UFC APEX 7 Preview: Connecticut fighter looks to earn a second shot at gold

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This week’s UFC card might fly under the radar, but it is full of young prospects with undefeated UFC records and is topped with a No. 1 contender fight in the light heavyweight division. 

At the bottom of the card, Gustavo Lopez takes on Anthony Birchak. Former Combate Americas bantamweight champ Lopez made his UFC debut back in June on three days notice. That fight did not go his way, but it was against a quality opponent and he was drained after making an extreme weight cut in the two days before weigh-ins. Birchak makes his UFC return after going 2-2 with the promotion in 2014 and 2015. Birchak fights out of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, where he received his black belt last year, and he is riding a three-fight win streak, all by way of first-round stoppage. 

Later in the card, the undefeated Moldovan heavyweight Alexander Romanov makes a two-month turnaround for his second UFC fight. He received a call up to the UFC at the beginning of 2020 but then his first three attempted bookings were all cancelled due to COVID-19. When he finally made his debut in September, he won via an arm triangle choke in the second round. His opponent, Marcos Rogerio de Lima, has alternated wins and losses but is looking to earn back-to-back wins for the first time since 2014. De Lima is a much stronger fighter than Romanov faced in his UFC debut and should be a good test for him. 

In the main card’s opener, Yan Xiaonan meets two-time strawweight title-challenger Claudia Gadelha. In her most recent fights, Xiaonan took unanimous decisions against Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Angela Hill. Both were ranked opponents and she won decisively. With those wins she is no longer a secret in the strawweight division, but instead a contender with realistic title aspirations. Gadelha is always a force to be reckoned with in the division and currently holds the No. 4 ranking. In her most recent fight, she made a split decision against Hill, in a back-and-forth affair that saw her knocked down in the second round. Xiaonan’s size and precision has many hyped about her future. For fans that don’t know of her yet, this is a great opportunity to see her skills on display, and a win here could see her enter into the title picture. 

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Next on the main card, two middleweight prospects meet in an incredible matchup. Brendan Allen is undefeated in three UFC fights and only 24 years of age. He is the slight favorite in this fight as he looks to get his third win of the year. Across the cage, he faces Ian Heinisch, who received a ranking after two UFC fights. It was a little too fast for Heinisch as he has gone 1-2 since entering the rankings, but that win came in his most recent fight and he now sits at No. 15 in the rankings. This fight is an even matchup to decide which of the two should be in the rankings after the event. 

In the main event, two former light-heavyweight title challengers, Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira, meet to determine the top contender in the division. Both fighters have suffered title defeats against Jon Jones, though Santos notably tore the ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left leg mid-fight and still managed to win the fight on one of the judges’ scorecards. Most eyes will be on Santos this week when he returns a little over one year after this injury. Santos earned that title shot by knocking out the now champ Jan Blachowicz, and a win here would make for an intriguing rematch.  

On the other hand, Glover Teixeira has been on a tear recently, winning four straight, three of which were by finishes. Teixeira fights out of Bethel, Connecticut, where he owns his own gym. The 41-year-old is showing a “second prime” in his athletic career and he is only a slight underdog in this matchup. A win here would put Connecticut on the brink of receiving its first UFC champion. 

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