UFC - Fight Night - Dern v YanOct 2
Four reasons you can't afford to miss UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt this weekend on BT Sport
Surging bantamweight contender Rob Font aims to take the biggest scalp of his career as he faces former 135lb king Cody Garbrandt in the main event.
After the madness of last weekend's thrilling fight card at UFC 262, we're back in the familiar surroundings of the UFC APEX in Las Vegas for an intriguing bill of fights topped by a bantamweight sizzler between Rob Font and Cody Garbrandt.
Read on to find out the main storylines heading into Saturday's showdown.
Time to wake up the bantamweight division
A grey cloud of misfortune appears to have descended upon the upper echelons of the UFC’s bantamweight division in recent times.
First we had news that champion Aljamain Sterling would require neck surgery likely to keep him out of action for the majority of 2021 – an outcome that leaves Petr Yan also stuck in purgatory while he awaits a rematch to claim back the belt he lost by disqualification.
Then, TJ Dillashaw’s long-awaited comeback was thwarted by a nasty cut sustained during one of the final spars of his camp in preparation to face fellow top contender Corey Sandhagen.
It now falls upon Font and Garbrandt to breathe some life back into the bantamweight scene as the pair prepare to trade leather on Saturday night.
At 33, Font finally appears to have found his groove in the UFC riding his best run of form since joining the promotion.
A three-fight win streak, including a sensational first-round stoppage win over former title challenger Marlon Moraes last time out, has seen the New England man soar to third in the rankings and the cusp of the title conversation.
In Garbrandt, he faces a former champion of the division seeking to claim what would be the biggest win of his career, solidifying his credentials as a bonafide 135lb threat.
The returning Garbrandt has not enjoyed the resurgence he had hoped would come about as a result of his viral walk-off KO of Raphael Assuncao last year.
Instead, “No Love” has been sidelined for the majority of the last 12 months battling the long-term effects of contracting Covid-19.
Now finally fit, healthy and ready to return to the Octagon, the 29-year-old powerhouse will be determined to make up for lost time with another sensational finish.
Will it be all smiles for The Joker?
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Jack Hermansson, who saw a potential UFC title shot go up in smoke after coming up short during a thrilling war against Marvin Vettori in December.
Vettori was the third replacement in a dizzying revolving door of opponents Hermansson had agreed to face late last year with Darren Till and then Kevin Holland being forced to withdraw.
An unexpected defeat was the worst case scenario for the Swedish-born Norwegian athlete, who went from the cusp of being able to call for a middleweight championship shot to seventh in the 185lb rankings.
Watching on as Vettori secured exactly that path must have felt like salt in the wounds – but the 32-year-old has the chance to remind fans of the talent that saw him go 5-1 in thrilling, dominant fashion prior to fighting ‘The Italian Dream’ late last year.
He takes on young contender Edmen Shahbazyan – himself looking to rebuild after being stopped by Derek Brunson last summer – with a chance to creep up the rankings once again.
This fight had originally been pencilled in to feature on last weekend’s UFC 262 main card but was postponed at the last minute due to a Covid scare in one of the fighters’ camps.
Crosshairs on Thug Rose?
This weekend’s co-main event sees two of the strawweight division’s top contenders face off for a potential shot at the newly-(re)crowned queen Rose Namajunas as Yan Xiaonan takes on Carla Esparza.
China’s Xiaonan has been on quite a tear since joining the UFC back in 2017, quietly piecing together an impressive six-fight win streak to move through the strawweight rankings.
With victories over some notable names, including Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha, the 31-year-old will be hoping to embellish her record further by adding former champion Esparza’s name to her ledger.
Esparza, the UFC’s first ever strawweight champion, has endured her share of struggles since losing the belt five years ago.
But the veteran campaigner now looks to be back to her best form, on a four-fight tear that leaves her on the brink of a title shot in what would be a must-see rematch against ‘Thug Rose’.
Esparza defeated Namajunas for the inaugural title back in 2014 and there’s no doubt the incumbent champion would welcome the chance to scratch that loss from her record.
Former featherweight contender Felicia Spencer returns to action for the first time following her gutsy five-round world title challenge against Amanda Nunes.
The Canadian star has now gone the distance with Nunes and Cris Cyborg in a career that is otherwise unblemished and will be hoping to demonstrate the lessons learned from her most recent encounter with greatness.
She faces a late replacement in Norma Dumont who steps in to replace the injured Danyelle Wolf.
Dumont has endured her share of frustration in recent times with an April fight date twice being cancelled.
The 30-year-old defeated Ashlee Evans-Smith last time out and will hope she can produce another impressive performance that moves her towards the top of the 145lb rankings.
Watch Fight Night - Font v Garbrandt from 10pm on Saturday 22 May, live on BT Sport 1 HD.