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 main card 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.
You can see my predictions for the prelims of this card here.
Khamzat Chimaev (7-0) vs Rhys McKee (10-2-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
After a mesmerising debut just 10 days ago, Chimaev returns to the Octagon looking for his second win in his second weight division when he takes on Cage Warriors’ ‘Skeletor’. McKee is a solid striker with great jiu-jitsu and will definitely be able to put up more of a fight than John Phillips did. Chimaev though was so dominant against Phillips, a big middleweight, that it’s very hard to discount the size and strength difference. Chimaev has a rocket strapped to his back right now and another dominant win on Fight Island will only see his stock rise further.
PICK – Khamzat Chimaev via Submission, Round 1
Alex Oliveira (21-8-1, 2NC) vs Peter Sobotta (17-6-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Another potential fight of the night contender here, as ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira looks to make it back-to-back wins in 2020 against the returning Sobotta. The German hasn’t fought since 2018, when he was well beaten by Leon Edwards. Both fighters are technical strikers, with Oliveira loving a hard kick, but also both are more than comfortable on the ground. Sobotta is a better grappler than striker and will want the fight on the ground if he can be in control there and he could go for a submission. If Oliveira ends up in control, we’ll see big ground and pound strikes that could potentially set up submissions. Overall, Sobotta’s inactivity is likely going to cost him here and Oliveira should be able to sneak a win.
PICK – Alex Oliveira via Unanimous Decision
Paul Craig (12-4-1) vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Two wild submission artists who both struggle against fighters with real, genuine quality, this is a weird fight. Craig drew his last fight against Shogun, which many think he won, but before that he had exchanged between wins and losses since 2017. Antigulov had been a finishing machine until recently, where he now lost his last two by knockout. Antigulov has struggled to get through the first round previously and if he does this time he’ll start to fade. But his game plan is constantly to go for the takedown and Craig is so confident on his back that he likes to pull guard so he may not have his cardio tested in the end. This is really a ‘pick-em’ fight where nothing would surprise me, I’d avoid betting on this one.
PICK – Gadzhimurad Antigulov via Decision
Carla Esparza (16-6) vs Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
A fun women’s fight coming up where both have a severe disadvantage in the others comfort zone. Despite being only 5ft 1, Esparza loves to try and impose her wrestling game on her opponents while Rodriguez is a muay-thai fighter who throws vicious knees and elbows in the clinch. In both of Rodriguez’s draws she was ragdolled on the ground in 10-8 rounds and while Esparza isn’t as physically imposing as Calvillo she is good on the ground. If Esparza can get the takedown, Rodriguez will find it hard to get back up and will likely lose that round. I’m going to back Esparza to get enough takedowns and control enough on the floor to secure a decision win.
PICK – Carla Esparza via Unanimous Decision
Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs Alexander Gustafsson (18-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Another weird fight on the card sees two all-time greats of the sport clash in the heavyweight division. Werdum has lost his last two, including being KO’d by Alexander Volkov while Gustafsson lost his last two by finish against Jon Jones and Anthony Smith. Werdum dominated on the ground against Oleinik in his last bout but was overwhelmed on the feet. If you’re going to get overwhelmed on the feet by Oleinik, then Gustafsson will probably murder you. If the fight hits the ground for whatever reason though, Werdum has a big advantage on the mat. Overall though, I think Gustafsson has too much of a striking advantage for Werdum and now that he’s at heavyweight he should have more power too.
PICK – Alexander Gustafsson via Knockout, Round 2
Mauricio Rua (26-11-1) vs Antonio Nogueira (23-9) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fight that should probably be happening in Brazil if it’s happening at all, but the trilogy bout has arrived between ‘Shogun’ and ‘Minotouro’. Rua won the previous two bouts via decision but now I’ll be shocked if this goes the distance. Rua is 38 and Nogueira is 44, both are likely to retire by the end of the year. This is a fight for the nostalgia and it should end up in the same result. Nogueira has pop at the end of his shots but is slow and laboured now, while Rua is 4-1-1 in his last 6 bouts. The gas tank is nearly empty for both and both have shown that their chins are not what quite what they used to be anymore in recent times. Noguiera hasn’t fought for over a year and at this age I expect that to make a massive difference. Rua will land clean and end this one early.
PICK – Mauricio Rua via Knockout, Round 1
Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs Darren Till (18-2-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
The main event is a fight that everyone has been looking forward to and rightly so. A high level striking bout is almost certain to take place here and with five rounds on the clock should be a very fun one. Whittaker’s last fight was when he was destroyed by Israel Adesanya in their title fight, while Till’s last bout was an underwhelming win over Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut. Whittaker has a wide stance and focuses a lot on kicks to maintain his distance, while Till uses his kickboxing background to stay out and then his footwork to steam in and land his big left hand. Whittaker seems to be very underrated because of the way he lost to Adesanya and it’s interesting to see for me. The Australian has powerful striking and excellent defence, something we saw against Yoel Romero. Till’s chin was touched by Woodley and Masvidal and if Whittaker lands in a similar fashion then the results could be the same. Whittaker himself has been prone to a big punch too recently though, as he was dropped 4 times in his last two fights. Till will pressure from the off but Whittaker is proven at this level and will be prepared for it. His pacing has been proven too since he’s done the five round haul many times. I think overall, Whittaker is just too well-rounded to fall into Till’s traps for his big left hand and while I think Till will land some big shots, Whittaker will do enough for the decision win.
PICK – Robert Whittaker via Unanimous Decision