UFC 262: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Houston

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2021

UFC 262: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Houston

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Another month. Another step toward normalcy.

    The UFC got back into the crowd-in-the-building business with its pay-per-view stop in northeast Florida in late April, and this Saturday, only three weeks later, it'll repeat the feat with its next extravaganza—UFC 262—live from a presumably jam-packed Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

    A championship vacancy at 155 pounds will be filled via a main event that matches the third- (Charles Oliveira) and fourth-ranked (Michael Chandler) contenders in the weight class.

    Meanwhile, the co-main fight will include a fifth-ranked former interim champion (Tony Ferguson) trying to resurrect a flagging career against streaking ladder-climber Beneil Dariush.

    Welterweights Nate Diaz and Leon Edwards had been scheduled to fight in the co-main slot and their match would have been the UFC's first non-title fight and non-main event that was still scheduled for five rounds, but Diaz pulled with a training camp injury and the bout was postponed to UFC 263.

    As it stands, 11 other fights round out the main and preliminary cards and will include myriad up-and-comers, familiar veterans and others simply hoping to boost their profiles for the next time around.

    The B/R combat sports team took a look at the menu and pulled out a few of the tastier highlights.

             

    UFC 262 Main Card (PPV) 

    Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler

    Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush

    Jack Hermansson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan

    Katlyn Chookagian vs. Viviane Araujo

    Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza

                

    UFC 262 Preliminary Card

    Jacare Souza vs. Andre Muniz

    Matt Schnell vs. Rogerio Bontorin

    Lando Vannata vs. Mike Grundy

    Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko

    Jordan Wright vs. Jamie Pickett

    Gina Mazany vs. Priscila Cachoeira

    Kevin Aguilar vs. Tucker Lutz

    Christos Giagos vs. Sean Soriano

Charles Oliveira vs. Michael Chandler

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    It'd be hard not to be happy for Charles Oliveira.

    Now 31, the affable Brazilian has been down the road, around the block and back again when it comes to the UFC, appearing in 27 octagonal bouts and winning 18 of them since arriving in 2010.

    He's been the B-side against higher-profile names like Donald Cerrone, Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway and Paul Felder, among others, but lost each of those bouts and seemed destined to a similar fate when matched against former interim champ Tony Ferguson in the co-main event at UFC 256 last December in Las Vegas.

    But whaddya know? After all those disappointments, a script flip was in order.

    Oliveira won nearly every second of his 15 minutes against the then-third-ranked contender, taking a four-point margin on all three scorecards and cementing his status as a player in the lightweight division.

    The retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov left a vacancy at the top of the ladder, and the chaos prompted by other results in the weight class made it logical that Oliveira get his first title shot.

    Michael Chandler became his equally logical counterpart thanks to a dominant performance in his UFC debut, taking out rugged Dan Hooker in exactly half a round after the promotion signed him amid much hoopla following a prolonged run of success in the Bellator organization.

    "Oliveira just came off an incredible win over Tony Ferguson and looked completely dominant against a guy many people thought should have fought Khabib and was the best match up for Khabib," UFC President Dana White told TSN (via MMA Mania). "Then Chandler came in here like a tornado and looked damn good in his last fight, so this fight made sense."

Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Will the real Tony Ferguson, or what's left of him, please stand up?

    Now 37 and a veteran of 13 years as a professional, he was not all that long ago considered the most dangerous threat to dominant lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

    But then came 2020, and everything changed.

    The Californian was pulverized and brutalized on the way to a fifth-round stoppage by Justin Gaethje at UFC 249 last May, and subsequently beaten again—though as much tactically as violently—across three rounds by Charles Oliveira in his most recent fight at UFC 256 in December.

    He's sought the help of Hall of Fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach at his Wild Card gym in preparation for Saturday's bout with Beneil Dariush, who's ranked ninth at lightweight and has won six in a row since last losing in 2018.

    A win, especially an impressive one, would put Ferguson back in the title mix at 155 pounds.

    A loss would prompt questions about how much longer he'll continue to fight.

