LAUREN MURPHY VS. LILIYA SHAKIROVA
Lauren Murphy was initially scheduled to face fellow emerging contender Cynthia Calvillo in a clash of championship hopefuls, but with Calvillo being a late scratch, the streaking TUF alum welcomes Liliya Shakirova to the Octagon for the first time instead.
Murphy, who won gold under the Invicta FC banner before matriculating to the Octagon, was four fights into her UFC career when she joined the cast on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter in hopes of becoming the inaugural flyweight champion. She was bounced early but defeated fellow former Invicta champ Barb Honchak on the finale card and enters this weekend’s clash with consecutive victories over Mara Romero Borella, Andrea Lee, and Roxanne Modafferi.
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A national champion in freestyle wrestling in her native Uzbekistan, Shakirova arrives in the UFC with an 8-1 record and riding a three-fight winning streak. She’s spent time training at Tiger Muay Thai in the past, including working with Calvillo there last fall, but it’s difficult to get an accurate read on where she fits in the division and how she matches up with Murphy heading into this one.
This year has been one where several newcomers have made instant impressions and established themselves as immediate contenders, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the spirited newcomer walks into this short-notice pairing and announces her presence in the flyweight division.
At the same time, this is a chance for Murphy to potentially log a dominant performance and establish herself as a clear challenger for reigning champ Valentina Shevchenko heading into 2021.
MAGOMED ANKALAEV VS. ION CUTELABA
Let’s try this one more time.
Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba fought earlier this year in Norfolk, Virginia. Ankalaev won the bout by first-round stoppage after hitting Cutelaba with a collection of solid shots that made the hulking Moldovan feign that he was wobbled, which prompted the referee to inadvertently stop the fight early. An immediate rematch was booked and has subsequently been shuffled multiple times, ultimately landing as the main card opener this weekend.
In addition to the tensions between these two from how their first encounter played out, this is also a critical contest in a light heavyweight division that is at the dawn of a new era.
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Ankalaev is quite literally one second away from being 15-0, having suffered his lone loss at 4:59 of the third round in his promotional debut. Since then, the 28-year-old has been impressive, registering three consecutive victories prior to his first dance with Cutelaba while showcasing a diverse striking game and the potential to be a perennial contender going forward.
Still only 26, Cutelaba has grown from a rambunctious newcomer with more power and brawn than anything else to an emerging talent who better understands how to deploy his considerable power and play to his strengths inside the cage. He’s alternated wins and losses since arriving in the UFC, and if the pattern holds on Saturday, the only fair thing to do would be to book these two in a rubber match next year.
But that’s for the matchmakers to consider come Sunday morning.
For now, let’s just hope these two finally get to settle their differences this weekend, because this one should be every bit as entertaining as the first encounter, just without the controversial ending.