Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic are ready to clash once again when Cormier puts the UFC heavyweight championship on the line in the main event of UFC 241 from Honda Center in Anaheim, California, this Saturday. The UFC's return to Anaheim comes after the cancellation of UFC 233 in January of this year, but SoCal UFC fans are getting their money's worth with a card heavy on big fights.
Aside from the main event clash for the heavyweight strap, Nate Diaz returns for the first time in three years when he takes on former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at welterweight, Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa clash in a meeting of top 10 middleweights and much more.
Let's take a look at each fight on the card, starting with the early prelims.
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Sabino Mazo -120 vs. Shana Dobson +100 flyweights: Dobson (3-2) is a veteran of "The Ultimate Fighter 26" where she lost to eventual season finalist Roxanne Modafferi in the first round of the tournament. She rebounded from the loss on the TV show with a knockout of Ariel Beck at the season finale before dropping a decision to Lauren Mueller this past April. Mazo (6-1) also dropped her most recent fight, a decision to Maryna Moroz in her Octagon debut.
Kyung Ho Kang -190 vs. Brandon Davis +160, welterweights: The South Korean Kang (15-8, 1 NC) has gone 4-1 in his five most recent outings. Three of those four victories came by submission. Kang was out of action from September 2014 to January 2018 due to mandatory military service. Davis (10-5) earned a shot in the UFC after an impressive August 2017 win on Dana White's Contender Series. He has since gone on to compile a 2-3 record in the UFC, but most recently picked up a rear-naked choke submission win over Randy Costa at UFC 236 in April.
Hannah Cifers -275 vs. Jodie Esquibel +225, strawweights: Esquibel (6-5) may be fighting for her UFC career when she closes out the early prelims against Cifers (9-3). Esquibel made her UFC debut following a successful Invicta FC career but has lost three consecutive fights, all by unanimous decision. Her Octagon career has not been easy, however, with scheduled bouts being canceled or changed as often as actually taking place. Cifers has scored knockouts in five of her nine career wins but has yet to finish a fight in the Octagon. She rebounded from a TKO loss to Maycee Barber in her UFC debut with a split decision win over Polyana Viana at UFC 235 in March.
Drakkar Klose -185 vs. Christos Giagos +155, lightweights: These two kick off the ESPN preliminary card with Klose (10-1-1) meeting Giagos (17-7) in a battle of men riding two-fight winning streaks. After winning his first two UFC fights, Klose suffered a decision loss to David Teymur at UFC 218 in December 2017. He rebounded with wins over Lando Vannata and Bobby Green in 2018 and had his only other scheduled fight in 2019 pulled when Beneil Dariush suffered an injury in June. Giagos suffered a submission loss to Charles Oliveira in his debut for the promotion at UFC Fight Night 137 in September 2018, but bounced back with back-to-back wins against Mizuto Hirota and Damir Hadzovic, the most recent coming at UFC Fight Night 153 in June. Lightweight is a deep division in the UFC and a win won't vault either man into the top 15, but it starts to position the winner for the type of fights that might.
Manny Bermudez -125 vs. Casey Kenney +105, bantamweights: The undefeated Bermudez (14-0) is a submission whirlwind, having picked up 10 wins by choke and one by armbar. That includes UFC submissions of Albert Morales, Davey Grant and Benito Lopez. The UFC signed him to a new four-fight contract following his win over Lopez earlier this year. Kenney (12-1-1) is on his own five-fight win streak, including a statement win over former title challenger Ray Borg at UFC on ESPN 2 in March. The fight with Borg was Kenney's first in the UFC and immediately put him on the radar as a threat at 135 pounds.
Cory Sandhagen -190 vs. Raphael Assuncao +160, bantamweights: It's hard to believe Assuncao (27-6) has never received a shot at the bantamweight championship. With an 11-3 UFC record and wins over some truly dangerous competition, he has seemed destined for a shot at the gold on multiple occasions, but stumbles against T.J. Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes -- fighters he defeated before losing in rematches -- have set him back at key moments in his career. The Moraes loss came in February at UFC Fight Night 144, his most recent fight. Still, he holds the No. 3 spot in the UFC bantamweight rankings and has the skills to fight his way back to title contender. However, the 27-year-old Sandhagen (11-1) has the type of style to give his Brazilian opponent fits. He utilizes somewhat unorthodox footwork and feints to set up a pressure striking game that thrives on disrupting an opponent's rhythm. Sandhagen's most recent bout came against John Lineker in April, where he won a somewhat controversial split decision. Outside of narrowly defeating a tough-as-nails veteran in Lineker, Sandhagen has looked stellar in his four trips to the Octagon and is hoping to use Assuncao's name to improve on his No. 9 spot in the bantamweight rankings.
