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 have already predicted the prelims of this card here and will look to try and improve my total this time around.
Hakeem Dawodu (11-1-1) vs Zubaira Tukhugov (19-4-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A real toss-up of a fight to open the main card as these two up and coming featherweights face off. Dawodu is currently on a four-fight win streak, having beaten Austin Arnett, Kyle Bochniak, Yoshinori Hori and Julio Arce while Tukhugov has a win, a loss and a draw in his last three bouts. Both fighters are pretty well rounded all-in-all and could go either way. Dawodu has a power advantage on the feet but Tukhugov has a ground advantage, although Dawodu has excellent takedown defence to combat that. With just half an inch reach between the two also, there really is barely anything between the two fighters. If I had to pick, I’d side with Tukhugov simply because if he can get the fight to the ground then he should be able to control the fight from there but this could genuinely go either way.
PICK – Zubaira Tukhugov via Unanimous Decision
Ketlen Vieira (10-1) vs Sijara Eubanks (6-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Another razor close match up here, this time in the women’s bantamweight division. Ketlen Vieira makes her first appearance since December last year where she was beaten by Irene Aldana, while Sijara Eubanks makes a quick turnaround following her win over Julia Avila just two weeks ago. Vieira is a rangy striker who uses her striking to land takedowns and top control, where she can work for submissions, while Eubanks is a kickboxer with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Vieira has a natural size advantage and has great takedowns, something that Eubanks could struggle with considering the way she won her last bout but as a black belt she will feel that she is capable of hanging with her opponent. The fight essentially comes down to who lands heavier on the feet and who ends up on top on the ground. With a wave of momentum on her side, I’ll go with Sijara Eubanks but her fights are notoriously hard to pick.
PICK – Sijara Eubanks via Unanimous Decision
Kai Kara-France (21-8 1NC) vs Brandon Royval (11-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A flyweight bout between two very exciting prospects in the division as Kai Kara-France makes his first appearance since February’s win over Tyson Nam when he takes on Brandon Royval. Royval won his UFC debut on short-notice against Tim Elliot back in May when he ragdolled the veteran and ended up submitting him. This is a fight between two very good fighters who are looking to work their way up the rankings. Kara-France is the better striker of the two marginally and has the better wrestling, while Royval’s jiu-jitsu is mightily impressive. The issue for Royval is that because of the wrestling edge Kara-France has, the best chance he has of getting this to the ground to work his submissions is via a knockdown. That’s unlikely in my eyes so I think Kara-France is able to out-strike his opponent on the feet to a fairly comfortable but entertaining decision win.
PICK – Kai Kara-France via Unanimous Decision
Dominick Reyes (12-1) vs Jan Blachowicz (26-8) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The new era in the light heavyweight division begins with this fight, as a new champion will be crowned. Dominick Reyes returns to the octagon for the first time since his controversial defeat to Jon Jones back in February while Blachowicz comes in on a three-fight win streak following wins over Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza and Corey Anderson. Reyes is a powerful southpaw fighter, who’s boxing caused so many problems for Jon Jones in his last fight. He has amazing power but also tremendous footwork to evade attacks, plus a fierce body kick. His takedown defence was on show in that fight too as Jones went 2/9 on takedown attempts. Blachowicz is a more aggressive wrestler than Jones, although I wouldn’t say he’s better. He’s got scary power in his hands too but he tends to prefer securing takedowns and using his jiu-jitsu game. If he employs those tactics again, Reyes will look to use that same defence that he used against Jones and if he lands as much this time around as he did in his last fight he will surely land the knockout in this one.
PICK – Dominick Reyes via Knockout, Round 3
Israel Adesanya (19-0) vs Paulo Costa (13-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
The fight of the year. The middleweight title crown is up for grabs but also both men put their undefeated records on the line in this one. Adesanya is 19-0 having beaten Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum in his last three bouts while Costa beat Romero, Uriah Hall and Johnny Hendricks in his last three. There will be no grappling in this bout, that much is almost guaranteed. Adesanya is a former world kickboxing champion while Costa is one of the most powerful punchers in the entire company. Costa has a tendency to tuck his chin in and just storm forward, happy to eat punches in order to give some back. He loves to rip to the body in combinations before throwing hooks to the head, something Adesanya will look to avoid by not getting stuck up against the cage. Adesanya will look to use his feet to maintain some distance but he will use his speed advantage to land strikes in the inevitable wild exchanges that Costa will look to force. Interestingly enough, despite both of these men being fierce knockout artists I don’t think this fight ends in a knockout. We’ve seen that both of these guys are ready for war and do possess a chin to go with their striking and I think that while there will be some wobbly moments for both guys, Adesanya’s movement and fight IQ will see him come out on top on the judges scorecards.
PICK – Israel Adesanya via Unanimous Decision