UFC celebrates its 30-year anniversary at Madison Square Garden in New York City this weekend. A pair of title fights — Jiri Prochazka vs. Alex Pereira and Sergei Pavlovich vs. Tom Aspinall — top the marquee, but they aren’t the only fights worth watching.
There is no denying that UFC 295 took a hit losing Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic. It’s a fight that came a few years late but still paired the UFC’s greatest light heavyweight and heavyweight champions in a dream matchup. Prochazka and Pereira instead fight for the vacant light heavyweight title in the main event with Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall’s interim heavyweight title fight sliding in on short notice.
A card celebrating three decades of UFC lacks serious glamor in the lead-up, but there are certainly quality fighters on the card capable of producing magic. Take a look below at three non-title fights that deserve closer inspection at UFC 295.
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Mackenzie Dern vs. Jessica Andrade
Dern vs. Andrade is solid matchmaking. Dern is one of the most accomplished women in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has had to learn on the job. She’s spent most of her MMA career in the UFC and has mostly beaten everyone she’s faced except for potential title challengers. A dominant Fight of the Night win over Angela Hill was promising, but the window is closing on Dern being an elite threat. She faces a former UFC women’s strawweight champion on a career-worse skid. Andrade makes her fifth UFC appearance of 2023, going 1-3 and being stopped in each loss. Someone should advise Andrade to slow it down but at least Dern is a step down from Erin Blanchfield, Yan Xiaonan and Tatiana Suarez. Dern is not a significant takedown threat and gets hit more than she lands. On paper, Andrade show pummel Dern, but Andrade is a wounded animal right now and there may be no better time for Dern to pounce.
Matt Frevola vs. Benoit Saint-Denis
Frevola vs. Saint-Denis is the most violent thing south of Pereira vs. Prochazka. New York’s finest Frevola looks reborn in the aftermath of losses to Terrance McKinney and Arman Tsarukyan. Frevola has rattled off three consecutive knockouts, most impressively stopping Drew Dober. Opposing Frevola on Saturday is Saint-Denis. The French fighter is four-for-four since dropping to lightweight with a quartet of UFC stoppages. Saint-Denis threw caution to the wind against the likes of Thiago Moises and Ismael Bonfim and came out on top. Frevola vs. Saint-Denis will be a blast for as long as their chins can last.
Diego Lopes vs. Pat Sabatini
Lopes might just be UFC’s most pleasant surprise of 2023. Lopes shined in a daunting spot, facing featherweight contender Movsar Evloev in a short-notice UFC debut. Evloev, who was originally preparing for Bryce Mitchell, struggled with the debutant despite being ranked No. 10 in the UFC’s official featherweight rankings. Lopes presents a dangerously dynamic grappling game and nearly submitted Evloev in a losing bid. His potential was fully showcased in a subsequent fight with Gavin Tucker. Lopes — with proper preparation and a more reasonable challenge — submitted Gavin Tucker at 1:38 of Round 1. The quality of his grappling will be properly tested against a fellow submission specialist. Sabatini is 5-1 in the UFC and wields 11 submissions in 18 wins. This should be a fun one between two fighters constantly looking for a finish.
Honorarble mention: Steve Erceg vs. Alessandro Costa