On Saturday, Feb. 26, the UFC is back in action at the UFC Apex as the promotion will host UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Green.
This weekend was slated to be a de facto title eliminator between Beniel Dariush and Islam Makhachev in the lightweight division. However, an injury forced Dariush out of the contest, and veteran Bobby Green jumped at the chance to headline a UFC card for the first time in his career.
Green has picked up two notable wins recently, knocking out Al Iaquinta in the first round at UFC 268 and dominating Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 271 just two weeks ago. He has a tough task ahead of him, especially on short notice, when he meets the Dagestani powerhouse Islam Makhachev.
Makhachev has torn off nine straight wins and has looked better and better each time he steps into the cage. Some pundits have called for him to be given the next title shot against Charles Oliveira. A win over Green may not have the luster that a victory over Dariush would have, but it should certainly earn Makhachev a crack at the belt should he come out on top.
In the co-main event, middleweights Misha Cirkunov and Wellington Turman will clash. Cirkunov was supposed to be taking on Makhmud Muradov, but an injury forced Muradov out of the fight, and he was replaced in late January by Wellington Turman. Cirkunov recently made the move down to middleweight after hitting a skid at light heavyweight, but the move didn’t pay off in his first bout in the division as he dropped a split decision loss to Krzysztof Jotko. He will look to regain his footing against Turman this weekend. Turman rebounded with a split decision win over Sam Alvey in his last fight after losing back-to-back contests.
Also on the main card is a lightweight contest between Arman Tsarukyan and Joel Alvarez. Both of these fighters have won four straight fights after dropping their UFC debuts. The winner of this contest – particularly if Tsarukyan comes out on top – will certainly announce himself as a threat to everyone in the lightweight division.
UFC Fight Night Makhachev vs. Grpeen is an early evening affair with the prelims beginning at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 7 p.m. The event airs in its entirety on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Bobby Green is coming off the heels of one of his most impressive performances; will he have enough to pull off the short-notice upset over Islam Makhachev?
Sumian: No, and it is unfortunate because Bobby Green is nothing short of entertainment and swagger. However, the caliber of opponent he is stepping up to face is like nothing he has ever seen.
Green’s latest win streak, which consists of wins over Al Iaquinta and Nasrat Haqparast, has been one of the most fun storylines in the 155-pound division. There have been times that ‘King’ has looked like a top-10 lightweight, capable of striking with the best in the division. The reality is that Green is nothing more than a fan-favorite entertainer whose tendency to engage in wild striking exchanges, and in cage antics, make him must-watch TV. He has historically struggled to control the outcomes of bouts that have been against more calm and calculated opponents. Green will do his best to make this a dogfight and lure Makhachev into a wild fight in the hopes of landing a powerful shot. Anything is possible in MMA, but the odds are undoubtedly not in his favor.
It is truly a shame that Beneil Dariush was injured and this high-profile title eliminator bout is no longer taking place. In many ways, Dariush vs. Makhacehv was the most anticipated fight of Q1 due to the implications of a potential title shot. For Makhachev, the goal is the same. He will enter the Octagon looking to execute another dominant performance, further elevating his stock and claim for the number-one contender spot.
This bout will be another showcase for the Dagestani protégé of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He will be cautious in his approach to this bout and fully aware that Green’s MMA is top tier. At some point in the first round, he will land the takedown and begin the onslaught we are all too familiar with. Green will survive the first five minutes, due to his undeniable resilience, but will eventually succumb to a second-round submission despite his best efforts. At this point, a lightweight title fight between the winner Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje and Makhachev is one of the most thrilling bouts to look forward to for the end of 2022.
Petela: Bobby Green shouldn’t win this fight. Nobody has figured out a way to solve the puzzle of Islam Makhachev since way back in 2015 when Adriano Martins knocked him out in the first round of their fight. However, sometimes the stars align and this weekend will be one of those times.
