The flurry of fight weekends continues for MMA fans.
In addition to a highly anticipated title defense from undefeated heavyweight WBC champion Tyson Fury on Saturday, there is a fight night from the UFC and back-to-back shows from Bellator.
UFC’s card on Saturday is headlined by Amanda Lemos against Jéssica Andrade in a meeting of top strawweight contenders. Lemos has won her last five, and a victory here would be a chance to shoot up from the 10th spot in the rankings. But she has never been tested by someone with the seasoning or mettle or Andrade, who is sixth in the UFC’s women pound-for-pound top rankings. Andrade and Lemos both possess knockout power, and this should be an entertaining, albeit quick, main event.
Bellator 278 and 279 are also cards with some interesting fights this weekend, particularly during the opening round of the Bantamweight World Grand Prix on Saturday. Cris Cyborg should also cruise to another victory, building to a long-awaited fight against Cat Zingano before an eventual showdown, perhaps in PFL, against Kayla Harrison.
As we approach a quietly exciting weekend of fights, here is a closer look at the next two nights:
• A win for Jéssica Andrade tomorrow night places her in prime position for a title shot.
Already the top-ranked contender in the women’s flyweight division, a win against Amanda Lemos would propel Andrade (22-9) into a bout against strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. That would be familiar territory for the 30-year-old Andrade, who defeated Namajunas for the belt in the spring of 2019. Namajunas won the rematch by split decision in a three-round fight a year later.
“That’s what I want, a five-round fight against Rose,” said Andrade, speaking through a translator. “Our first fight went my way, and then in the second fight, I believe I was turning the tide when it was ending. That was only three rounds. I’m not going to say I would have won, but it was going that way.
“I want to fight the best in the world, and the goal is to get back in title contention against Rose.”
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
That focus on Namajunas is not meant to overlook Lemos (11-1-1). She had an extremely impressive 2021, defeating Lívia Renata Souza, Montserrat Ruiz, and Angela Hill. Yet none of those fighters are anywhere near Andrade’s level, making this the toughest test yet for the 34-year-old Lemos.
“Amanda is on a very good streak,” Andrade said. “She’s shown quite a few interesting things in the cage. But as much danger as she presents, I’m more than ready. The level of competition between what I have seen and what she has seen is night and day, but she’s done what she’s supposed to and beat the people in front of her. I’m a landmark for her, and I know that. I’ve fought the highest level of competition, and I’m more than ready for whatever she throws at me.”
Andrade’s recent run in the flyweight division was short. She picked up wins against Cynthia Calvillo and Katlyn Chookagian, yet was soundly defeated by reigning champ Valentina Shevchenko. The move back to strawweight offers a chance for a second title reign. And if Andrade wins this fight, she will be exactly where she wants, right in the title mix.
“I don’t think a win here will give me a title shot just yet,” Andrade said. “The division is stacked. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
• Belal Muhammad stole the spotlight with his performance last Saturday at the Apex, defeating Vicente Luque by unanimous decision in a gritty five-round fight.
This was redemption for Muhammad (21-3, 1 NC), who was unceremoniously knocked out by Luque (21-8-1) in their first meeting six years ago on a Conor McGregor-dominated UFC 205 pay-per-view, lasting only 79 seconds on the undercard inside the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden before Luque had his hand raised. Muhammad dictated the pace in the rematch, preventing Luque from landing any walk-off shots and picking up key takedowns that removed any hope of momentum for Luque.
Scroll to Continue
The win was impressive, and it catapults Muhammad (21-3, 1 NC) into the top five of the welterweight division. But it also served as a question mark as to whether Muhammad has reached his ceiling in the division. Following the victory, he called out Colby Covington, but the loud-mouthed Covington is a step above Muhammad as a striker and strides ahead as a wrestler.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
Muhammad’s ground game exposed flaws this past weekend. While he was landing takedowns, he couldn’t capitalize on the mat, even during the moments when he had Luque’s back. But Luque’s grappling will never be confused with Covington, nor does he have the same cardio. A fight against Muhammad is a much better matchup for Covington than Khamzat Chimaev.
Gilbert Burns is a better next option for Muhammad. That would help settle who belongs in the top four.
Taking place in Singapore, this morning’s ONE 156 card featured a compelling strawweight bout pitting Jarred Brooks against Bokang Masunyane. And the fight delivered, as Brooks ended Masunyane’s undefeated streak, locking in his rear-naked choke and winning by submission with only 21 seconds left in the opening round.
This was a strawweight title eliminator. Masunyane (8-1) had been ragdolling opponents, and he had clear advantages entering the bout. He is bigger than Brooks and missed weight–yet Brooks (19-2, 1 NC) just cruised here.
That marks five in a row for Brooks, who deserved a longer stretch in the UFC (and, looking back, was right there with Deiveson Figueiredo in that split decision loss in 2017). Brooks now gets a date with ONE strawweight champion Joshua Pacio, likely as soon as June or July.
• For the first time since his devastating loss to Sergio Pettis this past December, Kyoji Horiguchi steps back into the cage for Bellator 279. Horiguchi (29-4) fights Patchy Mix in the opening round of the Bantamweight World Grand Prix, seeking to return to form after dropping two of his last three fights.
“I can’t focus on the past,” Horiguchi told Sports Illustrated. “I train to make sure the next fight is different.”
Training is a core value for Horiguchi, who is also the reigning RIZIN bantamweight champ. He had his own barracks at American Top Team’s facility in Florida, which was rechristened Horiguchi Hall. He found his home and heartbeat in the training process.
“I’m not here by mistake,” Horiguchi said. “I’m here because of all my training. It is hard, but I am very happy when I am training.”
Only 31, Horiguchi still has a lot to prove, starting with the Bantamweight World Grand Prix and his opening round bout against Mix (15-1).
“MMA is like a puzzle,” Horiguchi said. “Recovering from injuries and coming into a fight at your best. I’m focused on my opponent. I want to win this tournament, then I will focus on a rematch against Pettis. First, I have to finish this fight.”
More MMA Coverage:
How Patrício Pitbull Broke A.J. McKee’s Undefeated Record and SpiritQ&A: Alexander Volkanovski Talks Title Defense at UFC 273 and What’s NextBelal Muhammad Outworks Vicente Luque at UFC on ESPN 34, Calls Out Colby CovingtonJustin Barrasso can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.
Source : Sports Illustrated