The UFC makes their long awaited return to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi this weekend as they prepare for double title fight at UFC 253.
Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will square off in the octagon for the vacant light heavyweight championship in the co-main event, while the card is headlined by Israel Adesanya’s second defence of his middleweight title against rival Paulo Costa.
With 11 fights scheduled, we’re back to a standard sized fight card after last weekend’s stacked 14 fight card. For my predictions last time out, I managed to get a respectable 10/14 with four perfect picks (winner, method, round).
I’ll look to see if I can do better this time around, starting with the prelims here.
Khadis Ibragimov (8-3) vs Danilo Marques (9-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fight that deserves the opening spot on the card as Khadis Ibragimov looks to end a three-fight losing streak against Danilo Marques, making his UFC debut after almost 3 years without a fight. Ibragimov hasn’t won in the UFC yet, being choked out by Da Un Jung, held to a decision loss by Ed Herman and knocked out by Roman Dolidze in his three outings so far. Marques’ time away from the cage makes it hard to know what he’ll do but in previous fights he has shown some okay wrestling and not much else. His 8 stoppage wins are evenly split between knockouts and submissions but it’s no surprise he hadn’t made it to the UFC before now. Ibragimov has the advantage everywhere in this fight so as long as he doesn’t do anything ridiculous he should be able to get his first taste of victory in the octagon.
PICK – Khadis Ibragimov via Unanimous Decision
Juan Espino (10-1) vs Jeff Hughes (10-3 1NC) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The most recent Ultimate Fighter winner Juan Espino takes on Jeff Hughes with both men looking to earn a first UFC win for their record. Espino came through the TUF house in 2018, winning the UFC contract with a straight armbar submission win over Justin Frazier, while Jeff Hughes has tasted defeat to Maurice Greene (who Espino beat in the TUF house) and Raphael Pessoa either side of a no contest against Todd Duffee. Espino is an excellent wrestler and has a similar style to Curtis Blaydes, in that he insists on takedowns followed by damage except he goes for tap-outs over knockouts. Hughes is a capable boxer but he just isn’t of the level of his peers in the UFC and it’s shown. He was demolished by Pessoa in a fight he really had no reason for losing, so I can’t see past Espino getting a takedown and locking in a choke early doors.
PICK – Juan Espino via Submission, Round 1
William Knight (8-1) vs Aleksa Kamur (6-0) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
After earning a UFC developmental contract on Dana White’s Contender Series back in August last year, Knight has won three out of four fights since then to earn a full contract. His most recent win came just three weeks ago when he knocked out Cody Brundage. Aleksa Kamur is a training partner to UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and has shown similar boxing skills to that of the GOAT big-man. Kamur has five knockout wins from six fights, with the only flaw being his UFC debut against Justin Ledet where he won a unanimous decision. Knight’s best attribute is undoubtedly his top game, but his wrestling defence and takedowns aren’t great. He seems to hope for a sweep on the ground before blasting off his patented ground and pound but Kamur has good takedown defence and is a much better stand-up fighter. If he can stay composed and avoid the takedown, Kamur should be able to get a knockout win on the feet.
PICK – Aleksa Kamur via Knockout, Round 2
Shane Young (13-4) vs Ludovit Klein (16-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
After almost 18 months away from the octagon, Shane Young returns to take on UFC debutant Ludovit Klein in the featherweight division. After a five fight win streak, Young was matched up with now-champion Alex Volkanovski in his UFC debut and was beaten by decision but has since gone on to win two in a row including a performance of the night against Rolando Dy. Klein comes into the organisation on a seven-fight win streak having finished six of those opponents. If the card didn’t have Adesanya vs Costa on it, this would be a contender for fight of the night. Both guys are explosive, with good kickboxing skills and are comfortable if it gets to the ground. Klein has the advantage on the ground with his 8 submission wins over his career but it’s on the feet where he prefers to do his work. He has a bit more snap and power to his shots and he kicks really well, especially to the head. Klein is coming in on relatively short notice but he seems to always stay ready and with Young looking to return with a win, both guys could come with power. Ultimately, I think Klein just has the slight edge everywhere and if both fight to their best Klein should be able to edge it.
PICK – Ludovit Klein via Unanimous Decision
Diego Sanchez (30-12) vs Jake Matthews (16-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
The wild man veteran of the welterweight division makes his return as Diego Sanchez stops off on Fight Island during his farewell tour to take on the ‘Celtic Kid’ Jake Matthews. Sanchez KO’d Mickey Gall with ground and pound before being dominated by Michael Chiesa in his next bout. His last fight however ended up as a disqualification win after he was smashed by Michel Pereira who landed an illegal knee. Sanchez took the result over more punishment. Matthews has won his last two, defeating Rostem Akman and Emil Meek via unanimous decision. Sanchez’s crazy pace and takedown heavy style wears many an opponent out and he has power in his hands during a wild exchange but his issue here will be that Matthews is just as dangerous. A very well rounded fighter, Matthews can hang regardless of where the fight goes and he’s a bigger, stronger man. He will likely use his natural power to avoid the takedowns and dominate the fight, landing enough to earn a comfortable decision win.
PICK – Jake Matthews via Unanimous Decision
Brad Riddell (8-1) vs Alex Da Silva (21-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The lead striking coach of Tiger Muay Thai continues his transition over to MMA as Brad Riddell looks to make it 3 wins in a row in the UFC against youngster Alex Da Silva. Despite his impressive 23 professional fights, with 20 finishes from 21 wins, Silva is still only 24 years old. Despite a mixed bag of talent among those opponents, the performances he’s churned out have been impressive. Riddell though is one of the best kickboxers on the planet. Now training MMA with Alexander Volkanovski and co, he is taking his game to the next level. He showed in his decision win over Magomed Mustafaev that he is improving his ground game but that he is also on a whole different level on the feet. Da Silva has a decent ground game but he prefers to kickbox too, which will see him in a world of trouble. He could try to score takedowns but he’s not the ultimate wrestler so there is no guarantee he gets the fight down. Overall, I think Riddell keeps the fight standing and eventually lands a flurry of punches and kicks to end the fight.
PICK – Brad Riddell via Knockout, Round 2