UFC Fight Night viewers guide: It’s now or never for Marina Rodriguez against Michelle Waterson

MMA news

It’s a disclaimer that goes along with every single MMA event: Card is subject to change.

And to be frank, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas was hit hard by change. This card was supposed to feature the return of TJ Dillashaw, a former bantamweight champion who lost his belt to a drug suspension two years ago, in a fight against Cory Sandhagen, the fastest-rising contender in the division.

You lose a fight of that magnitude, the card is going to suffer. There’s no way around it. Fortunately, however, Saturday’s card (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, prelims at 5 p.m. on ESPN+) has some depth to soften the blow. Here are a few storylines to look out for this weekend:

  • The new main event is a flyweight (but really strawweight) bout between Marina Rodriguez (13-1-2) and Michelle Waterson (18-8). The two will weigh in at 125 pounds, but this is essentially a 115-pound bout for which neither fighter will cut weight because of the short notice. And it’s a big spot for Rodriguez, who is a potential future champ but has shown some growing pains as she has taken on the elite of the strawweight division. At 34, she’s “new blood” in terms of the title picture, but she needs to get it done now.

  • When this card lost its main event, it added a welterweight matchup between Neil Magny (24-8) and Geoff Neal (13-3). Neal is coming off a loss to Stephen Thompson in his first UFC main event in December. Had he won, his stock would have been on fire. That was a tough stylistic matchup for Neal, but his potential is still through the roof. He’ll have to be at his best to beat Magny, a highly ranked veteran who could fight Khamzat Chimaev next with a win.

  • A strawweight fight between Amanda Ribas (10-2) and Angela Hill (13-9) won’t have quite the same impact on the division as the main event, but it’s a crucial matchup for both nevertheless. Ribas, 27, has shown a lot of potential over the course of her 4-1 record in the UFC. Hill’s overall record doesn’t jump off the page, but had close split-decision losses to Claudia Gadelha and Waterson gone the other way in 2020, she’d be riding a six-fight win streak.

  • Donald Cerrone (36-15, 2 NC), 38, will make his 37th walk to the Octagon, tying fellow lightweight Jim Miller. This fight was supposed to be against former teammate Diego Sanchez but is now against Alex Morono (18-7, 1 NC). There was a time when it felt we’d never see the end of Cerrone’s career, but for the first time, it seems possible 2021 could be the final year for Cerrone. Even if it’s not, we’re in the twilight of Cerrone’s historic career, so this is worth tuning in for.

  • Veteran lightweight Diego Ferreira (17-3) had his chance in February to win a big fight and nab a ranked opponent next, but he came up short against Beneil Dariush. That was a must-win for Ferreira. Just look at what happened to Dariush and him afterward. Ferreira is now fighting a guy most lightweights want to avoid in Gregor Gillespie (13-1), and Dariush is in a high-profile bout against Tony Ferguson next week on pay-per-view. That’s a tough one to swallow, but Ferreira is a veteran and he needs a good showing here. As does Gillespie, who has shown a ton of potential but is coming off the first loss of his career and hasn’t won in over two years.


By the numbers

4: UFC main event appearances by Waterson (including Saturday), which will tie her with flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for fourth most among women. Former bantamweight champs Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm each have headlined six cards, one more than two-division titlist Amanda Nunes.

7-0: Rodriguez’s record in fights that end in a finish (six by knockout, one by submission).

0: Finishes by Waterson since December 2016. She has fought eight times since then, winning four of those bouts, all by decision, including two split decisions. Before that, Waterson had had finishes in 12 of her 14 wins.

2: Draws in the UFC for Rodriguez, making her the only woman with multiple draws and one of only five modern-era fighters overall to have more than a single draw in the UFC.

14: Takedowns in the UFC by Waterson, the seventh most in strawweight history, leading to her nine submission victories. The goal for Rodriguez, then, is to keep the fight standing. In her three UFC wins, Rodriguez has defended the takedown 89% of the time (8 of 9). In her three draws/losses, she has defended takedowns just 45% of the time (8 of 18).

