UFC 302: 5 Preliminary Fights to Watch

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UFC 302 is bringing the heat to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday, June 1.

The card features lightweight champion Islam Makhachev will look to defend his belt against Dustin Poirier, who is looking to secure undisputed UFC gold for the first time in what could be the last shot of his illustrious career. Former middleweight champion Sean Strickland returns to action against Paulo Costa in a bout with hefty title implications.

Also on the card, Kevin Holland will clash with Michal Oleksiejczuk in a middleweight contest; Niko Price and Alex Morono will meet for a welterweight rematch; and Randy Brown and Elizeu Zaleski will throw down at welterweight.

The UFC 302 prelims feature more strong contests as well with contenders and prospects each looking to make their mark. Here are five of the best.

Jailton Almeida vs. Alexandr Romanov

Almeida will look to rebound from his first loss in over six years. Almeida had been 6-0 in the UFC before a TKO loss to Curtis Blaydes. The Brazilian has stuck to heavyweight after starting at light heavyweight and has wins over Derrick Lewis, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Shamil Abdurakhimov, to name a few. Five of his six UFC wins have come via stoppage.

The standout grappler draws another strong grappler in Romanov. “King Kong” defeated Blagoy Ivanov to get back in the win column after defeats to Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura. He had been 5-0 in the UFC before those two fights.

Both grappling-heavy heavyweights are looking to return to form and stay in form here. And there are rankings implications: Almeida is No. 7 while Romanov is No. 13. Romanov could make a huge leap into the top 10 if he wins. Almeida would likely earn a top-5 opponent if he wins. It’s an important fight for both men.

Roman Kopylov vs. Cesar Almeida

Brazilian kickboxer Almeida meets fellow striking specialist Kopylov for a middleweight bout.

Almeida is 5-0 in professional MMA and 1-0 in the UFC, finishing Dylan Budka. Almeida is 47-8-1 as a professional kickboxer with 27 knockout wins. No wonder the UFC is fast-tracking him to a showdown with Kopylov, whose four-fight winning streak was snapped by a submission loss to Anthony Hernandez, ranked No. 14 at middleweight.

Kopylov is on the outskirts of the top 15, and Almeida draws him in just his second Octagon foray. And the betting odds are near even, with Kopylov being just a slight favorite! There are a lot of expectations on Almeida, who went 1-2 in a kickboxing trilogy with Alex Pereira, current UFC light heavyweight champion and former middleweight champ.

Kopylov himself had four straight wins over Josh Fremd, Claudio Ribeiro, Punahele Soriano and Alessio Di Chirico – all by T/KO stoppage.

There should be fireworks on display in this fight between two talented strikers.

Grant Dawson vs. Joe Solecki

Dawson will look to return to the win column after his three-fight winning streak was snapped at the expense of Solecki. Dawson had beaten Damir Ismagulov, Mark Madsen and Jared Gordon before a loss to Bobby Green. Dawson is not far from the top 15 himself, as Green is currently the No. 15 lightweight. A convincing win over Solecki could earn him a crack at someone in the top 15.

Solecki himself could be a couple of big wins away from a top-15 opponent should he beat Dawson. Solecki has wins over Jim Miller, Alex da Silva, Austin Hubbard and Carl Deaton III.

The grappling exchanges in this fight are something to look out for (and hope for). Both Dawson and Solecki are strong grapplers, and this fight would arguably be at its most fun on the ground.

Phil Rowe vs. Jake Matthews

Matthews is looking to break a W-L pattern dating back to his September 2020 win over Diego Sanchez. Wins have since come over Andre Fialho and Darrius Flowers. After a loss to Michael Morales, Matthews is due for a win, judging by the pattern. Rowe will look to break that streak.

Rowe’s own three-fight winning streak was snapped by a split decision loss to Neil Magny. Before that, he had strung together wins over Niko Price, Jason Witt and Orion Cosce – all by T/KO. All of Rowe’s 10 professional wins have come via stoppage. For Matthews, it’s 13 of 19 pro wins.

Both men are finishers, with Matthews proving he can win decisions, too: his arguable career-best win was a dominant unanimous decision over Li Jingliang.

This is an exciting welterweight bout with a potential stoppage hanging in the balance at any time.

Mickey Gall vs. Bassil Hafez

Gall will look to return to the win column over Hafez, who proved himself a tough out against Jack Della Maddalena in his UFC debut. Hafez gave Della Maddalena all he could handle before Della Maddalena went on to beat Kevin Holland and finish Gilbert Burns. While Hafez came up on the short side of a split decision, the loss has aged incredibly well. He will look to earn his first UFC victory against Gall.

Gall has wins over Sage Northcutt, Jordan Williams, George Sullivan, Salim Touhari, CM Punk and Mike Jackson. Gall was signed to the UFC as a 1-0 fighter and fought CM Punk in his second pro fight. He has since fought the likes of Randy Brown, Mike Perry, Mike Malott and Alex Morono.

Gall, known for his grappling, draws a fellow talented grappler in Hafez. This fight could be more fun on the ground than in the stand-up.

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Michael is a big MMA fan who enjoys interviewing the sport's athletes, writing about the sport, and just discussing it. He earned his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and his B.A. in Journalism at Stony Brook University. He also enjoys hockey, football and baseball. Feel free to hit him up if you want to discuss MMA, or any other sport!