UFC Fight Night 217 is set to kick off the 2023 MMA season with a suddenly-upgraded main event, a career-threatening showdown between featherweight gatekeepers, and a potential title eliminator at women’s bantamweight. We’re just days away from the first card of the year, and the Fighting Corner is ready to tell you everything you need to know before UFC Fight Night 217.
Where it is happening
UFC Fight Night 217 is scheduled for action on Saturday, January 14, 7:00 PM EST. The event will be taking place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV.
The card will air to existing ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass subscribers.
Who is on the main card
|Light Heavyweight||Sean Strickland||vs.||Nassourdine Imavov|
|Featherweight||Dan Ige||vs.||Damon Jackson|
|Middleweight||Punahele Soriano||vs.||Roman Kopylov|
|Women’s Bantamweight||Ketlen Vieira||vs.||Raquel Pennington|
|Bantamweight||Umar Nurmagomedov||vs.||Raoni Barcelos|
La bataille fantastique
Nassourdine Imavov knew coming into this fight that he was stepping up his game for a run at the middleweight elite, but things changed when Kevin Gastelum suffered a gruesome mouth injury. So out goes Gastelum and in comes Sean Strickland, 2020’s Comeback Fighter of the Year and the current conductor of a two-fight losing streak. Strickland lost two high-profile fights to future champ Alex Pereira and contender Jared Cannonier in decisive fashion, but those losses are forgivable. He’ll be in real trouble if Imavov beats him here, even if the outcome won’t affect the rankings with the fight happening at light heavyweight.
Strickland is a huge upgrade in class, but he’s stepping in late just three weeks after the loss to Cannonier. His style isn’t for everyone, but it’s up to Imavov to not just win, but look good doing it. Strickland has clearly peaked; Imavov is just getting started. It is a fascinating challenge for the Frenchman, so we can only hope he can do so in spite of Strickland’s boring style.
Last Chance, Only Chance
A few years ago, Dan “50K” Ige was riding high on a five fight win streak and was a shoe-in for a title shot. Things started to fall apart for Ige after a loss to Calvin Kattar, and he’s been in a tail spin ever since. Ige starts his 2023 with a tough assignment facing off against Damon Jackson, winner of his last four fights. Oddsmakers have Ige as the slightest of favorites due to his experience against top opposition, but that doesn’t say much when you’re constantly losing to them.
The 34-year-old Jackson is no giant killer, but he’s a terrible match up for Ige. Though Ige has a perceived advantage in striking, he’s been taken down 12 times across his last three fights. Jackson is a strong grappler who is going to get Ige on the ground at some point during the fight. Ige’s never been stopped or submitted, but he’s clearly out of gas. Whether or not he has enough left for Jackson, himself trying to get a meaningful fight, is yet to be seen.
Soriano and Kopylov seeking consistency
Middleweights Punahele Soriano and Roman Kopylov were undefeated going into the UFC, but got acclimated to their new surroundings rather quickly. Both fighters have suffered two losses in their last three fights and need to put it together if they intend to make waves in the division. If anything, Soriano seems to have the better tools going into a close fight.
With both men being as inconsistent as the other, it’s still anyone’s fight. Kopylov is tough and has a physically draining style, but Soriano is the heavier striker with a solid enough grappling game to make Kopylov fight his fight.
Ketlen Vieira faces another veteran standout
Vieira vs. Pennington is the toughest fight to call on the card. Both fighters are technically gifted and resourceful, but Vieira’s size and offense should carry the day. A win over Pennington, who holds several divisional records, will follow wins over future Hall of Famers Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. It would more so be the boost she needs to land a fight with champ Amanda Nunes at some point this year.
Pennington is on the cusp of a rematch with Nunes as well. With such a long career, a win over Vieira should be enough to earn potentially the last shot of glory and a chance to avenge her stoppage loss to Nunes in 2018.
Umar Nurmagomedov aims for huge 2023
Umar Nurmagomedov is a practical lock to win against Raoni Barcelos. Once he handles his business with a win, he should crack into the top-ten at bantamweight. It won’t be long for Nurmagomedov to make the most of his ascension, especially as the majority of the division will be thinning itself out in the coming months. Marlon Vera fights Cory Sandhagen next month, and Rob Font is set to fight Adrian Yanez this spring. That leaves a truly fascinating fight with the dangerous Merab Dvalishvili, which is one of the best fights that could be made at bantamweight.