The UFC has several monster events on its schedule to close out 2021. Before the year is done, we will have seen six more title fights, as well as some blockbuster matchups such as Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, Jorge Masvidal vs. Leon Edwards, Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez and Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori, just to name a few.
Like any sports league, however, not every event can be the biggest one on the calendar, and Saturday's UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas has fallen victim to a lot of bad luck.
This card was supposed to feature former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, who looked terrific in her first fight out of retirement back in July. Unfortunately, Tate was pulled from the event after she tested positive for COVID-19. Another former champ, Holly Holm, stepped into the main event, only to fall off last week due to a knee injury.
The UFC scrambled to put together a five-round featherweight headliner between Aspen Ladd (9-1) and Norma Dumont (6-1). Obviously, the matchup doesn't carry the same name recognition as it would have with either Tate or Holm involved, but it's an important fight in women's MMA for several reasons.
For starters, consider this: 1-1 and 3-2. Those are the UFC featherweight records of the last two women who challenged for the title at 145 pounds. This division barely exists. It is, by far, the shallowest weight class in the UFC. It does not take much to earn a title shot here. Dumont is 2-1 as a UFC featherweight. Ladd is making her 145-pound debut. The winner of this main event would likely be, at most, one win away from a date with champion Amanda Nunes. That alone makes it a very relevant fight.
Another reason to watch this main event is for the potential both of these women have shown. Ladd is only 26 and already holds four wins in the UFC's bantamweight division. She has struggled to make the 135-pound weight limit -- in fact, she had a fight with Macy Chiasson canceled two weeks ago because she missed weight -- but other than that, she's shown flashes of talent that suggest championship potential. Dumont, 31, is fighting consistently for, really, the first time in her pro career, and is coming off a win over former title challenger Felicia Spencer.
This is not one of the bigger main events on the 2021 calendar, but it's a big fight in terms of the progress of these two potential title contenders, and it could greatly influence the near future of Nunes, the female GOAT. Saturday's lineup might not be at the level of a UFC 268 or UFC 269, but the stakes are certainly high for Ladd, Dumont and the featherweight division.
Saturday's fights are on ESPN+, with the main card starting at 7 p.m. ET and prelims at 4:30 p.m.
Numbers matchup: 6 vs. 2
6: Knockouts by Ladd in her nine-win career. Adding in her one submission, she has a 78% finish rate.
2: Submissions by Dumont among her six wins. All of her other wins have come by decision, putting her finish rate at 33%.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
And the winner is ...
"This [bout] is kind of a last-minute switch," said UFC featherweight Felicia Spencer, who lost a split decision to Dumont in May. "They've both been in training camp. Norma has been preparing for a tall striker in Holm. Aspen has been preparing for a striker in Chiasson, as well. Aspen has been preparing for someone like Norma more than Norma has been preparing for someone like Aspen. As far as game plan and what you've been doing to your body the last few months, it's better to be in the place Aspen is right now. Holly Holm is almost the opposite of what Aspen Ladd is, and Norma will have to contend with that."
Check out how Spencer and other experts break down the main event and predict a winner.
Saturday's full fight card
ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Women's featherweight: Aspen Ladd vs. Norma Dumont
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski vs. Carlos Felipe
Lightweight: Jim Miller vs. Erick Gonzalez
Women's flyweight: Manon Fiorot vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
Men's featherweight: Nate Landwehr vs. Ludovit Klein
ESPN+, 4:30 p.m. ET
Middleweight: Andrew Sanchez vs. Bruno Silva
Welterweight: Danny Roberts vs. Ramazan Emeev
Women's flyweight: Loopy Godinez vs. Luana Carolina
Men's bantamweight: Danaa Batgerel vs. Brandon Davis
Strawweight: Istela Nunes vs. Ariane Carnelossi
The best bet to make is ....
Norma Dumont (+120) vs. Aspen Ladd (-140)
Originally slated to fight Holly Holm in the featherweight main event, Dumont now welcomes Ladd, a bantamweight, into the division. This is a very tough matchup for Ladd, as her first fight in a new weight class, and the timing of this fight doesn't do her any favors.
Ladd's fight on Oct. 2 against Macy Chiasson was cancelled due to her missing weight. When she stepped on the scale, Ladd was shaking. And now, two week later, being asked to jump up a weight class and fight a five-round main event seems like a very tough task.
If Ladd wants to show the world she is the deserving favorite in this fight, there is only one path to victory here. She needs to put Dumont on her back as early as possible and work her ground and pound. However, based on Dumont's last performance, I do not see that happening. In her last outing, Dumont's takedown defense against the relentless Felica Spencer was excellent. She was able to out-strike Spencer, control the narrative throughout the three-round fight and get the most impressive win of her career. If she can follow the same blueprint on Saturday, I believe Dumont will walk away with her third win in a row.
Pick: Norma Dumont at +120.
-- Ian Parker, Best Bets for UFC Fight Night
How to watch the fights
Watch all of the fights on ESPN+. Download the ESPN App
Don't have ESPN+? Get it here.
There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Three more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski competes in his 36th UFC fight when he faces Carlos Felipe in the co-main event. The 36 fights put dos Santos third in UFC history, behind Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Miller is also on Saturday's card, making his UFC-record 38th appearance when he takes on the debuting lightweight Erick Gonzalez. Going into the weekend, here's the total number of UFC fights for Miller and Arlovski: 72. Total UFC appearances by the other 20 fighters on the card combined: 72.
2. France's Manon Fiorot makes her third UFC appearance when she faces Mayra Bueno Silva. Fiorot has knockouts in both of her UFC fights, and if she gets another on Saturday, she will become the fourth woman in UFC history with three consecutive knockouts, joining Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg and Maycee Barber.
3. Loopy Godinez can make UFC history when she fights for the second time in seven days. Godinez faces Luana Carolina as a late replacement for Carolina's original opponent, Sijara Eubanks. Godinez won last weekend, tapping out Silvana Gomez Juarez in the first round. The modern-era record for shortest time between wins is 10 days by Khamzat Chimaev, who achieved the feat last year.
ESPN's Jeff Wagenheim also contributed to this fight preview.