The UFC returns to the Windy City this Saturday as UFC on FOX 20 takes place at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. On paper, this isn’t the strongest card the UFC has put together this year, but if you look closer, there are still a number of intriguing fights and storylines to keep your eye on.
Here are the top five things to watch for at UFC on FOX 20.
1) Former Champ Holm Returns
Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm returns to the Octagon for the first time since losing her title to Miesha Tate at UFC 196 when she takes on Valentina Shevchenko in the five-round main event of UFC on FOX 20. Holm emerged as a star when she knocked out the UFC’s former champion Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 last year to take the title, and many figured she would be a dominant champion in the women’s 135lb division. However, that didn’t come to pass. She was minutes away from defending her title against Tate, but lost the belt to a Hail Mary submission with 90 seconds left, and instead of getting an immediate title shot, the UFC booked her against the dangerous-yet-unknown Shevchenko at UFC on FOX 20. It looks like a high risk, low reward fight for Holm but regardless, it’s a must-win fight if she ever wants to get another crack at the belt she once held.
2) Barboza, Melendez Battle In Superb Lightweight Fight
The best fight on the whole card is a lightweight battle between two of the best 155 lbers in the world as Edson Barboza takes on Gilbert Melendez. Barboza is 11-4 in the UFC and has been responsible for some of the best knockouts ever, specifically his spinning wheel kick knockout of Terry Etim at UFC 142. For the most part, Barboza hasn’t been able to put together a consistent winning streak in the Octagon, but after defeating former champion Anthony Pettis in his last fight, it appears the Brazilian has finally turned the corner in his career and is ready to contend for a title.
As for Melendez, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion was long considered one of the top fighters in the sport but he’s gone 1-3 in the UFC and is coming off a one-year drug suspension. It’s true that Melendez has only lost to elite competition, but he’s in his mid-30s now and the positive drug test has tainted his record in the eyes of many fans and media. Still, he’s a capable fighter who is always in exciting fights and he knows how to scrap. Barboza is an incredible striker with some of the best leg kicks in the game and Melendez has a well-rounded game highlighted by his boxing and wrestling which should make for an intriguing matchup that is a favorite to win “Fight of the Night.”
3) Top Heavyweight Prospect Ngannou Aims To Keep Rolling
One of the sport’s top heavyweight prospects is France’s Francis Ngannou, who takes on promotional newcomer Bojan Mihajlovic in a main card bout that will likely end via KO. Ngannou, in his prime at 29 years of age, is already 2-0 in the UFC with two knockout finishes. He is still raw, having only competed in MMA since 2013, but he is clearly extremely talented and possesses that special knockout power that could see him take out nearly anyone in the division. Mihajlovic, from Serbia, is making his UFC debut in this fight after having won his last 10 fights following opening his MMA career with three-straight losses. He’s been competing in the sport since 2003, and although he is still relatively unknown, he represents a solid test for Ngannou. Still, the big Frenchman should be favored in this fight, and if Ngannou wins in devastating fashion yet again there’s a good chance the UFC fast-tracks him up the heavyweight ladder.
4) Underrated Featherweights Elkins, Pepey Fight
Two of the more underrated featherweights in the UFC meet in a prelim card matchup as Darren Elkins takes on Godofredo Pepey. Elkins has been in the UFC since 2010 and has quietly amassed a 10-4 record during that time, but because he typically wins by decision he’s never achieved the fanfare that his record should give him. Pepey, a TUF Brazil 1 competitor, started his UFC career 1-3 and was at risk of getting released, but the UFC matchmakers gave him another chance and he’s shown they made a good choice as the Brazilian has won his last three fights via first-round stoppage. Elkins is a gatekeeper while Pepey is looking to take his spot in the top-15, and the winner of this fight will no doubt get a step up in competition their next time out.
5) TUF Winer Usman Gets Step Up
Kamaru Usman won TUF 21 and “The Nigerian Nightmare” returns this weekend against Russian Alexander Yakovlev in a preliminary bout. Usman is an extremely well-rounded fighter and after winning his first two UFC fights, he’s deserving of this step up in competition against Yakovlev, who has won his last two fights in the Octagon. Usman has a very bright future but the UFC is clearly trying to build him up slowly and Yakovlev is the perfect opponent for him at this point of time as a dangerous yet flawed fighter. Usman is the clear favorite going into this fight, but Yakovlev possesses the style to make things interesting.
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