When Kelvin Gastelum was forced to withdraw from UFC Vegas 67 due to a missing tooth that was knocked out during a sparring session, renowned wild man Sean Strickland unsurprisingly stepped in. Strickland is an old school fighter who does not train by lifting weights or going for miles long runs. Instead, he gets in the gym and spars against other fighters. Although he normally fights at Middleweight, Strickland will be competing at Light Heavyweight this time around. Standing in his way will by Nassourdine Imavov, who normally fights at middleweight as well. There’s a lot to unpack here; without further ado, let’s get into it!Embed from Getty Images
Strickland vs. Imavov
Although Sean Strickland has lost each of his last two matches, he is still highly regarded in the middleweight division. That is partly because his losses came at the hands of Alex Pereira who is now the reigning champion, and Jared Cannonier who is in high title contention. There is no shame in losing to these men and the 31-year-old Strickland shows no signs of slowing down. Saturday’s bout will be his first adventure into the light heavyweight division, but if he performs well it may not be his last.Embed from Getty Images
Nassourdine Imavov is in the midst of a three-fight winning streak. However, he fought only once in 2022. If there are questions about his status in the sport it stems from his lack of activity. He is only 27-years-old; his best days in the octagon are ahead of him. If he is going to take a leap and become one of the elite fighters in the organization he must be determined that 2023 is his year. Be sure to tune in to watch Strickland and Imavov lay it all on the line in the center of the octagon!
Ige vs. Jackson
31-year-old Dan Ige has lost four out of his last five fights. Prior to this unfortunate streak of outcomes, Ige had amassed six consecutive victories. At his best, he is a dangerous fighter whose Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often comes in handy. Because of his unique ability to both strike and grapple, he is still ranked thirteenth in the division in spite of his failure to earn a signature win as of late. If he performs well on Saturday night, it will be a nice reminder to the fans who once viewed Ige as a future champion of the division.
Since joining the UFC in September of 2020, Damon Jackson has amassed an impressive 5 and 1 record. Two of his victories have come by submission and another came by way of a knockout. Jackson has repeatedly shown that he has the ability to finish a fight early and that looking away from the octagon while he is performing could be a costly mistake; you might miss a highlight and be forced to view it on instant replay. At 34-years-old, he is hungry to become a ranked fighter, knowing that his window of opportunity to get a shot at the championship belt is closing. Ige and Jackson are two fighters with a lot to prove and nothing to lose; you won’t want to miss it!
Soriano vs. Kopylov
Middleweight prospects Punahele Soriano and Roman Kopylov enter Saturday’s bout with identical 9 and 2 records. At 30 and 31-years-old respectively, both men are relatively young fighters who each became professional at relatively late stages in life. Now, they are trying to make up for lost time as they enter the last few years of their physical primes. Neither man is ranked in the organization’s top fifteen among middleweight fighters; if they are going to become elite, now is the time to prove it. There is sure to be fireworks when these two men meet in the octagon. Make sure to tune in to witness all of the action!
Vieira vs. Pennington
Ketlen Vieira may hold the unfortunate distinction of being the best women’s fighter in the UFC to never have won a championship. Her last two victories have come against future Hall-of-Famers Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. The Brazilian with Black belts in both Jiu-Jitsu and Judo has been ranked second in the bantamweight division for quite some time. If she is going to earn a title shot in 2023, she must start the year off right with a mid-January victory at The Apex Center.
Raquel Pennington is in the midst of a four-fight win streak and is currently ranked fifth in the bantamweight division. Although she does not have the formal training of some of her colleagues, she is a wily veteran of the sport. She began competing in regional circuits when she was just 22-years-old. She will turn 35 later this year and is well aware that now is the time if she is going to become a champion. Vieira versus Pennington is a fight with championship implications. You won’t want to miss it!
Nurmagomedov vs. Barcelos
26-year-old bantamweight Umar Nurmagomedov prospect is currently known as the cousin of the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov and the younger brother of reigning Bellator Lightweight Champion Usman Nurmagomedov. Coming from a famous fighting family could be a motivating factor, or serve as a detriment depending on how an athlete views the circumstance, but so far Nurmagomedov has lived up to his name. He is currently undefeated in fifteen professional fights and is clearly aiming to follow in the footsteps of his legendary family.
At 35-years-old, Raoin Barcelos’ best days inside the octagon may be behind him. However, he is still considered a litmus test for up-and-comers in the bantamweight division. His victory in October over Trevin Jones proved that the Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still has something left in the tank. Although he is currently unranked and may never get a shot at the title, he is a worthy opponent for any young fighter looking to gage their skills and acumen. He will be sure to push the young Nurmagomedov to the limits. Be sure to tune in!
How to watch
UFC Vegas 67 can be viewed on BT Sport in The United Kingdom and on ESPN Plus in The United States. As always, we’ll have all the latest updates about the outcomes of the fights, as well as in depth analysis, available right here at World in Sport!