Another weekend is closing in and another UFC Fight Night is almost upon us. Once again, this week’s card is set for the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, a location we’ve become oh-so familiar with.
Following on from last week’s disappointing main event, which saw the fight between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad conclude in a no contest, Dana White will be hoping UFC Vegas 22 delivers a main event that will leave us talking.
This weekend represents a card without the names that would draw in more casual fans. Instead, it's the type of card we so often see stealing the headlines and ultimately producing some blockbuster matchups.
Events like this lend themselves to classic bouts, as lower-ranked fighters and touted prospects look to make a name for themselves.
With that in mind, here are five fighters that could steal the show at UFC Vegas 22.
#5 Julia Avila
Julia Avila is one of the most entertaining and destructive fighters in the UFC Women’s Bantamweight division. ‘Raging Panda’ punched her ticket into title contention with dominant wins over Pannie Kianzad and Gina Mazany, the latter of which ended via TKO in just 22 seconds.
However, the 32-year-old’s impressive start to her UFC career hit trouble at the hands of Sijara Eubanks last September. ‘SarJ’ utilized her aggressive wrestling style to earn the unanimous decision upset over Avila.
The California-native will look to bounce back this weekend when she faces former TUF finalist Julija Stoliarenko. The Lithuanian won five straight after TUF, becoming the Invicta FC Bantamweight Champion. Impressively, all nine of her stoppage wins have come via armbar.
Based on her past fights, Avila will look to fly out the gate and be the early aggressor, whilst looking to neutralize the threatening submission game of Stoliarenko. It wouldn’t be surprising if Avila provides some early entertainment on the prelims.
#4 Grant Dawson
Grant Dawson arrived on the UFC scene in late 2017, after a victory on ‘Dana White’s Contender Series’ (DWCS). Dawson’s predicted rise following DWCS was put on hold for a year-and-a-half after a USADA suspension.
‘KGD’ has made up for time lost, winning four in four across 2019 and 2020. Decisions over Julian Erosa and Darrick Minner, and tight rear-naked chokes applied to Michael Trizano and Nad Narimani, have left Dawson with an almost perfect 16-1 record. He’ll be looking to extend it when he faces Leonardo Santos at UFC Vegas 22.
The Brazilian’s unbeaten streak has flown under the radar, no doubt due to a near-three-year period of inactivity between 2016 and 2019. Winning 12 out of his last 13 bouts, only a majority draw with Norman Parke in 2014 has curtailed ‘Lamparão’ from boasting a 13-fight win streak.
Santos is still placed among the top active win streaks in the UFC. Last year’s victory over M-1 champion Roman Bogatov showed the 40-year-old hasn’t lost a step in the Octagon.
We often see examples of unbelievable UFC matchmaking and this bout is right up there. It will see a highly regarded prospect in Dawson, whose physical presence and impressive grappling will face off with the submission skills and punching power of the experienced Santos. This fight is certainly not one to be missed.
#3 Gregor Gillespie
With both fighters possessing just a single blemish on their records, Saturday night’s co-main should be an entertaining contest.
Gregor Gillespie’s name will be under the spotlight as he makes the walk to the UFC Octagon for the first time since he was brutally KO’d by a Kevin Lee head kick in 2019. Whether it's the roar of the Madison Square Garden crowd, the reactions of Anik and Rogan or Megan Olivi’s shocked expression as the lifeless body crashed into the cage in front of her, we all remember the first professional setback of ‘The Gift’.
The 33-year-old will be looking to return to the form that brought him to a 13-0 record after his first six UFC fights. Gillespie showed his potential as a contender, something he’ll be hoping to make a reality with a string of wins, starting with victory over New Zealand’s Brad Riddell this weekend.
Fighting out of the famed City Kickboxing, the Kiwi trains with the likes of Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker. In Riddell, Gillespie will be opposite a striking specialist, unbeaten in three UFC fights.
With Riddell perhaps lacking knockout power, this looks a favorable matchup for the New York native on paper, given his remarkable skills on the mat.
The 15th ranked lightweight should have a clear advantage on the ground and with four out of his five submission wins coming via arm-triangle choke, Riddell will be keen to avoid any grappling exchanges.
#2 Roman Dolidze
The invasion of talented, explosive Georgian fighters in the UFC could advance further at this weekend’s Fight Night, as Roman Dolidze steps in on short notice to face Trevin Giles.
Alongside the likes of Giga Chikadze, Ilia Tapuria and Merab Dvalishvili, Dolidze joined the UFC’s Georgian revolution in explosive fashion on 'Fight Island' last summer. He provided one of the knockouts of the year against Khadis Ibragimov.
Dolidze will compete at UFC Vegas 22 as the only undefeated fighter on the card, with a second UFC victory over John Allan back in December extending his winning streak to eight.
Coming in off the back of consecutive wins, including a Fight of the Night with James Krause, Giles will look to halt Dolidze’s push for a ranking. Signs suggest he has a reasonable chance of doing so.
With six KO’s and five submissions, a decision has only been required in two of Giles’ 13 wins. Always keen to finish the fight in the opening round, ‘The Problem’ would appear to boast a striking advantage.
With competent striking and skilful wrestling, Dolidze could look to neutralize the threat of Giles’ stand up game with aggressive takedowns, in what should be one of the tighter matchups on the card.
#1 Kevin Holland
A strong contender for Fighter of the Year in 2020, Kevin Holland enters the Octagon for the first time in 2021, following five victories last year.
Rewarded with a main event spot against one of the UFC’s middleweight mainstays, ‘Trail Blazer’ looks to leap further into title contention by defeating Derek Brunson.
From a long-reaching punch to disable Joaquin Buckley, to one of the most incredible knockouts in UFC history against Jacare Souza (seriously, how did he do that?), the 28-year-old has drawn mass fanfare with his skills inside the cage, and his vibrant personality outside it.
Similar to his victory over Edmen Shahbazyan last August, Brunson comes into this main event as a significant underdog, facing a highly regarded prospect. The seventh-ranked middleweight was able to overwhelm Shahbazyan, something he will most likely struggle to do this time round.
With a 21-5 record, Holland boasts a résumé overflowing with experience. Holland’s advantages in height and reach place him well on the feet. Should the fight make it to the ground, he’s shown he is more than comfortable on his back.