SINGAPORE — For its first Southeast Asia numbered pay-per-view event, top mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is putting up two intriguing title fights at UFC 275 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday (12 June, Singapore time).
Reigning men's light-heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira is the epitome of doggedness, the 42-year-old finally winning the title in October 2021 after seven years of challenging for gold.
UFC's oldest first-time champion, the Brazil-born American will embark on his first title defence here in Singapore, against Czech challenger Jiri Prochazka.
Meanwhile, women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko has a chance of extending her dominance to record-breaking levels.
Champion since December 2018, the Kyrgyzstani is tied with Ronda Rousey for the most consecutive successful title defences by a UFC female champion, with six each. Should the 34-year-old defeat challenger Taila Santos of Brazil, that proud record would be solely hers.
First title defence after long climb to the top for Teixeira
More than seven months after capping his improbable march to his title with a second-round submission over Jan Blachowicz, Teixeira finds himself in the unfamiliar territory of defending his UFC championship for the first time.
While he is riding high on a six-fight winning streak, he will be facing a strong up-and-coming talent in Prochazka. Can he pull through will his grit, experience and considerable grappling prowess?
"I like the challenge of proving to everybody, most of all to myself, that I'm worthy of being champion," he said during a media conference on Wednesday (8 June).
"I'm just a normal guy enjoying my journey, enjoying the challenges. I believe I can beat Jiri, and for now I'm feeling like a champion."
Prochazka, who is 13 years Teixeira's junior, has been proclaimed by MMA great Georges St-Pierre as a future UFC champion and could become the first Czech UFC champion should he defeat Teixeira.
A striking specialist with his martial arts roots in Thai boxing, Prochazka earned his title shot after knocking out former challenger Dominick Reyes with a spinning elbow in May last year. He has been brushing up his grappling skills since the start of the year in order to match up with his formidable opponent.
"I hope to spring a surprise against my opponent," he said. "It has not been an easy journey, but I feel strong and healthy, ready to fight, and I hope I can bring honour to my country."
Dominant champion faces dangerous challenger
Shevchenko is widely viewed as the female fighter with the most complete skill set, capable of taking down her opponents either with strikes or submissions.
As she continues to fend off her challengers, she has learnt to ignore the brave words from her opponents as they try to psyche themselves up for the fights.
"Every one of my opponents believes that no one is unbeatable, that she will find the hole in my game," she said. "But once they're inside the octagon ring with me, they will find out the difference between what they think and whether they will succeed."
Santos will not be a pushover, as the 28-year-old boasts a 19-1 overall win-loss record and arrives in Singapore on a four-fight winning streak. She cemented her title shot with a first-round submission win over Joanne Wood in November.
"(Valentina) will be a very tough opponent, but nobody's perfect, there is always a possibility to find a weakness in her, and I have to be ready to take advantage when I find it," she said.
Rematch of great bout between Zhang and Jedrzejczyk
Besides the two title bouts, the other highly-anticipated fight is the rematch between women's strawweight standouts Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
In their first encounter in 2020, the duo put on what many thought was the greatest fight in women's MMA history, as Zhang retained her strawweight title via split decision after a titanic battle.
However, both fighters come into their rematch struggling for victories. Zhang is on the first two-fight skid of her career, the Chinese having dropped consecutive title fights to Rose Namajunas last year. Jedrzejczyk, on the other hand, has not fought since her last meeting with Zhang, with the Pole having lost four of her last six UFC bouts.
Other matches on the fight card are:
Men's flyweight: Rogerio Bentorin (Brazil) vs Manel Kape (Angola)
Men's welterweight: Jack Della Maddalena (Australia) vs Ramazan Emeev (Russia)
Men's featherweight: Seungwoo Choi (South Korea) vs Josh Culibao (Australia)
Men's middleweight: Brendan Allen (United States) vs Jacob Malkoun (Australia)
Men's lightweight: Hayisaer Maheshate (China) vs Steve Garcia (United States)
Men's welterweight: Andre Fialho (Portugal) vs Jake Matthews (Australia)
Early preliminary card
Men's bantamweight: Kang Kyung Ho (South Korea) vs Batgerel Danaa (Mongolia)
Women's strawweight: Liang Na (China) vs Silvana Juarez (Argentina)
Women's featherweight: Ramona Pascual (United States) vs Joselyne Edwards (Panama)
Singapore had previously hosted four UFC Fight Nights from 2014 to 2019. The city-state will be the third city outside the US - after Abu Dhabi and London - to host a UFC event since the COVID-19 pandemic.
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