The UFC heads back to New York for Saturday’s UFC on FOX 25. While this is the promotion’s fifth trip to the Empire State in eight months, it is the UFC’s first visit to NYCB LIVE at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. Unsurprisingly, the card is packed with local fighters, including former middleweight champion and Long Island native Chris Weidman, who competes in the headlining bout opposite Kelvin Gastelum.
Weidman is under significant pressure. Not only is he fighting just a short drive from his home, but he’s also mired in the worst stretch of his career, losing his last three fights, with his two most recent setbacks happening in New York. As for Gastelum, a victory over the former champ would do wonders for his rising profile at 185 pounds.
In the co-main event, Darren Elkins, who will be up for some end-of-the-year awards thanks to his gritty come-from-behind victory over Mirsad Bektic, looks to carry the momentum from that March battle into his matchup against Dennis Bermudez.
UFC on FOX 25 airs on FOX following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.
1. Time marches on
On May 10, 2015, Robert Whittaker fought for the second time at middleweight. Thirteen days later, Weidman defended that weight division’s title for the third time, knocking out Vitor Belfort. Today, Whittaker is 7-0 at 185 pounds and the current interim champ. Weidman is 0-3 since defeating Belfort, losing each fight by knockout. The former champ has dropped to No. 8 over that time, according to the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings.
Weidman (13-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) looks to end his slide and take a few steps up the rankings against No. 13 ranked Gastelum (13-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC), who could establish himself as a top middleweight contender with a win.
Gastelum is coming off a first-round TKO victory over Belfort. That win was later ruled a no-contest after Gastelum failed a fight-day drug test for carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC,” a metabolite found in marijuana.
2. A man of will
It took Elkins 16 UFC fights before he earned his first fight-night bonus. Elkins, currently No. 13 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings, spent most of his bout against Bektic absorbing strikes — and bleeding. It looked like the best Elkins could hope for would be a one-sided decision loss, but midway through the third round Bektic provided an opening. Elkins took Bektic’s back and stopped him via head strikes as Bektic attempted to get to his feet. The TKO win, Elkins’ fourth consecutive victory, will undoubtedly be a contender for “Comeback of the Year.”
Coming off that fight, Elkins (22-5 MMA, 12-4 UFC) has never had a higher profile. He makes the first co-main event appearance of his UFC career opposite Bermudez (16-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC).
Bermudez needs a comeback of his own. A rankings honorable mention, he is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Chan Sung Jung which ended his two-fight winning streak.
3. Staying alive
Cummins has a great wrestling base but struggles with defending strikes. Those defensive deficiencies have led to each of Cummins’ (9-4 MMA, 5-4 UFC) four defeats, which have all come via TKO. Villante (15-8 MMA, 5-5 UFC) is a powerful striker with strong takedown defense, but he often fades as fights wear on, which leaves him susceptible to strikes.
Both these competitors have 2-3 records over their last five outings. A win here might be the last chance for the victor to make a run up the light heavyweight rankings.
4. Rising bantamweight stars
A crucial bantamweight contest opens the main card. In one corner, you have No. 7-ranked Jimmie Rivera, who has won 19 straight, four of which have come with the UFC. Opposite Rivera is No. 12-ranked Thomas Almeida, who saw his 21-fight winning streak come to an end last May when he was knocked out by current bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt.
Almeida (21-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC), a flashy striker, is the underdog in this matchup, a first during his six-fight run in the UFC. One reason for that might be Almeida’s loss to Garbrandt, another might be Rivera’s (20-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) ability to combine power, volume, a fast pace over three rounds and effective combinations on the counter.
Almeida hasn’t gone the distance since his UFC debut in 2014. He needs to be ready for a full three rounds from an opponent who has heard the final bell in 15 of his 21 fights.
5. Back on the accelerator
Lyman Good was 22 fights – and 10 years – into his career before getting the call from the UFC. The former Bellator welterweight champ vacated his Cage Fury welterweight belt for the opportunity to face Andrew Craig at UFC Fight Night 71. Good knocked out Craig in the second round of that contest. After some time off due to injury, Good was booked to face Belal Muhammad at UFC 205.
