Dubai: The UFC’s Apex Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, traditionally the home for the ‘Dana White Contender Series’, throws open its door for its first full UFC fight card on Saturday, with the headline act being a career-defining welterweight clash between former champion Tyron Woodley and the rapidly emerging Gilbert Burns.
The state-of-the-art facility will also host a heavyweight matchup between Brazil’s Augusto Sakai (14 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw) and Bulgaria’s Blagoy Ivanov (18-3) and a clash of “Contender Series” veterans in Roosevelt Roberts and Brok Weaver.
The contender series helps groom fighters for the UFC and help them secure a fully-fledged UFC contract.
Having successfully stage a series of three events in eight days at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, the UFC returns to home an begins a normal schedule of planned weekly events.
The 11-fight card, which features five on the main card with No 3 ranked Woodley making his return to the Octagon for the first fight since losing the title to Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, a contest in which he was completely dominated for five straight rounds.
It was only the second appearance Woodley made during a two-year spell that saw him grappling with a different opponent — depression, that also made him consider retirement.
Now 15 months later, Woodley is finally ready to return to action and while he’s certainly fired up and ready to fight again, it wasn’t an easy road travelled to get here.
“The switch didn’t switch instantly. It took months,” Woodley said about his comeback during the UFC on ESPN 9 media day on Thursday.
“I went into a state of depression for a while. I really wasn’t talking to a lot of people. I was eating terrible. I wasn’t training.
“I felt like all my competition that I had before Kamaru Usman, I felt like that was the stiffest competition. I felt like all the great welterweights I had beaten before then were going to be my toughest competition.
“I didn’t take anyone lightly. I didn’t think it was going to be on cruise control at that point but I felt that I had that five rounds mapped out so well,” he added.
“I feel like my game plan, my strategy, my studying, my coaches, my team, I felt like I had everything in a position to win so I really had to deal with that and it took longer than any other fight in my career.”
Meanwhile, Gilbert Burns who enters the biggest fight of his young career, said he is excited to accept Woodley’s challenge of heading into deep waters.
“I love it. I can’t wait to bring him into deep waters,” a mask-free Burns said during the UFC Vegas virtual media day
“I’ve trained my whole life for that since the jiu-jitsu and now UFC. I can’t wait. Let’s go. Let’s see who’s gonna drop first.”
“It means a lot. It’s a huge opportunity to face a former champ right after his first loss. He just lost the belt, and I’m here.
“I’m just putting in the work and I’m gonna give it everything I have to earn that shot [and] beat Tyron Woodley.”
Burns, who took advice from the Woodley’s conqueror, Kamaru Usman, feels that the longer the fight goes, the bigger the advantage
Before that, however, fight fans watching around the world can chew on some heavyweight action between Russian sambo ace Blagoy Ivanov and knockout artist Augusto Sakai.
How to watch UFC Fight Nights on ESPN+
WOODLEY vs BURNS telecast live on UFC Arabia from 2am Sunday (UAE time) with the preliminaries, followed by the main card at 5am.
Main Card (5am UAE, Sunday)
Welterweight: Tyron Woodley vs Gilbert Burns
Heavyweight: Blagoy Ivanov vs Augusto Sakai
Welterweight: Gabriel Green vs Daniel Rodriguez
Lightweight: Roosevelt Roberts vs Brok Weaver
Strawweight: Mackenzie Dern vs Hannah Cifers
Preliminaries (2am UAE, Sunday)
Flyweight: Katlyn Chookagian vs Antonina Shevchenko
Catchweight (150 pounds): Billy Quarantillo vs Spike Carlyle
Light Heavyweight: Jamahal Hill vs Klidson Abreu
Flyweight: Tim Elliott vs Brandon Royval
Bantamweight: Louis Smolka vs Casey Kenney
Featherweight: Chris Gutierrez vs Vince Morales