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats


Five vs. five

Marina Rodriguez’s most recent results
Win: Amanda Ribas (TKO2, Jan. 24, 2021; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Carla Esparza (SD, July 26, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Draw: Cynthia Calvillo (MD, Dec. 7, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Tecia Torres (UD, Aug. 10, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Jessica Aguilar (UD, March 30, 2019; watch on ESPN+)

Michelle Waterson’s most recent results
Win: Angela Hill (SD, Sept. 12, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Carla Esparza (SD, May 9, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UD, Oct. 12, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UD, March 30, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Felice Herrig (UD, Oct. 6, 2018)


And the winner is …

“On the feet, I feel Rodriguez definitely has a boxing advantage,” said Carla Esparza, a former UFC strawweight champion who has fought — and defeated — both women. “Waterson did land a few kicks on me, and my leg was black and blue, but Rodriguez has a reach and power advantage. As far as the wrestling, I could see Waterson taking it to the ground. She has nice throws that I’ve seen her hit. It’s just a matter of closing that gap, which is difficult because she likes to be at range with her kicks. But if she’s able to create that clash of bodies, I could see her taking Rodriguez off her feet.”

Check out how Esparza and other experts break down and predict the result of the main event.


How to watch the fights

Watch the main card on ESPN. Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access.

All of the fights are also available on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here. Also: Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV schedule

There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.


Saturday’s fight card

play

1:27

Donald Cerrone explains what fighting means to him at this point in his career and his mindset ahead of taking on Alex Morono.

ESPN/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Marina Rodriguez vs. Michelle Waterson | Women’s flyweight
Donald Cerrone vs. Alex Morono | Welterweight
Neil Magny vs. Geoff Neal | Welterweight
Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Maurice Greene | Heavyweight
Diego Ferreira vs. Gregor Gillespie | Lightweight
Amanda Ribas vs. Angela Hill | Strawweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Ben Rothwell vs. Philipe Lins | Heavyweight
Phil Hawes vs. Kyle Daukaus | Middleweight
Ludovit Klein vs. Michael Trizano | Men’s featherweight
Ryan Benoit vs. Zarrukh Adashev | Men’s flyweight
Jun Yong Park vs. Tafon Nchukwi | Middleweight
Christian Aguilera vs. Carlston Harris | Welterweight


Five more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)

1. In the co-main event, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone steps back into the Octagon in hopes of snapping a five-fight winless streak (0-4, 1 NC) when he takes on Alex Morono. Cerrone, the UFC’s career wins leader, will once again tie Jim Miller for most fights in UFC history. Cerrone will also try to break a tie with Charles Oliveira for the most UFC finishes. This will be the 21st time that Cerrone will be in a UFC main or co-main event, breaking a tie with UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture and Vitor Belfort for third most in UFC history, behind Anderson Silva (24) and Michael Bisping (22).

2. Cerrone isn’t the only fighter on the card with massive UFC experience. Saturday will mark the 25th time Neil Magny steps into the Octagon when he takes on Geoff Neal on the main card. Magny will break a tie with Josh Koscheck for the third-most fights in the welterweight division, and he will be trying for his 18th win in the division, which would put him one behind UFC Hall of Famer Georges St-Pierre for the most of all time.

3. Lightweights Diego Ferreira and Gregor Gillespie meet with both coming off a loss — but in much different circumstances. Ferreira fell to Beneil Dariush in a split decision just three months ago. Gillespie last fought in November 2019 and suffered his first defeat, a brutal head-kick knockout loss to Kevin Lee.

4. The UFC’s most active fighter is back in action. Angela Hill, who takes on strawweight Amanda Ribas, will be in her 15th fight since rejoining the UFC in 2017, breaking a tie with Andrei Arlovski for most appearances over that span. Her total is three more than those by the next woman (Randa Markos). Ribas started her UFC career 5-0 before being knocked out by Marina Rodriguez in January.

5. When Carlston Harris steps into the Octagon to face Christian Aguilera during the prelims, he will be the first person to represent Guyana in the UFC. In all, the prelims will have seven countries represented: the United States, Brazil, South Korea, Cameroon, Uzbekistan, Slovakia and Guyana.

ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.

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