It’s take two in the heavyweight division for this weekend’s main event as Curtis Blaydes takes on Derrick Lewis in their rearranged fight from November 2020.
The two were scheduled to meet at UFC Vegas 15 before a positive COVID-19 test ruled Blaydes out just hours before the weigh-ins. They’ll meet now, knowing that the path to the heavyweight title shot they both feel they deserve is now clearer than it was back then.
Last week at UFC 258 we went 6/10 with our predictions, with three perfect picks to take us up to 230/359 (64.07%) with 104 (45.22%) perfect picks since we started out back in June 2020.
We have a monster 15 fight card this weekend, so the predictions will be split into three parts rather than the usual two, starting with the first five fights of the night here.
Serghey Spivak (11-2) vs Jared Vanderaa (13-2) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A fight originally scheduled for UFC 256 back in December, two heavyweights go at it on the prelims. Spivak is 2-2 in the UFC, alternating losses and wins against Walt Harris,Tai Tuivasa, Marcin Tybura and Carlos Felipe most recently. Vanderaa is on a two-fight win streak and makes his UFC debut after a KO win on the Contender Series back in November.
Spivak is a talented kickboxer who has a massive striking advantage on the feet in this fight, but he has won six of his 11 fights by submission. He isn’t afraid to initiate the grappling because of that, which could see him open himself up to the strengths of Vanderaa who has phenomenal ground and pound. Vanderaa will look to get this fight down and as the considerably bigger man, he is likely to only need one takedown and Spivak will struggle to get back up.
The likelihood of a stoppage in this fight is high, with both fighters seeing the judges only once each in their careers so far. Vanderaa’s wrestling chops and size mean he should get the takedown he craves and if he ends up on top he should be able to pound Spivak to a stoppage win.
PICK – Jared Vanderaa via Knockout, Round 2
Aiemann Zahabi (7-2) vs Drako Rodriguez (7-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A fun bantamweight fight that has been rescheduled from the December UFC Vegas 17 card as Zahabi makes his first appearance in nearly two years when he takes on Drako Rodriguez. Zahabi, brother of the legendary coach Firas, is a fantastic striker who lacks the elite ground game to call him a well-rounded fighter. Rodriguez on the other hand is well-rounded, with great grappling to go with his decent level of striking.
Zahabi has lost his last two fights and is potentially fighting for his future on the roster, having been beaten by Ricardo Ramos and Vince Morales. Rodriguez has won his last three and is so, so aggressive when it comes to his style. He will press forward, throw volume with strikes and attack for submissions if the fight goes to the ground.
With Zahabi’s weaknesses on the ground and Rodriguez’s aggressiveness and submission skills make me believe that the debutant gets the win and ends Zahabi’s run in the UFC.
PICK – Drako Rodriguez via Submission, Round 2
Chas Skelly (18-3 1NC) vs Jamall Emmers (18-5) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A return to the cage for the first time since September 2019 for Chas Skelly as he takes on Jamall Emmers in the featherweight division. Skelly is 1-1 1NC in his last three fights, losing to Jason Knight and beating Jordan Griffin with a no contest against Bobby Moffett sandwiched in the middle. Emmers himself is 1-1 in the UFC after losing his debut to Giga Chikadze in March 2020, before securing a decision win over Vince Cachero in August.
Skelly is an awkward fighter, with odd technique but it clearly seems to work for him considering his impressive record. With that said, he’s been known to burn himself out quickly and struggle in the third rounds. Emmers is a great wrestler who will look to get this fight to the ground and use his physicality to keep him down. Skelly has a decent submission game, but Emmers is solid enough in his own right to avoid those and has the advantage on the feet too with speed.
It’s a closer fight than it looks and I think Emmers’ style and activity in recent years should see him get the nod here.
PICK – Jamal Emmers via Decision
Shana Dobson (4-4) vs Casey O’Neill (5-0) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
After three defeats in a row, the UFC served up Shana Dobson to Mariya Agapova back in August. She shocked the world after surviving the blitz and then coming back to get a TKO finish in the second round and save her spot on the roster. O’Neill on the other hand is an undefeated fighter who makes her UFC debut after a 5-0 run to begin her career.
Dobson was on her way out of the company because she simply isn’t that good. Her two wins in the UFC have come from her opponents kind of giving in, rather than her stopping them. She doesn’t have a great skillset in reality, while O’Neill’s grappling game is very strong. With that said, her quality of competition hasn’t been that high so it’s hard to compare.
From what has been seen though, O’Neill can manage her gas tank more and should have enough about her to control the fight for the most part and get the win in her debut.
PICK – Casey O’Neill via Decision
Rafael Alves (19-9) vs Patrick Sabatini (13-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs) A fun fight in the featherweight division between two prospects making their UFC debut. Alves is a power puncher who presses forward and looks for finishes, with 14 finishes from 19 wins split evenly at seven wins by submission and knockout. Sabatini is also a good striker, who has a bit more technique to his game and throws really nice straight shots down the middle. Alves has won his last six fights in a row, culminating with a guillotine choke win on Dana White’s Contender Series back in August. Sabatini won his last two under the Cafe Fury banner, with a knockout and submission added to his record. Sabatini has fantastic submission skills and a great ground game, while Alves is also a beast on the ground and a bit like Gilbert Burns isn’t afraid to throw strikes because of how confident he is on the ground. That means it’s likely to stay on the feet and while Sabatini has a slight power advantage and better technique, he is taking this fight on just eight days notice. It’s a pretty evenly matched bout but that short notice should play into the favour of the Brazilian.
PICK – Rafael Alves via Decision