The game of musical chairs leading up to this week’s UFC event has come to an end, at least for now. After the original headlining bout between returning former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and rising star Cory Sandhagen was called off due to a cut Dillashaw suffered in training camp, a myriad of possible short-notice replacement bouts were potentially due to headline, but now the UFC has finally landed on one particular fight, and so we have UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Waterson.
The namesakes for this card are strawweight ladies Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson. Rodriguez enters this contest off the biggest win of her career, a TKO finish of Amanda Ribas in the second round of their showdown at UFC 257. The “Karate Hottie” also heads to the cage on the heels of a big victory, which came via split decision in a “Fight of the Night” performance against Angela Hill. As fate would have it, Ribas and Hill clash to open the main card.
In the co-main event, fan-favorite Donald Cerrone returns in a welterweight contest against short-notice replacement Alex Morono after the UFC cut ties with Diego Sanchez in large part due to the antics of Sanchez’s coach and guru, Joshua Fabia.
Another welterweight fight adorns the main card, with Neil Magny and Geoff Neal set for a showdown.
The main card also includes action in two other divisions. Maurice Greene and Marcos Rogério de Lima collide in a heavyweight tilt, while Gregor Gillespie and Diego Ferreira battle in a lightweight affair. Gillespie is fighting for the first time since the first loss of his career, which came in 2019 when he was floored by a head kick from Kevin Lee.
UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs Waterson will be held inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas just one week before UFC 262. The preliminary card begins at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+. The main card follows at 8 p.m. ET on both ESPN and ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
This card is shaping up to be a women’s strawweight showcase that could clear up the contender picture. Marina Rodriguez battles Michelle Waterson in the new headliner, while Amanda Ribas clashes with Angela Hill on the main card. Which lady will turn in the most impressive showing of the night?
Sumian: Marina Rodriguez.
The Brazilian took the division by storm when she demolished the highly touted Ribas in January. Fresh off such a huge victory, Rodriguez will do it again when she faces Waterson, who is well beyond her days as a top contender. Despite being talented on the ground and extremely marketable due to her pleasant personality, Waterson is nowhere near the talent level of the women that make up the division’s current upper echelon. She has notoriously lost big fights and has not finished an opponent since her December 2016 win against Paige Van Zant.
Rodriguez will continue her hype train by stopping Waterson. The victory will be enough to prompt a title eliminator fight for Rodriguez’s next appearance.
Petela: This is going to be the Ribas show. The 11th-ranked strawweight stumbled for the first time during her UFC run when she fell via TKO to the aforementioned Rodriguez. This contest will be the perfect rebound performance for her against a wily veteran like Hill.
Hill has shown constant improvements in her game and recently picked up a second victory over Ashley Yoder in one of the most impressive performances of her career. This is the type of tough opponent that Ribas needs to get back into the conversation of next-generation strawweights vying for the division’s top spot.
It would seem that there is an advantage in the striking realm for Hill and a more substantial edge on the canvas for Ribas. Ribas will be able to stay competitive early on as the two exchange on the feet. However, despite the early successful takedown defense from Hill, the momentum will shift by the second frame. From there, Ribas will be able to dominate on the ground.
This will be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Brazilian, who will show herself and the fans that she can take a punch and overcome adversity while she takes out the savvy Hill.
This card has been hampered by withdrawals of all sorts. We’ve seen a number of injuries and even a surprise retirement. Outside of the obvious huge loss of the original headliner, which other withdrawal hurt this card the most?
Petela: In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans have grown accustomed to last-minute lineup changes. This card really takes the cake, though. The loss of the headlining affair was bad enough, but this event was also slated to host former champion Holly Holm, the legendary Roxanne Modafferi, and Diego Sanchez. A myriad of bizarre issues has forced them all out of action, but the biggest loss is Holly Holm, who was supposed to take on Julianna Peña.
There is no question that Holm has somewhat lost the championship form that saw her take the title away from Ronda Rousey with the head kick heard ‘round the world. However, she has won back-to-back fights, and a solid performance against Peña, win or lose, would have been a great way to set up an eventual rematch with the recently unretired Miesha Tate.
Holm had to withdraw from the Peña fight due to Hydronephrosis, though. Anything to do with the kidneys can be tricky for fighters after years of weight cuts, and we here at Combat Press wish her nothing but the best in recovery.
Sumian: The opponent change for Donald Cerrone is arguably the biggest hit to this card.
