UFC Fight Night viewers guide

The UFC makes its third trip to Russian soil this weekend and everything is lined up for another breakout performance by featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov. But Calvin Kattar isn’t really in favor of that plan.

Ever since Magomedsharipov (17-1) signed with the UFC in 2017, he’s been on a rocket ship to stardom. The Russian contender, No. 5 in ESPN’s rankings at 145 pounds, is primed to make another leap in the rankings Saturday when he faces Kattar (20-3) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Moscow. The event airs on ESPN+, with the main card getting underway at 2 p.m. ET and the prelims at 11 a.m.

The UFC’s return to Russia features a main event with two featherweights looking to get into title contention and a co-main event that should be filled with heavy hits. Zabit Magomedsharipov (17-1) and Calvin Kattar (20-3) will close the show in Moscow, and Greg Hardy will face by far his toughest test in veteran Alexander Volkov (30-7).

UFC Fight Night: Zabit vs. Kattar
• Saturday, Moscow
Prelims: ESPN+, 11 a.m. ET
Main card: ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET

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The fight was originally supposed to happen last month in Boston — near Kattar’s hometown — but was moved to Moscow after Magomedsharipov came down with a staph infection. Kattar has been a good sport about the change in location, even if it did cost him a chance to fight in his backyard. Preserving the highly ranked Magomedsharipov as an opponent was his top priority.

Magomedsharipov, 28, who trains in New Jersey alongside such names as Frankie Edgar and Marlon Moraes, has more or less breezed through his UFC competition to date. He attended a martial arts academy from a young age in Dagestan and has been pegged as a potential future champion since his UFC debut.

Kattar’s path to this weekend has come under less fanfare. He also signed with the promotion in 2017 but not as a high-profile prospect. He came in as a late replacement for a fight against Andre Fili. Kattar was a betting underdog in his first two UFC appearances, but he has earned attention as a possible title contender with a 4-1 record in the Octagon.

Saturday will showcase a Russian prospect turned title contender, who thus far has exceeded even the high expectations on him, against a blue-collar fighter from Massachusetts, whose rise into 145-pound title contention has been far less expected. And the fact Kattar had to ultimately agree to go from his own backyard to his opponent’s adds a personal edge to it all.

ESPN Stats & Information

By the numbers

4,466: Miles from Moscow to Kattar’s hometown of Methuen, Massachusetts. This fight was originally scheduled for 30 miles from home, in Boston.

On Saturday, Hardy (5-1, 1 NC) will compete in his eighth professional fight, fifth in the UFC. Is stepping in with Volkov, who owns victories over two former UFC heavyweight champions (Fabricio Werdum, Ricco Rodriguez), a case of too much too soon? It’s certainly a sudden jump in competition. But Hardy has high aspirations, telling ESPN, “I think I could be one of … if not the greatest fight sports heavyweight of all time. Not even just MMA, just the greatest combat sports heavyweight.” So even though his pre-UFC background differs from those of many top fighters, Hardy’s lifelong pursuit of high-level sports competition opens him to comparison.

Here’s how Hardy stacks up to the top five heavyweights in the ESPN rankings at the same point in their careers:

1. Stipe Miocic. The champ’s eighth career fight was against undefeated Phil de Fries, who now reigns as KSW heavyweight champ. By that point, Miocic had already faced Joey Beltran, a tough guy with 18 professional fights at the time. Stipe’s fifth UFC fight was against Roy Nelson, and just prior to that one he took on Stefan Struve.

2. Daniel Cormier. His eighth pro fight was against Jeff Monson, a veteran of 53 bouts who five years earlier had challenged for the UFC heavyweight championship. The fifth UFC opponent for DC? Jon Jones.

3. Francis Ngannou. He faced Curtis Blaydes in his eighth pro fight. His fifth UFC bout was a first-round knockout of ex-champ Andrei Arlovski.

4. Curtis Blaydes. His eighth pro fight was against Adam Milstead, although by that time he had already faced Ngannou. The fifth UFC foe on the Blaydes resume was Aleksei Oleinik, who at the time had 66 pro bouts under his belt.

5. Junior Dos Santos. His eighth pro fight was a knockout win over future UFC champ Fabricio Werdum. That was his UFC debut. By his fifth fight in the promotion, against Gabriel Gonzaga, JDS had already shared the Octagon with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Struve.

Quick hits

Some UFC Moscow facts, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information’s Andrew Davis:

  • This third UFC fight card in Russia is the first not headlined by Aleksei Oleinik. The Russian heavyweight (57-13-1) was 1-1 in those two main events, defeating Mark Hunt last year in Moscow and losing to Alistair Overeem in April in Saint Petersburg.

  • The elder statesman on this card is 39-year-old light heavyweight Ed Herman, who is fighting in the UFC for the 23rd time. The man known as “Short Fuse” made his UFC debut in 2006 in the Season 3 middleweight final of “The Ultimate Fighter,” losing a decision to Kendall Grove. Herman is looking to secure consecutive wins for the first time since 2012, when he won three in a row.

  • Two unbeaten fighters from Russia will be putting those spotless records on the line in their UFC debuts. Former PFL fighter Shamil Gamzatov (13-0) is on the main card against Klidson Abreu. If Gamzatov wins the light heavyweight bout, he will have the third-best record among active UFC fighters, behind champions Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Israel Adesanya (18-0). The other debutant fighter is 8-0 Roman Kopylov, who faces Karl Roberson at middleweight.

  • Speaking of the name Nurmagomedov, Khabib’s cousin Abubakar makes his UFC debut on the prelims against David Zawada. Abubakar Nurmagomedov, a welterweight, fought in the 2018 PFL playoffs but failed to advance past the quarterfinals.

  • Twelve of Saturday’s 13 fights feature at least one fighter from Russia. The lone bout without a Russian is the only women’s fight on the card, in which Jessica-Rose Clark of Australia faces Swedish bantamweight Pannie Kianzad.

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