UFC president Dana White has been saying it a lot in recent weeks, and it’s worth repeating here: Just get through 2020.
It’s safe to say the UFC has done a tremendous job operating within a pandemic this year, and it’s nearly across the 2020 finish line with three events to go. But just to state the obvious: It has been a rough go as of late.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night will feature a middleweight main event between title contender Jack Hermansson (21-5) and Marvin Vettori (15-3-1). Hermansson was originally scheduled to face Darren Till in the main event. Then Kevin Holland. Now Vettori. The previous two matchups fell apart due to injury and COVID-19.
On Saturday, UFC Fight Night will honor former SportsCenter anchor and MMA fan Stuart Scott.
The event is part of V Week, held Dec. 1-12. Donate to the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
You can also donate to the Stuart Scott Memorial Fund.
The final six UFC cards of the year have all seen changes to their main events — and we’ve seen everything from Paul Felder stepping in to fight a former lightweight champion on five days’ notice, to flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo agreeing to two title defenses in a span of 21 days (the quickest turnaround in UFC title history).
The appeal of Saturday’s changing main event lies in its one constant: Hermansson, who is firmly in title contention at 185 pounds. He is No. 6 in the ESPN middleweight rankings. One could easily argue the Swedish-born fighter out of Norway is the most difficult stylistic matchup for champion Israel Adesanya, with three first-round submission wins in his past five fights.
Hermansson, 32, has everything to lose against Vettori, who is not ranked inside the top 10 but might prove to be a fixture in those rankings for years to come. The 27-year-old Italian is confident and well-rounded, and he was competitive against Adesanya in a split-decision loss two years ago.
It’s a 185-pound matchup between a contender who is on his third opponent in less than one month and a hopeful with much to gain in taking a fight on short notice. Such circumstances are proving to be the norm as the UFC closes out the most unique year in its history.
For a good cause: Fight Like Hell Night
On December 7, 2019, ESPN and the UFC celebrated Stuart Scott with a Fight Night dedicated to him, which ended with a big Jairzinho Rosenstruik knockout.
The UFC is dedicating this Fight Night to the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, established in memory of the ESPN personality who died of cancer in 2015. Scott had a strong connection to mixed martial arts and even trained during the time of his treatment.
The UFC will make a $100,000 contribution to life-saving research funded through the Scott fund, which aids African American, Hispanic and other minority researchers and also research that explores the biology behind why some cancers are more likely to occur or are more aggressive or harder to treat in some minority populations. During Saturday’s broadcast, the UFC will encourage fans to support this research.
Viewers can support the campaign by visiting v.org/ufc.
By the numbers
0: Fighters from Italy who have headlined UFC cards. Vettori will be the first, and a victory would tie the native of the city of Trento with Alessio Sakara for most wins inside the Octagon by an Italian, with six.
8: Finishes in the UFC by Hermansson, putting him just two behind Derek Brunson, Thiago Santos and Jacare Souza, the leaders among active middleweights. Five of Hermansson’s finishes have come in the first round, which leads us to …
7:28: Average fight time in the UFC for Hermansson, in minutes and seconds. It’s the fifth shortest among active 185-pounders.
67.1: Percentage of opponent strike attempts avoided by Vettori in his UFC bouts, the best defense among active middleweights and second best all time, behind Chael Sonnen’s 67.7%.
2.56: Significant strikes landed per minute by Hermansson for every one he absorbs in his UFC fights. It is the same differential as that of Santos; they are tied for the highest in middleweight history.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Jack Hermansson’s most recent results
Win: Kelvin Gastelum (Sub1, July 19, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Jared Cannonier (TKO2, Sept. 28, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jacare Souza (UD, April 27, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: David Branch (Sub1, March 30, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Gerald Meerschaert (Sub1, Dec. 15, 2018)
Marvin Vettori’s most recent results
Win: Karl Roberson (Sub1, June 13, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Andrew Sanchez (UD, Oct. 12, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Cezar Ferreira (UD, July 13, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Israel Adesanya (SD, April 14, 2018)
Draw: Omari Akhmedov (MD, Dec. 30, 2017)
And the winner is …
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Vettori feels like a trendy pick right now, and it’s easy to see why. He’s very, very good, and he has been underrated in the past, so there has been a correction in terms of how fans and media view him. He’s well-rounded and supremely confident. I’m as high on Vettori as just about anyone out there, but he’s fighting another underrated middleweight, Hermansson. It’s a coin flip kind of fight, but I believe the five rounds favors Hermansson, as does the fact Vettori wasn’t scheduled to fight until January. Hermansson by decision.
How to watch the fights
Watch the fights on ESPN2: Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV schedule. Don’t have ESPN2? Get instant access.
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday’s fight card
ESPN2/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET
Jack Hermansson vs. Marvin Vettori | Middleweight
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Jamahal Hill | Light heavyweight
Gabriel Benitez vs. Justin Jaynes | Lightweight
Montana De La Rosa vs. Taila Santos | Women’s flyweight
Roman Dolidze vs. John Allan | Light heavyweight
Movsar Evloev vs. Nate Landwehr | Men’s featherweight
ESPN2/ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Louis Smolka vs. Jose Quinonez | Men’s bantamweight
Matt Wiman vs. Jordan Leavitt | Lightweight
Jimmy Flick vs. Cody Durden | Men’s flyweight
Ilia Topuria vs. Damon Jackson | Men’s featherweight
Gian Villante vs. Jake Collier | Heavyweight
Five more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Five fighters will put undefeated records on the line Saturday night: Jamahal Hill (7-0, 1 NC), who faces Ovince Saint Preux in the light heavyweight co-main event; fellow 205-pounder Roman Dolidze (7-0), who fights John Allan; Movsar Evloev (13-0), who opens the main card as a 6-to-1 favorite against featherweight Nate Landwehr; Jordan Leavitt (7-0), who makes his UFC debut against veteran lightweight Matt Wiman; and featherweight Ilia Topuria (9-0), who takes on Damon Jackson.
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2. Saint Preux will be looking to win consecutive fights for the first time since 2017. Overall, though, OSP has 13 light heavyweight wins, tied for the fourth most in division history. He has finishes in 11 of those wins, second most in division history behind Glover Teixeira’s 12.
3. While Nigeria was in the limelight in 2019 with Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman winning championships, 2020 might be the year of Georgia. Entering this event, Georgian fighters are 11-1 inside the Octagon, with Dolidze and Topuria favored to win on Saturday.
4. Montana De La Rosa, who faces flyweight Taila Santos, will be looking to join Gillian Robertson as the only female fighters in UFC history to win four fights by submission.
5. Jake Collier faces Gian Villante in the evening’s opening bout. It is Collier’s second fight at heavyweight. If Collier wins, he would become the 13th fighter in UFC history to win fights in three divisions.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.