As the UFC brings to an end the first edition of Fight Island, the middleweight division is hotting up. Former champion Robert Whittaker makes his return in his first bout since losing the belt as he takes on former welterweight title contender Darren Till in the main event.
Before that though, a stacked FIFTEEN fight card will see plenty of big fights and talented fighters enter the octagon. I’ll break down the prelims here, and offer up my predictions for each fight.
Last time out for UFC Fight Island: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2, I correctly predicted 6/10 winners on the night with just one of those completely correct (winner, round, method). I expect to do much better this time around and hope to improve on that record.
Nathaniel Wood (16-4) vs John Castaneda (14-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
‘The Prospect’ came from Cage Warriors into the UFC and lived up to his name, with three successive submission wins before he finally fell to John Dodson in his last bout. He was originally scheduled to fight Umar Nurmagomedov, but he pulled out of the fight when his father died. Contender series fighter Castaneda didn’t earn a contract on the show despite his win but has stepped in at short notice for this bout. Wood is excellent in all realms of MMA when going forward but has a few holes defensively in the stand-up aspect, as exploited by Dodson. Castaneda is a steady striker with decent wrestling to fall back on, but realistically Wood is on another level at this point. Wood has enough power to put Castaneda down and I think he’ll use his ground game from there on to collect a submission win.
PICK – Nathaniel Wood via Submission, Round 2
Ramazan Emeev (18-4) vs Nicklas Stolze (12-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Another fight put together at short notice, German Stolze replaces Shavkat Rakhmonov who had to withdraw two weeks ago. A very capable striker, he doesn’t quite possess the elite level that Rakhmonov has and that should make it a bit easier for Emeev to deal with. The Russian is a complete wrestler with his only intention to get the fight down and keep you floored. He is relentless in his search for a takedown and once he gets you there it’s just a waiting game for him to wear you out. All of his UFC fights so far have gone the distance, with a 3-1 record and I think extends that record to get back in the win column.
PICK – Ramazan Emeev via Unanimous Decision
Bethe Correia (11-4-1) vs Pannie Kianzad (13-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
After her huge upset win over Sijara Eubanks in October 2019, Bethe Correia snapped a three-fight losing streak in the UFC. She was in her prime way back in 2015 and it’s shown her recent performances. Kianzad was a TUF finalist, being beaten by Macy Chiasson before returning back home to Sweden for a win in the regional circuit. She came back to the UFC and has gone 1-1 and should be able to get a win here. She has a striking advantage over Correia, has a big height and reach advantage and then on top of that has a better output when it comes to volume. Neither fighter really has the power to end fights, as their combined 18 decision wins shows. So long as Kianzad doesn’t get sucked into a brawl with Correia, she should win this pretty comfortably in unspectacular fashion.
PICK – Pannie Kianzad via Unanimous Decision
Tanner Boser (18-6-1) vs Raphael Pessoa (10-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Tanner Boser completes a one-month turnaround to compete on Fight Island against Raphael Pessoa. The movement heavy Boser is a good boxer and possesses a great leg-kick, something that will cause the flat-footed Pessoa trouble in this bout. The Brazilian won his last fight via decision against Jeff Hughes but it was a low quality bout. Boser is the better striker, better mover and has more power. He could potentially land a knockout win here, similar to the combination that put down Phillipe Lins down in his last fight.
PICK – Tanner Boser via Knockout, Round 1
Movsar Evloev (12-0) vs Mike Grundy (12-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A sleeper for fight of the night this one, two wrestlers who use their strikes knowing they can fall back on their grappling if necessary. Evloev is 2-0 in the UFC, beating Enrique Barzola in his last bout in a super impressive decision win. Both fighters are quite evenly matched and love a submission once they’re on the ground. Grundy will lead with power punches and level change but Evloev is arguably the slightly better wrestler between the two and should be able to deal with it. In a close fight, Evloev edges a decision win that plays out on the ground and with scrambles.
PICK – Movsar Evloev via Unanimous Decision
Tom Aspinall (7-2) vs Jake Collier (11-4) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Tom Aspinall makes a return to the UFC after an attempt to start a boxing career against Collier, who is 2-2 in the UFC having previously won one and lost one in both the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. Collier hasn’t fought since 2017 due to injuries and a USADA suspension and this is akin to stepping out of the frying pan and into the flame. Aspinall has genuine one-punch knockout power while he’s also an accomplished jiu-jitsu practitioner too. Mix that all in with Collier’s inactivity and natural size disadvantage, Aspinall should be able to get a win fairly quickly in this one.
PICK – Tom Aspinall via Knockout, Round 1
Nicolas Dalby (18-3-1) vs Jesse Ronson (21-10) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Another short notice fight as Jesse Ronson steps in for his first UFC fight in six years to take on Dalby at welterweight. Dalby has previously beaten Alex Oliveira and Elizeu Zaleski while also getting a draw against Darren Till in the 170lbs division. On the other hand, Ronson is naturally a lightweight and lost two of his last three in the PFL. Technically both fighters are pretty evenly matched but Dalby has the huge size advantage and should have enough about him, especially with Ronson coming in without a full camp, to take over as the fight progresses and earn a decision win.
PICK – Nicolas Dalby via Unanimous Decision
Francisco Trinaldo* (25-7) vs Jai Herbert (10-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
*Trinaldo missed weight, fight is now a catchweight fight at 160lbs
At 41 years old, we may have seen the signs that Trinaldo’s body is giving up on him. He missed weight for this one, coming in 4lbs over the 156lbs limit and Jai Herbert is a younger fighter in his prime years. The Brit is a superb jiu-jitsu practitioner who hasn’t really had to use his grappling too much in his career, with 8 of his 9 stoppage wins coming via knockout. He has got great power in his hands and while Trinaldo has always been very well rounded, his last loss was due to the forward pressure of Alex Hernandez. Herbert certainly has more chance as the fight continues on, but I’m going to back him for the upset in this fight with a submission win.
PICK – Jai Herbert via Submission, Round 3
Main card picks to follow, do you agree with my picks so far? Let me know.