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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