The Octagon comes to Raleigh: A preview of UFC Fight Night

Heavyweight Curtis Blaydes, pictured at UFC 225, will face Junior Dos Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night 166 on Saturday in Raleigh. (Jim Young / AP Photo)

The UFC makes its first appearance in Raleigh on Saturday night when PNC Arena hosts UFC Fight Night 166.

It will be the sixth time the Octagon has come to North Carolina. Charlotte has hosted four UFC events, including the third ever UFC card in 1994. Most recently, Wilmington’s Derek Brunson fought in the main event of a UFC on Fox event in Charlotte on Jan. 27, 2018.

Fayetteville also hosted a special Fight for the Troops event in December 2008.

The Raleigh card will be televised on ESPN+ and is headlined by the main event pitting the Nos. 3 and 4 heavyweights in a bout that could lead to a title shot for the winner.

No. 3 Curtis Blaydes, 12-2 with nine knockouts, faces No. 4 Junior Dos Santos, 21-6 with 15 knockouts. Dos Santos is a former UFC Heavyweight champion, holding the title from June 2011 to December 2012. He’s looking to get back into position to fight for the belt again.

Dos Santos will be five days shy of his 36th birthday when he fights on Saturday and is coming off a TKO loss to current No. 2 Francis Ngannou last June. Prior to that, he’d won three straight. Blaydes has won two in a row since also losing by TKO at the hands of Ngannou in November 2018.

The 28-year-old Blaydes, a former junior college national champion in wrestling and Division I wrestler at Northern Illinois, will look to take Dos Santos down and control the fight on the mat. Dos Santos would prefer to keep the fight standing up and look for a knockout, but, as a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, he can more than hold his own if the fight goes to ground.

The co-main event features another former UFC champion. Rafael dos Anjos, now ranked No. 5 at welterweight, held the UFC Lightweight title from March 2015 to July 2016. The 35-year-old dos Anjos is 29-12 with five knockouts and 10 submissions. He’ll face 32-year-old unranked welterweight Michael Chiesa, who is 16-4 with 11 submissions.

Dos Anjos is a third-degree black belt in BJJ and considered one of the best ground practitioners in the sport. He has lost three of his last four, however, and is just 4-3 since moving to welterweight.

Chiesa won The Ultimate Fighter, a televised reality show offering the winner a six-figure UFC contract, in 2012. He is 2-0 since moving from lightweight to welterweight in late 2018.

There are three other fights on the main card.

The No. 10 flyweight in the UFC, Jordan Espinosa, faces No. 11 Alex Perez.

Espinosa earned a UFC contract after winning on the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender series in July 2018. Since then, he’s 1-1 in the UFC and 14-6 for his career. Perez is 22-5 with nine wins in his last 10 fights.

Hannah Cifers of Oxford will fight in her home state for the first time since September 2018. She’s fought in North Carolina five times as a pro, all before joining the UFC, going 4-1 with three knockouts. Overall, she’s 10-3, including 2-1 as a UFC fighter. She’ll face Angela Hill, a former Ultimate Fighter contestant who is 10-7 as a pro, in a women’s strawweight match.

The final main card bout features light heavyweight Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill, who will be making his UFC debut after earning a contract with a win on the Dana White Contenders series. He’s 6-0 as a pro with three knockouts.

Hill will face Darko Stosic, who is 13-3 but coming off of back-to-back losses.

There are seven matches on the undercard, including two involving ranked fighters.

Sara McMann, once the only female wrestler in North Carolina high schools when she suited up at age 14 for Marion’s McDowell High School, has since won an Olympic silver medal and fought Ronda Rousey for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title. She’s the No. 10 ranked bantamweight and will face No. 11 Lina Lansberg.

Arnold Allen, currently the No. 15 featherweight, faces veteran Nik Lentz. Allen is 15-1 and has won eight straight, while the 35-year-old Lentz has won just three of his last six.

Allen was initially scheduled to meet No. 10 Josh Emmett, but Emmett pulled out of the fight on Jan. 8 due to an undisclosed injury. Lentz, who was already training to face Nad Narimani in Raleigh, filled in after Narimani also went down with an injury a week later.

Tony Gravely, who won the Southern Conference title as a wrestler at Appalachian State, will make his UFC debut on the preliminary card. He earned a contract with a win on the Dana White Contender Series. Gravely faces 15-2 Brett Johns, a veteran of five UFC fights.