UFC Fight Night 125: Preview & Predictions (main card only)

You know the old saying, “an attribute polygon is worth a thousand words,” right? But maybe you've wondered -- what exactly IS an attribute polygon? It's a "radial graph". In this case, we will use the graph to compare fighters and illustrate a fighter’s strengths and weaknesses. First, we must determine a rating scale and decide which 8 metrics to base the graph around.

Fighters will be rated in each category on a 1-4 scale (relative to division):
1: below-average (poor)
2: average (good)
3: above-average (great)  
4: top-tier (elite)

The graph is made up of four octagon-shaped rings. The innermost ring represents a rating of 1 (poor) and the outermost represents a 4 (elite). note: fighters can also receive ratings of 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5, for times when a fighter falls in between two tiers.

Strength: How physically strong is the fighter?

Cardio: The fighter’s overall stamina and durability. Determined by the fighter’s conditioning and ability to maintain work rate late into fights. Also, to a lesser extent, how good the fighter’s “chin” is. Still working out the balance between chin and cardio — might have to separate into two categories.

Speed: How is the fighter’s mobility in the octagon? How quickly do they react to and evade strikes? How quick are their hands?

Boxing: The fighter’s technical boxing ability.

Kicking: Pure kicking ability. How hard does the fighter kick? How well do they incorporate kicks and knees into their gameplan?

Fight IQ: Pretty straight-forward. Does the fighter make smart choices in the octagon? Do they fight to their strengths and take advantage of opponent’s weaknesses?

Jiu-Jitsu: Overall jiu-jitsu/submission ability. The fighter’s ability to lock-in submissions, as well as defend them. How good is their defensive guard?

Wrestling: How well the fighter takes down opponents and defends takedowns. Grappling in the clinch and against the cage. Ability to maintain top control and keep opponents on the mat.

P.S. The system is definitely still a work in progress. “Wrestling” and “jiu-jitsu” could possibly be consolidated into one general “grappling” category — this would make space for separate categories of “cardio” and “chin”. Another possibility would be the combination of “speed” and “strength” into one “physical” rating. Would love any thoughts and feedback on this.


#13 Lyoto Machida (22-8, 14-8 UFC) vs. Eryk Anders (10-0, 2-0 UFC) - 185 lbs.

machidavsanders

As he nears the end of an illustrious career, Machida has now been relegated to a “gatekeeper” role. However, even gatekeepers need to win sometimes. With 3-straight losses on the shelf, Machida desperately needs to get back in the win-column this weekend. He will face Eryk Anders, who has been victorious in his first 2 UFC bouts. In those 2 fights, Anders has shown enough promise to be receiving a huge “push” from the UFC brass. A win this weekend will surely catapult the 30-year-old into the top-15. He's displayed knockout power in his hands, but is also a well-rounded fighter who can grind out a victory by decision, if need be. I’m not sure how his cardio holds up in a 5-round fight though.

Things should be pretty evenly-matched on the feet and I’m expecting both guys to employ a calculated approach to striking. Anders' heavy hands may give him the edge, but he’ll have to be careful against an opponent with so much experience. Machida may be well past his prime, but his kicking ability should not be underestimated — he can still end a fight with one well-timed kick.

On the mat is where things could get interesting. Machida should have the upper-hand in terms of pure jiu-jitsu technique, however, i’m not sure that he’s strong enough to have much success controlling Anders on the ground. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anders end this fight with some heavy ground and pound.

Prediction: Anders via KO/TKO, rd. 3


#8 John Dodson (19-9, 8-4 UFC) vs. #10 Pedro Munhoz** (15-2, 5-2 UFC) - 135 lbs.

** Munhoz missed weight (140 lbs.) UPDATE: Unfortunately, this bout has been cancelled.

dodsonvsmunhoz

Impressively, Dodson has never been finished during his 28-fight professional career. The two main factors which contribute to this feat are his speed and fight IQ. He rarely gets caught in a bad position. Likewise, Pedro Munhoz’ 2 career losses were the result of the judges’ scorecards. Munhoz is a high-level jiu-jitsu practicioner, and has an uncanny ability to sink in a guillotine choke within a split-second.

Throughout his career, Dodson has exhibited elite takedown defense, however, he has seemed reluctant to really grapple on the mat. It will be interesting to see how he deals with a capable submission-artist such as Munhoz. I expect that Dodson will be able to keep this fight standing, and he should be able to out-strike Munhoz.

Prediction: Dodson via decision


#1 (WBW) Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) vs. Priscila Cachoeira (8-0, UFC DEBUT) - 125 lbs.

shevchenkovscachoeira

This is an interesting and surprising matchup. In Shevchenko, we have arguably the best female striker in UFC history. On the other hand, Cachoeira is a relatively unknown commodity. Although the undefeated prospect has finished 4 fights by KO/TKO, her boxing style is extremely reckless. In fact, when watching footage of Cachoeira’s last fight, I was shocked by the wild hooks she was throwing. Shevchenko should have no problem stopping the Brazilian in her tracks, whether it be on the feet or on the ground. Cachoeira is still very raw, and it’s surprising that she will make her UFC debut against such an elite fighter. Furthermore, Shevchenko will be making debut in the 125 lb. division, a much more natural weight class for her.

Prediction: Shevchenko via KO/TKO, rd. 1


Michel Prazeres** (23-2, 7-2 UFC) vs. Desmond Green (20-6, 1-1 UFC) - 155 lbs.

** Prazeres missed weight (161 lbs.)

prazeresvsgreen

On paper, this is a fascinating matchup. Two high-level grapplers with completely different styles — a quick, lanky collegiate All-American wrestler vs. a jiu-jitsu black belt who is compact and powerful. On the feet, Prazeres is aggressive while Green is more tentative. Green can be a bit too cautious sometimes — he just needs to let his hands go a bit more. Both guys have good chins and have never been knocked out. Green should definitely have the cardio advantage. Prazeres’ muscly build can work against him sometimes — he’s very strong but tends to run out of gas before the fight is over. Prazeres will step into the octagon with a significant weight advantage, but Green's conditioning could be the decisive factor.

On a side note, this is the 3rd time that Prazeres has missed weight in his last 4 bouts, so this could very well be the last time we see him as a lightweight.

Prediction: Green via decision


#14 Timothy Johnson (11-4, 3-3 UFC) vs. Marcelo Golm (6-0, 1-0 UFC) - 265 lbs.

johnsonvsgolm

Although Johnson doesn’t really have the expected “look” of a UFC fighter, he has racked up some impressive victories throughout his tenure. Wins over Shamil Abdurakhimov, Marcin Tybura, and Daniel Omielanczuk have proven that Johnson is no slouch. After a 1st-round TKO loss at the hands of Brazilian prospect, Junior Albini, Johnson will once again step into the cage with an up and coming Brazilian fighter. The bad news for Johnson is that Marcelo Golm is, in my opinion, the best heavyweight prospect in the UFC.

With only 6 professional fights under his belt, it is tough to get a read of just how good Golm is. I have high expectations for the 25-year-old and I think he will emerge as a title-contender within the next 2 years. Although none of Golm’s fights have gone past the 1st round, that could change this weekend — Johnson is certainly a level above any of Golm’s previous opponents.

Prediction: Golm via decision


Thiago Santos (16-5, 8-4 UFC) vs. Anthony Smith (28-12, 4-1 UFC) - 185 lbs.

santosvssmith

Great fight to kick-off the main card. I’d have no complaints if this were billed as the co-main event on this card. Two explosive fighters with undoubted finishing ability. At 6’4”, Smith is the tallest fighter in the middleweight division. His length and penchant for throwing unexpected head kicks make him a tough opponent to stand and trade with. If there’s one guy who’s up for the task, it’s Thiago Santos. With 7 of his 8 UFC victories coming by way of knockout or submission, Santos is among the division’s most dangerous strikers. Both fighters have won 3 straight, by knockout.

