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Michael Bisping lost the UFC middleweight title to Georges St-Pierre on Nov. 4. The veteran fighter tended to his emotional and physical wounds for a few days, then he told the UFC he’d be happy to face Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday in the UFC Fight Night 122 main event.
The opportunity arose when Gastelum’s original opponent, former middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, was flagged with a potential doping violation. And so, 21 days after losing his title, Bisping steps back into the octagon.
Saturday’s event is the UFC’s first foray into mainland China after it held events in Macau in 2012 and 2014.
With the opening of a new market, the promotion went heavy on local talent. One of those fighters, Li Jingliang, who is in the process of establishing himself as the face of the UFC in China, competes in the co-headliner against Zak Ottow. The bout is Jingliang’s first fight in his home country since he won the Legend FC welterweight title in 2013.
UFC Fight Night 122 takes place at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. The entire card streams on UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.
It’s hard to argue with Gastelum’s (13-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC) logic. After Bisping (30-8 MMA, 20-8 UFC) replaced Silva, the 26-year-old said he liked the new matchup better. A few years ago that remark would have been laughable. Today, it’s on the mark. Bisping is currently ranked No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA Middleweight rankings. He’s also just a few weeks removed from his reign as 185-pound champion. Silva is ranked No. 10 and 1-4 with one no contest dating back to 2013.
“If I win this fight, it will put me up high in the rankings, and I’ll be in the conversation to fight for the title,” Gastelum, a rankings honorable mention, said during a recent media call. “That’s ultimately my goal. He’s ranked No. 2 (in the official UFC rankings), fresh off his title fight with ‘GSP.’ I feel like this is an even better fight for my career, and I expect it to be a tough fight.”
The 38-year-old Bisping also sees the matchup as a positive.
“Obviously (UFC 217) didn’t go my way,” Bisping said of his title-losing defeat to Georges St-Pierre. “The best way to rectify that is to get straight back on the horse, so to speak, try to get back in the win column.”
One of these men will leave China disappointed.
After a 2-2 start in the UFC, Jingliang (13-4 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has found his footing in the welterweight division. The 29-year-old has won his three most recent fights. He looks to end 2017 with an undefeated record. Ottow (15-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC) wants to prevent that from happening.
Despite his winning streak, Jingliang faces pressure in this contest. Knowing the UFC likes to build fight cards around popular hometown fighters, a win in his home country could put the Jingliang in the running to headline the next event the promotion holds in China.
Ottow faces a different type of stress, the stress of fighting out his contract. The American is 2-1 in the UFC with a split-decision win in his most recent bout. And as we know, it’s always easier to negotiate after a victory.
In February, the UFC released a video to announce the signing of the Wang Guan. That should give you an indication that the promotion has high expectations for the 31-year-old featherweight. Guan meets the more experienced Alex Caceres in his UFC debut.
Guan’s sole loss was a 2013 decision defeat at the hands of one-time WSOF bantamweight champion Bekbulat Magomedov. Unfortunately for him, Magomedov and Shane Young, who Guan (16-1-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) bested in 2015, are the only name opponents on his record. Expect him to be very anxious to add Caceres’ (13-10 MMA, 8-8 UFC) name to his list of 12-career finishes.
Caceres enters this tilt with a doctor-stoppage TKO win over Rolando Dy in his most recent outing.
Salikhov is a fighter to watch in the welterweight division. A devastating striker, the Dagestanian has 10 first-round knockout victories. His past four striking stoppages have all been spinning kicks with the most recent being a 93-second trouncing of Melvin Guillard. Salikhov’s only loss came in 2012 when he entered an MMA bout thinking it was a kickboxing match.
If Salikhov (12-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) can get by Garcia (14-4 MMA, 4-3 UFC), who is coming off a decision loss to Tim Means, he could be an intriguing addition to the 170-pound division.
Zabit Magomedsharipov, a former ACB champion, made his UFC debut in September. The Dagestanian entered that contest with a lot of hype. The 26-year-old, who trains with Frankie Edgar, Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza and Marlon Moraes, delivered a “Performance of the Night” winning submission stoppage of Mike Santiago. The victory was his ninth straight win.
