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Sean O'Malley and Marlon Vera of Ecuador face off during the UFC 252 weigh-in at UFC APEX on August 14, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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The 10: Busy Month, Big Fights On Tap

Picking Out The Most Intriguing Matchups From March’s Loaded Slate

Saturday night’s alright for fighting and there are five of them to enjoy this coming month.

Over the next five weekends, the action will go from Las Vegas to Miami and back before finishing March on the Jersey Shore, and at each stop along the way, there are critical bouts and compelling matchups on tap, including a championship grudge match at bantamweight and contests carrying legitimate title implications at lightweight, welterweight, and in both the men’s and women’s flyweight divisions.

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Pull out your phone and put these dates in your calendar because you’re not going to want to miss the action that is headed your way in the month of March.

UFC Fight Night: Rosenstruik vs Gaziev — Saturday, March 2 (Las Vegas, NV)

Alex Perez vs Muhammad Mokaev

Alex Perez and Muhammad Mokaev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Perez and Muhammad Mokaev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

With things at the top of the division a little uncertain at the moment, this flyweight clash between Alex Perez and Muhammad Mokaev could carry championship implications.

A former title challenger, Perez has been plagued by issues since facing Deiveson Figueiredo for the belt at UFC 255, competing just once while having multiple contests postponed or cancelled all together. That inactivity makes him a bit of a wild card, but the pedigree is there for the 31-year-old to potentially return to action and move back into the title conversation.

Preview Every Fight On UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs Gaziev

Mokaev has lived up to his advanced billing through his first five UFC appearances, winning each of them, including his last three by third-round submission. Still unbeaten, the standout prospect has steadily worked his way up the divisional ladder, and now gets his next “toughest test to date” as he steps in with his second straight former title challenger.

Champ Alexandre Pantoja is currently without a dance partner, and while Brandon Royval looked sharp beating Brandon Moreno in Mexico City, the two just fought in December, and a second straight matchup with the belt on the line doesn’t necessarily make sense right now. With the next four fighters stationed ahead of them in the rankings either sidelined or coming off setbacks, this feels like an opportunity for Perez and Mokaev to make their case for a title shot, which should ratchet up the excitement and anticipation heading into this one.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs Shamil Gaziev

Jairzinho Rozenstruik of Suriname and Shamil Gaziev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik of Suriname and Shamil Gaziev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Matchups like this are always fascinating to me.

Rozenstruik is a tenured member of the heavyweight ranks: a 35-year-old mainstay in the Top 15 who has only lost to elite competition and consistently turned back those unprepared to take the next step forward in the division. While he’s struggled to find consistent success over his last several fights, “Bigi Boy” remains a dangerous striker with the power to end any fight in a flash.

RELATED: Gaziev Wants To Show His Level | Rozenstruik To Keep Soldiering On

Unbeaten in his first dozen professional appearances, Gaziev gets hustled into a main event in his second UFC assignment after mauling Martin Buday in his promotional debut. He’s quite literally passed every test that has been placed in front of him to this point, and given his age (he turned 34 at the start of February), there is no reason to bring the intriguing newcomer along slowly.

While some balk at the idea of dropping Gaziev into a bout with a Top 10 fighter this quickly, there is no better way to find out right here, right now whether or not he’s someone poised to make a push in the heavyweight division. How things shake out against Rozenstruik will answer that question definitively.

UFC 299: O’Malley vs Vera 2 — Saturday, March 9 (Miami, FL)

Curtis Blaydes vs Jailton Almeida

Curtis Blaydes prepares to fight Tom Aspinall of England in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Curtis Blaydes prepares to fight Tom Aspinall of England in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

After being scheduled to meet late last year, Blaydes and Almeida will finally share the Octagon in the final preliminary card fight at UFC 299 in Miami.

A Top 5 staple for the last several years, Blaydes is 12-4 with one no contest under the UFC banner. The former JuCo National champion wrestler has worked diligently to improve his striking over the years, but is at his best when he’s blending his hands with his takedown game, creating opportunities to land the kind of devastating shots that produced stoppage wins over Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, and Chris Daukaus.

Now 6-0 in the UFC and riding a 15-fight winning streak overall, Almeida was running through everyone up until his last outing, where he repeatedly dragged Derrick Lewis to the canvas, but was unable to put “The Black Beast” away. The Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) alum is on the cusp of title contention, and a win over Blaydes would bring him that much close to challenging for championship gold.

