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10 reasons to watch UFC-Charlotte, where the Souza-Brunson rematch could be emotional

The UFC is in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday for UFC on FOX 27. In the main event, middleweights Ronaldo Souza and Derek Brunson meet for the second time in their careers.

The first time these two faced off was in August 2012. In that Strikeforce bout, Souza, who was nine years into his career, scored his first knockout victory when he stopped Brunson in 41 seconds. Souza has remained a top-level fighter since that bout. Brunson, who now has a UFC middleweight record with seven first-round stoppages, has raised his game considerably since that defeat.

In the co-headliner, featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Andre Fili meet in the hopes of cracking the 145-pound rankings.

UFC on FOX 27 takes place at Spectrum Center, and the main card airs on FOX following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.

1. Check your emotions at the door

The first time Souza (24-5 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and Brunson (18-5 MMA, 9-3 UFC) met, Brunson was a little more than two years into his career. Since then Brunson has developed into a feared striker. However, he’s still working on finding the right mix of patience and aggression in his striking.

Known for his world-class grappling skills, Souza has also developed his striking game. Today he is a true two-threat fighter.

The tricky thing in this contest might be keeping emotions in check. Souza, who is ranked No. 5 in the most recent USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, is coming off a TKO loss to Robert Whittaker that might have cost him a title shot. On the other side of the cage, No. 12-ranked Brunson is riding a two-fight knockout winning streak and fighting in front of a hometown crowd. Both fighters have something to prove in this matchup, but they can’t lose focus for even a second.

2. A lengthy dossier

At this time last year, Bermudez was talking about matching up against then-interim featherweight champ Max Holloway. Now on a two-fight skid, and 2-4 in his past six fights overall, the 31-year-old has some making up to do if he hopes to reach the top of the division.

Like his opponent, Fili needs to find some traction before he can rise up the rankings. The 27-year-old has alternated wins and losses throughout his nine-fight UFC career. His most recent fight was a unanimous-decision victory over Artem Lobov.

The key to this fight might be the preparation. Bermudez’s (16-7 MMA, 9-5 MMA) most recent bout was a split-decision loss to Darren Elkins, a teammate of Fili’s (17-5 MMA, 5-4 UFC) at Team Alpha Male. With those resources available to him, Fili should be ready for anything Bermudez will throw his way.

While neither of these men is currently ranked, don’t write this fight off as an unimportant one. This bout is pivotal one in the careers of both fighters.

3. It’s showtime

One of the biggest favorites on the card, Gregor Gillespie (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) could steal the show when he faces Jordan Rinaldi(13-5 MMA, 1-1 UFC). The lightweight prospect is unbeaten and has earned fight-night bonuses in his two most recent bouts. He’s a powerful, exciting and aggressive striker on the feet. And if his striking fails, Gillespie can fall back on his wrestling, which earned him an NCAA Division I national championship.

In any other weight division, Gillespie would probably be ranked or at least fighting a ranked opponent, but the depth at 155 pounds has kept him under the radar.

Rinaldi has a good ground game, but he’ll be hard pressed to use his submission skills against a fighter who is so well versed on the mat.

4. High volume

Missing the lightweight limit cost Frank Camacho his share of a “Fight of the Night” bonus when he bested Damien Brown by split decision in November. He should avoid any problem on the scale in Charlotte since his fight against Drew Dober is at welterweight.

Camacho (21-5 MMA, 1-1 UFC) has attempted more than 500 strikes in his two UFC bouts. Expect him to use that same approach against the more technical and slightly less busy Dober (18-8 MMA, 4-4 UFC).

This contest could come down to Dober’s knockout power vs. Camacho’s striking defense. If you combine Dober’s power with the fact Camacho absorbs an average of 6.6 strikes per minute in his UFC scraps, it could spell trouble for Camacho.

Dober is coming off a July knockout win over Josh Burman at lightweight.

5. Return to form

The lightweight matchup between Bobby Green (23-8-1 MMA, 4-3-1 UFC) and Erik Koch (15-5 MMA, 4-4 UFC) won’t affect the rankings, but it could have an impact on the future. Green is 0-3-1 in his past four scraps while Koch is 2-2.

Green is coming off a barnburner against Lando Vannata. That fight ended in a split draw. Despite that result, the bout should help to restore some of the chippiness Green showed early in his career, when he rivaled the Diaz brothers in that department.

