UFC Fight Night: Whittaker v Aliskerov OfficialWeigh-in
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UFC International Fight Week takes over Las Vegas next week, but the promotion is halfway across the world for this weekend's Fight Night card in Saudi Arabia that's headlined by ex-UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker taking on an impressive prospect in Ikram Aliskerov on Saturday.

Whittaker (26-7) is a much-beloved former champion looking to retrieve his title. The man affectionately known as "Bobby Knuckles" is 14-3 in the last decade, losing only to fellow champions Israel Adesanya (twice) and Dricus du Plessis. The Australian was scheduled to fight Khamazt Chimaev in a title eliminator on Saturday but agreed to stake his No. 3 spot in the UFC's official middleweight rankings against a dangerous prospect in Aliskerov after Chimaev withdrew with illness.

"Not that I know of," Whittaker told CBS Sports when asked if a title shot was off the table without Chimaev. "But honestly, none of that has ever played a role or space in my mind. Winning opens doors, and that has been my philosophy since day one of my career. It hasn't changed now. Let me go in there, dig in and take Ikram's head off. That will lead me to where I want to go."

Check out the full interview with Robert Whittaker below.

To say that Aliskerov (15-1) saved the main event after Chimaev fell "violently ill" is an understatement. Aliskerov was preparing to fight UFC debutant Antonio Trocoli last week, but the Dagestani fighter traveled from Las Vegas to Saudi Arabia and started a second weight cut to fight an opponent leagues better than a UFC newcomer. 

Despite the difference in promotional experience, the betting odds for Whittaker vs. Aliskerov are close. Aliskerov is one of the most promising prospects in any weight class. His three UFC fights -- including one "Contender Series" appearance -- lasted a combined six minutes and 19 seconds. His only career loss, coincidentally, came against Chimaev on the regional scene.

"There was very little time to decide and prepare," Aliskerov told CBS Sports through an interpreter. "If you factor in the really long flight, time difference and time change. But this is the sport. We are professional fighters and we have to be ready for any situation.

"I only have two fights in the UFC, but I have a lot of experience in the fight game. It's not that I have less experience than Whittaker, it's just that I haven't been in the UFC as long. I think in some ways I agree with him [that I'm a tougher fight than Chimaev]. I have lots of skills and experience. I'm pretty sure I can be hard for any opponent."

Check out the full interview with Ikram Aliskerov below.

UFC Fight Night's main card is significantly stronger than last week's UFC Apex card. The co-main event also has title implications as Sergei Pavlovich and Alexander Volkov look to enter the championship conversation. Pavlovich was on a hellacious six-fight run with six first-round finishes. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down with a 69-second knockout loss to Tom Aspinall in a bout for the interim heavyweight title. Former Bellator champ Volkov is as close to a UFC title shot as ever following three consecutive stoppage wins. Johnny Walker, Kelvin Gastelum and Shara Magomedov are among other notable fighters on the card.

Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday with the latest odds before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.

UFC Fight Night card, odds

Weight class
Robert Whittaker -170
Ikram Aliskerov +130
Sergei Pavlovich -230
Alexander Volkov +190
Kelvin Gastelum -225
Daniel Rodriguez +185 Middleweight
Shara Magomedov -675Antonio Trocoli +480Middleweight
Johnny Walker -110
Volkan Oezdemir +110
Light heavyweight

UFC Fight Night viewing information

Date: June 22 | Start time: 3 p.m. ET (main card)
Location: Kingdom Arena -- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
TV channel: ESPN+


Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov: I consider Whittaker a marvel who remains an elite fighter 15 years into his professional career. Still, the division has caught up to the former champion. His chin and defense are not impenetrable, but his technique and sheer will make him a believable winner against anyone. His second loss to Adesanya was infinitely more competitive than their first fight, and he overcame a nuclear spinning heel kick against Paulo Costa to win his most recent matchup. Aliskerov is a high-risk, low-reward foe for the former champion. The unranked fighter's KO power is on full display in the UFC, but he is just as capable of winning by submissions and decisions. Whittaker's defense isn't foolproof, but he's one of middleweight's smoothest operators. 

The Aussie fighter frustrates opponents with slick movement, 59% striking defense, combination striking and a strong wrestling game. Aliskerov's three fights under the UFC umbrella have been chaotic. It's a small sample size, but he's averaging 8.24 strikes landed per minute while absorbing 7.15, approximately double Whittaker's numbers. Aliskerov appears to have superior striking power. If Aliskerov can corner the former champ into a brawl, his chances to finish the fight skyrocket. If Whittaker can dart in and out, there's a good chance he defeats a fighter who has never gone more than three rounds. I expect Whittaker to weather some scary moments and take a decision over the less-experienced opponent. Prediction: Whittaker via Unanimous Decision