Prediction: Santos via KO/TKO, rd. 2

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get around to the prelim fights, but I hope that you guys enjoyed this. Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter @CagesideTribune

 

UFC on FOX 27: Preview and Predictions

UFC on FOX 27: Charlotte

Austin Arnett (15-3) vs. Cory Sandhagen (7-1) - 145 lbs.

Arnett (UFC Debut): Before losing to Brandon Davis on Dana White’s Conteder Series, Arnett compiled a 13 fight win-streak. Even more impressive, is the fact that only 3 of those 13 fights went the distance. Although Arnett had a rough time against Davis, who debuted at UFC 220, he is a proven finisher and more than deserving of this opportunity. Has shown flashes of ability to pull off quick submissions, but he’s primarily a striker.

Sandhagen (UFC Debut): He just fought last weekend at LFA 31 (KO’d his opponent in the 1st round), so it’s gonna be an extremely quick turnaround for the 25-year-old. 8 days between fights is almost unheard of at this level. He’s an excellent, precise striker. Has displayed some good grappling ability as well. Will be crucial that he remains composed against Arnett, who will be his toughest opponent yet.

What to expect: This bout was a last-minute addition to the fight card, but is a great way to kick things off. Both guys have shown decent jiu-jitsu skills, but relatively untested. Although both guys are pretty much the same age, Arnett has much more experience — his calculated approach could be the decisive factor in this one. If Sandhagen gets too wild, Arnett will make him pay. Will be interesting to see how both guys handle the pressure of making their debuts on short-notice.

Prediction: Arnett via decision


Niko Price (10-1) vs. George Sullivan (17-5) - 170 lbs.

Price (2-1, [1 NC] UFC): Despite his recent loss to Vicente Luque, Niko Price has had a great start to his UFC career. “The Hybrid” has exhibited good kickboxing skills — he puts some serious power behind his head kicks. In his second UFC bout, Price was clipped several times by his opponent, Alex Morono, and appeared to be in danger. However, he quickly turned the table with a flurry of strikes and ended the fight just as the 2nd round came to a close (overturned to no contest due to Price’s marijuana use). Price is a prolific finisher, and only 1 of his 12 professional fights have gone the distance. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds after being handed his first loss. He likes to get the job done on the feet, but don’t underestimate his jiu-jitsu and wrestling skills either.

Sullivan (3-2 UFC): A veteran of the fight game, George Sullivan holds a 3-2 record in the UFC. Despite the winning record, he seems to falter when he faces a high-level opponent. His two losses were dealt by Tim Means and Alexander Yakovlev, both rangy fighters with good kickboxing skills. He hasn’t fought in 2 years, due to multiple USADA violations. Decent grappler and striker, but his skill-set is better suited to the regional circuit. Tends to move around the octagon in a stiff and flat-footed manner. Definitely a “fringe” fighter who can dominate on the regional circuit, but struggles against the best. Sullivan’s resumé does include a victory over viral-sensation Julian Lane (he didn’t let him bang), so he’s got that going for him.

What to expect: It will be quickly apparent that Price is the better fighter. The Hybrid should have his way with this one, and I expect him to finish the fight within two rounds. Furthermore, Sullivan, 36, is coming off a lengthy absence, and won’t have the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs this time around. A loss this weekend could spell the end of Sullivan’s time in the UFC.

Prediction: Price via KO/TKO, rd. 1


Vinc Pichel (10-1) vs. Joaquim Silva (10-0) - 155 lbs.

Pichel (3-1 UFC): Following a 3-year hiatus, Pichel returned to the octagon in dramatic fashion last June, knocking out Damien Brown in the 1st round. It’s worth noting that he was nearly overwhelmed by Brown’s boxing early in the fight. Has proven himself to be an above-average grappler, and the ground game is where he’s most comfortable. Despite his impressive record, Pichel is already 35, and the clock is ticking on his career.

Silva: (3-0 UFC): Very well-rounded fighter. Black belt in jiu-jitsu, but his biggest strength is his striking… very explosive and powerful. He’s never lost a professional fight, but did lose an exhibition bout on TUF, via submission. Nevertheless, at only 28-years-old, Silva has a very bright future in the UFC.

What to expect: Pichel is gonna have a lot of trouble dealing with Silva’s striking. I expect Silva to bring the pressure right away. Pichel’s best path of victory may be through his wrestling, however, he’s gotta be careful in Silva’s guard.

Prediction: Silva via KO/TKO, rd. 2


Justine Kish (6-1) vs. Ji-Yeon Kim (6-1-2) - 125 lbs.

Kish (2-1 UFC): The good news for Justine Kish is that win or lose, things can’t go much worse than last time (if you don’t know… you’re better off). Before transitioning to MMA, Kish racked up accolades in muay thai and boxing. An accomplished striker, Kish is very strong and fights in a forward-moving manner, winging punches and kicks at her opponent. She can be a bit reckless, and gets hit a fair amount. Her defense and head movement could definitely improve. Although the former kickboxer has shown a a decent capacity for wrestling, she was clearly outclassed by Felice Herrig on the mat, in her most recent fight.

Kim (0-1 UFC): Ji-Yeon Kim made her UFC debut last June, dropping a unanimous decision to Lucie Pudilova. The 28-year-old Korean fighter leans heavily on her boxing and packs a lot of power behind her punches. Her grappling hasn’t been tested, and that could prove to be a significant weakness in her game. This weekend, she will be moving down from the 135 lb. division to fight at 125 lbs.

What to expect: Interesting matchup here as Kish is moving up from 115 and Kim is moving down from 135. Kish has faced some high-level opponents in the octagon, and I expect that experience will benefit her greatly, this weekend. She does tend to eat a lot of big shots, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kim put her down with one punch. Kish normally holds a strength advantage over her opponents, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out against an opponent who is dropping down from a higher weight class. Kish has had a fairly successful start to her UFC career, and I expect her to grind out another victory this weekend.

Prediction: Kish via KO/TKO, rd. 2


#11 Randa Markos (7-5) vs. Juliana Lima (9-4) - 115 lbs.

Markos (3-4 UFC): The Canadian fighter has faced some of the best competition that the UFC has to offer, and even defeated some of them. She holds victories over Tecia Torres, Felice Herrig, and Carla Esparza. Following her loss to Rose Namajunas in the semi-finals of TUF season 20, her career has been a mixed bag — she is 3-4 in her last 7 fights. She’s a strong and aggressive fighter, however, her technical shortcomings are often exposed by well-trained opponents.

Lima (3-3 UFC): The 35-year-old is quite well-rounded, with a background in both muay thai and jiu-jitsu. She does seem to be more comfortable in grappling situations. In her 2014 debut, Lima went the distance with Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

What to expect: The contrasting styles of these fighters makes for an intriguing matchup. Markos is a physical brawler, while Lima is more careful and technically-sound. Both fighters are coming off of losses. Furthermore, they’ve both been hovering around the edge of the top-15 for many years, so a win would be huge for either fighter. Lima may be looking to grapple, but Markos has proven to be a very tough opponent to control.

Prediction: Lima via decision


#11 (BW) Chookagian (9-1) vs. #9 Mara Romera Borella (12-4) - 125 lbs.

Chookagian (2-1 UFC): Comes from a striking background but doesn’t seem fully comfortable engaging in a brawl. Usually fights moving backwards.  Doesn’t normally initiate a clinch or takedown, but she has a good defensive-guard. An inexperienced opponent this weekend will present a good opportunity for Chookagian to test her striking skills.