Devonte Smith -750 vs. Khama Worthy +525, lightweights: This bout seemed as though it wouldn't happen for Smith (10-1) with opponent changes happening twice. Initially, Smith was to meet John Makdessi before he withdrew from the bout. Replacement opponent Clay Collard was forced to pull out of the bout for medical reasons days from the event, leading the UFC to bring in promotional newcomer Khama Worthy (12-6) on short notice. Smith earned his way to the UFC with a brutal knockout on Dana White's Contender Series and made good on his opportunity with two more knockouts inside the Octagon. Worthy is riding a three-fight win streak on the regional fight scene, but brings with him the red flag of having been knocked out five times in his career and submitted in his other loss.
Ian Heinisch -150 vs. Derek Brunson +130, middleweights: This contest kicks off the pay-per-view portion of the card. Brunson (19-7) is a 15-fight veteran of the UFC. Despite being a dangerous fighter, he is 1-2 since 2018 and is looking to impress with a return to stoppage-heavy form after scoring a decision victory over Elias Theodorou at UFC Fight Night 151 in May. Heinisch (13-1) is less experienced than Brunson, but still favored to take home the win, largely based on his ability to push pace and use his pressure and wrestling to grind down opponents. After a knockout on Dana White's Contender Series earned him a UFC contract, Heinisch picked up decision wins over Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Jr., opening eyes along the way. Brunson finds himself playing gatekeeper here but he should not be taken lightly.
Sodiq Yusuff -280 vs. Gabriel Benitez +230, featherweights: Benitez (21-6) is coming off a 39-second slam knockout of Humberto Bandenay in his most recent fight. While that slam earned him a Performance of the Night bonus, it came in May 2018. Yusuff (9-1-1) has had three victories in the time Benitez has been out of the cage. Sneaky Fight of the Night vibes here as both men like to strike and have a lot to gain from a win in a tough featherweight division.
Yoel Romero -150 vs. Paulo Costa +130, middleweights: A top 10 showdown in the middleweight division with the longtime contender Romero (13-3) taking on the fast rising Costa (12-0). Costa has never had a fight go past the second round with 11 knockouts and one submission in his career. Injuries and a six-month suspension for unapproved IV injections following weigh-ins have sidelined him since a July 2018 knockout of Uriah Hall at UFC 226, but the 28-year-old Brazilian is one of the most dangerous 185-pound fighters in the UFC. Romero is a former Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling with very heavy hands. He'll be the toughest test in Costa's career and has a wide array of skills to draw on to trouble the upstart. Only Robert Whittaker has beaten Romero in the Octagon, twice winning decisions. If Romero makes weight without trouble (a big if), he could prove more than Costa is ready to handle.
Anthony Pettis -125 vs. Nate Diaz +105, welterweights: Diaz (19-11) does things his own way. That's well known and is also why he hasn't been in the Octagon since losing his rematch with Conor McGregor at UFC 202 in 2016. But the unorthodox striker with a tricky ground game has found an ideal opponent for fireworks in former lightweight champ Pettis (22-8). Both men actually have moved up to welterweight from their younger days as lightweight standouts but have stylistically remained the same. Pettis is a flashy striker with his own skills on the ground, while Diaz attacks from odd angles and a uniquely Diaz stance, mixing in taunts as often as strikes. Pettis took out Stephen Thompson with a second-round knockout in March and is looking to make it two consecutive wins since moving to 170 pounds.
Daniel Cormier (c) -140 vs. Stipe Miocic +120, heavyweight title: Cormier (22-1) took the heavyweight championship from Miocic (18-3) in July 2018 at UFC 226. Miocic hasn't fought since but has clearly been stewing over the loss. Cormier successfully defended the belt against Derrick Lewis and now looks to prove the knockout of Miocic was no fluke the first time around. Fans may have been hoping to see Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar, but Lesnar chose WWE over a teased return to the Octagon. In the end, the rematch is the higher quality fight and speaks volumes in the argument for who is the UFC heavyweight G.O.A.T. Miocic had early success against Cormier the first time around but failed to make adjustments as fast as "DC." We'll see Saturday night if he spent the last year figuring out how to take out the former Olympian.