Top-10 lightweight contenders Rafael Fiziev and Mateusz Gamrot will light up the Octagon when they meet in the main event of UFC Vegas 79 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-headliner and the featured bout at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas feature ranked fighters with featherweights Bryce Mitchell and Dan Ige going on second-last and strawweights Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson-Gomez squaring off.
Plus, Ultimate Fighter season 29 winner Bryan Battle faces AJ Fletcher at 170 pounds and Ricardo Ramos collides with Charles Jourdain at 145 pounds.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Rafael Fiziev (1.64) v Mateusz Gamrot (2.30) (Lightweight)
The action will be thick and fast when these two pace-pushing predators go at in the main event scheduled for five rounds.
Fiziev, ranked one spot above Gamrot at No 6, is looking to rebound from his Fight of the Night loss to Justin Gaethje, which snapped an impressive six-fight win streak.
As for Gamrot (22-2), who held both featherweight and lightweight gold in KSW, he’s 5-2 in the UFC and aiming to build on his split decision victory over Jalin Turner in March.
Had Fiziev beaten Gaethje in March, he possibly could’ve been next in line for a title shot. He’d taken his win streak to six in sensational fashion going into that crunch clash, finishing former champion Rafael dos Anjos in the fifth round with what was his eighth career knockout.
The 30-year-old proved he belonged with the big dogs as he went blow for blow with Gaethje for the first two rounds, even dropping the former interim champion, before the current BMF titleholder pulled away in the third to win a majority decision.
“Ataman” is an aggressive, elite-level striker with serious power. He has exceptional hand speed, good footwork and extraordinary head movement, which make him dangerous on attack and ultra-elusive defensively.
In addition, the Kyrgyzstan crusher has a vicious variety of striking techniques that make him unpredictable, his highlight-reel spinning wheel kick knockout of Brad Riddell being a prime example of that.
Gamrot slid in on short notice to edge the lanky Turner last time out and bounce back from his decision loss to top contender Beneil Dariush.
A chain wrestler extraordinaire, the Pole is like a man possessed in his pursuit of taking his opponent to the ground and has superhuman cardio. His top control is top-notch, but he knows how to finish fights as well (seven knockouts and five submissions).
Stylistically, five rounds generally favour grapplers like Gamrot who wear down their opponent but Fiziev showed against Dos Anjos that on top of having top-tier takedown defence (90%), he has a good gas tank as well as lasting power.
Therefore, Fiziev should be able to keep the fight on the feet for the most part where he has a distinct advantage. Gamrot has never been stopped, so Fiziev will most likely prevail on points.
Bryce Mitchell (1.48) v Dan Ige (2.70) (Featherweight)
Elite featherweights face off in a co-main event clash of styles in which Mitchell (15-1) will look to take the fight to the ground and Ige (17-6) will be out to keep it standing.
After 15 straight wins including six in the UFC, Mitchell finally met his match in top contender Ilia Topuria, who bounced him from the ranks of the unbeaten via submission in December.
Ige has been more active and successful as of late, winning both of his bouts this year after previously losing three straight between 2021 and 2022. “50K” knocked out Damon Jackson in January and outpointed Nate Landwehr in June.
Mitchell, though, enters as the favourite as he has the perfect style to neutralise a power puncher like Ige. Tenth-ranked “Thug Nasty” is a tireless and tenacious grappler with nine submissions to his name, including pulling off one of just three twisters in UFC history.
Pusher of a high pace and creative with his takedown entries and submission setups, he’s as slippery a customer inside the Octagon as he is a curious character outside of it.
Twelfth-ranked Ige’s 10 finishes are split right down the middle, which speaks to his well-roundedness. As mentioned, though, his game plan will be to make it a stand-up fight where he holds the cards.
One of Ige’s key weaknesses is his subpar takedown defence (56%), so odds are Mitchell will be able to dictate terms. Ige’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt so he’ll stay safe from submissions, meaning Mitchell looks set to win on the scorecards.
Marina Rodriguez (1.32) v Michelle Waterson-Gomez (3.50) (Strawweight)
Top-15 strawweight stalwarts square off for the second time in the featured bout. The pair previously fought in a five-round main event in 2021 that was won by Rodriguez (16-3-2).
The Brazilian banked on her three-inch reach advantage to chip away on the outside and win the decision and her game plan will be the same for this second act.
Ranked four places behind Rodriguez in 13th, Waterson-Gomez (18-11) will have to take some risks if we wants to avoid history repeating itself. She’s lost five of her last six dating back to 2019 and this could be the last time we see her inside the Octagon.
“The Karate Hottie” has had a long career and at 37, one wonders whether she’s willing to eat the shots necessary to close the distance as she was in her title-pursuing prime.
This one is destined to play out much like the first meeting with Rodriguez once again out-landing Waterson-Gomez to arrest a two-fight skid.
Bryan Battle (1.57) v AJ Fletcher (2.45) (Welterweight)
Since winning season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, Battle (9-2) has proven he belongs in the UFC, winning four of his five fights. With heavy hands and good grappling, he has a solid overall skillset and keeps improving.
He dropped down from middleweight to welterweight shortly after his TUF triumph and his two victories at 170 pounds have come in a combined 58 seconds. A rising star, he needed just 14 seconds to knockout Gabe Green in his last fight.
Fletcher (10-2) made his way to the UFC via Dana White’s Contender Series but is still finding his feet in the promotion. He went from being an unbeaten prospect on the regional scene to dropping his first two fights in the UFC before breaking his duck last time out.
“The Ghost” is lethal if allowed to do his thing. He’s finished nine of his 10 wins, with six of those victories coming in the opening round, so don’t blink.
Battle is not only the more proven fighter but also the much bigger man with an unheard-of 10-inch reach advantage, so bank on “Poo Bear” to get it done in style.
Ricardo Ramos (2.14) v Charles Jourdain (1.74) (Featherweight)
Featherweights will bring the fireworks in what promises to be a thrilling main card opener. Both men are creative strikers who are willing to trade leather until there’s only one man left standing.
Ramos (16-4) scored his second spinning back elbow knockout over Danny Chavez in his last fight. The problem is that was back in June of last year.
Ever-game Jourdain (14-6-1) is one of the more active fighters around and last fought in May when he effectively killed the UFC career of Kron Gracie by making him look like a one-dimensional amateur.
“Air” is an exciting switch hitter whose tools are sharper than the returning Ramos’, which should see him spoil the man known as Carcacinha’s comeback.