Will the third time be the charm for Brian Kelleher?
Hours before his UFC on ESPN+ 34 fight, Kelleher (21-11 MMA, 5-4 UFC), has encountered his third opponent change in the past two weeks. With Kevin Natividad being removed from the matchup for undisclosed reasons, Kelleher will now take on Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus Ray Rodriguez at featherweight.
Two people with knowledge of the situation informed MMA Junkie of the switch up Saturday but asked to remain anonymous as the promotion has yet to make an official announcement.
MMA Fighting was the first to report the change.
Natividad (9-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) partook in Thursday’s UFC on ESPN+ 34 virtual media day from his hotel room instead of the multi-purpose room the rest of the fighters streamed from. He asked about why he was in his room and said he was waiting for his COVID-19 test results.
However, on Friday, Natividad weighed in with the rest of the fighters, making weight. Rodriguez also weighed in and was announced as a backup fighter.
Prior to the Natividad booking, Kelleher (21-11 MMA, 5-4 UFC) was scheduled to fight Ricky Simon. However, Simon withdrew after a cornerman tested positive for COVID-19.
As for Rodriguez (16-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC), the Texas-based fighter will make his promotional debut on a little over 48 hours’ notice. He competed at DWCS in 2019, losing to now-UFC fighter Tony Gravely in a back-and-forth affair. Rodriguez, 32, has won 11 out of 13 entering Saturday.
UFC on ESPN+ 34 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event streams on ESPN+.
The current UFC on ESPN+ 34 lineup includes:
- Alistair Overeem vs. Augusto Sakai
- Alonzo Menifield vs. Ovince Saint Preux
- Sijara Eubanks vs. Karol Rosa
- Zelim Imadaev vs. Michel Pereira
- Brian Kelleher vs. Ray Rodriguez
- Thiago Moises vs. Jalin Turner
- Viviane Araujo vs. Montana De La Rosa
- Bartosz Fabinski vs. Andre Muniz
- Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Alexander Romanov
- Hunter Azure vs. Cole Smith