UFC 228: Five Fighters with the Most to Gain in Dallas

UFC Gdansk Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The UFC heads to Dallas, Texas for the first time in 2018 this weekend, headlining the event with the long-awaited return of Tyron Woodley. While his match-up with Darren Till is deservedly the talk of the event, five other fighters have the chance to gain more than a win in their match-ups on Saturday night.

Sandwiched between UFC 227 and UFC 229, it’s easy to see how some fans could take the action coming up this weekend for granted. The rematch between TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt was entertaining, and we all can’t wait for Conor McGregor to finally (hopefully) fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. But overlooking some of the match-ups at UFC 228 is a mistake.

Yeah, Woodley-Till could be fantastic. Or it could be like Woodley’s last few fights. Or like Till’s most recent bout with Wonderboy. But with Nicco Montaño’s first flyweight title-defense against Valentina Shevchenko, a couple of high-profile strawweight bouts, and some fun bantamweight fights, there’s plenty to like at UFC 228.

Whether you’re a title-contender or an unranked fighter, every bout matters. But, fights at certain points in a fighter’s career can mean more than others, based on the circumstances. Great match-ups are always fun. With a little more on the line, those fights are even better for those of us at home.

Several fighters find themselves at a point where they have plenty to gain, and plenty to lose, at UFC 228. Whether it’s pushing toward the title picture, defending a title for the first time, or earning a marquee victory, these five fighters have the most on the line in Dallas this weekend.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Kowalkiewicz has returned to form, earning back-to-back wins after suffering back-to-back defeats. While the competition in those recent victories might not be on par with those of her losses, she faces one of the best 115-pound fighters in the promotion this weekend: Jessica Andrade. The quality of her opponent is reflected in Kowalkiewicz being one of the biggest underdogs on the card.

Currently sitting at #4 in the official UFC rankings, two spots behind Andrade, Kowalkiewicz isn’t far from fighting in her second career strawweight title-bout. Coupled with her victory over now-champion Rose Namajunas in July of 2016, a Kowalkiewicz victory at UFC 228 gives her as good a resumé as any current 115-pound title contender. Whether or not that would ensure a title shot remains to be seen, but we’d like her chances.

Tatiana Suarez

When an undefeated prospect begins rising up the ranks, it’s always a big moment when they face their toughest test. That task is being handed to Tatiana Suarez at UFC 228, when she faces former strawweight title-holder Carla Esparza. Headlining the FX prelims, Suarez has the opportunity to announce her arrival as another top-tier contender in the stacked 115-pound division.

She’s recently cracked the top 10 in the official UFC rankings. She would continue her rise with a win over the sixth-ranked Esparza. That rise in the ranks would probably come with another top-tier opponent in early 2019. Expectations are high for Suarez. She’s a heavy favorite on the card according to various betting sites. Regardless of whether or not she’s the favorite, defeating Esparza would give Suarez the biggest win of her career and a big push toward the title-picture.

Tatiana Suarez UFC
Tatiana Suarez Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Nicco Montaño

Arguably the fighter with the most to gain in Dallas, women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montaño is defending her belt against former bantamweight title-challenger Valentina Shevchenko. Montaño is the biggest underdog on the card. She last fought in December, defeating Roxanne Modafferi in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 26 and becoming the inaugural UFC women’s 125-pound champ.

She’s since caught a lot of flak for her lack of activity. She’s cited health issues, and wanting to be 100% for her bout with Shevchenko. It’s hard to blame her. Montaño will have the chance to silence all of her doubters, gain more credibility, and put the rest of the women’s flyweight division on notice with a win over Shechenko in the co-main event of UFC 228. After watching Demetrious Johnson fall to Henry Cejudo last month, we’re not counting Montaño out.

John Dodson

There’s no denying John Dodson’s talent. But for a variety of reasons, his move to 135-pounds hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Alternating wins and losses, with both losses being split-decisions, Dodson has gone 3-2 at bantamweight. Currently ranked seventh in the official UFC rankings, the former flyweight title-challenger is nearing the 135-pound title picture. He’ll move even closer with a win over fifth-ranked Jimmie Rivera in Dallas on Saturday.

It’s kind of murky when it comes to seeing who champion TJ Dillashaw will fight next. Dodson holds a win over the champ from 2011. That’s when he became the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 14 bantamweight tournament. Throw that history in with his controversial loss to Marlon Moraes in November of last year, and with a win over Rivera, Dodson is in the thick of things at bantamweight.

Of course, so is Moraes, Dominick Cruz, and Raphael Assuncao. Would a win over Rivera earn Dodson a title shot? Probably not. But it would likely earn him a fight with one of the other three contenders. Putting him that much closer to a rematch with Dillashaw.

Brandon Davis

Taking advantage of Yair Rodriguez’s injury, prospect Brandon Davis has the chance to bounce back from a loss with the biggest win of his career. He’s a three-fight UFC veteran and former Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series competitor. Davis is 1-2 in his time in the promotion, most recently losing to Enrique Barzola via unanimous decision in May. Now, on less than two weeks notice, he’ll take on #15 ranked featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov.

Davis is a sizable underdog, understandably so given the circumstances. But doubting his quality or credentials is a mistake. His pace, unique striking, and aggressive mindset make for entertaining bouts. As talented as Magmoedsharipov is, Davis is tough to prepare for, even with a full camp. The outcome of this bout is far from straightforward.

A win for Davis would put him at 2-2 in the UFC and 2-1 in 2018. Getting that win on the pay-per-view portion of a card with two title fights against a highly touted prospect wouldn’t hurt, either. While a loss wouldn’t be great, the 28-year-old has much more to gain than he does to lose by taking such a high-profile fight on short-notice.

We’re ready for a major UFC event this weekend. Dallas looks like it has a solid card to enjoy. From the main event to the Fight Pass prelims, plenty of fighters have a lot on the line on Saturday night. But, with a win, these five fighters have more to gain than the rest. Let us know who you think has the most to gain at UFC 228, and which fight you’re looking forward to most! Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!