UFC 246: Three fights to watch outside of the main event

Sodiq Yusuff, UFC 246
Image Credit: UFC

While all eyes are currently on the UFC 246 main event, which pits the returning Conor McGregor against Donald Cerrone, there are other fights on the stacked January 18 card that should definitely not be missed.

Here are three fights to watch outside of the main event.

Claudia Gadelha (17-4) vs Alexa Grasso (11-3): Main Card

This fight could have huge implications for the strawweight division. Gadelha has been near the top of the division for quite some time. Although she has fell short in her title opportunities in the past, she still remains a mainstay at strawweight. After moving her camp to New Jersey to train with Mark Henry and Ricardo Almeida, Gadelha picked up a unanimous decision win over Randa Markos at UFC 239 and looks to keep that momentum rolling against a rising prospect in Grasso. With many of the other top strawweight contenders booked for fights, a win for Gadelha could catapult her into the Top-5 of her division.

With wins over Heather Clark, Randa Markos, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Grasso has some notable names on her resume, but she’s lacking consistency and a winning streak. In her most recent fight she dropped a majority decision to Carla Esparza and finds herself right outside of the Top-10 rankings in the division. A win over Gadelha could push her toward the top.

Roxanne Modafferi (23-16) vs Maycee Barber (8-0): Preliminary Card

In a classic veteran vs. prospect matchup, the experienced Modafferi will pose the biggest challenge for Barber since she entered the UFC. Before dropping her last fight to Jennifer Maia, “The Happy Warrior” Modafferi derailed the hype train of Antonina Shevchenko (sister of champion Valentina), handing her the first loss of her professional career. Modafferi isn’t the flashiest, but she’s consistent and effective in all aspects of the game. Modafferi has never engaged in trash-talking with her opponents and although Barber has tried, Modafferi has ignored it all and could potentially hand Barber her first loss.

The odds are heavily in favor of Barber who is 3-0 since getting a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series. The young star isn’t just a talented athlete, she’s a fighter that the UFC is fully getting behind, which is why this is the featured prelim on ESPN. While she wanted a fight with Paige VanZant, Barber will have a respectable opponent in Modafferi instead. “The Future” has her sights set on being the youngest champion in UFC history—a goal that coach Ben Askren believes she can achieve—but the road to gold will start with this big matchup against Modafferi. Barber has finished all three of her opponents in the UFC, and overall has finish victories in her last six fights, but it won’t be an easy task to put away Modafferi.

Andre Fili (20-6) vs Sodiq Yusuff (10-1): Preliminary Card

This competitive featherweight matchup between Andre Fili and Sodiq Yusuff is a definite contender for UFC 246 Fight of the Night honors. Fili, who trains with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, is currently riding a two-fight win streak and recently said he’s ready to show he’s the best 145-pound fighter in the world. He’ll have a tall task in front of him in Yusuff but a win could put him on the path to prove his worth. If it wasn’t for a split decision loss to Michael Johnson in 2018, Fili would find himself on a five-fight winning streak but, nonetheless, he could put the division on notice with a win. Fili is never one to shy away from a scrap, but he’ll have to be mindful when stepping towards Yusuff.

Sodiq Yusuff is a fighter to watch in the featherweight division, partially thanks to his current five-fight winning streak. In his last fight against Gabriel Benitez, Yusuff came away with a first-round TKO and now faces his toughest opponent to date. As the featherweight division seems to have an open door for fresh contenders, Yusuff could land himself inside the Top-15 rankings if he puts on an impressive performance against Fili.

While former champions Holly Holm and Anthony Pettis also return at UFC 246, there are plenty of prospects looking to etch their name in their respective divisions. Thanks to the attention Conor McGregor is bringing to the UFC 246 card, the six fighters mentioned above have an incredible opportunity to take advantage of the crowd that will be watching them.

UFC 246 takes place on January 18, 2020 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The early prelims are scheduled to begin at 6:30pm EST on UFC Fight Pass with the prelim card to follow on ESPN at 8pm EST, and the main card will be broadcasted on ESPN+ PPV starting at 10pm EST.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 1/16/2020.