And just like that a brand-new year of UFC kicks off on BT Sport as our industry-leading coverage of the world’s premier MMA promotion returns in 2023.

The first fight card of the year goes down at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas having undergone some minor reconstruction in the last few days when Sean Strickland stepped in to replace the injured Kelvin Gastelum in the main event.


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Strickland will be competing on the second successive UFC card having gone five rounds in defeat to Jared Cannonier in the last action of 2022 and the middleweight contender will be aiming to bounce back to winning ways against France’s Nassourdine Imavov.

Plus with Dan Ige’s return and the next Nurmagomedov off the championship conveyor belt also in action this Saturday night, it’s going to be a packed evening of entertainment.

Here are three reasons you don’t want to miss UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Imavov on BT Sport.

Tricky Stricky’s the perfect man for Imavov

They say everything happens for a reason – and when all is said and done on Sunday morning, Nassourdine Imavov may well philosophise in a similar manner over the late replacement change he has been dealt this Saturday night.

Originally set to face former 185lb title challenger Kelvin Gastelum over five rounds at the UFC APEX, the Frenchman will instead take on Sean Strickland in a light heavyweight main event after a late injury forced Gastelum’s withdrawal.

Strickland may lack the name and star power of the former TUF winner Gastelum – but as far as match-ups go, Strickland’s introduction could well be a blessing in disguise for Imavov to take advantage of.

Over the course of his 4-1 in the UFC so far, Imavov has shown himself to be a technically proficient striker with good power – albeit perhaps lacking in speed at times.

However, hand speed – or lack thereof - may not be an issue against a fighter like Strickland who has never appeared particularly interested in making himself hard to hit.

Without the burden of a significant weight cut too, Imavov’s power should carry a particularly tasty pop with the 6ft 3ins, Russian-born 27-year-old unexpectedly making his 205lb debut this weekend.

But only a fool could write off Strickland; the 31-year-old will still be stinging after what he feels was an unjust defeat on the scorecards to former middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier a little over four weeks ago.

The Syndicate MMA charge has now dropped two straight defeats for the first time in his professional career, halting a run of six straight wins that had elevated him to the brink of 185lb title contention.

Strickland is a limited but effective striker who relies heavily on work rate and cardio to overwhelm and outlast his opponents.

While Strickland’s deficiencies are not difficult to spot, sitting seventh in the current UFC middleweight rankings, it’s clear the North Carolina fighter is doing something right and he’ll be out to show he belongs among the elite in the division with a victory over the no.12 ranked Imavov.

Jackson wants the jump over Ige

There’s a classic crossroads showdown in the co-main event that will be a fascinating watch as an out-of-sorts Dan Ige takes on the in-form Damon Jackson in the featherweight division.

It wasn’t too long ago that Ige was on the cusp of potential 145lb title contention having won six straight to rocket up the featherweight rankings.

However, since losing to the battle-hardened Calvin Kattar on the scorecards back in July 2020, momentum has shifted in an unwelcome direction for the man from Hawaii.

Now on the wrong end of a 1-4 run in his last five, the 31-year-old Ige is battling to remain relevant in the featherweight conversation against a man who has four straight wins heading into the contest.

“He’s just another dude in my way”
- Damon Jackson

But is it too harsh to suggest Ige could be on his way out with another defeat?

Ige’s three recent consecutive losses have come against some of the most elite operators in the division in Korean Zombie, Josh Emmett and Movsar Evloev, two of whom are world title challengers and one, Evloev, looks certain to be heading that way.

Step forward Jackson then, who will be keen to show he belongs in the upper echelons and among the esteemed company mentioned above as he aims to piece together a run at the rankings in 2023.

The 34-year-old picked up a bonus on his last appearance, knocking out Pat Sabatini in September to put himself on the radar of the UFC matchmakers as one to keep an eye on.

Speaking to LowKickMMA this week, Jackson said of Ige: “He’s just another dude in my way and I’ve got to get past him to get to where I want to be.

“It’s a tough fight, but I like the fight a lot. Ige is very well-rounded so I’ve got my work cut out for me. My wrestling has got to be on point, my jiu-jitsu has got to be on point, and then obviously his striking is through the roof.

“I’ve been doing a lot of defensive work and I think if everything goes as planned, I should take care of business. It’s definitely going to be a tough fight though.”

If all goes to plan, this one could steal the show on Saturday night. Don’t miss it!

Another Eagle has landed

As reports suggest Khabib Nurmagomedov looks set to exit the sport of MMA one and for all, the legendary fighter’s cousin, Umar Nurmagomedov, will look to carry the family’s good name to yet more combat sports world glory in 2023.

The 26-year-old bantamweight has already made a name for himself in the 135lb division as a ruthless operator blessed with more natural striking ability than Khabib demonstrated in his formative years.

But that striking prowess is all built off the same base of grappling dominance as is to be expected from a Nurmagomedov, using busy, top-heavy pressure to maul and smother his opponents into submission.

“I already defeated a Nurmagomedov in the UFC who is more complete than Umar”
- Raoni Barcelos

This weekend, Umar will look to extend his record to 16-0 having already dominated Sergey Morozov, Brian Kelleher, and Nate Maness since joining the promotion to climb to the brink of top 10 status.

A win over Brazil’s Barcelos could very well be enough to see the Dagestani prospect crack the top 10 and set up a big 2023 in one of the promotions most talent-rich divisions.

However, Barcelos will not come to lie down against the highly-touted prospect, promising to bring his A-game and upset the apple cart at the UFC APEX.

"I like real challenges. I'm really happy that UFC is giving me a ranked opponent and such a great challenge like Umar,” he said, before referencing his win over Said Nurmagomedov [no relation] in December 2019.

"To tell you the truth I already defeated a Nurmagomedov in the UFC who is more complete than Umar, who has a great grappling game but is not as dangerous striker as Said is.”

Can Barcelos make it two for two against the Nurmagomedov name – or will Umar prove he’s the real deal and keep his undefeated streak intact?