3x NCAA All-American Bryce Meredith (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The MMA weekend features a mix of wrestling converts hoping to establish themselves as prospects and veterans looking to make the jump to the next level. Friday night's LFA 126 card features three recent NCAA Division I All-Americans in showcase fights, while Saturday's UFC will determine the future of the UFC bantamweight champion and one of the fastest rising contenders ever.
Jimmy Lawson vs. Marino Eatman
Lawson started his collegiate career at Monmouth, where he played football for two years. He then transferred to Penn State in order to wrestle. As a senior in 2015, he went 20-5 and finished sixth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American. Lawson made his professional MMA debut in 2019 with a decision loss against Said Sowma. However, he then bounced back with three-straight victories.
His opponent on Friday also comes from a wrestling background. Eatman was a two-time All-American on the junior college level. In 2005, he finished second at the NJCAA tournament at heavyweight for Harper College. He then transferred to Waubonsee College, where he finished fourth. Eatman has been fighting professionally since 2014 and holds a 5-4-1 record.
Richie Miranda vs. Devon Dixon
Like UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, Miranda wrestled for Nebraska Kearney. He transferred and joined the Loopers squad after two years at Santa Ana College, where he finished fourth in the California community college state championships. Miranda will bring a 3-0 record into the cage, with all three of his fights coming after he made his professional debut last year.
Miranda will face off against Dixon, who made his professional debut in 2020. He won his first four fights to start his career, but he is coming off a draw against Charlie Decca last December.
Bryce Meredith vs. Jay Viola
After a year at North Carolina State, Meredith went on to have a storied career at Wyoming. There he was a two-time finalist and three-time All-American. As a senior in 2018, he went 33-2 with victories over Joey McKenna, Dean Heil, Kevin Jack and Jaydin Eierman. Both of his losses that season were against Yianni Diakomihalis, including the national final. Meredith had his first MMA fight last May and scored a first-round stoppage over Steven Merrill at LFA 108.
Meredith's opponent holds a 3-3 record. Viola turned professional all the way back in 2006 but returned to the amateur ranks until 2019. He is coming off a loss against Mitch Raposo, who was a contestant on both "The Ultimate Fighter" and Dana White's Contender Series in 2021.
Mitchell McKee vs. Jalen Jackson
After two seasons that ended in the blood round, McKee finished sixth as a junior in 2019 to become an All-American for Minnesota. He returned for his senior year and qualified for the NCAA tournament that was eventually canceled due to the pandemic. McKee, who was also a silver medalist at the 2017 Junior World Championships, made his MMA debut last December and stopped Frank Posko in the second round.
McKee will face off against Jackson, who will also be fighting professionally for the second time. He made his debut last January and fell via armbar submission in only 16 seconds.
Brett Bye vs. Jhellani Olton
Coming out of high school, Bye was the 59th ranked recruit by InterMat. He spent four years on the squad at South Dakota State and finished his run in 2019 with a 43-33 record per WrestleStat. Bye made his amateur debut last March and scored a unanimous decision over Brady Steinhorst.
For his second amateur fight, Bye will take on Olton. He fought twice on the amateur level in 2021 and picked up a pair of victories. This will be his first fight since December of that year.
The Bye fight will be part of the preliminary card, which begins at 8pm ET on Friday via LFA's Facebook page. The rest of the fights mentioned here will be part of the main card. It is scheduled to begin at 9pm on UFC Fight Pass.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan
Prior to the illegal knee that ended their first fight, Sterling relied heavily on his wrestling background against Yan. After spending his freshman season at Morrisville State, Sterling transferred to Cortland, where he was a two-time All-American. He finished his run in 2011 with a career record of 87-27. You can read plenty more about his collegiate wrestling career in InterMat's deep dive.
The illegal knee that ended Sterling's first fight with Yan also awarded the former Cortland wrestler the bantamweight title. He then took time off due to injury. During his absence, Yan would win an interim version of the belt with a decision over Cory Sandhagen. This bout will unify those belts.
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns
Chimaev has taken the UFC by storm and MMA, in general, since making his debut for the promotion in 2020. He has won all four of his fights and absorbed only one significant strike. Chimaev was born in Chechnya but relocated to Sweden in his youth. Prior to ever fighting MMA, he wrestled extensively in Sweden, including three national championships. His most recent title came in 2018 at 92 kg. Last November, Chimaev returned to his wrestling roots for a caged freestyle match against fellow UFC fighter Jack Hermansson and won despite giving up a four-point throw.
Burns represents a large step up in competition for the prospect. He challenged Kamaru Usman for the UFC welterweight title in 2021 but lost via third-round stoppage. Burns bounced back with a decision over Stephen Thompson last July. The victory improved his career record to 20-4.
Mark Madsen vs. Vinc Pichel
Madsen was a six-time World/Olympic medalist in Greco. In 2016, he won a silver medal at the Olympics with impressive victories over Viktor Nemes (Serbia) and Peter Bacsi (Hungary). However, he ultimately came up short against Roman Vlasov (Russia) in the finals. Madsen had a few fights while actively competing in wrestling, but he changed his focus in 2018 and made his UFC debut the following year. Since joining the promotion, he has gone 3-0 and picked up a victory over veteran Clay Guida in his last fight.
Pichel has been in the UFC since 2012 and has gone 7-2 with the promotion. He is riding a three-fight winning streak since losing via submission against former Edinboro All-American Gregor Gillespie in 2018.
All three of these bouts are scheduled to be part of the UFC 273 main card. It airs live on ESPN+ at 10pm ET on Saturday.