Good was pulled from that fight after being notified of potential anti-doping violation stemming from an out-of-competition test. A tainted supplement was the cause of Good’s failed test and he received a six-month suspension.
Now, more than two years removed from his win over Craig, Good (19-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC) looks to regain the momentum he had in 2015. Good faces Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (16-5 MMA, 1-2 UFC), who is coming of a “Fight of the Night” bonus-winning victory over Keita Nakamura.
6. Moving fast
Before LFA 6, Eryk Anders predicted he would defeat Jon Kirk and then fight for the LFA middleweight title. Those predictions came true. He TKOd Kirk in 95 seconds and then won the inaugural LFA title in June with a decision over Brendan Allen. Before that win, he said he felt a victory over Allen would get him a shot in the UFC. He was right about that, as well.
The former Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker replaces an injured Alessio Di Chirico (10-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) vs. Rafael Natal (21-8-1 MMA, 9-6-1 UFC) at UFC on FOX 25. An undrafted signee of the Cleveland Browns upon leaving college, Anders (7-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was a 2010 training camp cut by the NFL team. Anders went on to have brief stints in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League before deciding to concentrate on MMA, where he remains unbeaten as a pro.
7. Exuding confidence
Winning improves a fighter’s confidence. A knockout victory that scores a “Fight of the Night” bonus improves confidence exponentially, at least for heavyweight Chase Sherman.
Sherman stopped Rashad Coulter in the second round of a wild striking battle at UFC 211, ending a two-fight losing skid. After the win, Sherman took some shots at the rest of the division.
“I’m blessed enough to be in a division that’s not very stacked,” Sherman said. “It’s not stacked with very young, athletic guys.”
The 27-year-old Sherman (10-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) meets Damian Grabowski in Long Island. Grabowski (20-4 MMA, 0-2 UFC), a 37-year-old former M-1 heavyweight champ, has lost both of his UFC bouts by first-round knockout.
8. Young and unbeaten
The UFC Fight Pass prelims feature a pair of young featherweight fighters looking to extend unbeaten streaks. In the featured Fight Pass prelim, Jeremy Kennedy (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) looks to take his streak to 11 straight against Kyle Bochniak (7-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC). Further down the card, Shane Burgos (9-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) hopes to move into double digits in consecutive victories vs. UFC veteran Godofredo Pepey (13-4 MMA, 5-4 UFC). Bochniak and Pepey are both 1-1 in their last two outings.
9. Big man, big step
The UFC’s heavyweight division is rare in that one win can mark a fighter as a rising contender. If that fighter happens to be under 30 years of age, that tends to increase the amount of hype. Junior Albini gets his chance to start his hype train rolling against five-fight UFC veteran Timothy Johnson.
The 26-year-old Albini (13-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has won his last nine fights, but the 32-year-old Johnson (11-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC), who is coming off a split-decision win over Daniel Omielanczuk is a big step up in competition for the young Brazilian. At worst, this fight will be an indicator of what Albini needs to shore up to grow as a UFC competitor. At best, Albini adds a 12th career stoppage to his resume and becomes an instant player in the division.
10. A rematch three years in the making
The first time Frankie Perez and Chris Wade fought, Wade was the reigning Ring of Combat lightweight champion. Wade (11-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) won that contest by split decision, handing Perez (10-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) his first career defeat. Wade moved on to the UFC after that victory, opening his promotional run with a 4-0 record. He’s stumbled in his two most recent bouts, dropping decisions to Rustam Khabilov and Islam Makhachev.
Meanwhile, Perez picked up a win with WSOF before he was signed by the UFC. After a loss in his promotional debut, Perez defeated Sam Stout and abruptly retired. Perez returned in December, dropping a decision to Marc Diakiese.
To add to the rematch angle, there seems to be some lingering hard feelings between these two.