For the first time in history, the UFC APEX will host a title fight on Saturday night at UFC 250. Two division champion Amanda Nunes will put her women’s featherweight championship on the line against #1 Felicia “Feenom” Spencer.
The crowdless card will also serve as a showcase for the men’s 135lb. division as four bantamweight matchups are scheduled, with one of the four between #12 Cody Stamann and Brian “Boom” Kelleher taking place at 145 lbs. based on the short notice booking due to COVID-19.
Speaking of COVID-19, #13 Ian Heinisch was initially pulled from a middleweight matchup against Gerald Meerschart after one of his cornermen tested positive. However, it has been determined that the test was a false positive and all of the additional tests and retests came back negative and the fight is back on.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at each matchup.
Nunes vs Spencer
Amanda Nunes is undisputedly the top pound-for-pound female fighter in the world right now. This will be her first time defending the 145 lb. title after taking the strap from Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 when she became the first ever women’s double champ. Nunes will be entering the octagon with more than double the total fight experience than her 29-year-old Canadian dance partner.
When it comes to championship fights, Amanda is undefeated and has only seen real adversity from the now women’s flyweight champion Valentina Schevchenko. To give you context on the rest of her championship resume, her list of names includes Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Raquel Pennington, Holly Holm, and Germaine de Randamie — all of whom were a UFC champion at one time or another except for Pennington. When people talk about clearing out a division(s), there’s hardly a better example in the entire sport.
Spencer’s only loss was to Cyborg. In the loss, Cyborg clearly won, however Spencer was, dare I say, impressive if for no other reason than she was able to go the distance with the former champ.
It is 2020, and there have been some wild things that have occurred over the past six months, but do not count on Felicia Spencer taking the throne from Amanda Nunes to be one of them.
Assunção vs Garbrandt
In the co-main event, we get to see the much anticipated return of former champion #9 Cody “No Love” Garbrandt as he battles #5 Raphael Assunção.
“No Love” is working to get his hand raised for the first time since defeating Dominick Cruz to win the belt in 2016. He then lost his next three fights by knockout, including two title fights against TJ Dillashaw. Garbrandt found himself on the wrong end of a slugfest with Pedro Munhoz in his last fight in March 2019.
Prior to this three-fight stretch, Garbrandt was undefeated and was in position to be a superstar for the promotion for years to come. He was highly featured on the coaching end of things in two different seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, where his fiery temper provided must-see reality TV.
Assunção will make the walk for the first time since falling to Cory Sandhagen last August. Assunção has been a fixture in the division for years and has been fighting professionally since 2004. Fun fact, he beat Jorge Masvidal in a 2005 matchup back on the regional scene.
The biggest question here is if Cody has been able to make the technical changes necessary to protect him. He now has a tell, and if Assunção’s coaches are worth their salt, they will almost certainly try to get their man to make it ugly. The tell is that Cody will keep his left hand low while throwing right hooks in a brawling exchange.
It is hard to write a 28-year-old former world champion off, but we simply do not know how damage was truly done to Garbrandt in those three devastating knockout losses.
Sterling vs Sandhagen
This has fight of the night written all over it. #2 Aljamain Sterling fights #4 Cory Sandhagen of the red-hot Elevation Fight Team based in Denver. To put it simply, styles make fights.
In one corner, you have the BJJ black belt in Sterling. In the other, a world champion kickboxer in Sandhagen. What is worth noting here is, Sandhagen is also a brown belt in BJJ.
The rise of Cory Sandhagen in the UFC is incredible. He has gone undefeated in the promotion and looks better with each outing. Sandhagen brings an element of pure violence with his striking that is seemingly balanced out in the perfect fashion with his ground game.
Sterling is for real — but so is Sandhagen. Look for Sandhagen to touch Sterling early and often. Based on the odds, avoiding heavy scrambles and grappling exchanges will drastically increase Sandhagen’s chances for success on Saturday night.
Magny vs Martin
Elevation’s captain Neil Magny squares off against Anthony Rocco Martin in a welterweight bout.
Magny, a US Army vet, looked as sharp as after in March at UFC 248 against Li Jingliang after more than a year away from the octagon. Magny will look to follow-up on that dominant performance against the scrappy Martin.
Magny has a significant height and reach advantage, so it will be interesting to see how he decides to take on Martin and his well-rounded game.
O’Malley vs Wineland
Two words: Suga Show.
One of the most promising prospects in all of MMA is the 25-year-old “Suga” Sean O’Malley. The Contender Series vet certainly brings a storm of controversy behind him, whether it be his fashion, his history with USADA, or his strong advocacy of cannabis. But O’Malley actually has legitimate skills to back up his hype.
Eddie Wineland will be the toughest test of O’Malley’s young career by a long shot. Wineland is 10 years older with more than triple the total fight experience in his career dating back to the early 2000s. Wineland has mixed it up with the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, and challenged Renan Barao for the interim title back in 2013.
In the UFC’s eyes, Wineland is playing the gatekeeper role for O’Malley. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is commonplace in MMA that an old dog gets paired with a young pup to see if that pup is a real dog that can run with the pack.
O’Malley is rapidly evolving on the mat, but his bread and butter is his striking. He’s a long bantamweight that can use his size and fluid movement to control the distance. Because he moves well, he is able to create striking angles that set him up for success. Look for “Suga” to stay sweet on the outside until he finds his opportunity.
If Wineland plays spoiler, it will be because he pressured O’Malley and found a way to get inside of his range.
