The final show before UFC 285 is upon us this weekend from Las Vegas inside the UFC Apex as a pair of light heavyweight juggernauts clash in the main event at UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs. Spann.
Currently ranked sixth in the division, Nikita Krylov has won back-to-back fights against former title challengers by defeating Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oedzemir. Standing in his way of extending that winning streak to three is eighth-ranked Ryan Spann, who also comes into this showdown having won his last two bouts. Spann missed weight in his last fight, preventing him from earning a post-fight bonus that otherwise surely would have been his after he knocked out Dominick Reyes in just one minute and 20 seconds. With newly crowned champion Jamahal Hill sitting atop the division, and former champion Jiri Prochazka’s status to return still unknown, the victor in this main event could be just one fight away from earning a title shot of his own.
In the co-main event, two rising middleweights will square off with Andre Muniz fighting Brendan Allen. Muniz comes into the fight as the eleventh ranked middleweight, complete with a nine-fight winning streak that predates his time with the UFC. Allen has put together a three-fight winning streak of his own, bouncing back from a TKO loss to Chris Curtis. With a win, Allen would likely take Muniz’s spot in the rankings while Muniz will look to crack the top 10 with a performance that wows the fans.
After three and a half years, we finally get to see the return of Tatiana Suarez. The two-time world championship bronze medalist in freestyle wrestling has dealt with a plethora of health issues over her career that have held her back, including thyroid cancer, but she’s finally set to return to the Octagon. She moves up to the flyweight division for her return, after starting out in the UFC as a strawweight. She takes on Montana De La Rosa in her return, which is no easy task. A talented wrestler herself, the 28-year-old De La Rosa comes into this fight off of a loss to Maycee Barber. The outcome of this fight could very well be an indicator of each woman’s fortunes inside the promotion over the next few years. The winner will immediately be part of the conversation for eventual title challengers and the loser will have to go back to the drawing board to avoid becoming a story about what could have been.
UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs. Spann takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Nikita Krylov has put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2018; does he make it three in a row by defeating Ryan Spann?
Sumian: This is one of the more intriguing matchups at light heavyweight we have seen in a long time. The division has gone through some rough times with the injury to former champion Jiri Prochazka and questionable draw between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev. New worthy contenders are needed, and needed fast, to ensure that the division gets back on track and has a line of competitors eagerly chasing the light heavyweight belt.
Ryan Spann brings the highest level of athleticism to the octagon and is riding a two-fight winning streak of his own. The six-foot-five-inch-tall specimen is inarguably one of the most powerful fighters in the division and is capable of using his strength and speed to bully his opponents. Spann’s losses have been his own doing and have cost him big. Every time he seems to be garnering some momentum, he has lost in devastating fashion to the likes of Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. A win over Krylov will undoubtedly earn him a top-five opponent for his next UFC outing.
Nikita Krylov is, by all means, the better mixed martial artist between the two main-event competitors. He is an extremely calculated, calm and measured fighter who approaches each of his opponents with strategy and thought. His losses in the Octagon have been to elite competition including Blachowicz, Glover Teixeira, and Ankalaev. The Moscow native enters the Octagon with a 6-4 UFC record and is currently ranked No. 6 in the division. Beating Spann will earn him a top-five opponent for his next UFC outing.
Spann’s path to victory is simple. Stay on the outside and establish the jab until an opportunity presents itself. Krylov has been finished quite seven times in his MMA career and six of those times have been by submission. Spann has 12 victories by way of submission despite only being a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. Krylov has fought much stiffer competition inside the octagon but has come up short several times which has led to his hype being derailed more than once. His path to victory will be keeping the fight in close quarters and utilizing grappling and clinch work to eventually get this fight to the ground, where he can impose his submission skills and ground striking.
Despite Krylov’s experience, Spann will play spoiler and end the Moscow native’s winning streak in impressive fashion. Spann looked like he finally leveled up back in November, when he faced Dominick Reyes and finished him in extraordinary fashion. He will stay loose and relaxed, as he peppers Krylov with kicks and jabs, before landing a big one. He will follow Krylov to the ground and finish him by ground-and-pound or submission.
Petela: My colleague and I are in agreement that this main event won’t go the distance. We also agree that Ryan Spann has certainly grown by leaps and bounds in a short time. Where our opinions diverge is the outcome of this contest.