Romero Borella (1-0 UFC): After a great debut, where she pulled off a quick submission on Kalinda Faria, i’m very excited to see Romera Borella back in the octagon. She made her debut on short-notice, so i’m curious to see if her ground game will hold up against an opponent who is prepared for it. She has shown a very limited striking attack, and looks to tie-up her opponent whenever the opportunity arises.

What to expect: Should be a good challenge for both fighters. One is a striker and the other is a grappler, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either of them will hold an advantage in those areas. If Borella is able to get the fight to the ground, I don’t expect her to do much damage. Furthermore, I can’t see either fighter dominating their opponent on the feet. Chookagian’s high-level experience and size-advantage could give her the upper-hand.

Prediction: Chookagian via decision


#15 Mirsad Bektic (11-1) vs. Godofredo “Pepey” Castro (13-5) - 145 lbs.

Bektic (4-1 UFC): Darren Elkins handed him his first loss at UFC 209, but Mirsad Bektic is still one of the UFC’s most promising prospects. He will look to get the hype train back on track as he faces another veteran this weekend. In the lead-up to this fight, Bektic made a drastic change — he began training at Firas Zahabi’s Tri-Star gym. Bektic hasn’t shown many weaknesses in the octagon. He’s a ferocious striker and very good grappler. He’s proven that he belongs in the UFC, but a win this weekend will prove that Bektic deserves another shot at a ranked opponent.

Castro (5-5 UFC): “Pepey” has had a very respectable tenure in the UFC. Since joining the organization in 2012, the  Brazilian fighter has put together a 5-5 record. He’s had an interesting career. He made his pro debut in 2003, at the age of 16. However, he didn’t start to fight consistently until 2010. In 2012, with a 7-0 record, Pepey made the jump to the UFC. After losing 3 of his first 4 fights in the promotion, Pepey has turned things around nicely, picking up wins in 4 of his last 6 bouts. With 3 ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses under his belt, the 30-year-old has proven that he can end the fight in a split-second, both on the feet and on the mat. He’s one of the most dynamic finishers in the featherweight division.

What to expect: One of the most exciting matchups on the card. Bektic will need to be extremely careful grappling with Pepey, who has an insane repertoire of submissions that he can utilize in any grappling situation, whether it be on the mat or in the clinch. On the feet, I’m expecting some explosive exchanges. Although Pepey has a more “diverse” style, Bektic’s rock-solid fundamentals could be a major factor in this fight.

Prediction: Bektic via decision


Eric Koch (15-5) vs. Bobby Green (23-8-1) - 155 lbs.

Koch (4-4 UFC): Koch has had a long and winding career, plagued by injuries. Originally breaking into the UFC as a featherweight, Koch knocked out Raphael Assuncao in 2011. Since then, he’s failed to beat anyone of relevance. Still only 29-years-old, the longtime Roufusport product is 2-2 since moving up in weight, to compete at 155. Fighting with a wide, karate stance, Koch works best against an opponent who gives him space to operate. In his last fight, he struggled to deal with Clay Guida’s smothering ground game. Koch is a well-conditioned fighter, and has shown great stamina throughout his career. Although he has racked up 8 wins by submission, he’s primarily a striker, but he is eager to jump on a submission opportunity after knocking down an opponent.

Green (4-3-1 UFC): After 3-straight losses and a draw, Green hasn’t won a fight since 2014. To be fair, he has faced very tough opponents during his winless-streak. Once ranked #7 in the lightweight division, Green has shown that he can hang with the best of the best. He is an above-average wrestler and boxer. He tends to get hit a little too often, and will need to tighten up his defense against a dangerous striker such as Koch.

What to expect: Both of these guys have been within reach of a title-shot, at one point in their careers. It would be wise of Green to fight with a lot of forward-pressure this weekend. Koch could be in for a long day if Green can take the fight to the mat. For either fighter, a victory this weekend will bring a much-needed second-wind to their career. Don’t expect anything flashy, but this should be a great contest between two of the sport’s toughest, unsung veterans.

Prediction: Green via decision


Drew Dober (18-8) vs. Frank Camacho (21-5) - 170 lbs.

Dober (4-4 UFC): After dropping 3 of his first 4 UFC fights, Dober has turned the corner nicely. The 29-year-old has won 3 of his last 4 bouts. This will be Dober’s first fight at 170 lbs. Throughout his career, he has proven himself to be a well-rounded martial artist. An amateur muay-thai champion, Dober is a high-volume striker and a proven finisher. His loss to Oliver Aubin-Mercier demonstrated his jiu-jitsu shortcomings, however, he has been working hard on that facet of his game and is certainly not a bad grappler.

Camacho (1-1 UFC): After missing weight by 5 pounds his last time out, Camacho will be moving up to a more natural weight class for this bout. In just 2 UFC fights, Camacho’s exciting style has earned him many fans. He’s a hard-hitter and is always moving forward, looking for the finish. His striking arsenal is fairly limited. Don’t sleep on his ground game though, he is well-versed in jiu-jitsu, and holds a brown belt. He’s shown a questionable gas-tank… but it’s not clear yet whether that has been a result of tough weight-cuts.

What to expect: I’m excited to see how both of these guys perform as welterweights, without the drain of a hard weight-cut. An experienced striker such as Dober could exploit Camacho’s simple boxing style. Both guys have proven to be tough competitors, and this is a definite ‘Fight of the Night’ candidate.

Prediction: Dober via KO/TKO, rd. 3


Jordan Rinaldi (13-5) vs. Gregor Gillespie (10-0) - 155 lbs.

Rinaldi (1-1 UFC): When you look at Rinaldi’s record on the regional circuit, you will see some familiar names. The first recognizable name that springs up is none other than Dennis Bermudez. In 2010, Rinaldi defeated Bermudez in just 2 minutes, with a rear-naked choke. He’s a scrappy fighter who boxes well and looks to take his opponent’s back at any given opportunity. He fights smart and is a very difficult opponent to finish. Rinaldi has been finished twice in his career, by UFC fighters James Moontasri (KO) and Brian Ortega (submission). He’s a good wrestler, but I don’t think he is on Gillespie’s level.

Gillespie (3-0 UFC): Ability-wise, Gillespie stands among the upper-echelon of wrestlers in the UFC. After just missing the cut for the 2012 Olympic wrestling team, he decided to take his talents to the MMA scene — his grappling has certainly translated well. Although he has shown some quick hands and sharp boxing, Gillespie has leaned heavily on his wrestling thus far.

What to expect: A veteran journeyman meets an undefeated prospect. In this case, the “prospect” is actually a year older than the journeyman. It’s no secret that Gillespie will try to control the fight with his wrestling. The question is, how can Rinaldi thwart Gillespie’s plans? Will he play Gillespie’s game and try to pull-off a submission from his guard? Or perhaps, he will try to time Gillespie’s takedown attempts and catch him with an uppercut.

Prediction: Gillespie via decision


#12 Dennis Bermudez (16-7) vs. Andre Fili (17-5) - 145 lbs.

Bermudez (9-5 UFC): Bermudez garnered a lot of hype as he coasted to a 7-1 start in the UFC. Lately, the featherweight division mainstay has fallen on rough times, with a 2-4 record in his last 6 appearances. He’s got a very strong wrestling base, but has done a great job integrating boxing into his game. His short-stature often allows him to get in the pocket and unleash vicious uppercuts.

Fili (5-4 UFC): Since joining the UFC in 2013, the 27-year-old has alternated between wins and losses. A victory this weekend would give Fili his first winning-streak since joining the company. He does a good job keeping range with kicks and jabs. Fili’s shown some good boxing, but I think he’ll struggle against an opponent who likes to fight in the pocket and bring the pressure, such as Bermudez.

