Following last weekend’s pay-per-view return to Canada, the action returns to the UFC’s base of operations in Las Vegas on Saturday with a 14-fight slate at the UFC APEX.
Headlined by former middleweight title challengers Marvin Vettori and Jared Cannonier, with lightweights Armen Tsarukyan and Joaquim Silva serving as the co-main event, this weekend’s fight card also features a bevy of relative newcomers looking to use this event as a launch pad to greater exposure and bigger opportunities down the line.
As always, we’re here to give you an introduction to three athletes set to compete on Saturday with a chance of breaking out and potentially doing big things in the future.
Christian Leroy Duncan
The former Cage Warriors middleweight champion made his promotional debut in London back in March, but unfortunately he didn’t get to show fans very much, through no fault of his own. Less than two minutes into his bout against Dusko Todorovic, the Serbian looked to turn Duncan off the fence with a body lock, and when he did, something in his knee popped, causing him to fall to the canvas and the bout to be halted.
Most anticipated the promising 27-year-old would make a quick return to action, and he turns up here in a clash with Armen Petrosyan, looking to collect a second victory in three months to kick off his UFC tenure.
Duncan is one of those fighters whose professional record belies the wealth of experience he actually brings to the Octagon. “CLD” logged an impressive 17-6 record as an amateur, competing in the IMMAF World Championships multiple times, using those bouts to polish his weapons and give himself the best opportunity to hit the ground running once he shifted gears and went pro.
And it worked.
Duncan carries an 8-0 record into Saturday’s contest with Petrosyan, having won and successfully defended the Cage Warriors title with stoppage wins over Djati Mélan and Marian Dimitrov before moving to the UFC.
In Petrosyan, he faces a second straight Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) graduate with a little more experience inside the Octagon, but similarly looking to build momentum and work forward in the middleweight division. Coming off a unanimous decision win over AJ Dobson in October and sporting a 7-2 record overall, he’s a solid sophomore test for the British hopeful.
Those that cover Cage Warriors in greater detail have forecasted big things for Duncan, and Saturday’s second appearance should be a good chance to get another read on where he fits in the division right now and how quickly he could possibly move up the ranks.
There are times when fighters enter the UFC on short notice, catch a loss, but still improve their stock, prompting keen observers to put an asterisk next to their name in order to make sure to check in whenever they make their return.
Costa is one of those fighters, and this week, he ventures into the Octagon for his first full-camp appearance in the UFC, facing off with Jimmy Flick in preliminary card action.
The 27-year-old Brazilian, who earned a victory over Andres Luna Martinetti on the first episode of Dana White’s Contender Series last season, but failed to secure a contract, stepped in for Brandon Royval (who had stepped in for Alex Perez) opposite Amir Albazi back in December. He ran close to level with the surging contender through two rounds before stepping into the pocket and getting stopped in the third round, but it was a solid showing under the circumstances and looks even better as “The Prince” continues to matriculate up the rankings.
He’d won seven straight prior to stepping in with Albazi and looks to rebound here against Flick, who ended a two-year hiatus by returning to action in January, where he suffered a first-round stoppage loss to Charles Johnson. The American finisher is a tricky opponent for anyone given his attacking style, as exhibited by his first-round flying triangle finish of Cody Durden prior to his sabbatical, and profiles as a solid second test for Costa this weekend in Las Vegas.
Costa is a quality prospect coming from a strong team at Brazilian Warriors, the outfit established by recent debutant Diego Lopes, and profiles as someone that could develop into a steady presence in the flyweight division with a strong outing this weekend.
Bukauskas is a great example of how treacherous life on the UFC roster can be and that not everyone is ready to compete at the highest level in the sport the first time around.
After registering a first-round stoppage win in his promotional debut, “The Baltic Gladiator” suffered consecutive losses to Jimmy Crute, Michal Oleksiejczuk, and Khalil Rountree, with the latter of those bouts ending when Bukauskas suffered a gruesome knee injury. Just 14 months after finishing Andreas Michailidis, he was released from the promotion, spending the next year on the sidelines, recovering from his injury and plotting his return.
Two wins in eight weeks under the Cage Warriors banner to close out last year produced a second light heavyweight title win and a call back to the Octagon, with Bukauskas venturing to Perth, Australia in February to face off with Tyson Pedro at UFC 284. Following a competitive first round, the now 29-year-old Lithuanian took control of the contest, registering a unanimous decision win to kick off his second stint on the roster on a positive note.
Now, after a well-earned respite, Bukauskas returns, paired off with TUF 30 finalist Zac Pauga in what is a critical matchup for both men this weekend.
For Bukauskas, it’s a chance to stack a second straight UFC win and move past any “bad vibes” that linger from his initial run in the Octagon, while potentially collecting a victory over a fighter that is undefeated in the weight class and barreling into the cage with something to prove. For Pauga, who fell to Mohammed Usman in the TUF 30 finale at heavyweight, it’s an opportunity to build off a victory over Jordan Wright last time out and potentially topple a two-time former Cage Warriors titleholder and push his record to 7-0 in the weight class.
There were high hopes for Bukauskas when he first touched down in the UFC, but things did’t work out. Older, wiser, and more experienced, there is a real sense that he could make a quick rise and have a major impact in the 205-pound ranks this time around.