As Andrew pointed out, the only people who beat Nikita Krylov are the absolute top-of-the-food-chain, elite fighters. On that list are two former champions, a title challenger, who many thought deserved to win the vacant belt, in Magomed Ankalaev and Paul Craig. There are no flukes when Craig submits people, but, in that fight, Krylov nearly had “Bearjew” unconscious from strikes before the Scotsman was able to sneak in the triangle choke. I mention that, because, while Ryan Spann does have 12 submission wins to his name, they typically come in the old “club-and-sub” fashion. Spann isn’t nearly as dangerous as Craig from his back, especially if he wound up there from getting dazed by a big shot on the feet.
Krylov doesn’t necessarily need to turn this into a grappling match to get the victory. He can flat-out thump – just ask Alexander Gustaffson. Granted, I don’t think that standing at kickboxing range will be Plan A for the Ukrainian fighter, he does give up four inches in reach to Spann. But, if the pair get into a flat out slobber knocker, I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion that Spann comes away with the win.
While Spann looked better than ever in his outing against Dominick Reyes – and, I truly think that he is a much better fighter than he was just a few years ago – I don’t see him coming away with a win over Krylov. He’s a notch below the three championship-level fighters to beat Krylov, and, as mentioned before, he doesn’t have the same ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as Craig does.
As he does so often, Krylov will quickly turn this fight into chaos, but, on his end, it will be controlled chaos. As Spann looks to land a thunderous punch in an extended exchange, he will find himself off-balance, just momentarily, and that is when Nikita Krylov will close the show in dramatic fashion. This one ends in Round 1 with a Krylov TKO, and don’t be surprised if the ending starts with a liver shot as Spann is out of position.
Andre Muniz has yet to lose since joining the UFC and Brendan Allen is on a three fight winning streak; which prospect stays hot and moves towards becoming a contender?
Petela: This fight should be a grappling fan’s dream come true. These two jiu-jitsu aces have a combined 26 submission victories. Andre Muniz holds the distinction as the only man to ever submit Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in mixed martial arts, and Brendan Allen enters this contest on the heels of a “Performance of the Night” winning rear-naked-choke submission victory over Krzysztof Jotko.
The cynic in me is terrified that this fight is going to end up staying on the feet the entire time, because of each competitor’s respect for their opponent’s grappling skills. Granted, Muniz engaged in the grappling with Jacare, which should prove that he’s not afraid to mix it up on the canvas with anyone, but I think Allen will likely try to remain at kickboxing range and stay out of the dark and murky waters of Muniz’s grappling.
With that in mind, I have Allen coming out of this one with a victory. Allen will have success fighting off the back foot throughout the contest, after using the first few minutes to get his reads, and the timing of Muniz’s striking. Giving up three inches in reach won’t be a problem for Allen, as he forces Muniz to chase him around the cage, cutting angles of his own that don’t allow his Brazilian foe to cut him off. This one probably won’t be flashy, but expect Allen to frustrate Muniz for 15 minutes en route to a unanimous decision victory. His winning streak extends to four, and he gets one very tough test out of the way as he tries to climb up the middleweight ladder.
Sumian: The UFC has had some difficulties finding a worthy co-main event for Fight Nights in the last several months. Thankfully, they got it right for this coming Saturday. Andre Muniz versus Brendan Allen is an absolute banger of a fight that should provide fight fans with elite grappling from start to finish. This is definitely one of the most difficult matchups to predict, given how good both middleweight contenders are. Generally, picking against Allen is a bad idea, but he will come up short on Saturday. Muniz is going to find himself ranked inside the top five at 185 pounds sooner rather than later. The Brazilian is an elite grappler and has certainly improved his striking as of late. These two will go back and forth for three straight rounds, and both will have their moments. Muniz will simply have more of them and earn himself a unanimous decision victory.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: It has to be Augusto Sakai, who is currently on a four-fight losing streak, all by way of knockout. The former top-15-ranked heavyweight has hit a freight train as of late and has suffered four brutal losses. Despite being only 31 years old, Sakai has taken some serious punishment, and it is hard to imagine his chin holding up much longer. He will be giving up both height and reach to Don’Tale Mayes, a towering and powerful heavyweight in his own right. Unfortunately for Sakai, Mayes will test his chin early and often, and eventually earn a stoppage victory.