What to expect: Both fighters need this win pretty badly. I can’t see Fili having much luck dealing with Bermudez’ elite wrestling. Furthermore, Bermudez is an extremely explosive striker and I think that he will find success countering Fili’s jabs and kicks. Factor in Bermudez’ penchant for dirty boxing in the clinch, and I can see this fight being very one-sided.

Prediction: Bermudez via KO/TKO, rd. 2


#3 Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (24-5) vs. #8 Derek Brunson (18-5) - 185 lbs.

Souza (7-2 UFC): Following a loss to Robert Whittaker, and some injury problems, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will return to the octagon after a 9-month layoff. Interestingly, Jacare’s only 3 losses since 2009 have been at the hands of Whittaker, Yoel Romero, and Luke Rockhold. The 38-year-old will look to prove that he’s still got enough in the tank to make a final title-run, and a victory this weekend should put him in good standing.

Brunson (9-3 UFC): The Wilmington, Carolina-native has built quite a reputation for himself as one of the UFC’s most lethal knockout-artists. As a result, we haven’t really seen Brunson tested outside of the 1st round. Only 1 of Brunson’s previous 8 bouts — a decision-loss to Anderson Silva — has lasted longer than a round. After KO’ing Lyoto Machida in October, Brunson will face another Brazilian legend this weekend. He has shown heavy hands and a questionable fight IQ, but don’t forget that Brunson is an elite wrester.

What to expect:  This fight presents an interesting scenario. We have two high-profile finishers — a knockout-artist and a submission-artist. However, both fighters are extremely well-rounded. Although he rarely needs to show it, Brunson’s wrestling is top-notch. On the other hand, Jacare is a world class jiu-jitsu practitioner and has been considered one of the best all-around fighters for over a decade. I expect Brunson to respect Jacare’s abilities, and deviate from his usual go for broke strategy. Furthermore, I don’t think that Jacare would have any problem neutralizing an aggressive push from Brunson. Brunson’s wrestling could prove a tough test for Souza, but the jiu-jitsu disparity may grow as the fight progresses. The first iteration of this matchup ended in just 41 seconds, but you can expect this one to last longer than that.

If Robert Whittaker is out for an extended amount of time, the winner of this fight could be next in line for a shot at the interim title. If Whittaker returns to defend his belt this summer, I could also see a situation where the winner between Souza/Brunson is matched up with Chris Weidman for a title-eliminator bout, and the loser faces Kelvin Gastelum.

Prediction: Souza via submission, rd. 4

 

The State of the UFC's Heavyweight Division

In the aftermath of the most anticipated UFC heavyweight championship fight of all-time, we are left with a grim-reality. The adrenaline and excitement quickly fades into the revelation that we are now left without a legit title contender. At a time when we are blessed with the greatest heavyweight champion ever, in Stipe Miocic, the flow of worthy challengers has come to a trickle. The truth is, Francis Ngannou is still the man with the best shot of defeating Miocic. Remember, before last night, none of Miocic’s championship fights had gone past the 1st round.

Fabricio Werdum is probably the next man up, but does he deserve a chance to win back the belt which he relinquished to Stipe Miocic at UFC 198? Since losing the belt, Werdum has beat Travis Browne by decision, dropped a majority decision to Overeem, and beat a last-minute fill-in, Walt Harris, by submission. In his most recent bout, Werdum turned in a decent performance — nothing more, nothing less — to beat Marcin Tybura by unanimous decision, after 5 mostly uneventful rounds.

Has he done enough to earn the title shot? I’d say no — however, in the barren-landscape of the UFC’s heavyweight division, he is the likely #1 contender. Regardless, it seems that this next year will be a turning-point for the division — a changing of the guards, per say. Veterans such as Werdum, Overeem, and Hunt seem to be on the way out. Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov, and Curtis Blaydes are all on the brink of earning a title-shot. We also have a group of promising fighters who debuted last year — Marcelo Golm, Tai Tuivasa, and Junior Albini — all prospects to keep an eye on. Also, don’t forget about Junior Dos Santos, who is still only 33-years-old. Let’s explore some of the interesting questions which surround the aging heavyweight division:

Who should Ngannou fight next?

I’d like to see Ngannou face the winner of the Derrick Lewis-Marcin Tybura fight, which takes place next month. Both Lewis and Tybura are hard-headed strikers who probably won’t overwhelm Ngannou on the ground, as Miocic did. Tybura is of similar stature to the champ, and has some decent jiu-jitsu, but I don’t think he will be able to take down and control Ngannou. Similarly to Ngannou, Lewis weighs-in just under the 265-limit. It will be interesting to see how Ngannou fares against a good boxer who is around the same size as him. Furthermore, facing either Tybura or Lewis would give Ngannou a much-needed opportunity to work on some grappling in the octagon. I’m intrigued to see the game plan Ngannou implements for his next fight — will he seek another early finish, or embrace the cage-time to work on some of his technical shortcomings?

Ngannou vs. Werdum as a title-eliminator would be an interesting fight, but I don’t think it will happen. Werdum will probably start campaigning for a title-shot any day now. I don’t think the 40-year-old will be very eager to step into the cage with Ngannou. The one thing he has going for him is that he was the last man to hold the HW belt, before Stipe’s historic run. After being dominated by Miocic, Ngannou should fight at least 2 more times before he’s handed another title-shot.

Cain Velasquez - fighting for the title by year’s end?!

Following Daniel Cormier’s win last night, he dropped some major knowledge regarding a comeback for his long-time training partner, Cain Velasquez. In his post-fight speech, Cormier hinted that Cain would be fighting for the title by the end of 2018.

Velasquez is an all-time great, but I don’t think he deserves to fight for the title in his comeback fight. Since his 1st-round TKO of Travis Browne at UFC 200, it’s been nearly 2 years since Velasquez has fought. Furthermore, Werdum did beat him for the title at UFC 188, fair and square. Cain’s return certainly does bring some excitement to the heavyweight division, and there are several worthwhile contenders who he could face in his return to the octagon.

Of course, there is a level of uncertainty around Velasquez’ possible return. If Velasquez returns within the next couple of months, it would be great to see a rematch with Werdum, in a title-eliminator match. The winner of this fight proves that they are still capable of fighting at a championship level, and gets a shot at Miocic in the summer.

The more likely scenario is that Cain is still several months away from returning. If that’s the case, just think about this… Velasquez-Dos Santos IV. This is a matchup for the UFC fans who miss the “good ol’ days”. It makes sense too, as both former champs would be coming back from long lay-offs and are at similar points in their careers.

Of course, the UFC might want to throw him into the ring with a newcomer, rather than a familar foe. Mark Hunt, Curtis Blaydes, Marcin Tybura, Derrick Lewis, and Alexander Volkov, would all be suitable candidates for Cain’s return to the cage.


If Overeem isn’t ready to quit, what’s next?

After the vicious knockout dealt by Francis Ngannou, many called for Overeem to close the book on his illustrious career. I can’t say that I disagree. Alistair doesn’t seem to be on board with the idea though. So, if Overeem isn’t ready to call it quits just yet, let’s look into some potential matchmaking options for the 37-year-old. Although he currently occupies the #2 spot on the rankings, I think it would be a good idea to ease him back into things. Give him the loser of either Hunt-Blaydes or Lewis-Tybura.

Let’s talk about PROSPECTS

Coming off a fight where he delivered a highlight-reel KO by flying knee, Tai Tuivasa is probably the most hyped HW prospect at the moment. He faces Cyril Asker next month, at UFC 221. If Tuivasa wins, I expect him to get a ranked opponent. There’s no doubt that Tuivasa has potential, but his ground game and cardio are suspect. He doesn’t have the athletic ability to coast to a title-shot without having his ground game and stamina tested (see: Francis Ngannou).