From an X’s and O’s perspective, the plan for Green has to be simple – stay away from Makhachev at all costs and only engage at boxing distance. He needs to abandon any low kicks, because, if one of them gets caught and he gets taken down, things will get very bad very quickly. Constant circling away, instead of backing straight up, will be key, so that Makhachev has to try and turn the corner to finish takedowns, rather than pushing him straight back to the cage and getting a takedown from the body lock. He will catch Makhachev moving forward in the second round and will catch him flush to score a big knockout.
Nine times out of ten, if these two fought, it would be Makhachev who gets the win, and, most times, in rather lopsided fashion. However, Green is coming into this fight with more heat behind him than he has ever had after the dominant victory over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 271. This fight might go down as one of the biggest non-title upsets in the promotion’s history.
For the 35-year-old Green, while this fight will vault him into contender status, it will probably be the highlight of his career. He is certainly a supremely talented fighter, but so is everyone else at the top of the lightweight division. A win over Makhachev will probably earn him a fight with someone along the lines of Rafael Dos Anjos or Michael Chandler, and, unfortunately, in a fight like that, it will be evident that the upset this weekend is just that, a surprising upset by a talented journeyman who won’t ever become a title challenger. But, kudos for Green for stepping in on short notice and he will get the best win of his career with a surprising knockout over a future lightweight champion
Misha Cirkunov dropped a split decision in his debut at middleweight; how does he fare his second time at 185 pounds against Wellington Turman?
Petela: This will be a much better performance from Misha Cirkunov, and he needs it in the worst way. He has dropped two straight and three out of his last four. With all due respect to Wellington Turman, he is a step-down in competition from opponents like Ryan Spann and Krzysztof Jotko. This will be a showcase performance for Cirkunov whose status with the promotion and his personal confidence will jump after this fight.
From the opening bell, Cirkunov will be a step ahead of Turman. Whether it is striking at distance, in the clinch, or in grappling scenarios, Cirkunov will show that he is a bit better in all areas. His power will translate effectively this time out at middleweight, and he won’t lose the slick grappling skills that earned him his lone win over his last four contests when he snatched up a Peruvian necktie against rising star Jimmy Crute. While Cirkunov is no spring chicken at 34 years old, this fight will be the beginning of a career resurgence, and he will rattle off a few nice wins at middleweight and provide a stiff test for some of the world’s elite fighters at 185 pounds.
Sumian: Both of these middleweights have struggled as of late, and the expectations for this bout should be minimum. Cirkunov, on paper, has fought the better competition and should be able to win a convincing unanimous decision. Turman will do his best to compete, but he is simply a tier below Cirkunov.
Armen Petrosyan, Victor Altamirano and Carlos Hernandez — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Victor Altamirano and Carlos Hernandez are two newcomers who are making their UFC debuts against one another. They both are riding impressive win streaks outside of the UFC and have one sole loss on their record. The winner will get a step-up in competition for their sophomore appearance, but neither warrants any significant attention just yet.
Instead, the focus will be on Armen Petrosyan who makes his middleweight debut after a 6-1 record outside the UFC. Petrosyan has finished all of his opponents by knockout and is a much needed addition to the fairly stagnant 185-pound division. He will face Gregory Rodirgues who is on a four-win streak and 2-0 in the UFC. This should prove to be a very entertaining fight between a pair of finishers. If Petrosyan can pull off the upset, expect him to be an early candidate for Newcomer of the Year.
Petela: Armen Petrosyan is certainly a name to watch, but this is one of the rare times when I’m more bullish on the entire incoming class than my colleague. Both Victor Altamirano and Carlos Hernandez have wins inside Legacy Fighting Alliance which makes them noteworthy in my opinion. Altamirano is 31 years old, and Hernandez is 28, so they are both joining the promotion while they are approaching their physical prime, so they have the potential to make a splash sooner than later.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Ji Yeon Kim finds herself with her back against the wall, coming off of two straight losses and sporting a meager 3-4 record since signing with the UFC. She enters this fight as a -180 favorite against Priscila Cachoeira after a “Fight of the Night” performance in defeat at the hands of Molly McCann. If she comes up short again, and it isn’t a post-fight-bonus-worthy performance, there’s a strong chance that this will be the last time she fights inside the Octagon.
