Thiago Santos (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Ankalaev Preview and Predictions

For the sixth straight weekend, the UFC is in action this Saturday with UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Ankalaev. The names donning the marquee will throw down in the light heavyweight division where everyone is chasing 42-year-old champion Glover Teixeira.

Former title challenger Thiago Santos will meet surging Dagestani powerhouse Magomed Ankalaev. Santos’s career had hit the rocks for a short while, losing a split decision to Jon Jones in his title bid, and then dropping two consecutive fights after having surgery to repair the significant knee damage he suffered in the Jones fight. His bounce back fight came against Johnny Walker, where he outlasted his opponent to earn a unanimous decision. He will stand across the cage from one of the division’s brightest rising stars in Magomed Ankalaev. Were it not for a literal last-second submission loss on St. Patrick’s Day in 2018, Ankalaev would enter this bout with an unblemished record.

The co-main event features a bantamweight bout between former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes and Team Alpha Male standout Song Yadong. Since dropping his title bid to Henry Cejudo, Moraes has just one win and has been finished by strikes in his last three fights in a row. Yadong has been just the opposite, looking better and better each time he steps inside the Octagon. He came back from his decision loss to Kyler Phillips by defeating Casey Kenney and then stopping Julio Arce in the second round of their Nov. 2021 affair.


Opening up the main card is a middleweight bout between two of the scariest strikers the division has to offer. Alex Pereira is a multiple-time kickboxing world champion, whose largest claim to fame for many MMA fans is knocking out current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. His opponent is Bruno Silva, his Brazilian countryman. Silva has won 22 professional fights, and 19 of those have come by way of knockout. This fight is sure to start the main card with can’t-miss action from the moment the fight starts.

UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Ankalaev will be held inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev. It is an early-evening affair with the prelims beginning at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 7 p.m. ET. The event can be seen in its entirety streaming on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.

Thiago Santos snapped a three-fight losing streak in his last outing; does he make it back-to-back wins by defeating Magomed Ankalaev?

Sumian: Unfortunately for Santos, no. There was a time where he was one of the most feared light heavyweights on Planet Earth. The Brazilian suffered an array of leg injuries after a prolific title fight performance with Jon Jones. He suffered two back-to-back losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic shortly after and has yet to look like the same fighter that compiled a four-fight winning streak to earn a light heavyweight title shot.

Santos rebounded in his last outing by defeating Johnny Walker. If there is one thing fans have learned about Walker in the last few years, it is that he is far away from being considered a light heavyweight title contender. Santos is an extremely well rounded fighter, who is capable of knocking out even the most powerful strikers at 205 pounds. However, he is facing an opponent that is significantly close to being considered the biggest threat to the light heavyweight throne.

Magomed Ankkalaev is the definition of a future light heavyweight title contender. The Dagestan native lost by submission to Paul Craig in his UFC debut, but has compiled a seven fight win streak since then. Ankalaev is a powerful, calculated and methodical striker who picks his opponents apart using his tight defense and well-timed combinations. He showed his ability to contend with the top of the division by soundly defeating Nikitia Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir back to back. Now, he has a chance to break into the top five of the division by defeating Thiago Santos and cementing himself as a contender to the throne.

There is truly not much to say for this light heavyweight main event. Ankalaev will defeat Santos by unanimous decision with relative ease, using his range and methodical striking. He is simply the better fighter between the two at this point in their careers and will prove it come Saturday. Ankalaev is a true threat to the top of the 205 ladder and should find himself one fight away from a title shot if he gets through Santos.

Petela: Thiago Santos is more than a three-to-one underdog for a reason this weekend. His win over Johnny Walker left much to be desired. The two Brazilian knockout artists largely avoided danger, and the extended exchanges were sparse. The reason Santos was able to win the fight in that manner is that he is more technically proficient than Walker. That is not the case this weekend against Magomed Ankalaev. The longer this fight goes the larger the gap in talent will be in favor of Ankalaev. The saving grace for Santos will be that he carries his knockout power throughout fights, regardless of whether fatigue has begun to set in and the lactic acid is building up in his muscular frame.

That knockout power will be what wins Thiago Santos this fight and derails Ankalaev’s path towards the light heavyweight title. In between rounds three and four or four and five Santos’ corner will light a fire in him knowing that he needs the knockout to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat. At the highest level of MMA there is no such thing as a lucky punch and it won’t be luck that Thiago Santos scores a late round knockout win. The Santos corner will have picked up a tell from Ankalaev from their cageside position, and after a brief rallying cry, they will deliver sound technical advice that leads to Santos scoring with a big counterpunch that closes the show in drastic fashion, leaving fans around the world leaping out of their seats.

The co-main event fighters are on opposing trajectories; does Marlon Moraes stop his skid or does Song Yadong extend his winning streak?

Petela: Sadly, Marlon Moraes is a far cry from the fighter he was a few short years ago. Just over three years ago, he rattled off three consecutive “Performance of the Night” bonuses with stoppages over Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera, and Raphael Assuncao. He has not fared well since then, with his lone win coming in a controversial split decision against Jose Aldo. Moraes is clearly on the backside of his career, despite being relatively young at 33 years old. The wear and tear on his body over his 33 professional fights leave a great deal of doubt on whether he can make a late career resurgence that we see from time to time. This fight against Song Yadong will be another example that today’s version of Moraes is not the same guy who held the World Series of Fighting championship.

Yadong is the exact opposite. He is a young prospect who is starting to come into his own, and whose only setback is a unanimous decision loss to Kyler Phillips. He bounced back nicely after that loss and has won two straight. He moved into the rankings recently and sits at number 14. This performance will be a showcase for him, and a stoppage win over Moraes will announce his arrival as a threat to the fighters at the top of the bantamweight division.