I believe that Marcelo Golm is the sure-fire prospect to keep an eye on. Golm made his debut this past October, with only 5 professional fights under his belt. His quick path to the UFC was certainly deserved though, as he finished all 5 fights in the 1st round. The 25-year-old didn’t miss a step in his debut — he put away his opponent, Christian Colombo, in 2 minutes. He faces #15 Timothy Johnson in two weeks, and he should win handily. With Golm, the UFC has a chance to build their next Brazilian star, and I don’t expect them to squander it. I could see him being matched up with the loser of Struve-Arlovski (if Arlovski doesn’t retire). Or maybe the UFC will match him up with Junior Albini, for the title of top Brazilian HW prospect.

Speaking of Stefan Struve — the only man to finish Stipe Miocic

The one blemish on Miocic’s record is his 2012 TKO-loss at the hands of Stefan Struve. Since then, Miocic has come a long way. And Struve? Well, he hasn’t really gone anywhere. He’s had some impressive moments in his career, but every time the 7-foot Dutchman gets a chance to elevate himself to title-contention, it seems to end with him on the receiving end of a KO/TKO. Still, you can’t erase the fact that he’s the only man who has finished the current champ. If the 29-year-old can beat Arlovski at UFC 222, he could be a couple wins away from another meeting with the champ, if the belt doesn’t change hands. Surely, Miocic would love the opportunity to avenge his loss.

Alexander Volkov - the dark horse

Volkov is 3-0 since joining the UFC in 2016. He last fought in September, finishing Stefan Struve in the 3rd round. Currently ranked 7th in the division, Volkov deserves a top-5 opponent. Pretty much any fighter in the top-10 would make for an interesting opponent to Volkov. A matchup with Francis Ngannou is intriguing, but i’m not sure that the UFC would be eager to have 2 of their most promising title-candidates face-off, just yet. I’d like to see Volkov face Overeem, but it could be a while before “The Reem” returns. Perhaps, the winner of the Mark Hunt/Curtis Blaydes fight would be a good test for the 29-year-old.

What’s the situation with JDS?

Not much has been said of Junior Dos Santos, after he was pulled from his scheduled UFC 215 bout with Francis Ngannou. He was removed due to a “potential USADA violation”, but we have not heard much since then. Has he been suspended? Is he in the process of an appeal? Either way, don’t sleep on him. He’s only 33 years old and holds a win over Miocic. It’s crazy to think that Dos Santos is actually 2 years younger than the champ.

P.S. I don’t think the super fight between Cormier and Miocic will happen. DC is better off defending his LHW title 2 or 3 times, before riding off into the sunset. But that discussion is for another day — stay tuned for my analysis of the light heavyweight division, coming soon!

UFC 220: Preview and Predictions

Islam Makhachev (14-1, 3-1 UFC) vs. Gleison Tibau (32-12, 17-10 UFC) - 155 lbs.

A notorious “gatekeeper” of the Lightweight division, Gleison Tibau, will return to action this weekend. The 27-fight UFC veteran recently served a 2-year suspension for the use of erythropotein (EPO), a banned substance due to it’s performance-enhancing qualities. Throughout his career, Tibau successfully cut large amounts of weight in order to fight at 155 lbs, showing up on fight night with a distinguishable size advantage over his opponents. He’s certainly not easing back into things, as he faces Islam Makhachev, a very worthy opponent. Following his first professional loss — a one-punch TKO dealt by Adriano Martins — Makhachev has rebounded nicely, picking up 2 straight decisions by dominating former D1 wrestlers, Chris Wade and Nik Lentz, in grapple-centric affairs.

The Dagestani fighter, who is a long-time training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, will look to once again out grapple an elite wrestler, this weekend. He should beware of Tibau’s dangerous jiu-jitsu skills. This will be Tibau’s first appearance in the UFC’s “USADA-era” and I expect that it will show. I don’t expect the veteran to offer anything that Makhachev can’t handle. Furthermore, I think we’ll get a good look at Makhachev’s slick kickboxing abilities this weekend.

Prediction: Makhachev via KO/TKO, rd. 1


Matt Bessette (22-7, UFC debut) vs. Enrique Barzola (13-3-1, 3-1 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Bessette’s recent apperance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series didn’t go as planned, as he suffered a 1st-round knockout at the hands of former UFC fighter, Kurt Holobaugh. Despite the loss, the veteran fighter’s impressive resumé was enough to secure him a fight for this weekend, on short-notice. He was preparing to defend his Featherweight title in the CES MMA promotion on February 2nd, so the former Bellator fighter should be in decent physical shape for his UFC debut. Bessette may not be the most physically or technically gifted fighter, but you can never count him out. His biggest asset is his toughness — he certainly subscribes to the philosophy of “take a punch, to give a punch”. It is not uncommon for Bessette to be knocked down multiple times in a fight before flipping the script on his opponent and pulling off a finish.

Enrique Barzola, the Lightweight winner of TUF: Latin America (season 2), will be Bessette’s opponent. The Peruvian fighter has a wrestling background, but his stand-up game has steadily improved since he transitioned to MMA at the age of 22. His UFC career is off to strong start, and he will look to keep the momentum going this weekend. Following his TUF appearance, Barzola dropped back down to his natural fighting weight of 145 lbs.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the feet, as these two fighters tend to fight with different game plans. Bessette likes to stand in the pocket and trade shots, on the other hand, Barzola employs a more calculated approach — he doesn’t take too many risks, and likes to keep a comfortable distance between him and his opponent. A wrestler at heart, Barzola knows that his best shot of winning is on the mat, and I expect him to control this fight by utilizing a high-dose of wrestling and ground-and-pound.

Prediction: Barzola via decision


Dan Ige (8-1, UFC debut) vs. Julio Arce (13-2, UFC debut) - 145 lbs.

Both of these guys picked up wins on Dana White’s Contender Series. Julio Arce, a  Golden Gloves champion as an amateur, put his boxing pedigree on full-display as he earned his UFC contract with a 2nd-round TKO. Although he started off as a boxer, he has shown a strong grappling and jiu-jitsu game, with 4 victories by submission.

Dan Ige is one of the most promising Hawaiian prospects in MMA. He has shown some decent boxing, but he got his start in jiu-jitsu and wrestling, and that is where his biggest strength lies. He pulled off a 3rd-round submission in his Contender Series appearance. Ige has made a handful of appearances in high-level regional promotions such as Pancrase (1 appearance), Legacy Fighting Championship (2) and Titan FC (1).

Of the two fighters, Arce has accumulated more professional experience. 11 of Arce’s 15 professional bouts have come in the Ring of Combat promotion, where he was a champion in the Bantamweight division. Later, he moved up and became the Featherweight champion.  It is worth nothing that both of Arce’s losses were against current UFC fighter, Brian Keller.

Prediction: Arce via decision


#10 Dustin Ortiz (17-7, 6-5 UFC) vs. #11 Alexandre Pantoja (18-2, 2-0 UFC) - 125 lbs.

Many people are overlooking this fight, but it could have some serious implications in the flyweight division. Although he has had mixed results in his UFC career, Dustin Ortiz has fought some of the best that the division has to offer. His past opponents include John Moraga, Ray Borg, Joseph Benavidez, Wilson Reis, and Jussier Formiga — all fighters who currently inhabit the division’s top-10 rankings.

Alexandre Pantoja is one of the most promising fighters in the 125 lb. division. He has racked up an 18-2 professional record thus far, though the most impressive win of his career came in an exhibition bout, where he submitted Brandon Moreno on season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Both fighters are very well-rounded, but I am intrigued to see how things unfold on the ground. It should be interesting to see how Ortiz’ wrestling holds up against Pantoja’s jiu-jitsu. One thing is for sure, this will be the toughest test of Pantoja’s career.

Prediction: Ortiz via decision


Sabah Homasi (11-7, 0-2 UFC) vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan (8-1, 2-1 UFC) - 170 lbs.

