The Octagon returns to Charlotte on Saturday for the first time since January 2018. The UFC makes its fifth appearance in the city with the nationally broadcast UFC on ABC 4: Rozenstruik vs. Almeida.
Charlotte was one of the first cities to embrace the UFC, hosting two of the first five Ultimate Fighting Championships — UFC 3 in 1994 and UFC 5 in 1995. Future UFC Hall of Famers Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn were among the fighters to record wins at those two early events.
After 15 years, the UFC returned to the city with a card headed by Kenny Florian’s submission victory over Takanori Gomi. Well-known UFC fighters Roy Nelson, Gleison Tibau, Ross Pearson and Yushin Okami also recorded wins at that 2010 event. The UFC made its first appearance at the Spectrum Center, site of Saturday’s event, in 2018, where fight legend Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza knocked out North Carolina fighter Derek Brunson in the first round. That card also featured three women’s fights, the first time the UFC had held women’s bouts in Charlotte.
Only 11 U.S. cities (Las Vegas, Anaheim, Atlantic City, Newark, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Sacramento, Boston, New York and Dallas) and only 18 cities around the world (Rio, Sao Paulo, Montreal, Toronto, London, Abu Dhabi, Stockholm) have hosted the UFC more than the Queen City.
Saturday’s fights will help sort out the title challenger picture at the UFC’s two heaviest weight classes. Two ranked heavyweights square off in the main event, with No. 9 Jairzinho Rozenstruik facing No. 12 Jailton Almeida.
Rozenstruik is the first native of Suriname to fight in the UFC and has a record of 13-4 with 12 knockouts, including nine in the first round. He also went 76-8-1 with 64 knockouts as a professional kickboxer before moving to MMA. He holds knockout wins over former champions Junior Dos Santos, Andre Arlovski and Alistair Overeem. The 34-year-old has lost two of his last three fights, but he got back on the winning track last time out with a 23-second knockout win that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.
“I’ll say to the top five (heavyweight) fighters, don’t get too comfortable,” Rozenstruik said after his quick win in December.
Almeida, a 31-year-old Brazilian fighter, is 18-2 with seven knockouts and 11 submission wins. He’s on a 13-fight winning streak dating back to January 2018 and has not lost since joining the UFC. His last two outings have earned him Performance of the Night bonuses.
The featured bout pits No. 5 light heavyweight Anthony Smith against No. 7 Johnny Walker.
The 34-year-old Smith is 36-17, with 20 knockouts and 14 submissions. By finishing 10 of his 11 UFC wins early, Smith has the seventh-highest finish rate in UFC history. Walker, a Brazilian fighter now based in Ireland, is 20-7 with 16 knockouts and three submissions. He has 17 first-round stoppages, including his last two fights. He has four Performance of the Night bonuses in his six UFC wins.
Smith and Walker were originally planned as the main event for Charlotte, but the heavyweight bout was moved into that spot, with the light heavyweights taking the supporting role.
The ABC fights will also include several other compelling matchups. Unbeaten Irish welterweight Ian Machado Garry (11-0, 6 knockouts 1 submission) faces veteran Daniel Rodriguez (17-3, 8 knockouts, 4 submissions), who is 12 years older than the prospect.
Tim Means, the 39-year-old welterweight who has survived a shooting, morphine and meth addictions, and a three-year prison stint for assault during his 19-year MMA career, will put his 32-14 (19 knockouts, 5 submissions) record on the line against 32-year-old Alex Morono (22-8, 6 knockouts, 6 submissions).
Before the UFC takes over on ABC, eight preliminary fights, starting at 11:30 a.m., will air on ESPN and ESPN+.
Matt Brown, a 42-year-old welterweight, attempts to live up to his nickname, “The Immortal,” when he faces former winner of Season 11 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, Court McKee. Brown hasn’t fought in 14 months, but he’s earned performance bonuses his last two times out and is 23-19 with 15 knockouts and six taps. The 38-year-old McKee is 21-11 with five knockouts and five submissions.
A second “Ultimate Fighter” winner will also be in action as Season 29 winner Bryan Battle faces Gabriel Green. Battle fights out of nearby Matthews, North Carolina, and is 8-2 (2 KOs, 4 taps). Green is 11-4 (4 KOs, 6 submissions).
In a light heavyweight fight sure to inspire an emotional reaction from the crowd, Ihor Potieria, fighting out of Kyiv, Ukraine, (19-3, 9 KOs, 8 submissions) will take on New Zealand fighter Carlos Ulberg (7-1, 5 KOs).
Heavyweight Chase Sherman (16-11, 15 KOs) tries to snap a stretch of five losses in six fights against Karl Williams (8-1, 3 KOs).
Bantamweight Cody Stamann (21-5-1, 7 KOs, 2 submissions) faces Douglas Silva De Andrade (28-5, 20 KOs, 2 submissions).
Brazilian women’s bantamweight Tainara Lisboa (5-2, 3 KOs, 2 submissions) makes her UFC debut against 35-year-old veteran Jessica-Rose Clark (11-8, 3 KOs, 2 submissions).
Korean women’s flyweight Ji Yeon Kim (9-6-2, 2 KOs, 3 submissions) tries to snap a four-fight losing streak against Germany’s Mandy Bohm (7-2, 2 KOs, 2 submissions), who has lost her first two fights in the UFC.
Israel’s Natan Levy (8-1, 3 submissions) fights Pete Rodriguez (5-1, 5 KOs) in a lightweight showdown.