Petr Yan vs Song Yadong

Petr Yan of Russia prepares to fight Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on March 11, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Petr Yan of Russia prepares to fight Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on March 11, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Before the bantamweight title goes on the line at Kaseya Center, two of the top contenders in the division will share the Octagon.

It’s wild to realize that Yan enters this contest on a three-fight slide and having earned just a single victory in his last five fights, but here we are. Despite the lack of success, few would argue against the 31-year-old former champion still being one of the best in the division, as two of those losses came by split decision to the current and former champs, with a clear win over Cory Sandhagen standing as his lone victory during that stretch.

Song landed on the wrong side of the results in his September 2022 matchup with the perennial contender Sandhagen but has since rebounded with consecutive quality efforts against Ricky Simon and Chris Gutierrez. Despite having been on the roster since late 2017 and already sporting a 10-2-1 record in the Octagon, the Chinese standout is still just 26 years old, and could very well be entering his physical prime now.

This is one of those bouts where there is a great deal at stake for each man. As weird as it sounds, Yan needs this one in order to prove he’s still a threat in the division, as a four-fight slide is nigh on impossible to discount, while Song looks to clear the final hurdle standing between himself and title contention in the loaded 135-pound weight class.

Make no mistake about it, how this one plays out will have a significant impact on the divisional landscape going forward.

Gilbert Burns vs Jack Della Maddalena

Gilbert Burns of Brazil prepares to face Belal Muhammad in a welterweight fight during the UFC 288 event at Prudential Center on May 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Gilbert Burns of Brazil prepares to face Belal Muhammad in a welterweight fight during the UFC 288 event at Prudential Center on May 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Burns and Della Maddalena clash in a meeting of ranked welterweights on the UFC 299 main card.

Fighting for the first time since his UFC 288 defeat to Belal Muhammad, Burns returns looking to re-affirm his standing as one of the top contenders in the division. He’s fought an incredible strength of schedule since moving to welterweight, and though he’s lost three of his last six, “Durinho” is without a doubt the toughest assignment thus far for the surging Australian.

Della Maddalena followed up his 3-0 rookie campaign with three more wins in his sophomore season in the Octagon, culminating with a split decision victory over Kevin Holland at Noche UFC in September. The 27-year-old from Perth has won 16 consecutive bouts, and while his game is built more around fundamentals than flash, you can’t argue with the results.

WATCH: Gilbert Burns' Greatest Hits

Much like the bout between Yan and Song, there is a lot resting on this one for each of these welterweights. Burns has been an elite competitor for years, but Father Time could be closing the distance on him, while “Della” needs a marquee win to take that next step forward in the division.

Expect fireworks and answers about where each man stands as we head towards the second quarter of the 2024 campaign.

Dustin Poirier vs Benoit Saint Denis

Benoit Saint Denis of France reacts after defeating Matt Frevola by TKO in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Benoit Saint Denis of France reacts after defeating Matt Frevola by TKO in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Lightweights Dustin Poirier and Benoit Saint Denis get five rounds in the UFC 299 co-main event, but something tells me they won’t need the full 25 minutes.

One of the longest tenured and most respected competitors in the division, Poirier jumps into his first fight against a less-established name in a number of years, looking to get things moving in the right direction again. After 38 professional appearances across two divisions and countless bloody battles in the Octagon, it will be interesting to see where “The Diamond” is at as he kicks off his 14th year on the UFC roster.

WATCH: Dustin Poirier's Top Finishes

Few envisioned Saint Denis as a potential contender after he was on the business end of a gruesome beating in his promotional debut, but since returning to his natural weight class, the French lightweight has posted five straight stoppage wins. He has a suffocating approach with nasty finishing instincts, and can put himself in the title conversation by adding Poirier’s name to his growing list of dispatched foes.

Sean O’Malley vs Marlon Chito Vera

Order UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2

There is more on the line in this one than just the bantamweight title as O’Malley and Vera renew acquaintances in the UFC 299 main event.

Suga” completed his march to the top of the division by knocking off and knocking out Aljamain Sterling in August, claiming the title with a second-round stoppage win. The 29-year-old is unbeaten in his last six fights, with a 17-1 mark with one no contests, but it’s that one tick in the loss column that looms large here.