The rematch between these two fighters was immediately booked after a controversial early-stoppage put a damper on their bout at UFC 218. If that fight was any indication, this should be an absolute barnburner. However, now that each fighter has felt their opponent’s power, I expect them both to approach the rematch in a more methodical manner.

Although Razak Alhassan got the “win”, Homasi appeared to be landing the harder shots and seemed to be in control of the fight. There were several instances where Homasi nearly finished the fight. I can’t wait to see how things play out in this rematch of a fight that could have been a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate, had it not been stopped pre-emptively.

Razak Alhassan is a decorated practitioner of judo, however, he seemed to have some difficulty utilizing his judo against Homasi. Furthermore, Sabah Homasi appeared to be the larger man in the octagon. I wonder if having to cut weight twice in a short span may hinder the performance of either fighter.

Prediction: Homasi via KO/TKO, rd. 2


Kyle Bochniak (7-2, 1-2 UFC) vs Brandon Davis (8-3, UFC debut) - 145 lbs.

Brandon Davis is a dynamic striker who does a great job of mixing up his attack. He turned in a very impressive performance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, and showcased his full arsenal of versatile muay thai attacks.

Davis will face Boston-native, Kyle Bochniak. In 3 UFC bouts, Bochniak has shown good boxing and a strong right hand, in particular. All 3 of his fights have gone to decision, with his lone victory coming by way of a narrow split-decision. With the backing of his home crowd, I expect him to look for the first finish of his UFC career.

I’m very interested to see how Davis’ high-paced, head-hunting approach holds up against a fighter with experience at the highest level. He would be smart to approach this fight in a more conservative manner. I expect this to be a slugfest, as neither guy is very well-versed on the ground, although Davis did show-off some vicious ground-and-pound in his Contender Series appearance.

Prediction: Brandon Davis via KO/TKO, rd. 2


#10 Thomas Almeida (22-2, 5-2 UFC) vs. #14 Rob Font (14-3, 4-2, UFC) - 135 lbs.

With 4 of his 5 UFC victories (and 17 of 22 professional) coming by way of KO/TKO, Thomas Almeida is one of the most dangerous strikers in the UFC today. A title-shot has been just out of the 26-year-old’s grasp, with his two losses being handed down by title-contenders, Cody Garbrandt and Jimmie Rivera. With a 1-2 record in his past 3 fights, the accomplished muay thai striker will look to right the ship, as he faces Rob Font this weekend. If Almeida is to prove that he is a championship-caliber fighter, he absolutely needs to win this one.

Although I don’t think that Font is quite on Almeida’s level, he is certainly no slouch. Anybody who takes John Linker to a decision, is a tough son of a gun, in my book. Font has shown that he is strong in all facets of the sport. He is a very good boxer, but has shown some decent grappling ability as well. It remains to be seen what type of game plan Font will utilize this weekend. I expect a conservative approach, as he certainly doesn’t want to be another victim on Almeida’s highlight-reel. Font’s last fight ended with him tapping out to a guillotine in the 1st round, as he lunged for a sloppy takedown after getting rocked by a hard left hook. This is a great fight to kick off the main card and I am expecting fireworks between the two clinical finishers.

Prediction: Almeida via decision


#15 Gian Villante (15-9, 5-6 UFC) vs. Francimar Barroso (19-6, 4-3 UFC) - 205 lbs.

Barroso tends to move around the octagon in a stiff, flat-footed manner, preffering to throw well-timed bombs rather than stringing together combinations. He has also shown the ability to put some major power into his kicks, which he occasionally delivers to his opponents midsection. He is a long-time practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he holds a black belt in the craft. He was somewhat of a knockout artist in the Brazilian MMA circuit, however, his power hasn’t really carried over to the UFC, as he is yet to pull-off a finish in his 8 appearances.

On the other hand, his opponent, Gian Villante, has proven to be a capable knockout artist at the highest-level. With 4 wins by knockout, Villante’s biggest weakness has been his inconsistency. The former D1 wrestler and NFL hopeful, who is on the midst of a 2-fight losing streak, will look to put it all together this weekend as he aims to claw his up the rankings. Throughout his career, Villante has proven himself as a competent boxer — he boasts an impressive rate of 4.15 significant strikes landed per minute in the UFC. He should lean on his athleticism and explosiveness as he desperately needs to win this fight. This is a very winnable bout for the New Yorker.

Prediction: Villante via KO/TKO, rd. 3


Shane Burgos (10-0, 3-0 UFC) vs. Calvin Kattar (17-2, 1-0 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Calvin Kattar debuted last year, snatching up a decision over UFC-veteran Andre Fili. What we saw was a gritty fighter with great boxing (tremendous lead-jab) and a strong chin. For a newcomer, Kattar appeared very composed in the octagon. Shane Burgos is the definition of a blue-chip prospect, coasting to a 10-0 professional record thus far. He is a patient counter-striker who stalks his opponent in the octagon, waiting to fire his loaded right hand at the perfect time. Burgos is an excellent all-around fighter, with no apparent weaknesses in his game.

I believe that Kattar’s style will present a tough task for Burgos. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kattar hand the undefeated fighter his first loss. Both of these guys like to push a high pace and have great stamina, so this should be a fantastic brawl and potential Fight of the Night candidate.

Prediction: Kattar via decision


(C) Daniel Cormier (19-1, 8-1 UFC)  vs. #2 Volkan Oezdemir (15-1, 3-0 UFC) - 205 lbs.

The first of two championship-bouts, this fight would be a main-event on most cards, however, this is no ordinary card. Fans will be intrigued to see how Daniel Cormier rebounds after suffering the first knockout of his career. The result may have been overturned, but you can’t overturn the brutal head kick and subsequent ground-and-pound delivered by the disgraced former champion, Jon Jones. For those wondering about the condition of Cormier’s chin, we will find out this weekend.

Volkan Oezdemir looks to cap-off his monumental climb of the Light Heavyweight divison by securing the championship belt, less than a year after he debuted in the UFC. The division was in desperate need of fresh-talent, and Oezdemir answered the call. Last Februrary, the Swiss fighter stepped in on short-notice to pick up a split decision over divisional mainstay, Ovince Saint-Preux. Since then, “No Time” has only spent 70 seconds in the octagon, knocking out both Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in less than a minute each time. Obviously, the serial-“booper” hasn’t faced an opponent on the level of Cormier.

As impressive as Oezdemir’s run has been, I expect DC to stop the hype train in it’s tracks. Many are expecting Cormier to lean heavily on his wrestling, but he will need to be careful in the clinch, as Oezdemir has shown his capabilities with his back against the fence. Furthermore, I believe that Cormier’s boxing will hold-up against the relatively untested challenger. I’m interested to see how Volkan handles a grueling fight that could very well make it’s way into the championship rounds. The best part is that this showdown is merely an appetizer for the main-course.

Prediction: Cormier via submission, rd. 3


(C) Stipe Miocic (17-2, 11-2 UFC) vs. #1 Francis Ngannou (11-1, 6-0 UFC) - 265 lbs.

This has to be one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory. No matter what, the winner will make history. If Stipe Miocic retains the belt, he will become the first fighter in the history of the UFC’s Heavyweight division to successfully make 3-consecutive title defenses. If Francis Ngannou wins on Saturday, he will become the company’s first-ever African-born champion.

Both fighters are riding long win-streaks. Miocic has picked up 5 in a row, with his last 4 wins coming by way of 1st-round KO/TKO. Since making his UFC debut in December of 2015, Ngannou has won (and finished) all 6 of his fights. None of his last 4 bouts have lasted longer than 2 minutes.