    "Chasing after a guy like Khabib and then trying to get the fight and then not getting the fight and then having interim belts dangled in front of you, the game is what it is," Ferguson told Submission Radio (via MMA Fighting). "You can't get mad at the game. But how you play the game is exactly your approach. And that's what I did for this year. I completely changed my approach."

Jack Hermansson vs. Edmen Shahbazyan

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Though their circumstances aren't quite what Fergsuon's are, middleweights Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan won't be any less desperate for a victory when they meet on Saturday's main card.

    Ranked seventh at 185 pounds, the Swedish-born Hermansson arrived to the UFC in 2016 and had won seven of 10 before submitting ex-title challenger Kelvin Gastelum in less than 90 seconds in July 2020.

    His momentum was snuffed, however, by a wide decision loss to Marvin Vettori in the main event of a Fight Night show in December. Vettori parlayed that victory, and another since, into a title shot scheduled for UFC 263 in July.

    Here, Hermansson is matched with the 10th-ranked Shahbazyan, who'd won 11 straight to start his career—including three in the UFC—before a disappointing third-round TKO by Derek Brunson last August.

    It's another well-established veteran challenge for the 23-year-old, a former training partner of ex-women's champion Ronda Rousey. And Hermansson seems confident it'll be too much for Shahbazyan.

    "I see myself as a guy who's going to give him at least as much problem in every area of the game," Hermansson told MMA News. "I definitely feel like I have some tools that are going to be tough for him to handle."

Other Attractions: End of the Jacare Line?

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    Chad Matthew Carlson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

    It's about time to fish or cut bait on Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.

    Now 41 years old, the prolific veteran of Strikeforce and UFC has plummeted to stepping-stone status since signing an eight-fight deal with the octagonal promotion four years ago.

    The Brazilian was stopped by Robert Whittaker in the first fight of the pact in April 2017 and has since lost four of six—including three straight—heading into Saturday's prelim card feature with Andre Muniz.

    The most recent setback came five months ago in Las Vegas, when Souza was stunned by a blow from a grounded Kevin Holland and stopped by a follow-up barrage less than two minutes into the first round.

    He's no longer ranked among the top 15 at 185 pounds and faces a rising youngster in Muniz, who's a late bloomer at 31 but has won two straight mid-card appearances on Fight Night shows after successful runs on Dana White's Contender Series in 2018 and 2019.

    In fact, he's lost just one of his last 14 bouts—in 2016—after turning pro in 2009 and going 6-3 through his initial nine. And in order to secure his own spot in the rankings at 185, he'll need to add Souza to his list.

    "He has heavy hands, a very good game against the fence, and excellent jiu-jitsu. But I have no choice," Muniz told MMA Junkie. "I have to go through difficult opponents like him so I can reach higher goals. Everyone has holes in their game. 'Jacare' is no different, and neither am I."

Best of the Rest

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Shane Burgos vs. Edson Barboza

    Wedged in between the high-profile fights on the main card and the aforementioned litmus test in the preliminary feature bout is an intriguing battle between a pair of featherweight striking machines.

    Shane Burgos is coming off a decision loss to Josh Emmett last June combined for 545 strike attempts and 256 significant strike connects in just 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Edson Barboza, now 35, had lost three in a row and five of six before waking up the echoes with a defeat of Makwan Amirkhani in October.

    We can't guarantee who'll win the main-card opener, but it sure ought to be fun finding out.

             

    Andrea Lee vs. Antonina Shevchenko

    One day, Valentina Shevchenko is wreaking havoc at the top of the women's flyweight division; the next, she's helping older sister Antonina hone her world-class game as well.

    The fighting sisters will join forces in Houston when the 12th-ranked elder sibling meets Andrea Lee, who currently resides one spot ahead of her at No. 11.

    Shevchenko is 9-2 as a pro and 2-2 in the UFC, most recently appearing at UFC 255 in November for a second-round TKO of Ariane Lipski. Lee, 32, was 8-2 before arriving to the UFC and has split six fights in the octagonal rankings, winning the first three and losing the last three.

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