LAS VEGAS — Edson Barboza feels like he’s close.
The UFC’s No. 9-ranked featherweight has never fought for a championship but believes he is just two wins away from finally realizing that opportunity. He’s got a tough one ahead of him on Saturday, in the form of a five-round main event against No. 10-ranked Giga Chikadze inside the Apex.
Barboza (22-9) is 3-1 since dropping to the featherweight division last year — and there are some who feel he actually should be 4-0, as the only loss was a razor-thin decision to Dan Ige. Beating Chikadze would be a significant win on Barboza’s résumé, as the Georgian is 6-0 in the UFC.
Edson Barboza looks to continue his return up the UFC’s featherweight ranks with a third straight win, while Giga Chikadze — 6-0 in the UFC — hopes to elevate his own future title chances.
UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Chikadze
Saturday, Aug. 28, UFC Apex, Las Vegas
• Main card: 10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+
• Prelims: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+
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On the other side, Chikadze (13-2) is seeking his second signature win in a row, as he is coming off a first-round stoppage of Cub Swanson in May.
In addition to the main event, the UFC will crown two winners of The Ultimate Fighter reality series — for the first time since 2018. Bantamweights Ricky Turcios (10-2) and Brady Hiestand (5-1) and middleweights Bryan Battle (5-1) and Gilbert Urbina (6-1) will square off for a UFC contract.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action or watch the fights on ESPN+.
Fight in progress: Light heavyweight: Dustin Jacoby (14-5-1, 2-2-1- UFC, -180) vs. Darren Stewart (12-7 2 NC, 5-6 2 NC UFC, +155)
Women’s flyweight: JJ Aldrich (10-4, 6-3 UFC) def. Vanessa Demopoulos (6-4, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Aldrich scored a takedown less than a minute into the fight, and from top position she connected with several punches and elbows, a few of them landing hard. Demopoulos couldn’t get out from underneath, but then Aldrich just let her opponent up, and it quickly became obvious why.
As an emboldened Demopoulos came forward with a flurry of punches after standing up, she was met by a straight left hand from Aldrich. And that set a tone for the rest of the fight. Aldrich walked down her opponent with poise and accuracy, peppering Demopoulos with her right jab and straight left hand again and again.
There were times when Demopoulos looked ripe for a finish, but she toughed it out for three rounds, trying to produce offense but mostly being rebuffed. Aldrich, who is 28 and from Aurora, Colorado, settled for three 30-27 scorecards in her favor, giving her a second straight win.
Demopoulos, a 32-year-old from Phoenix, was making her UFC debut. She has lost three of her last four.
Men’s featherweight: Pat Sabatini (15-3, 2-0 UFC) def. Jamall Emmers(18-6, 1-2 UFC) by submission (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Sabatini, of Pennsylvania, picked up a nifty comeback victory as he submitted Emmers with a heel hook 1:53 of the first round.
Emmers, who fights out of Redlands, California, drew first blood when he appeared to hurt Sabatini in an early exchange and immediately jumped on his back. Sabatini remained composed, however, and eventually escaped the position and attacked Emmers’ left leg. Rather than try to spin out and reset on the feet, Emmers looked for his own leg submission on Sabatini.
It proved to be a costly decision, as he tapped to the heel hook moments later, but only after apparently suffering an injury to his knee.
He most definitely should have abandoned the toe hold and cleared his knee instead. Hate to see guys get hurt 🥺 #UFCVegas35
— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) August 28, 2021
Sabatini moves to 2-0 in the UFC, while Emmers, who was favored going into the bout, falls to 1-2.
Men’s bantamweight: Mana Martinez (9-2, 1-0 UFC) def. Guido Cannetti (8-7, 2-5 UFC) by split decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Mana Martinez is visibly emotional after winning his UFC fight just days after Saul Soliz, his coach and an MMA pioneer, died from COVID complications.
Martinez, of Houston, collected his first win in the UFC, and immediately dedicated it to his late coach, Saul Soliz.
Martinez defeated Cannetti via split decision, following three back-and-forth bantamweight rounds. The victory came just 11 days after Soliz passed away at the age of 55, due to complications caused by Covid-19. Martinez, who was actually supposed to fight two weeks ago but was instead postponed, elected to carry on with his UFC debut despite the emotional circumstances surrounding him.
Immediately after the bout, Martinez broke down into tears. It was a hard fought win, as Martinez absorbed a lot of damage to his legs early on, thanks to a steady diet of Cannetti leg kicks.
Great fight fellas! My legs hurt from all those kicks landing! #UFCVegas35
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) August 28, 2021
Martinez turned the tide in the second and third rounds, however. He had success walking Cannetti backwards, and opened up with hard combinations and body work along the fence. He surprised Cannetti with a late takedown attempt in the final minute of the bout which likely secured him the third round.
Cannetti, of Buenos Aires, has lost this last three appearances.
Still to come:
Men’s featherweight: Edson Barboza (22-9, 16-9 UFC, -120) vs. Giga Chikadze (13-2, 6-0 UFC, +100)
Middleweight (TUF final): Bryan Battle (6-1, 0-0 UFC, -175) vs. Gilbert Urbina (6-2, 0-0 UFC, +145)
Men’s bantamweight (TUF final): Ricky Turcios (11-2, 0-0 UFC, -160) vs. Brady Hiestand (6-1, 0-0 UFC, +135)
Welterweight: Kevin Lee (18-6, 11-6 UFC, -155) vs. Daniel Rodriguez (15-2, 5-1 UFC, +130)
Middleweight: Andre Petroski (6-1, 0-0 UFC, -500) vs. Michael Gilmore (6-3, 0-0 UFC, +380)
Middleweight: Makhmud Muradov (25-6, 3-0 UFC, -575) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (32-14, 7-6 UFC, +425)
Middleweight: Alessio Di Chirico (13-5, 4-5 UFC, -240) vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-4, 4-4 UFC, +200)
Middleweight: Sam Alvey (33-15-1, 10-10-1 UFC, +110) vs. Wellington Turman (16-5, 1-3 UFC, -130)