Despite his questionable decisions throughout the last few years, the aforementioned Sanchez continues to have a large and loyal following. In a matter of days, the former The Ultimate Fighter standout went from a potentially incredible final fight in the UFC with Cerrone to a UFC release. The company acted quickly and eventually found Alex Morono as a sound replacement. However, a storied clash between Cerrone and Sanchez would have been a huge draw after the loss of an incredible main event.
Carlston Harris — do we need to know this name?
Sumian: The 15-4 Guyanese fighter has a fairly impressive resume outside of the UFC and joins a very busy welterweight division when he debuts against Christian Aguilera. The newcomer will shine and take the unanimous decision.
Petela: As shocking as this might be, I am less optimistic of Harris’ chances inside the UFC. He certainly has an impressive record and finishes via both submission and knockout, but the 33-year-old’s upside isn’t nearly high enough to allow him to compete with the truly elite welterweights of the world. Harris might pick up a win here and there while engaging in some fun fights, but he’s not someone to watch if you’re trying to spot the division’s next breakout star.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Maurice Greene. With all due respect to the “Crochet Boss,” he has looked lackluster in each of his last four fights. His lone win came over an out-of-shape Gian Villante, who tapped due to a peculiar arm-triangle choke in a finish that seemed to be caused more by Villante’s own exhaustion than anything Greene did intentionally. Greene has an opponent this weekend in Marcos Rogério de Lima who has also had some bumps along his UFC road, but Greene will be unable to pick up a win. Instead, he will find the proverbial pink slip in his locker not long after this contest.
Sumian: Philipe Lins. The highly touted heavyweight newcomer has been disappointing through his first two UFC appearances despite an impressive 14-3 record prior to joining the company. A third loss will likely send the winless Lins out the door and back to either the Professional Fighters League or Bellator MMA.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Geoff Neal and Neil Magny may not seem like they would combine for a sleeper, but I am convinced that this fight is not getting anywhere near enough attention. Both of these ranked welterweights like to put on a show, and they will look to engage in explosive and powerful exchanges throughout their bout. Magny will fire off combinations on the outside, while Neal attempts to power his way into the short range and land a devastating power punch. This will be a “Fight of the Night’ candidate, folks.
Petela: Phil Hawes and Kyle Daukaus. The 10-2 Hawes has looked remarkable in his first two UFC appearances. Who can forget his 18-second victory over Jacob Malkoun in his debut at UFC 254? Despite a promotional record that stands at 1-1, Daukaus has also looked good in his time with the organization. He was thrown to the wolves against Brendan Allen and did better in defeat than most fighters do in victory. These two middleweights will give the fans at home one heck of a fight to remember.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Gregor Gillespie. He makes his long-awaited return after suffering the first loss of his career in violent fashion at the hands — or foot, really — of Kevin Lee. This weekend’s clash with Diego Ferreira will be just what the All-American wrestler needs to regain some momentum. A dominant performance, capped with a TKO stoppage late in the fight, will be enough to earn Gillespie an extra $50,000 and help get the taste of defeat out of his mouth.
Sumian: Donald Cerrone. “Cowboy” will do what Anthony Pettis could not and finish Alex Morono via head kick en route to what in all likelihood will be his final performance bonus. Despite his willingness to compete, Cerrone is fast approaching his curtain call with the UFC.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The movie Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey, includes a scene where he approaches an airline attendant and asks for the first available flight out. This led Carrey’s character to Nebraska for a surprisingly fun and eventful trip. This card has that same aura about it. We have no idea if, where and how it will end. However, once it is all said and done, we will have seen some memorable finishes, several “Fight of the Night” candidates, and a surprisingly pleasant evening of action.
Petela: A magic eight ball. With all the cancellations, changes and replacements that this fight card has seen, your best bet to find out whether or not each scheduled fight is actually happening is by giving the children’s toy a good shake. Hopefully we are done with surprises for this show, but don’t count on it.
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW: Marina Rodriguez vs. Michelle Waterson
WW: Donald Cerrone vs. Alex Morono
WW: Neil Magny vs. Geoff Neal
HW: Maurice Greene vs. Marcos Rogério de Lima
LW: Diego Ferreira vs. Gregor Gillespie
Women’s StrawW: Amanda Ribas vs. Angela Hill
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET)
HW: Ben Rothwell vs. Philipe Lins
MW: Phil Hawes vs. Kyle Daukaus
FW: Mike Trizano vs. L’udovit Klein
FlyW: Ryan Benoit vs. Zarrukh Adashev
MW: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jun Yong Park
WW: Christian Aguilera vs. Carlston Harris
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