Ranking the fights at UFC 275: Can Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk deliver once again?

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We often hear fighters say that it’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out. It makes sense. Fighters train for months ahead of a bout to tune up their skills and prepare for their opponent’s tendencies. So when something unexpected comes flying in, it can be a stunner.

Fans experience a pain-free equivalent of that on fight nights, whenever expectations are upended. Fights guaranteed to be slugfests play out as Viennese waltzes. Unsung early prelims steal the spotlight. Moments that knock us out, metaphorically speaking, can come anytime in the evening, not just when the headliners take the stage.

So, what are we in for on Saturday? The marquee for UFC 275 (Saturday, 10 p.m. on ESPN+ PPV) features two title fights. One pits a solid, resilient champion against a creative force on an irresistable rise, and the other showcases perhaps the most dominant champ in mixed martial arts. And just before those showstoppers for gold is a highly anticipated rematch of the 2020 fight of the year.

Beyond that? There aren’t a lot of recognizable names in the rest of the lineup for Saturday in Singapore, making it tempting to belittle this as a three-card card. But the savvy among us know better. You can never discount the possibility that a pair of “who are they?” fighters will be the ones providing the weekend’s viral KO or breathtaking throwdown.

Here’s a ranking of the top fights at UFC 275, from the obvious to the obscure.

Three must-see fights that you’re unlikely to miss

1. Glover Teixeira vs. Jiri Prochazka

Teixeira is 42 years old, and last October he became the UFC’s oldest first-time champion. It happened for him on his second try, eight years and 15 fights after the first time he went for light heavyweight gold. In 2014, Teixeira carried a 20-fight winning streak into his big shot, but Jon Jones outclassed him. Sitting cageside in Baltimore that night, I remember thinking Teixeira had reached his ceiling. He was a tough guy who, it seemed, was simply not champion material.

That was a cruel perspective on one of the sport’s nice guys, but my opinion was buoyed by the several years of ups and downs that followed for Teixeira. Then, around three years ago, things started looking up, up and up. That Teixeira’s twisty plot line ultimately carried him to six straight wins and a late-career championship only added to the feel-good plotline of the man’s inspiring narrative.

Teixeira’s first title defense comes against the flip side of his record (he’s old enough to get that obsolete reference). Whereas the burly Brazilian is strong and skilled, with a ground game to be feared, Prochazka is wiry and fluid, a threat at every moment the fight is standing. But their contrast runs deeper than that. Teixeira is meat and potatoes, getting the job done with brawny efficiency. Prochazka is adventurously creative cuisine, his in-the-moment fury sometimes veering into recklessness. The 29-year-old Czech, competing in just his third UFC bout, could swamp Teixeira or be drowned by his own ill-advised slipup.

2. Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

I’m not going to deny that there was a strong urge to rank this one at the top, above both title bouts. After all, we’ve seen what these two women are capable of when they dance together. It’s the most violent mosh pit ever. But I’m going to violate the Thrilla in Manila Rule here and make the unsteady presumption that the sequel will not upstage the original. I mean, in their 2020 meeting, both Zhang, then the strawweight champ, and ex-champ Jedrzejczyk landed nearly 200 strikes apiece in an unrelenting back-and-forth classic won by Zhang by split decision. That’s a lot to live up to.

The appeal of this rematch has been recently ramped up significantly, though, thanks to Carla Esparza. Prior to Esparza upsetting Rose Namajunas last month to yank away the title, this fight was to be a meeting of two fighters in limbo. Both Zhang and Jedrzejczyk lost twice to Namajunas and, even with a masterful win on Saturday, would have been a hard sell as a title challenger. Now, with “Thug Rose” having been bumped off the top of the mountain, this appears to be a clear No. 1 contender showdown. That’s what boosts it above the co-main event title bout in my book. And late Saturday night we might all be shaking our heads in amazement that these women have produced another fight of the year candidate.

3. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Taila Santos

A small voice inside tells me not to bother paying attention to yet another overmatched challenger making a futile attempt to wrest the flyweight title away from Shevchenko. And when I hear that voice, I whisper back two words: “Julianna Peña.” In December, she was seen as having no chance to put up a competitive fight against Amanda Nunes, the GOAT of women’s MMA. And then there was Peña choking out the champ and walking away with the bantamweight belt.

Can Santos pull off a similarly unlikely feat? She’s 19-1, just a split decision in her 2019 UFC debut away from owning a perfect record. And Shevchenko is 34 and has to slow down at some point, right? But rather than try to convince myself that this will be the night when the explosive “Bullet” will turn into a blank, maybe I’m better off simply acknowledging that I’ll be watching simjply because I’m addicted to witnessing greatness. It was a pleasure to watch Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson and Georges St-Pierre rule their weight classes for years. A Shevchenko win would give her the most UFC title defenses of any woman, breaking a tie with Ronda Rousey. Why not watch history in the making?

Three under-the-radar fights not to lose sight of

4. Rogerio Bontorin vs. Manel Kape

Thirty-four months. That is how long ago it was that Bontorin last won a fight. Since then, he has lost three and seen what would have been a victory get overturned to no contest because of a drug test failure. But those most recent four fights have been against the steel of the 125-pound division, including a former champion. As a result, Bontorin is still in the ESPN flyweight rankings. Kape is a legitimate opponent but maybe a step down from what Bontorin has faced lately, so he’ll serve as a measuring stick for how good Bontorin is right now. The cageside judges can take a coffee break during this one, as 16 of Kape’s 17 wins have been by finish, and Bontorin has 14 finishes among his 17 wins.

5. Andre Fialho vs. Jake Matthews

This will be Fialho’s eighth fight in the 16 months since the beginning of 2021. He has won all but one of the seven so far, and every victory came by finish. The man is on a run. Can he keep it going against Matthews, who was on his own run of success not long ago? Before losing to undefeated Sean Brady in March, Matthews had won six of seven. This is a meeting of welterweights who are used to getting their hands raised and know how to make it happen.

6. Jack Della Maddalena vs. Ramazan Emeev

This is the main card opener, making the pay-per-view portion of the evening 5-for-5 in making these rankings. Della Maddalena has not lost in six years. Since dropping the first two fights of his career in 2016, the Aussie has reeled off 11 straight wins, all but one by finish. Emeev, winner of nine of his past 11 fights, should provide a stiff test — and an entertaining kickoff to the main card.

The full UFC 275 fight card:

ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET

  • Light heavyweight championship: Glover Teixeira (c) vs. Jiri Prochazka

  • Women’s flyweight championship: Valentina Shevchenko (c) vs. Taila Santos

  • Strawweight: Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

  • Men’s flyweight: Rogerio Bontorin vs. Manel Kape

  • Welterweight: Jack Della Maddalena vs. Ramazan Emeev

ESPN2/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET

ESPN+, 6:30 p.m. ET

(c) = defending champion

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