For the third time in a week, the UFC is putting on a card with eleven scheduled fights. On Saturday night, the VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., plays host for the gold standard promotion in MMA.
Alistair Overeem vs. Walt Harris
For the third show in a row, and two out of three main events, Denver’s Elevation Fight Team will be represented. This time, the legendary heavyweight #8 Alistair Overeem takes the cage against #9 Walt “The Big Ticket” Harris.
The 39-year-old Overeem is one of the most accomplished martial artists in all of combat sports over the past two decades. He has captured gold in major promotions such as K-1 Kickboxing, ADCC Submission Grappling, DREAM and Strikeforce. “The Demolition Man” was also voted International Fighter of the Year in 2010 and 2011. In his lone UFC title shot, he lost to the current champion, Stipe Miocic.
While Overeem has the resume and the skills to make another push for a UFC title run, he will be facing a mountain of a man who has a force greater than anyone can truly quantify behind him.
Through no fault of his own, Overeem will have a large portion of the fans tuning in Saturday rooting for the man staring at him from across the cage.
Walt Harris stands at 6’5” and tips the scale at the 265 lb. limit for competition. Harris is also returning to the cage for the first time since his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard was tragically murdered in 2019. Harris was originally scheduled to fight Overeem back in December but withdrew himself while the search for Aniah continued after she was reported missing on October 24.
In his last couple of fights, Harris has started to come into his own and seems to have rounded the corner with Coach Chris Conolley down at SBG Alabama. They have figured out how to channel his high-level athleticism that saw him on an NCAA Division 1 basketball court and in NBA tryouts.
If you were not aware of Harris’ basketball background, then you now probably can more easily understand how a man of his stature was able to hit a flying knee to KO Aleksei Oleinik in just twelve seconds of the first round.
It will be interesting to see how the adrenaline factors will play a role in this fight for Harris, where an adrenaline dump is a very real possibility. Harris is certainly in shape and has put the strength and conditioning work in through this long camp to be prepared, but because of the life adversity that he has had to deal with, he may also (understandably so) come out with a head full of steam. If he is not careful, he may find himself emptying his gas tank too early against a savvy veteran like Overeem.
Claudia Gadelha vs. Angela Hill
In the co-main event, #6 Claudia Gadelha is back for the first time since last July in her win against Randa Markos. The one-time title contender has had three fights scheduled since then, but all three have been canceled for different reasons, with the most recent being her May 2 matchup with Marina Rodriguez, which was scrapped due to COVID-19.
She takes on the sizzling hot Angela “Overkill” Hill. Hill is a Muay Thai specialist who essentially started her MMA career on a whim and was selected to the cast for The Ultimate Fighter Season 20, a day after her first MMA fight. Since March of 2019, this will be Hill’s seventh fight. During that six-fight span, Hill has won four of the six and is riding a three-fight winning streak.
It is worth noting that in their most recent common opponent (they have a few), Gadelha beat Markos with the Split Decision and Hill lost via armbar.
Styles make fights, period. Gadelha is a 3x Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion who will present strengths that have given the former Invicta FC world champion, Hill, trouble in the past.
Dan Ige vs. Edson Barbosa
Keep your eyes on the feature fight between #15 featherweight “50k” Dan Ige and Edson Barbosa in his first fight since moving down to the 145 lb. division. Ige pulled off an impressive win at UFC 247, and the flashy-kicker Barboza is looking for a renaissance to his career after dropping the last four out of five at lightweight, which includes losses to current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and now interim champion Justin Gaethje.
In order to find success against a much longer, and superior striker, Ige will need to find a way to close the distance on Barboza and work his way inside for a takedown.
Barboza struggles on the ground, and his endurance was nothing noteworthy in the past, much less now after having to peel another 10 lbs. off. Ige works with solid pressure from the top and should be able to grind Barboza out, if not finish him, if he gets him to the ground.
Now, also keep in mind that Barboza possesses the kicking prowess that has produced highlight-reel knockouts that will live on forever in combat sports history, including the 2012 Terry Etim wheel kick KO and multiple leg kick TKOs.
