The last of four straight weekends of Octagon action, the UFC heads to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in hopes of bringing more clarity to its suddenly crowded heavyweight division.
While this is a card relatively low in both quality and quantity, the night’s selection of preliminary action does bring us a few fights worthy of our eyes.
We bring you three names to watch during the UFC Fight Night 105 prelims.
A former UFC champion competing on the prelims of a Fight Night card with, like, maybe two truly noteworthy fights? It’s certainly a rarity, but this can likely be explained by Esparza’s decision to decline the opportunity to face one of the division’s top contenders and instead face an unranked opponent. Still, Esparza remains one of the very best strawweights in the division, and more than warrants our attention Sunday night in Halifax.
Esparza is just two fights removed from being recognized as the UFC’s strawweight champion, winning the inaugural title at the culmination of the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter. She had a relatively impressive run on the reality series, defeating former Invicta FC 115-pound champ Angela Hill, then-undefeated contender Tecia Torres and former UFC title contender Jessica Penne. She went on to defeat Rose Namajunas in the championship fight, standing as the only woman who’s stopped the talented 24-year-old strawweight.
The former titleholder faces Randa Markos, who if nothing else held a spotlighted grudge against Esparza and friend Felice Herrig. Markos defeated Herrig on the show. The stage for this match is set to hopefully end the rivalry once and for all.
There was a point in time when Santos was briefly considered a dark horse title contender for the UFC’s middleweight crown. Riding a four-fight winning streak that included a 29-second KO over Steve Bosse, the first defeat of Elias Theodorou’s promising career and a first-round KO of former title contender Nate Marquardt, Santos was quickly climbing the ranks as a name to watch.
Things have changed quite a bit since then.
First came the somewhat predictable loss to Gegard Mousasi at UFC 200. Despite Santos’ impressive run, there were plenty of question marks surrounding his ceiling inside the Octagon. Mousasi, long considered one of the very best fighters in the middleweight division — UFC or otherwise — was a perfect option to help us make those questions disappear. The fight didn’t last very long, serving as the first of what is now a streak of three consecutive TKO finishes for “The Dreamcatcher.”
Then came the incredibly stunning defeat to Eric Spicely at UFC Fight Night 95 last September. Santos was, for all intents and purposes, expected to bounce back from his defeat in impressive fashion against a last-minute UFC newcomer. Spicely, however, had other plans. Less than three minutes in, and Spicely picked up a massive submission victory; the biggest of his professional career.
Santos now faces surging Welshman Jack Marshman, in what is both a solid test and opportunity to get back on the right track.
To be clear, we were fairly close to giving this last slot to Nordine Taleb, whose karma-filled, feel-good second-round KO of Erick Silva last March served as one of the more memorable moments that didn’t feature a Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey or Brock Lesnar. Instead, we’re taking his opponent, who is one of the few Argentinian fighters to ever make a statement inside the Octagon.
Ponzinibbio last fought at UFC Fight Night 92 in August, outworking an ultra durable Zak Cummings for three rounds before picking up a unanimous decision. It was a victory that followed up a massive win over Court McGee, as Ponzinibbio became the first man to ever stop the former Ultimate Fighter winner with strikes.
The 30-year-old Argentinian standout looks to extend his three-fight winning streak to four, but can only do so by taking out one of the more promising fighters the division currently has to offer.