This is such an intriguing match-up. The safest gameplan for Miocic, a former D1 wrestler, might be to take the fight to the mat and test the grappling abilities of Ngannou. Of course, that is easier said than done, as a well-timed uppercut from Ngannou could put an end to Miocic’s title-run in an instant. Not many are expecting this fight to last long, but if we see a 3rd round, cardio could be the decisive factor.

Prediction: Miocic via decision

UFC Fight Night 124: Preview & Predictions

On January 14th, the UFC will head to St. Louis, Missouri for Fight Night 124. This is an event that you don’t want to miss. Although no heavyweight or light heavyweight fighters are billed, you can expect to see plenty of hard-hitters featured on this card. Continue reading down below for a recap of the many intriguing matchups taking place this weekend.


Kyung Ho Kang (13-7, 2-1 UFC) vs. Guido Cannetti (7-2, 1-1 UFC) - 135 lbs.

Neither of these guys have had a fight in over 2 years, albeit for very different reasons. Cannetti’s last fight took place in August of 2015, since then he has been on a long hiatus primarily due to a 10-month ban for a doping violation. He is 1-1 so far in his UFC career (1-3 if you include his stint on TUF Latin America), but could very well be 2-0. He nearly finished his opponent several times in the 1st round of his UFC debut, before being clipped and tapping out to a rear-naked choke in the 2nd round. The 38-year old’s main strengths lie in his snappy kicks and powerful knees in the clinch — he has heavy hands as well, but tends to throw wild flurries rather than picking his shots. In order to be successful against the much longer and rangier Kyung Ho Kang, Cannetti will need to show more patience and composure than he has displayed thus far in his UFC career.

Kang’s most recent fight was at UFC FN 52 in late-2014, where he pulled out a split decision triumph over Michinori Tanaka. Riding a 2-fight win streak, Kang put his promising career on pause in order to serve his mandatory 2-year duty in the South Korean military. With 9 of Kang’s 13 professional victories coming by way of submission, it certainly appears that he will have the advantage on the ground in this fight. Kang is very good at securing takedowns by using a strong body-lock on his opponent. Still relatively young, Kang (30) is entering his fighting prime and has the ability to creep into the top-15 with just a couple more victories.

Cannetti has demonstrated good takedown skills, but has shown an inability to do much damage once the fight is taken to the canvas. This should be an interesting stylistic match-up, and I am intrigued to see how both of these fighters have evolved over their long hiatuses. I expect Cannetti (5’6”) to have some trouble utilizing knees and head kicks on the taller Kang (5’9”).

Prediction: Kyung Ho Kang via Submission, rd. 3


Mads Burnell (8-2, 0-1 UFC) vs. Mike Santiago (21-10, 0-1 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Both fighters made their UFC debuts on short-notice bouts last September at Fight Night 115. Furthermore, they both lost via submission. Burnell fought above his usual weight at 155 lbs, facing Michel Prazeres, who was 6-2 in the UFC (now 7-2). He displayed some decent boxing ability before being taken to the mat in all 3 rounds. Once the fight went to the ground, Burnell’s size disadvantage and lack of high-level experience was revealed; he was unable to find a way back to his feet each time.

Although Santiago’s 21-10 record is not extraordinary, it is worth noting that he strung together 9 consecutive wins on the regional circuit (including a 1st-round KO on Dana White’s Contender Series) before being fed to highly-touted featherweight prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov. Throughout his lengthy career, the 28-year old Santiago has displayed an impressive ability to finish fights both on the feet and on the ground. I expect Santiago’s experience and technical ability to shine through against the untested Mads Burnell.

Prediction: Mike Santiago via KO/TKO, rd. 2


Danielle Taylor (9-2, 2-1 UFC) vs. J.J. Aldrich (5-2, 1-1 UFC) - 115 lbs.

Taylor has found success early in her UFC career with effective lateral movement and counter-striking. Furthermore, she has exhibited tremendous stamina and quickness. With neither fighter recording a finish in their combined 5 UFC appearances, it’s hard to imagine this fight going any differently. It will be interesting to see how Taylor’s conservative approach opposes J.J. Aldrich’s forward-moving, high-output style. Taylor should be able to neutralize her opponent’s height and reach advantage with a patient, defensive game plan.

Prediction: Danielle Taylor via decision


Irene Aldana (7-4, 0-2 UFC) vs. Talita Bernardo (4-2, 0-1 UFC) - 135 lbs.

After compiling an impressive 4-1 record in the Invicta FC, Irene Aldana suffered 2 narrow losses via decision to begin her UFC career. I expect Aldana to turn the corner in St. Louis and pick up her first organizational win against the relatively untested Talita Bernardo. In her 30 minutes of cage time at the highest-level, Aldana has showcased her excellent boxing ability and a willingness to trade shots in the pocket. Bernardo suffered a TKO loss in the final 10 seconds of her UFC debut. The Brazilian fighter seemed to run out of gas early on, however, she did take the fight on short notice. Additionally, she exhibited very good grappling and BJJ skills, although her below-average striking ability was evident. This is a classic striker vs. grappler matchup — Bernardo’s best chance at winning this fight is certainly on the ground. Ultimately, Aldana’s toughness and exceptional striking pedigree should give her the tools to put away her opponent in dominant fashion.

Prediction: Irene Aldana via KO/TKO, rd. 1


Jessica Eye (11-6, 1-5 UFC) vs. Kalindra Faria (18-6-1, 0-1 UFC) - 125 lbs.

In her UFC debut, Kalindra Faria spent all but 10 seconds being controlled on the mat before being submitted 3 minutes into the 1st round. With 5 submission victories of her own, Faria is no pushover on the ground, though her biggest asset is definitely her Muay Thai striking. This time around, she will draw 7-fight UFC veteran Jessica Eye. Eye has lost via the judges’ scorecards in her last 4 bouts, and is 1-5 since joining the organization. To her credit, she has faced some very tough opponents without being finished. Unfortunately for Eye, she will face another tough opponent this weekend. I believe that Faria’s superior striking ability and quickness will allow her to pick up her first win in the UFC.

Prediction: Kalindra Faria via decision


Thiago Alves (22-11, 14-8 UFC) vs. Zak Cummings (21-5, 6-2 UFC) - 170 lbs.

Thiago Alves looked sharp as he secured a convincing unanimous decision victory against an over-the-hill Patrick Cote last April. Alves will have a much more challenging fight on his hands this weekend, as he meets Zak Cummings. Since joining the UFC in 2013, Cummings has compiled a 6-2 record; his two defeats delivered by welterweight mainstay Gunnar Nelson and one of 2017’s quickest rising stars, Santiago Ponzinibbio. Coming off of two-straight victories via submission, Cummings has hardly taken any damage in his last couple of fights. I expect the well-rounded Cummings to rack up another victory, although he may have to sweat a bit more to secure this one. If Alves wins, he will prove that he deserves to meet a ranked opponent in his next fight. “Pitbull” is only 34 years old, but he made his UFC debut on his 21st birthday and has certainly been through the ringer.

Both Alves and Cummings have had some trouble making the 170-pound limit in the past, so it will be worth monitoring both of these guys on the day of weigh-ins.

Prediction: Zak Cummings via decision


Marco Polo Reyes (7-4, 3-1 UFC) vs. Matt Frevola (6-0, 0-0 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Matt Frevola is the only fighter on this card who will be making his octagon-debut. Although he only has 6 professional fights under his belt, Frevola earned this opportunity after he turned in a very impressive performance on Dana White’s Contender Series, submitting fellow undefeated fighter Jose Flores.

Frevola has a relentless fighting style — true to his nickname, “The SteamRolla” constantly moves forward, throwing powerful hooks. He can get a little reckless and will need to utilize his jab and leg kicks in order to keep the experienced Polo Reyes at bay. This should be a close fight between a couple of dangerous strikers. Following a quick defeat at the hands of James Vick, Reyes will look to get back in the win column as he takes a step down in terms of competition. With a pair of UFC knockouts on his resumé, Reyes has shown that he has the power to end a fight with one punch. I suspect that cardio could be the decisive factor in this matchup.

