Two of the best heavyweights in the world will clash with title implications on the line.
Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis meet Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The bout was initially scheduled for back on Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19 and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event.
ESPN has Blaydes ranked No. 3 and Lewis ranked No. 5 at heavyweight. While Francis Ngannou is getting the next title shot at champion Stipe Miocic next month at UFC 260, and all-time great Jon Jones seems waiting in the wings for the winner, the Blaydes vs. Lewis victor puts himself in pole position in case something happens with any of those athletes.
Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) has won four straight and is coming off a unanimous-decision win over Alexander Volkov last June. The Illinois native, who trains out of Colorado’s Elevation Fight Team, has lost to only one man in the UFC: Ngannou, and he has done that twice. Blaydes, 30, is a former NJCAA national champion in wrestling and makes no apologies for his takedown and ground-control style in MMA.
Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) has won three straight, including a knockout win over Aleksei Oleinik in August. The Houston resident owns the most knockouts in UFC heavyweight history (11). Lewis, a 36-year-old fan favorite, has won six of eight and 12 of 15 overall.
In the co-main event, Ketlen Vieira meets Yana Kunitskaya in a catchweight bout. Vieira missed weight Friday by two pounds. ESPN has Vieira ranked No. 7 in the world at women’s bantamweight and Kunitskaya at No. 9. Vieira (11-1) bounced back from her first career loss by beating Sijara Eubanks in September. Kunitskaya (13-5, 1 NC) has won three of four.
Also on the card, Oleinik meets Chris Daukaus in an intriguing heavyweight bout, veteran lightweight Charles Rosa faces Darrick Minner and former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski fights up-and-comer Tom Aspinall.
Jeff Wagenheim and Marc Raimondi recap the action as it happens. You can also watch the fights on ESPN+.
Fight in progress
Men’s featherweight: Julian Erosa (24-9, 3-4 UFC, -110) vs. Nate Landwehr (14-3, 1-1 UFC, -110)
Women’s flyweight: Casey O’Neill (6-0, 1-0 UFC) defeats Shana Dobson (4-5, 2-4 UFC) by second-round TKO
O’Neill did not look like a fighter making her UFC debut. She did look like someone who’s undefeated.
The 23-year-old from Australia, who was born in Scotland and has lived Down Under since age 10, was dominant from start to merciful finish in keeping her record perfect in her first Octagon appearance.
O’Neill got an early takedown, and when she lost the position, she simply went for it again. By the end of Round 1, she was on top of Dobson, dropping elbows and threatening a submission.
Round 2 was more of the same. O’Neill took the fight to the canvas immediately and seized dominant position, for back control and then full mount. Dobson tried her best to escape the position, but O’Neill deftly maintained control. She delivered elbows and punches until the referee jumped in at 3:41 of the round.
Dobson, who is 31 and a Miami native, trains in Denver as part of Team Elevation, the same team as main-eventer Curtis Blaydes. She has lost four of her last five bouts.
Canceled: Men’s featherweight: Chas Skelly (18-3 1 NC, 7-3 1 NC UFC, +180) vs. Jamall Emmers (18-5, 1-1 UFC, -220)
Skelly made his entrance to the Octagon and was waiting for Emmers to enter for their featherweight bout. But Emmers never did.
Per the UFC broadcast, Emmers had back spasms backstage at the UFC Apex and was unable to compete. Octagon announcer Joe Martinez made the announcement that the bout was canceled.
“I feel like I should get my win bonus,” Skelly said. “I weighed in, I made weight, I stepped in the cage. That’s how I feel. I hope Jamall is OK. No animosity. It sucks.”
Skelly said he isn’t sure if he wants to come back and fight quickly because of his big weight cut.
“It’s not easy for me to make weight,” Skelly said. “I don’t want to turn right around and do the weight cut all over again next week. I don’t want to put my body in that yo-yo.”
Men’s bantamweight: Aiemann Zahabi (8-2, 2-2 UFC) defeats Drako Rodriguez (7-2, 0-1 UFC) by first-round KO
Zahabi had not been in a fight since 2019. What difference would three more idle minutes make?
The 33-year-old from Montreal, who trains in the Tristar Gym of his older brother, Firas Zahabi, threw barely a strike over the first half of the opening round. But then he unleashed an overhand right that collapsed Rodriguez for the one-punch knockout at 3:05 of Round 1.
In Zahabi’s first fight since May 2019 and second appearance since 2017, he ended a two-fight losing streak.
Rodriguez, who is 24 and fighting out of Sioux City, Iowa, was making his UFC debut. He came out as the aggressor and landed some clean shots early, including a couple of lead uppercuts. But when Zahabi finally connected, it was lights out for Rodriguez, who saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end.
This bout originally was scheduled to happen in December, but Zahabi tested positive for COVID-19. The rescheduled fight took place at 140.5-pound catchweight after Rodriguez missed the bantamweight limit on Friday.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Heavyweight: Serghei Spivac (12-2, 3-2 UFC) defeats Jared Vanderaa (11-5, 0-1 UFC) by second-round TKO
Spivac left Vanderaa in a puddle of his own blood.
On top for most of the second round, Spivac pounded away from the position. The punches were not the hardest — both men were clearly tired. But referee Chris Tognoni called off the bout at 4:32 of the second, ruling Spivac the winner by TKO.
The first round went similarly. Spivac dominated on the ground and Vanderaa had few answers. Spivac seems like a legitimate prospect in the heavyweight division.
Spivac, 26, has won two straight and three of five fights in the UFC. The Ukraine native, who fights out of Moldova, has nine finishes in 12 career wins. Vanderra, a 28-year-old Washington native, was making his UFC debut following a first-round TKO against Harry Hunsucker on Dana White’s Contender Series last November.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Still to come:
Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes (14-2 1 NC, 9-2 1 NC UFC, -380) vs. Derrick Lewis (24-7 1 NC, 15-5 UFC, +300)
Women’s bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira (11-1, 5-1 UFC, -280) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (13-5, 3-2 UFC, +230)
Men’s featherweight: Charles Rosa (13-4, 4-4 UFC, -190) vs. Darrick Minner (25-11, 1-1 UFC, +160)
Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik (59-14-1, 8-5 UFC, +160) vs. Chris Daukaus (10-3, 2-0 UFC, -190)
Middleweight: Phil Hawes (9-2, 1-0 UFC, -125) vs. Nassourdine Imavov (9-2, 1-0 UFC, +105)
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (30-19 1 NC, 18-13 1 NC UFC, +210) vs. Tom Aspinall (9-2, 2-0 UFC, -260)
Men’s featherweight: Jared Gordon (16-4, 4-3 UFC, +120) vs. Danny Chavez (11-3, 1-0 UFC, -140)
Men’s bantamweight: Eddie Wineland (24-14-1, 6-8 UFC, +105) vs. John Castañeda (17-5, 0-1 UFC, -125)
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