Koch was hesitant in his most recent bout, a decision loss to Clay Guida. That might have been because he was coming off a long layoff, or it could have been due to Guida’s style. Whatever the reason, Koch can’t repeat that performance. He managed to land 17 total strikes in that contest.

6. Prospects remain high

Mirsad Bektic has had nearly a year to think about being on the wrong end of MMAjunkie’s “2017 Comeback of the Year.” He looked like he was on his way to a win over Darren Elkins before he was knocked out in the third round of that March contest. Bektic was a 7-1 favorite heading into that fight. The loss was the first of his career.

Mirsad Bektic

Despite that loss, Bektic has actually climbed two spots to No. 10 in the featherweight division since the Elkins bout. Like that fight, Bektic (11-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is a huge favorite to defeat Godofredo Pepey (13-5 MMA, 5-5 UFC) in Charlotte.

Bektic has all the tools to contend in the145-pound division. He’s well-rounded and comfortable no matter where the fight goes. It’s going to be interesting to see how he responds to his first career defeat.

Pepey lost a decision to Shane Burgos in his most recent bout.

7. Moving home

More than two years have passed since Katlyn Chookagian last fought at 125 pounds. She earned a unanimous-decision win in that bout and captured the vacant Cage Fury women’s flyweight title. She also kept her unbeaten record intact.

Katlyn Chookagian

After that victory, Chookagian moved up to bantamweight, where she won the CFFC title and went 2-1 in the UFC. She returns to flyweight in Charlotte. Chookagian (9-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) faces Mara Romero Borella (12-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who made her UFC debut in October with a first-round submission win over Kalindra Faria.

With the drop to 125 pounds, Chookagian, who is ranked No. 13 at bantamweight, returns to a more competitive weight for her. With the flyweight division still sorting itself out, this bout is an opportunity for her to insert herself into the top tier of that division.

For Borella, a win over Chookagian would be a huge career boost for her.

8. Not the good kind of first

Neither Juliana Lima (9-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) nor Randa Markos (9-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC) has lost two consecutive fights. Barring a draw, one of them will be in that situation when their strawweight fight comes to a close.

Randa Markos

Markos enters this bout coming off two of the best efforts of her career. Both of those contests ended in split decisions. The first was a win over ex-champ Carla Esparza, and most recently, she suffered a loss to Alexa Grasso. Markos had a good work rate on her feet in those bouts. Don’t be shocked if she ramps things up a notch in the hope of avoiding another close call.

Lima’s most recent fight was a second-round submission defeat to Tecia Torres. Before that bout, she topped J.J. Aldrich via unanimous decision. Lima has relied a lot on her wrestling as of late. That could pose a problem since Markos does good work on the ground.

The strawweight division isn’t deep enough to have a gatekeeper, but if these two want to face a ranked opponent in the near future, a win here is a necessity.

9. Who’s right?

Two lightweights who believe they are on the upswing meet on the prelims. Vinc Pichel returned to the octagon in June after a three-year absence. In that bout he scored his eighth career knockout win when he stopped Damien Brown in the first round. His opponent in Charlotte, Joaquim Silva, is coming off a decision win over Reza Madadi. The win, just his second decision victory, kept his undefeated record intact.

Joaquim Silva

This has the potential to be a sleeper pick for “Fight of the Night.” Both men have no qualms about getting into a back-and-forth striking battle, as their combined 13 knockout wins indicate.

At 28, Silva (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who has a good submission game to go along with his striking, looks like he could become a player in the 145-pound division. The 35-year-old Pichel (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC), who is unbeaten in his past three fights, wants to prevent Silva from using him as a stepping stone to bigger things.

10. Quick, fast, in a hurry

It’s a rare fighter who says no when the UFC calls. So when the promotion asked Cory Sandhagen if he could compete in Charlotte, the 25-year-old said yes, despite the fact he had fought on Jan. 19. Luckily for him, that LFA fight against Jose Aguayo ended in a 67-second knockout victory for Sandhagen.

Sandhagen’s (7-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) opponent in this featherweight bout, Austin Arnett (15-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC), last fought in August, when he dropped a decision to Brandon Davis on the Dana White’s Contender Series 4 card in an exciting scrap.

Sandhagen got his foot in the door by accepting this quick turnaround fight. We’ll find out in the night’s curtain-jerker if he’ll kick that door in or have it slam shut on him.

For more on UFC on FOX 27, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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