Sumian: Moraes will be the best fighter that Yadong has faced thus far in his career. It will not be surprising if Moraes is able to derail the rise of the young Chinese prospect. However, like my colleague has already portrayed, the circumstances favor Yadong delivering on the hype and defeating Moraes to advance in the highly competitive bantamweight division. The list of fighters that Moraes has lost to are all elite bantamweights. However, Moraes has suffered three back-to-back losses by knockout and has become more susceptible to being finished. Unfortunately, it is simply time for the Brazilian to take a step down in competition after a successful run at bantamweight since 2017.

A.J. Fletcher and Javid Basharat — do we need to know these names?

Sumian: Both newcomers enter the UFC Octagon undefeated, young and hungry. Fletcher makes his UFC debut in the welterweight division and has compiled an 11-0 record. He burst onto the scene by delivering a first-round, flying-knee knockout on Dana White’s Contender Series. Javid Basharat is also an undefeated prospect who makes his UFC debut in the bantamweight division.

Both are prolific finishers and although they are just beginning their UFC journeys. Expect the pair of newcomers to deliver impressive wins come Saturday.

Petela: This should come as a surprise to no one, but I have much lower expectations for both of these debuting fighters. That’s not to say that they didn’t look impressive in their contract winning performances on Dana White’s Contender Series – they did – but outside of one fight for Fletcher in Fury FC, these guys have compiled their records on the regional scene outside of the premier feeder programs into the UFC. They may eventually have some success on the big stage, but, at least for now, they will struggle to gain footing inside the UFC.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Sabina Mazo. After dropping her UFC debut, Mazo rattled off three straight wins and had gained a good deal of momentum. Her fortunes have changed drastically since then, dropping back-to-back fights. The days of “three losses in a row and you’re cut” are largely gone, but the women’s flyweight division has recently seen a number of young talented fighters emerge as potential future contenders. Women like Maycee Barber, Miranda Maverick, and Manon Fiorot have taken the place of Mazo as the names to watch to potentially dethrone long-reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko. A loss will likely bounce her from the UFC and force her to retool her fight game on the regional scene. Mazo is just 24 years old, so it is likely that she will eventually make her way back to the UFC after some time away from the promotion.

Sumian: Guido Cannetti. The Argentinian is 42 years old and is 2-5 in his UFC campaign. A fourth loss in a row will surely send him packing after showing little-to-no signs of becoming a threat in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Sumian: Drew Dober versus Terrance McKinney is going to steal the show on Saturday night. McKinney is stepping up on short notice and will find himself a formidable dance partner in Dober. The pair combined for 28 victories by way of knockout or submission. Dober is doing himself no favors by accepting a short-notice fight with McKinney, who is on a five-fight winning streak. This one will be loads of fun while it lasts, as the pair throw heavy bombs early and often.

Petela: The women’s flyweight bout between J.J. Aldrich and Gillian Robertson. Both of these women are coming off wins, and the victor this weekend will firmly regain footing in the flyweight division. This will be an interesting stylistic matchup to watch play out as well, as Aldrich tends to try and keep fights standing, while Robertson has notched seven of her ten wins by submission. This could end emphatically either way and is a must watch.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Petela: Alex Pereira. This is his sophomore fight with the UFC, and the only red flag that came out of his debut was his deficit in the grappling realm. This time out he is facing another knockout artist in Bruno Silva. The likelihood of this fight turning into a wrestling-laden affair is not high, to say the least, so this fight should be fireworks from the opening bell. Pereira will show that he is a level above Silva and land a fight-ending punch before the bell sounds at the end of the first frame.

Sumian: Khalil Rountree Jr. He has made it known that Saturday is likely the last time he steps foot inside the Octagon. He will knockout Karl Roberson in devastating fashion using his prolific Muay Thai and ride off into retirement with an extra $50k.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: The movie Speed. Speed is an intense action drama that keeps viewers on the edge until the dramatic conclusion. Like Speed, this card will do the same for all that tune in. The lineup is significantly more loaded than last week’s pay-per-view for UFC 272. There are a plethora of high-profile fights featuring notable contenders, potential prospects, and fan-friendly striking matches that should entertain from start to finish. Sit back, relax and enjoy an awesome night of fights that won’t cost you $75.

Petela: No matter which fighters come away victorious this weekend, this fight card is going to deliver. In that spirit, kick back and order your favorite delivery pizza. I recommend buying from a local pizza shop, but if you go national be sure to grab a Domino’s Brooklyn style pizza with extra pepperoni.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
LHW: Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev Ankalaev Santos
BW: Marlon Moraes vs. Song Yadong Yadong Yadong
FW: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Alex Caceres Yusuff Caceres
LHW: Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Karl Roberson Rountree Jr. Roberson
LW: Drew Dober vs. Terrance McKinney McKinney Dober
MW: Alex Pereira vs. Bruno Silva Pereira Pereira
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
WW: Matthew Semelsberger vs. A.J. Fletcher Fletcher Semelsberger
Women’s FlyW: J.J. Aldrich vs. Gillian Robertson Robertson Aldrich
BW: Trevin Jones vs. Javid Basharat Basharat Jones
FW: Damon Jackson vs. Kamuela Kirk Jackson Jackson
Women’s FlyW: Sabina Mazo vs. Miranda Maverick Maverick Maverick
MW: Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Cody Brundage Lungiambula Lungiambula
BW: Kris Moutinho vs. Guido Cannetti Moutinho Moutinho
LHW: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Azamat Murzakanov Nchukwi Nchukwi