Petela: Erick Gonzalez. While he has one of the best nicknames in all of combat sports, “The Ghost Pepper” is going to need more than that to keep his spot on the UFC roster. He is 0-2 since joining the promotion and has been finished in both of those losses. He got knocked out by a vicious left hand from Jim Miller in his debut, and then, in his sophomore appearance, he fell victim to a standing rear-naked choke at the hands of Terrance McKinney. He takes on undefeated debutant Trevor Peek, who is 7-0, with all of those wins coming by knockout. Gonzalez will be looking to make a statement in this fight, and that will ultimately be his undoing. He will get overly aggressive looking to bully the newcomer and walk into the oncoming traffic that is Peek’s right hand.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Hailey Cowan vs. Ailin Perez. The women’s bantamweight division needs some fresh contenders, and Hailey Cowan has the makings of being just that. A well-rounded fighter with two wins by knockout, two by submission and three by decision, the newcomer sports a 7-2 overall record. That record is identical to her opponent, Perez, who makes her sophomore appearance under the UFC banner, after faltering in her debut. Despite having the same records, I expect Cowan to be the far superior fighter in the cage on Saturday, and she will use her debut to showcase not only her talents, but her charismatic personality on the microphone post-fight and immediately start opening eyes to fans and UFC executives that in just a short time she is going to become a star.
Sumian: There needs to be some hype about the return of Tatiana Suarez to the UFC Octagon. People forget that she was once a top-five ranked flyweight and defeated Carla Esparza, Nina Nunes, and Alexa Grasso, all in dominant fashion. That being said, Montana De La Rosa is a game opponent and is always up for a back-and-forth affair. Expect these two women to go all-out for 15 minutes and put on a show.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: It has to be Ryan Spann if he does what I think he is going to do. This is his time to shine and officially announce himself to fight fans as a worthy contender to the lightweight throne. A stoppage victory over Krylov will likely earn him a top-five or top-six ranking, and he will likely find himself in a title eliminator bout sooner rather than later, if he can continue his streak.
Petela: I’m going with newcomer Trevor Peek. He takes on Erick Gonzalez who badly needs a win – see above – and that makes for the perfect coming out party. Peek has never seen a scorecard in his career, and only twice has he seen a second round. This weekend won’t be the third time, as he will knock Gonzalez within the first five minutes. This lightweight prospect hits more like a middleweight. He switches stances better than most fighters, and that will throw off Gonzalez. As Gonzalez enters range looking to connect with a big punch of his own, Peek will land a counter-right that faceplants his opponent and ends the bout in an instant.
Pair this card with…
Petela: A stopwatch. This main event is not going the distance. In his 38 fights, Krylov has only seen the judges’ scorecards four times, and Spann just five times in his 28 pro contests. This one is going to end quickly and violently so have your stopwatch handy to mark the exact moment one of these guys goes unconscious and see how quickly the referee gets in place to rescue him from further damage.
Sumian: A boxing card. Like many boxing cards, the undercard is made up of filler fights that the fans are surely not there to see. This is one of the weaker undercards in some time, but things will pick up when the main card comes around and showcases some top talent. Combatants like Andre Muniz, Ryan Spann, and Tatiana Suarez are the perfect fighters to be featured on a Fight Night card, and they will do their part in closing out the show with some fire power.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Ryan Spann||Spann||Krylov|
|MW: Andre Muniz vs. Brendan Allen||Muniz||Allen|
|HW: Augusto Sakai vs. Don’Tale Mayes||Mayes||Sakai|
|Women’s FlyW: Tatiana Suarez vs. Montana De La Rosa||Suarez||De La Rosa|
|WW: Mike Malott vs. Yohan Lainesse||Lainesse||Lainesse|
|LW: Erick Gonzalez vs. Trevor Peek||Gonzalez||Peek|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s FlyW: Gabriella Fernandes vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius||Fernandes||Jasudavicius|
|LW: Jordan Leavitt vs. Victor Martinez||Leavitt||Leavitt|
|FlyW: Ode Osbourne vs. Charles Johnson||Osbourne||Osbourne|
|LW: Joe Solecki vs. Carl Deaton III||Solecki||Solecki|
|LW: Nurello Aliev vs. Rafael Alves||Alves||Alves|
|Women’s BW: Hailey Cowan vs. Ailin Perez||Perez||Cowan|
|BW: Jose Johnson vs. Garrett Armfield||Johnson||Armfield|