Sumian: Priscila Cachoeira. After her questionable antics at UFC 269 involving deliberately poking her opponents eye, she is on a slippery slope. If she suffers a second loss within the first round, expect her days in the UFC to be over.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: The bantamweight clash between Jonathan Martinez and Alejandro Perez has all the makings of a fun and scrappy “Fight of the Night” bout. Both are finishers capable of going strong for three straight rounds and have compiled 24 finishes between the two of them. This one should deliver and serve as an appetizer for the main card.
Petela: That fight does have me excited, but so does the lightweight tilt between Terrance McKinney and Fares Ziam. McKinney has rattled off four in a row, including his UFC debut against Matt Frevola, where he picked up a seven-second knockout. Ziam has fought just twice in two years, but he has been victorious both times. If he can withstand the early storm from McKinney, this fight should turn out to be a back-and-forth affair early on in the evening.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Arman Tsarukyan. In his last fight, he picked up his first finish in the UFC, and after missing weight two fights ago, he seems to have figured out the weight-cut issues and has turned into perhaps the most promising name to watch in the crazy talent-stacked lightweight division. He gave headliner Islam Makhachev all he could handle, and that was in Tsarukyan’s debut. He has no lay-up fight this weekend against Joel Alvarez, but that will make the victory even more impressive. Expect Tsarukyan to be knocking on the door of contendership sooner than later, and it’s not impossible to think that there will be a Makhachev rematch with a belt on the line in the future.
Sumian: Armen Petrosyan. He will defeat Rodrigues by knockout and officially announce himself to the middleweight division, which is in dire need of fresh blood. Petrosyan has all the makings of a prospective contender and should show everyone he is worthy of competing with the very best in the world.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The country of Armenia. This might be the first time in UFC history where two Armenian fighters are on the main card of a UFC Fight Night. Tsarukyan and Petrosyan both have intriguing matchups on the main card of the evening, and both have the ability to become prospective contenders in their respective divisions. Thus, pair the evening with some of the most delicious Armenian cuisine including dolma, manti, lavash and lahmajun from your local Armenian restaurant (if you have one). For those in the Los Angeles area, it is impossible to go wrong with getting some takeout from the famous Raffi’s Place or Carousel Restaurant located in Glendale. Other quick yet delicious favorites include Sahag’s Basturma, Papillon Bakery, and Falafel Arax that will take care of all your evening dietary needs. Top the evening off with Armenian’s most famous brandy, Ararat.
Petela: Get ready to watch Green derail Makhachev’s surge to the title by watching Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Peter Lafleur and his unlikely band of misfits from Average Joe’s Gym find their way into the ADAA International Dodgeball Open after winning a last-minute regional qualifier. They pull off the ultimate upset over the seemingly unstoppable Globo Gym Purple Cobras. Now, Green is hardly a misfit, but he too finds himself stepping in with not much time to prepare and taking on the Dagestani wrecking ball that is Makhachev. Just like the movie, Green’s night will end with a surprising victory, so get ready for his upset by watching the greatest cinematic upset in history.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
CatchW: Islam Makhachev vs. Bobby Green
MW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Wellington Turman
Women’s FlyW: Ji Yeon Kim vs. Priscila Cachoeira
LW: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Joel Alvarez
MW: Armen Petrosyan vs. Gregory Rodrigues
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Zhu Rong vs. Ignacio Bahamondes
Women’s BW: Josiane Nunes vs. Wu Yanan
LW: Terrance McKinney vs. Fares Ziam
Women’s StrawW: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Hannah Goldy
BW: Alejandro Perez vs. Jonathan Martinez
WW: Ramiz Brahimaj vs. Micheal Gillmore
FlyW: Victor Altamirano vs. Carlos Hernandez
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