He’s won three straight and seven of his last eight which caught UFC matchmakers’ attention. He has five stoppage wins in his last seven victories, which helped his cause. He has a tough task ahead of him in Aguilera, who is hungry for a win.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
The undercard was supposed to be headlined by a 265-pound showdown between Ben Rothwell and Philipe Lins. The two big men were set to throw down at a few months ago before the fight was cancelled due to an injury, and it was once again axed after Lins failed to clear medicals.
Surging Middleweight contender Phil Hawes is in search of his seventh straight win and a spot in the Top 15 when he battles Kyle Daukaus. Hawes is 2-0 so far inside the eight-sided cage, while Daukaus is 1-1. This is a big opportunity for two young prospects to make a big statement. Undefeated (5-0, 1-0 UFC) Middleweight prospect Tafon Nchukwi looks to go two-for-two inside the Octagon when he faces Jun Yong Park, winner of two in a row.
Also, Ludvit Klein looks to keep his momentum going because he’s searching for his ninth straight win (seconds inside the Octagon) against Michael Trizano. “The Lone Wolf” suffered the first loss of his MMA career in his last bout against Grant Dawson. This is a great battle for top 155-pound prospects which could give the victor a big boost.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Donald Cerrone hasn’t tasted victory since May 2019, almost two years. That’s kind of hard to grasp given the fact that “Cowboy” used to fight every other month it seems, so you would think a win would surface at some point. Instead, he has lost four of his last five with one “No Contest” — originally a majority draw — against Niko Price. Cerrone, 38, has been fighting for UFC for a decade now so it seems impossible to think he would fight or finish his career elsewhere. But will the promotion keep him around if he loses another one, this time to Alex Morono? After all, Dana White and company have shown that personal feelings and business don’t mix as of late, letting go of Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Yoel Romero over the past year.
Interest Level: 5 of 10
Top Welterweight contenders who are both looking to bounce back after tough losses will throw down in main card action when Neil Magny and Geoff Neal do battle. Magny had his three fight win streak snapped by Michael Chiesa earlier this year while Neal saw his seven fight win streak dating back to 2017 go up in smoke when he ran into Stephen Thompson in Dec. 2020. They both badly need a win here in order to prevent falling further down the ladder in what is a stacked Welterweight division.
Lightweight standouts Gregor Gillespie and Carlos Diego Ferreira are also hoping to step back in the winner’s circle after they both lost their long win streaks in their previous bouts. Gillespie suffered the first loss of his MMA career when he was knocked out cold by Kevin Lee at UFC 244 almost 18 months ago. “The Gift,” however, isn’t dwelling on no longer being undefeated and will look to get back on track against a man who saw his six fight win streak vanish thanks to Beneil Dariush.
In further women’s Strawweight action, Amanda Ribas and Angela Hill will throw down in the opening fight of the main card. After four straight wins to start her UFC career, which includes a big win over Mackenzie Dern, Ribas suffered her first defeat inside the Octagon at the hands of Marina Rodriguez. She looks to get back on track when she takes on longtime veteran, Hill, who eyes her first back-to-back wins since Feb. 2020.
In 265-pound action Marcos Rogerio de Lima seems to be due for a win given his track record of alternating wins and losses for the last six years. He lost to Alexander Romonov in his previous bout, so if tradition continues, he is due for a win against Maurice Greene, loser of three of his last four. Of course, when big men start throwing haymakers anything can happen in the blink of an eye. The Heavyweight division is wide open right now, so now is the chance for de Lima and Romonov to make their move.
Enjoy the fights!
Full Fight Card:
UFC Vegas 26 Main Event on ESPN/ESPN+:
125 lbs.: Marina Rodriguez vs. Michelle Waterson
UFC Vegas 26 Main Card on ESPN/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Donald Cerrone vs. Alex Morono
170 lbs.: Neil Magny vs. Geoff Neal
155 lbs.: Diego Ferreira vs. Gregor Gillespie
265 lbs.: Maurice Greene vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
115 lbs.: Angela Hill vs. Amanda RibasCANCELED
UFC Vegas 26 Prelims Card on ESPN+ (5 p.m. ET):
Philipe Lins vs. Ben RothwellCANCELED (details here)
185 lbs.: Kyle Daukaus vs. Phil Hawes
145 lbs.: Ludovit Klein vs. Mike Trizano
Zarrukh Adashev vs. Ryan Benoit CANCELED(details here)
185 lbs.: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jun Yong Park
170 lbs.: Christian Aguilera vs. Carlston Harris
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*