It is not uncommon for a UFC Fight Night’s main event to eclipse all that is scheduled to come before on that evening, at least in the anticipation for the fights. That is not the case for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night headliner inside the promotion’s Apex facility in Las Vegas.
Now, that’s nothing against heavyweights Derrick Lewis (23-7, 1 NC; 14-5 in the UFC) and Aleksei Oleinik (59-13-1, 8-4 UFC). Lewis is a fan favorite and a former UFC title challenger. Oleinik is coming off a win against a former champion, Fabricio Werdum, and is riding a two-fight winning streak — which is tied for the longest of his UFC career — at age 43.
But that said, if you’re tuning into UFC Fight Night on Saturday, it’s likely you’re doing so to see more than just the main event. As far as the UFC’s heavyweight division is concerned, all of the focus is on next week, when defending champion Stipe Miocic and ex-champ Daniel Cormier meet for the third time.
There are plenty of storylines to monitor this weekend, however, scattered up and down the card. Here are a few to look for:
If Lewis wins, his next matchup will be a significant one. He came up short in a heavyweight title bid against Cormier on Nov. 3, 2018, and then suffered a knockout loss to Junior dos Santos four months later. Since then, he has had wins over Blagoy Ivanov and Ilir Latifi, which were basically necessary to get him back into title contention. The thing to note here is that after Lewis lost to dos Santos, he underwent knee surgery to repair an injury he said had been bothering him for years. So, if you take his word for it, Lewis might be heading back into title contention with a clean bill of health for really the first time in his career.
The co-main event features Chris Weidman, back in the middleweight division, where he once reigned as champion. Following a very unsuccessful move to light heavyweight last October, Weidman returns to 185 pounds to face a virtual unknown in Omari Akhmedov. Hardcore MMA fans know who Akhmedov is, but plenty of others probably have never heard of him, which is kind of wild considering he has fought in the UFC since 2013. Weidman has lost five of his past six, so times are already hard. But if he loses to Akhmedov, at least perceptually it might be the worst blemish on his storied career.
If there’s a sleeper fight on this card, it’s a lightweight prelim bout between Nasrat Haqparast and Alex Munoz. Haqparast came crashing down to earth in his last fight, a 70-second knockout loss to 2020 standout Drew Dober on Jan. 18. Prior to that, however, he’d shown a lot of promise in winning three straight. He’s only 24, and he’s still an intriguing prospect.
In addition to Haqparast, want another prospect to keep an eye on? Featherweight Youssef Zalal will be making only his third UFC appearance, and he’s only 23, but he’s the largest betting favorite on the card. And for good reason. The bout with Peter Barrett is a potential showcase for Zalal, and he has shown the confidence and showmanship to indicate he’s capable of taking advantage of it.
Lastly, middleweight Kevin Holland finally will get a chance to fight. He was scheduled to go last week, but his opponent, Trevin Giles, fainted backstage just before the bout. Holland takes on Joaquin Buckley.
By the numbers
14: Ezekiel choke finishes by Oleinik. Two have been in the UFC — and there has been only one other in promotion history. A rundown of other Oleinik submissions: rear-naked choke (11), triangle choke (5), neck crank (4), armbar (4), heel hook (3), guillotine choke (2), scarf hold (1), inverted armbar (1), arm triangle choke (1).
2: Consecutive victories by Oleinik since turning 42 last summer. (He’s now 43.) Only Randy Couture won more fights in a row after turning 42, winning three straight at ages 46, 46 and 47. He also won two in a row at ages 43 and 44. Couture’s six wins after turning 42 are the most in UFC history, with Dan Henderson next, with three, and Oleinik right behind.
34: Takedowns surrendered by Lewis during his UFC career, the most in heavyweight history. His rate of being taken down 1.79 times per fight is also the highest ever among heavyweights (minimum 10 bouts).
6-3: UFC record of Oleinik when he’s an underdog. A seventh such victory on Saturday — he was +180 at Caesars Sportsbook, as of Thursday — would tie him with Andrei Arlovski for most wins as an underdog in UFC heavyweight history. (Lewis is 5-2 as a betting favorite in UFC career.)
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Derrick Lewis’ most recent results
Win: Ilir Latifi (UD, Feb. 8, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Blagoy Ivanov (SD, Nov. 2, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Junior Dos Santos (TKO2, March 9, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Daniel Cormier (SUB2, Nov. 3, 2018)
Win: Alexander Volkov (KO3, Oct. 6, 2018)
Aleksei Oleinik’s most recent results
Win: Fabricio Werdum (SD, May 9, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Maurice Greene (SUB2, Jan. 18, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Walt Harris (KO1, July 20, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Alistair Overeem (TKO1, April 20, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Mark Hunt (SUB1, Sept. 15, 2018)
And the winner is …
Oleinik is looking at his 74th professional fight on Saturday. There’s no other way to say it: That’s remarkable. That number, in and of itself, is remarkable. And he remains entertaining, because of that savviness on the ground. Lewis is the favorite, rightfully, and should win this fight more often than not — but, of course, if they were to fight multiple times, Oleinik is gonna snatch a submission in a few of them. Guaranteed. It’s hard to pick Oleinik, though, when you say to yourself, “As long as Lewis doesn’t get submitted, I can’t see him losing.” Lewis via TKO, third round.
Saturday’s fight schedule
ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET
Derrick Lewis vs. Aleksei Oleinik | Heavyweight
Chris Weidman vs. Omari Akhmedov | Middleweight
Darren Stewart vs. Maki Pitolo | Middleweight
Yana Kunitskaya vs. Julija Stoliarenko | Women’s bantamweight
Beneil Dariush vs. Scott Holtzman | Lightweight
ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET
Tim Means vs. Laureano Staropoli | Welterweight
Kevin Holland vs. Joaquin Buckley | Middleweight
Nasrat Haqparast vs. Alex Munoz Muñoz | Lightweight
Andrew Sanchez vs. Wellington Turman | Middleweight
Gavin Tucker vs. Justin Jaynes | Men’s featherweight
Youssef Zalal vs. Peter Barrett | Men’s featherweight
Irwin Rivera vs. Ali Al-Qaisi | Men’s bantamweight
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.
What else to look for … beyond the main event
The co-main question: To finish or not get finished?
Weidman, who started his MMA career 13-0 (including two wins over the great Anderson Silva), has lost five of his past six fights — all by knockout.
Akhmedov, though unbeaten in his past six fights, has not finished an opponent in any of his past eight UFC bouts. His last finish was a TKO of Brian Ebersole in 2015.
Five more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Justin Jaynes, who will face off against Gavin Tucker in a featherweight prelim, was last seen making a statement in his very first UFC appearance. On June 20, Jaynes knocked out Frank Camacho in 41 seconds, the second-fastest debut finish in lightweight history.
3. Nasrat Haqparast has knocked down four of his five UFC opponents and has the highest knockdown rate among active lightweights (1.16 per 15 minutes), the best striking defense in 155-pound history (74.1%) and the fifth-highest striking differential ever in the division (+1.87 per minute). He takes on the unbeaten Alex Munoz (6-0).
5. Beneil Dariush, who opens the main card in a lightweight bout with Scott Holtzman, has finished his past three opponents and is tied for the ninth-most wins (12) and finishes (7) in division history. Holtzman has the third-best takedown accuracy among active lightweights (60.0%).
Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight card preview.