For the second time of the night, SBG Alabama will have another former NCAA Division 1 athlete in the octagon as Eryk “Ya Boi” Anders takes on Krzysztof Jotko. Anders was BCS National Champion, who had the infamous strip-sack for his Alabama Crimson Tide against the Texas Longhorns in 2009.
Anders is one of those rare fighters with a near cult-like status of followers and supporters. He is one of the most down-to-earth and real people in the game, and fans love “Ya Boi” for it.
Anders is a true modern-day gladiator who literally leaves it all out there and wants to either come back with his shield or on it. Anders has also bounced back and forth from middleweight and light heavyweight, which is no small task considering it is a 20 pound jump. He has earned three performance bonuses in the UFC and will be looking to add another while simultaneously extending his current winning streak to three.
Song Yadong vs. Marlon Vera?
For the first fight of the main event, there has already been some controversy. At the time of this writing, #14 bantamweight Song Yadong is scheduled to fight #15 bantamweight Marlon “Chito” Vera in a featherweight matchup. However, Yadong is facing work visa issues, and his coach Uriah Faber weighed in at 153 lbs as a potential alternate opponent for Vera.
Chito is an all-around threat who is a rising prospect in the UFC. In his last five outings, he finished all five fights with three coming in the form of KO/TKOs and two submissions.
Yadong is looking to bounce back from a controversial draw against Cody Stamann, in which he was penalized for an illegal strike. Time will tell if we see Yadong or UFC Hall of Famer Uriah Faber instead.
Now, let’s take a peek at the preliminary card.
“The Immortal” Matt Brown headlines the main event of the prelims against the undefeated, up-and-comer Miguel Baeza. This may be the swan song for the 39-year-old Brown, as he hinted at retiring when the fight was originally supposed to take place in his home state of Ohio back in March.
Brown may not be the most well-known to the average fan, but he’s certainly on a short-list of your favorite fighter’s favorite fighters. His fan-friendly kill or be killed style of combat has seen his fights go the distance just six times in more than 40 fights dating back to 2005.
Baeza is a knockout specialist who has finished six of his eight wins by KO/TKO and earned his UFC deal with a win on the Contender Series.
In a matchup of two Contender Series veterans, Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez makes the walk against “Trailblazer” Kevin Holland. Hernandez has earned most of his wins on the ground, although he does have two striking finishes on his record.
His TKO performance on the Contender Series was overturned due to a failed drug test for marijuana. Holland is an all-around fighter who stays active in specialist competitions such as Muay Thai fights and pro BJJ fights. Of his 13 MMA finishes, Holland has six submissions and seven KO/TKOs, including a win over Geoff Neal on the regional scene.
Former Glory Kickboxing standout Giga Chikadze faces Irwin Rivera as a last-second replacement (still pending medical clearance at the time of this writing). Rivera is filling in for Mike Davis, who withdrew from the card for non-COVID-19 medical issues. Chikadze has currently won four in a row.
Darren “The Damage” Elkins hopes to right the ship after dropping three in a row against Nate Landwehr. “The Damage” tends to take a lot of damage, and Landwehr’s eight career finishes have all been from punches.
“Cast Iron” Cortney Casey makes her first appearance at flyweight against Mara Romero Borella. Casey has lost three of her last four fights by decision with the lone win being a split decision against Angela Hill. Borella has dropped two in a row to Montana De La Rosa and Lauren Murphy. Do not be surprised if this goes to the ground as each fighter has multiple submission victories.
Finally, in the curtain puller, we see another matchup of big-bodied heavyweights who punched their UFC tickets on the Contender Series.
Dontale Mayes is a 6’6” hammer-thrower who has knocked his opponent out in five of his seven pro wins. He lost in his UFC debut against undefeated Ciryl Gane via heel hook. Once again, styles make fights. His opponent, Rodrigo Nascimento Ferreira, is a thick 6’3” 255 lb. neck-snatcher who is undefeated in seven pro fights.
Coverage begins starting at 4:00 p.m. MDT on ESPN and ESPN+.
-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