Frevola’s aggressive style could work against him if he doesn't secure an early finish — he may exhaust himself against a patient opponent such as Reyes. The SteamRolla has displayed a good chin in his budding career, so I don’t expect Reyes to finish him. I do, however, see Reyes getting the nod via the judges’ scorecards — as long as he doesn’t underestimate the punching-power of his young and hungry opponent.

Prediction: Polo Reyes via decision


James Krause (24-7, 5-3 UFC) vs. Alex White (12-3, 3-3 UFC) - 155 lbs.

There could be a bit of a size-discrepancy in this matchup, as Alex White recently moved up from 145 to 155. On the other hand, James Krause will be moving down from 170 to 155 for his first lightweight bout in almost 2 years. At 6’2”, Krause is very tall for a lightweight and it will be interesting to see whether the weight cut affects his performance. At 6’0”, White is normally the longer fighter in his matchups, so it will be interesting to see how he handles being the small guy for a change. However, he has been filling out his frame since moving up to the lightweight division so there may not be much of a difference in size between the two fighters after all.

In White’s most recent bout, he displayed some top-notch striking as he peppered his opponent with pin-point boxing and vicious elbows en route to a 2nd-round TKO finish. I fully expect “The Spartan” to secure another decisive victory this weekend as he continues to climb the ladder in the stacked 155 lb. division.

Prediction: Alex White via KO/TKO, rd. 2


#10 Darren Elkins (23-5, 13-4 UFC) vs. #10 (LW) Michael Johnson (17-12, 9-8 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Another matchup featuring a fighter who will be debuting at a new weight-class this weekend. After hitting a wall in the lightweight division, Michael Johnson will shed 10 pounds and move down to the featherweight division. He faces Darren “The Damage” Elkins, who is riding high on a 5-fight win streak — his most recent loss dating back to 2014. 2017 was a great year for Elkins, and he certainly hopes to carry that success into the new year. Johnson has insane speed in his hands and definitely has the ability to put away any opponent when he is “on”. I’m not sure whether moving down to 145 is a healthy decision for “The Menace”, but I am excited to find out.

This is a tough fight to predict, as Johnson is certainly the more physically-gifted of the two fighters, however, fight fans know that you can never count Elkins out. I believe that Johnson’s experience against elite fighters such as Edson Barboza, Nate Diaz, Dustin Poirer, and Khabib Nurmagomedov will benefit him greatly in this clash of veterans.

Prediction: Michael Johnson via decision


#10 Kamaru Usman (11-1, 6-0 UFC) vs. Emil Meek (9-2, 1-0 UFC) - 170 lbs.

With a 6-0 record since joining the UFC, Kamaru Usman is regarded as one of the most promising up-and-coming fighters in the organization. In his most recent performance, Usman displayed his seamless ability to put incredible power behind his punches. He secured a first-round knockout of Sergio Moraes with a punch that didn’t appear to have much behind it at first glance. Although many believe Usman deserves to be fighting a ranked opponent, he must first get past the free-swinging Emil Meek. For a man with only one UFC fight — a decision-victory over an uninspired Jordan Mein — Meek has generated a considerable amount of hype. Perhaps we will find out this weekend if the hype is warranted. If Meek can avoid being finished in this one, that would be a victory in itself for the Norwegian brawler. It seems that not many fighters in the welterweight division are too keen on the idea of stepping into the octagon with Usman, who is nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare”.

I am interested to see whether Usman will be able to control Meek on the ground. Usman normally holds a considerable strength advantage over his opponents, but that disparity may be slim in this encounter. I expect Usman to win this one handily, however, he needs to remain patient and avoid getting into a wild, swinging match with Meek.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman via decision


#11 (SW) Paige VanZant (7-3, 4-2 UFC) vs. Jessica Rose-Clark (8-4, 0-1 UFC) - 125 lbs.

Jessica Rose-Clark made her UFC debut this past November, picking up a split decision victory over veteran Bec Rawlings. It will be a quick turn around for Rose-Clark, as she faces off with one of the organization’s most marketable female fighters, Paige VanZant. “12 Gauge” Paige famously knocked out Bec Rawlings with a sensational head kick in 2016. VanZant picked up a loss in her most recent bout — a 1st-round submission at the hands of Michelle Waterson.

VanZant did not fight in 2017 — possibly due to her well-documented struggles to make the 115 lb. strawweight limit. She is one of the fighters who will benefit most from the introduction of the female flyweight division. With the extra 10 lb. allowance, I expect to see a noticeable boost in the 23-year old’s performance

It is worth noting that all 4 of Rose-Clark’s professional losses have come via decision. Furthermore, VanZant’s 3 professional loses were dealt by current champ Rose Namajunas, #5 ranked Tecia Torres, and the aforementioned Michelle Waterson. Both of these fighters are strong in the stand-up department, so I expect this to be an entertaining battle on the feet. VanZant’s superior athletic ability should give her the edge in this one.

Prediction: Paige VanZant via decision


#11 Uriah Hall (13-8, 6-6 UFC) vs. #12 Vitor Belfort (26-13, 15-9 UFC) - 185 lbs.

This is a high-profile contest between two veterans who both need this win badly. Many people had written Hall off after 3-straight losses, but it’s important to note that those losses were delivered by Robert Whitaker (decision), Derek Brunson (TKO), and Gegard Mousasi (TKO) — three high-level opponents (the jury is still out on Brunson). Hall was able to right the ship last September with a brilliant performance against Krzysztof Jotko (2nd-rd. TKO). “Primetime” will look to pick up a 2nd consecutive victory in a very winnable fight against 40-year-old, Vitor Belfort. Belfort squeaked out a debatable unanimous decision victory over Nate Marquardt last June in Brazil. Previously, “The Phenom” suffered 3-straight TKO losses; dealt by Jacare Souza, Gegard Mousasi, and Kelvin Gastelum (okay, 2 TKOs and 1 no contest).

Both of these guys’ recent losing streaks were at the hands of top-ranked fighters, however, they are certainly at very different stages of their careers. Belfort could hang ‘em up for good after any given fight, but I believe that Hall (33) has enough left in the tank to make a climb up the jumbled and aging middleweight division.

Prediction: Uriah Hall via KO/TKO, rd. 2


#9 Jeremy Stephens (26-14, 13-13 UFC) vs. #13 Doo Ho Choi (14-2, 3-1 UFC) - 145 lbs.

Fans have eagerly been anticipating Doo Ho Choi’s return to the octagon ever since the South Korean up-and-comer was defeated by Cub Swanson in 2016’s FOTY. We’ve had to wait a little longer than expected for Choi’s return, as he suffered an undisclosed shoulder/back injury prior to his scheduled UFC 214 bout with Andre Fili. Choi is now set to face UFC mainstay Jeremy Stephens. This is one of those fights where you can absolutely expect fireworks via haymakers to the face. Andre Fili may have been the safer fight for the 26-year-old “Korean Superboy”, but Choi vs. Stephens is the fight that fans deserve to see!

Stephens’ last 5 fights have all gone to the decision, but I find it hard to envision this one reaching the end of round 5. In his last fight, Stephens delivered a strong performance against fellow veteran Gilbert Melendez. Meanwhile, this will be the first fight of Choi’s career that is billed for 5 rounds. Choi was noticeably gassed at the end of his 3-round battle with Swanson; I see this fight ending in the 3rd or 4th round. I’m all aboard the hype train of Dat Boi Choi!

Prediction: Doo Ho Choi via KO/TKO, rd. 3

 

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