Weekend Warrior: High Stakes As UFC Visits The Heartland

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Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC [Getty Images]

Fireworks aplenty are expected when former World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje meets James Vick in the UFC Fight Night 135 main event on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. The winner figures to take a significant step forward in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division.

After an 18-0 start to his career, Gaethje has suffered consecutive defeats to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. The 29-year-old Safford, Arizona, native established himself as something of a cult hero during his run in the WSOF, where his breakneck style and relentless aggression made him an organizational pillar. Gaethje has delivered 15 of his 18 career victories by knockout or technical knockout, six of them inside one round.

Vick, 31, has rattled off four straight wins since his June 2016 knockout loss to Beneil Dariush. The Team Lloyd Irvin representative last competed at UFC Fight Night 126 on Feb. 18, when he took a three-round unanimous decision from Francisco Trinaldo. Vick, who owns a 9-1 record in the UFC, was a semifinalist on Season 15 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

Meanwhile, Michael Johnson will lock horns with Andre Fili in the three-round co-headliner at 145 pounds. The two featherweights find themselves heading in opposite directions, with Johnson reeling from a three-fight losing streak and Fili entering the cage on the strength of back-to-back victories.

UFC Fight Night “Gaethje vs. Vick” — which airs live on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT — also features a women’s strawweight clash pairing Cortney Casey-Sanchez with Angela Hill, a welterweight affair pitting Jake Ellenberger against Bryan Barberena, a flyweight duel matching John Moraga with Deiveson Figueiredo and a middleweight battle slotting Eryk Anders opposite Tim Williams.

Fox Sports 2 will carry a portion of the undercard at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT: James Krause vs. Warlley Alves, Iuri Alcantara vs. Cory Sandhagen, Andrew Sanchez vs. Markus Perez and Mickey Gall vs. George Sullivan. The remaining prelims will stream to UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT, as Joanne Calderwood meets Kalindra Faria, Drew Dober confronts Jon Tuck and Rani Yahya faces Luke Sanders.

Looking ahead, the Professional Fighters League will stage its final regular-season event on Aug. 30 at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The undercard will stream to the PFL’s Facebook page, with the main card airing live on the NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET.

Light heavyweights will be front and center, as Smealinho Rama dukes it out with Jamie Abdallah in the headliner. A former WSOF champion, Rama has not posted a win in nearly two years, courtesy of consecutive losses to Brandon Halsey and Ronny Markes. Abdallah, 27, has lost three fights in a row.

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