WATCH: Chito Vera Discusses His Rematch With O'Malley

Vera arrives at his first UFC title fight having won five of his last six and coming off a unanimous decision win over Pedro Munhoz at UFC 292 in Boston on the same night O’Malley won the title. He’s a little further back in the rankings than most recent title challengers, but handing the champion the lone loss of his career earned him an express pass to a championship opportunity.

It’s going to be fascinating to see if their history in the cage carries over into this one, as Vera is surely buoyed by the fact that he’s already toppled O’Malley once before and the technicolor titleholder is eager to prove that result is just a footnote in his march to greatness. Stylistically, this one is captivating, as Vera is economical with his output and tougher than shoe leather, which could force the champion to be the aggressor a little more than we’ve seen in recent outings.

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa vs Tybura — Saturday, March 16 (Las Vegas, NV)

Tai Tuivasa vs Marcin Tybura

Tai Tuivasa of Australia prepares to face Alexander Volkov of Russia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Tai Tuivasa of Australia prepares to face Alexander Volkov of Russia in a heavyweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The second matchup of Top 15 heavyweights to headline an event at the UFC APEX of the month pits Tai Tuivasa against Marcin Tybura.

Bam Bam” arrives on a three-fight skid, having been stopped in consecutive bouts against Ciryl Gane, Sergei Pavlovich, and Alexander Volkov. It’s the second three-fight slide of his UFC career, but the last time he was in this position, the charismatic Australian banger rattled off five straight stoppage wins to establish himself as contender.

Tybura has posted a 7-2 record over his last nine appearances, but arrives off a quick first-round loss to current interim champ Tom Aspinall. The Polish veteran has been a consistent tough out in the division for the last eight years, and there are no indications that will change any time soon.

Make sure you’re settled in for the start of this one, as Tybura feels most vulnerable in the early stages and Tuivasa is at his best when he comes out of the gates looking to land bombs.

UFC Fight Night: Ribas vs Namajunas — Saturday, March 23 (Las Vegas, NV)

Amanda Ribas vs Rose Namajunas

Rose Namajunas prepares to fight Carla Esparza in the UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Rose Namajunas prepares to fight Carla Esparza in the UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The first of March’s twin flyweight main events features Ribas and Namajunas locking horns at the UFC APEX.

The 30-year-old Ribas continues to move back-and-forth between flyweight and strawweight, entering this one off a third-round stoppage win over Luana Pinheiro in the 115-pound ranks. She’s 2-2 inside the Octagon when competing at flyweight, and 13-4 overall, bringing an exciting, attacking style that makes for entertaining fights every time out.

RELATED: Look Back At Namajunas' Career Highlights

Namajunas made her flyweight debut last fall in Paris, landing on the wrong side of the cards in a clash with French contender Manon Fiorot. The two-time strawweight champ has dropped consecutive fights, and it will be interesting to see how she adjusts to a second consecutive appearance in the 125-pound weight class.

While not a bout carrying immediate title implications, there is no denying the significance of this one as things really start to get moving in the flyweight ranks. A big effort from either competitor puts them in the thick of the chase and should set up another marquee assignment in the second half of the year.

UFC Fight Night: Blanchfield vs Fiorot — Saturday, March 30 (Atlantic City, NJ)

Erin Blanchfield vs Manon Fiorot

Erin Blanchfield prepares to fight Jessica Andrade of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Erin Blanchfield prepares to fight Jessica Andrade of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The top two contenders in the flyweight division close out the month in Atlantic City, as Blanchfield welcomes Fiorot to her home state.

Cold Blooded” has been perfect inside the Octagon so far, posting six straight wins to climb to 12-1 overall. After submitting Jessica Andrade last February, the 24-year-old rising star out-worked former title challenger Taila Santos in August, establishing herself as a bona fide threat and one of the top young talents in the entire sport.

Fiorot has also posted six wins in as many appearances since landing in the UFC, going back-to-back-to-back against Jennifer Maia, Katlyn Cerminara (nee Chookagian), and Namajunas to advance to 11-1 overall. The 34-year-old striker is physically strong and brimming with confidence, which makes her a daunting challenge for anyone in the division.

While nothing is ever guaranteed, this feels like a bout to determine the next title challenger in the 125-pound weight class and should be a fascinating battle between two elite talents.

UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2 took place live from Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida on March 9, 2024. See the final Prelims & Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass