The build-up to UFC 300 is officially underway, and the first confirmed bouts for the fight card have now been announced.
The event, which takes place on April 13 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, is set to feature a loaded card of fights, with a host of bout announcements set to take place over the coming weeks.
And, on Thursday night, UFC CEO Dana White took to social media to announce the first three confirmed fights for the card, with two former UFC champions among the six fighters booked for the event.
White announced a huge matchup in the light heavyweight division, with former UFC champion Jiri Prochazka set to kick off his road back to the title against fellow European contender Aleksandar Rakic.
Prochazka captured the light heavyweight title at UFC 275 in June 2022 with a fifth-round submission of Glover Teixeira, but a serious shoulder injury put the Czech champion on the shelf for a year and a half, with Prochazka relinquishing the title to allow the division to move on in his absence.
He returned at UFC 295 and challenged for the vacant light heavyweight title, but was stopped in the second round by former middleweight champ Alex Pereira. It snapped Prochazka's remarkable eight-year, 13-fight win streak, and left him even more determined than ever to bounce back in 2024.
Now Prochazka is set to take on Austria's Rakic, who is also looking to bounce back after an injury-TKO loss to Jan Blachowicz in May 2022. Prior to that loss, Rakic's only other defeat at world level came via split decision against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC South Korea in 2019.
Also confirmed for UFC 300 is the featherweight debut of former bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, who moves up to 145 pounds to embark on a new chapter of his career. "Funkmaster" won nine in a row during a bantamweight run that saw him defeat Petr Yan twice to win, then unify, the 135-pound title, then defend the crown against former UFC champions TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo before finally succumbing to Sean O'Malley at UFC 292.
Sterling had teased a move up to featherweight during the latter stages of his title reign, and now makes that move up to 145 pounds, where he'll take on divisional staple and longtime contender Calvin Kattar, who is looking to right the ship after falling to back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
Kattar built his reputation as one of the best strikers in the featherweight division with victories over the likes of Shane Burgos, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Dan Ige, and Giga Chikadze. But successive defeats to fellow contenders Josh Emmett and Arnold Allen have Kattar looking to bounce back against the latest big name to join the division.
The third matchup announced by White sees undefeated former college wrestling phenom Bo Nickal face a step up in competition as he takes on in-form Cody Brundage.
Nickal arrived in the UFC with huge fanfare after a stellar amateur wrestling career, and a huge knockout win on his professional MMA debut. Back-to-back submission victories on Dana White's Contender Series gave Nickal a run-up to his Octagon debut, where a third straight submission gave him victory over Jamie Pickett at UFC 285 in March.
A planned matchup with Tresean Gore at UFC 290 was scrapped after Gore suffered an injury in the lead-up to the event, and promotional newcomer Val Woodburn stepped in on short notice. Nickal needed just 38 seconds to finish Woodburn with strikes as the former Penn State wrestler moved to 5-0.
Nickal's next test will see him face Brundage, who has bounced back superbly in the second half of 2023 after three consecutive losses in the Octagon. B
rundage made a 2-1 start to life in the UFC, with wins over Gore and Dalcha Lungiambula, but fell to successive losses to Michal Oleksiejczuk, Rodolfo Vieira, and Sedrique Dumas.
With his UFC career potentially at risk, Brundage defeated Jacob Malkoun via disqualification, then scored the biggest win of his UFC career with a bonus-winning slam KO finish of Zachary Reese at UFC Austin earlier this month.
That victory brought his UFC record back to .500, at 4-4, and put Brundage on a two-fight win streak. Now he'll face Nickal with the opportunity to become the first man to defeat the much-hyped middleweight prospect.