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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    The Wrestling Fan's Guide to the MMA Weekend (1/28/22)

    Three-time NCAA qualifier for North Carolina: Kennedy Monday (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    The UFC is taking a rare weekend off, but there is still plenty of MMA taking place around the world. While most wrestling fans are likely focused on the top duals, and for good reason, there are some former wrestlers in high-stakes MMA bouts. As always, InterMat has you covered; the following looks at some of the top former wrestlers in MMA action.

    Eagle FC 44

    For the first time, Eagle FC, the promotion owned by former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will host a shot in the US. The event, which features multiple former wrestlers, takes place Friday at 6pm ET and will stream free via FLX Cast (https://watch.goflx.com/).

    Rashad Evans vs. Gabriel Checco

    Evans retired after suffering a first-round knockout against Anthony Smith at UFC 225 in 2018. However, he will make his return to the cage this weekend against Gabriel Checco. The 42-year-old fighter wrestled collegiately at Michigan State. At the 2003 NCAA tournament, he famously eliminated three-time champion, Greg Jones, from the 174-pound bracket. Evans turned to MMA in 2004 and won the UFC light heavyweight title from Forrest Griffin in 2008. Checco has been fighting for nearly 10 years and holds a 12-5 professional record.

    Cody Gibson vs. Ray Borg

    Gibson wrestled for both Bakersfield College and Menlo College during his undergraduate days, and he finished with a pair of All-American seasons. He lost his job with the UFC in 2015 but has since gone 6-1 with a win over former title challenger John Dodson. Gibson will get another shot to prove he belongs as he faces off against another former title challenger in Ray Borg. Borg fought for the UFC title as recently as 2017. However, since that title bout, he went 2-2 in the Octagon and struggled with weight. After leaving the promotion last year, he scored a victory over Jesse Arnett at UAE Warriors 20.

    Shawn Bunch vs. Firdavs Khasanov

    Bunch was a two-time All-American for Edinboro and made the 133-pound NCAA final of the 2005 tournament. He then transitioned to freestyle, where he won the 2010 US Open and represented the US at the 2009 World Championships. He signed with Bellator in 2012 to make his MMA debut. His record currently stands at 10-5, and he is coming off a win over last September. His opponent Khasanov is from Uzbekistan and is coming off back-to-back losses.

    Bellator 273

    It always seems like Bellator has a variety of wrestlers on their shows, and this weekend is not an exception. On Saturday, the promotion will host Bellator 273, which features former wrestlers Ryan Bader, Benson Henderson, Darrion Caldwell and Chris Gonzalez. Caldwell and Gonzalez will be on the YouTube preliminary card, which begins at 7pm ET, while the rest will be on the main card. It airs live on Showtime at 9pm ET.

    Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky

    Despite suffering two losses in his last three fights, Bader still holds the Bellator heavyweight title. The former Arizona State wrestler will put that title on the line against interim champion Valentin Moldavsky on Saturday. In college, Bader was a three-time Pac-10 champion and a two-time All-American. He spent eight years in the UFC after winning the seventh season of "The Ultimate Fighter." He defeated MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko to win the Bellator heavyweight title in 2019.

    Moldavsky won an interim version of the heavyweight title with a decision over Tim Johnson. He is now 11-1 as a professional and holds a win over UFC veteran Roy Nelson.

    Benson Henderson vs. Islam Mamedov

    Henderson was a two-time NAIA All-American for Dana College. Over the course of his MMA career, he held the lightweight title for both the UFC and WEC. He left the UFC in 2015 and signed with Bellator. With his current promotion, he has gone 5-6 and unsuccessfully challenged for the welterweight and lightweight titles. Mamedov holds an impressive 20-1-1 record. He fought extensively for the PFL before signing with Bellator. In his last fight, he made his promotional debut with a split decision over former lightweight champion Brent Primus.

    Darrion Caldwell vs. Enrique Barzola

    While wrestling for NC State, Caldwell famously upset Brent Metcalf to claim the 2009 NCAA title at 149 pounds. He finished his college career as a four-time ACC champion and a two-time NCAA champion. Caldwell made his MMA debut in 2012 and won the Bellator bantamweight title in his 13th fight. He likely needs a win here after dropping back-to-back fights. Barzola recently left the UFC after going 6-3-1 for the promotion. Even though Caldwell is the one with the wrestling credentials, Brazola averaged 4.20 takedowns per 15 minutes during his UFC run.

    Chris Gonzalez vs. Saad Awad

    Gonzalez was an NJCAA All-American for Harper College in 2012 and then decided to focus on Greco. He made the non-Olympic World team in 2016 and followed that up with a silver medal at the 2017 US Open. Gonzalez made his MMA debut the following year and quickly built a 6-0 record, including a stoppage victory over UFC veteran Roger Huerta. However, in his last fight, he suffered his first defeat against Goiti Yamauchi. Gonzalez will have a tough comeback fight against Award, who is 24-13 and holds a variety of impressive wins.

    Kennedy Monday's MMA Debut

    After finishing his career at North Carolina as a three-time NCAA qualifier, Monday made it known to the wrestling world that his future was in MMA. This week he announced he would be making his MMA debut on Sunday in Anaheim. Details of the bout were not announced. Per his Instagram, he began training under Antonio McKee at Team Body Shop.

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