UFC 292 takes over the TD Garden in Boston on Saturday with a pair of title fights. UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling vs. Sean O’Malley headlines the card with women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili vs. Amanda Lemos in the co-main event. But do not let gold blind you from the other nuggets on the card.
Former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman returns two years after suffering a gruesome leg break, Ian Machado Garry continues his ascent up the welterweight ladder and the violent Marlon Vera is back in action. There is a fair bit to sink your teeth into before fighters rocking gold trim make the walk.
Let’s put the magnifying glass to three fights that deserve your attention beyond Saturday’s championship doubleheader.
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Chris Weidman vs. Brad Tavares
Weidman returns to active competition for the first time since snapping his leg against Uriah Hall’s shin 28 months ago. It’s been a long and difficult road to recovery for the former UFC middleweight champion. Tavares is litmus test to gauge if Weidman can still compete for spots in the official UFC middleweight rankings. There will be a mix of trepidation and relief to see Weidman back where he belongs. Weidman is a competitor and won’t settle for anything less than a win, but a compotent performance win or lose is worth celebrating after such a horrifying injury.
Ian Machado Garry vs. Neil Magny
Garry was originally set to fight Geoff Neal on Saturday night. It was a juicy offering between two fighters who pack a punch. Unfortunately, Neal suffered an injury and Magny slid in to save the day. Magny’s style is nowhere as conducive to an exciting fight, but he is an important measuring stick in the welterweight division. Garry has qualities that have him pegged as a potential future champion, but Magny has long been the gatekeeper between the great and elite at welterweight. There is statistically no welterweight with more Octagon reps than Magny. A win for Garry would be a huge feather in his cap.
Marlon Vera vs. Pedro Munhoz
“Chito” Vera has established himself as a hardcore fan favorite by delivering devastating knockouts to some of UFC’s most celebrated legends. His appetite for violence can be expressed in many ways. Vera boasts eight knockouts and eight submissions on his record. Cory Sandhagen rendered Vera’s offense obsolete in his last fight, “Chito” wants to make up for it. Munhoz is on the tail end of his career but a win over Chris Gutiérrez showed a commendable combination of experience, power, and grappling skills. You need to be a complete fighter if you’re going to beat Munhoz. Vera will enter as the betting favorite in pursuit of another stoppage against the old guard.
Honorable mentions: Andre Petroski vs. Gerald Meerschaert, Karine Silva vs. Maryna Moroz, Gregory Rodrigues vs. Denis Tiuliulin