A very athletic and flashy featherweight, Magomedsharipov is a well-rounded fighter with a deep well of unorthodox, and accurate, striking techniques. He looks like he could quickly develop into a contender at 145 pounds. Magomedsharipov (13-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) meets one-time WSOF bantamweight title challenger Sheymon Moraes (9-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC).
Moraes hasn’t fought since June 2016 due to a contract impasse with the WSOF. He defeated Luis Palomino by decision in that bout. If the 27-year-old Brazilian has acquired even the slightest dusting of cage rust he could find himself in deep trouble.
The first female Chinese fighter to sign with the UFC, Yan Xiaonan is unbeaten in her past six fights. Nicknamed “Fury,” Xiaonan lives up to that moniker. She is almost recklessly aggressive in her striking style.
Xiaonan (7-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who has not fought for more than a year, faces Kailin Curran. The Hawaiian has struggled during her UFC run. Curran (4-5 MMA, 1-5 UFC) has only one win in six fights with the promotion. That victory came two years ago. She is currently on a three-fight losing skid.
The reason Curran remains employed by the UFC is due to her proclivity to put on entertaining fights. Expect this strawweight contest to fit that pattern.
Bharat Khandare is the first Indian-born fighter to join the UFC. The former Super Fight League featherweight champion is an incredibly aggressive fighter with good strength. He’s also shown a heavy top game with powerful ground strikes. Khandare’s shortcomings are that he has a tendency to leave himself open for counterstrikes and he also telegraphs his takedowns. The 28-year-old recently came back from a break of nearly three years. He lost his return bout by first-round submission. The defeat ended his five-fight winning streak. Khandare has never left the second round.
Khandare (5-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) faces the more experienced Kenan Song (9-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in this bantamweight matchup. The 22-year-old, who is a late injury replacement, is sometimes overzealous in his striking, which might provide Khandare the opening he needs to get the fight to the mat. Yadong enters this contest on the strength of an April decision win.
This battle is one of experience vs. potential. Abdurakhimov is a well-rounded fighter who has spent the majority of his 36 years competing in martial arts. A pro since 2008, he was close to a breakthrough in his most recent outing. Abdurakhimov (17-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC) appeared to win the first three rounds of his UFC Fight Night 102 bout with Derrick Lewis before succumbing to strikes in the fourth stanza. Sherman’s (11-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) most recent outing, a decision win over Damian Grabowski was his best performance to date. The 28-year-old showed patience, poise and a nice assortment of strikes in that outing.
Don’t be surprised if the winner of this bout moves on to face a fighter in the bottom half of the rankings.
Gina Mazany didn’t have much luck in her first UFC fight. She accepted a bout against Sara McMann on 16 days’ notice. She came in more than three pounds heavy for the bantamweight matchup. On fight night Mazany was unable to land a single strike before she tapped out at 1:14 of the first round. The loss was the first of her five-fight career.
Mazany does have three stoppage wins in her four victories, but it must be noted those four opponents combined for two victories.
Mazany’s opponent in this bantamweight bout, Yanan Wu (9-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), is eight years younger than Mazany (4-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC), but has five more fights on her record. Her sole loss was a 2016 TKO at the hands of current Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya.
Rolando Dy is better than his 0-2 record in the UFC suggests. A resilient fighter with a sound striking game, the 26-year-old struggles to stay active and keep the pressure on his opponent for prolonged periods. With his job possibly on the line, Dy can’t afford to lay back in the fight. (And it doesn’t help Dy missed the featherweight limit at Thursday’s weigh-ins, coming in at 148 pounds.)
Dy’s opponent, Wuliji Buren, makes his UFC debut in Shanghai. Buren (10-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has good wrestling and ground skills, but he hasn’t fought high-level competition. With that, it’s hard to get a read on just how well he’ll perform against Dy (8-6-1 MMA, 0-2 UFC), who has decent takedown defense.
Expect Dy to do everything in his power to keep this fight standing.
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