Caceres vs Hooper
Similar to the dynamic of Wineland vs O’Malley, we have Alex Caceres in the main event of the Preliminary Card against Chase Hooper. Hooper is literally the youngest fighter on the roster at just 20-years-old.
The undefeated Hooper will look to follow up on a spectacular TKO in the first round of his UFC debut last December. Cacerers is a tough journeyman who will be a tough test for Hooper. Why are the gatekeeper comparisons drawn? Well, he served in this exact role against the phenom Kron Gracie just last year.
Hooper is nowhere near a polished or finished product at this time, so we can expect Caceres to throw some old vet tricks at him to see how he responds. Hooper is of the age where he has completely grown up in the sport. As time goes, fighters are much more of complete mixed martial artists at younger ages due to the growth of the sport.
Hooper is solid on the ground, but he’s also not too shabby on the feet and he likes to use a strong push kick to setup his traps.
Heinisch vs Meerschaert
#13 Middleweight Ian “The Hurricane” Heinisch looks to rebound against Gerald Meerschaert after suffering his first two losses in the UFC. Keep in mind, he just missed the knockout shot on a headkick against Derek Brunson last summer that would have put him in top 5 talks.
Heinisch is a world-class wrestler with heavy hands. When he is at his best, he has phenomenal head movement and is lightning quick to change levels. His hands are superior and there are very few fighters in the division that would have the chance to outmuscle him in the clinch. He has beaten BJJ world champions like Antonio Carlos Junior in the octagon, which will be crucial experience against a mat wizard and submission expert like Meerschaert.
Meerschaert’s guard game is lethal. He plays this position well to setup opportunities to scramble and attack submissions in which he’s finished 22 fights. When this contest goes to the ground, look for Heinisch to pass and advance position by any means necessary. Heinisch is filthy from the top with his signature ‘Leviticus elbows’.
Stamann vs Kelleher
My heart bleeds for Cody Stamann who tragically lost his younger brother last week. Stamann will have a heavy heart on Saturday, but fortunately for him, he has a favorable matchup against the journeyman Brian “Boom” Kelleher.
Stamann is a thoroughbred with elite skills, and that is not to slight Boom, it is simply illustrating the difference in losses at this point (18-2-1 versus 21-10). Boom is trying to put a third win in a row together, which would potentially land him in the top 15. He most recently defeated Hunter Azure on May 13 with a TKO in round 2.
The approach and composure for Stamann is what to keep your eye on. Recently, we have seen two high profile examples of fighters who experienced extreme life adversity who came out hot and had a steep drop off. This is what’s known as an adrenaline dump. If Stamann stays solid in his mentals and fundamentally sound within the execution of his technique, he will more than likely have his hand raised.
Byrd vs Maki
The first fight of the prelims features a couple of guys who are both Contender Series veterans coming off of losses. 36-year-old Charles Byrd happened to run into the buzzsaw that is Edmen Shahbazyan in his last fight. Unfortunately for Byrd, Maki Pitolo is a Hawaiian scrapper who loves to throw “Coconut Bombz” as described by his nickname.
This is potentially a stand-and-bang rock ‘em sock ‘em robots type of matchup where fists fly until someone falls.
Formiga vs Perez
One cannot help but think that the placement of this matchup between two top ranked flyweights being on the early prelims is a severe mistake by the UFC. We have seen this episode before, and unfortunately history is repeating itself.
If the UFC is really committed to the 125 lb division, then there is no justification for #4 Jussier Formiga and #9 Alex Perez to be on the early prelims, plain and simple.
Formiga has dropped two of his last three to Joseph Benavidez and Brandon Moreno, but has also defeated Deiveson Figueiredo. Perez’s sole loss in the UFC was to Benavidez back in 2017.
With the title currently vacant and awaiting a rematch between Figueiredo and Benavidez on the way, a win for Perez could put him on the short-list for a title shot opportunity alongside his Iridium Sports Agency peer, #3 Moreno.
Menefield vs Clark
If nothing else is certain in this fight, you can count on there being some hard leather being thrown in this light heavyweight pairing between Alonzo Menifield and Devin Clark.
The undefeated Menifield has never seen the cards and has never gotten past the first minute of the second round. Clark will be a tough test. Clark fights out of Jackson Wink where they actually have a stable of big bodies to get consistent work with, including none other than the champ Jon Jones.
Dunham vs Burns
For the second week in a row, we have a Burns brother on the card. This time it is Gilbert’s little brother Herbert in a 150 lb. catchweight bout against Evan Dunham. Although the Burns brothers are less than a year apart in age, they are years apart in terms of where they are currently at in their careers and proven skills (Gilbert is now the #1 welterweight).
Herbert has had just one UFC fight since joining the promotion after winning via triangle choke on the Contender Series last summer. But it is worth noting that Herbert made an impressive first impression with a first round knockout via knee from the clinch against Nate Landwehr in January.
We have not seen Dunham since a liver shot from Francisco Trinaldo finished him nearly two years ago. Experience certainly favors Dunham, who has fought noteworthy opponents such as Cowboy Cerrone, Rafael Dos Anjos, Edson Barbosa, and Joe Lauzon.
At 38-years-old, and ring rust all but certain, just how much is left in the tank for Dunham?
How To Watch:
- Early Prelims 4 p.m. MT on ESPN+/UFC Fight Pass
- Prelims 6 p.m. MT on ESPN/ESPN+
- Main Card 8 p.m. MT on ESPN+ Pay-Per-View
-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303