The UFC returns to the Apex after a short break for a short-notice middleweight main event bout that looks to clear up the top of the division.
Marvin Vettori was scheduled to fight Darren Till, but a training injury for the Brit means Kevin Holland has stepped in just three weeks after his last fight to take another chance at the main event. A win for Vettori will go a long way to him proving he deserves a title shot and rematch against Israel Adesanya, but Holland has his own point to prove after his defeat to Derek Brunson at UFC Vegas 22.
Elsewhere on the card, Nina Nunes (formerly known as Ansaroff) makes her return to the octagon after giving birth last year when she takes on another new mother in Mackenzie Dern in a fight high up on the strawweight rankings too.
Last time out at UFC 260, we went 8/10 on the night to improve our record to 270/426 (63.38%) with 121 perfect picks (44.81%).
With a belting 14 fights on the card, we’ve split it up into three sections and start with the early prelims section here.
Impa Kasanganay (8-1) vs Sasha Palatnikov (6-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
After being on the wrong end of the 2020 knockout of the year, Impa Kasanganay returns to the octagon and moves down to welterweight to take on Sasha Palatnikov.
Kasanganay had won his UFC debut against Maki Pitolo at UFC Vegas 8 before a stunning flying spin kick KO defeat to Joaquin Buckley at UFC Fight Island 5, while Palatnikov won his UFC debut against Louis Cosce at UFC 255 by knockout.
Palatnikov’s win was impressive for sure, but it largely came thanks to his opponents completely running out of gas in their bout allowing him to take over. He will not get that joy against Kasanganay, who can fight hard for 15 minutes with no issues. Palatnikov has a good kickboxing style but also has good takedowns, something that Kasanganay has the wrestling skills to shut down. He’s yet to win a fight in his career via knockout despite good power in his hands, but Kasanganay has all the tools to get back on the winning trail here.
PICK – Impa Kasanganay via Decision
Da-Un Jung (13-2-1) vs William Knight (9-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fun light heavyweight bout between two prospects in the division looking to remain unbeaten in the UFC.
Jung fought to a draw last time out against Sam Alvey at UFC 254, in a fight many people felt that he lost, while Knight has seen several fights fall apart in recent weeks so he steps in here on short notice off the back of three straight wins including in his UFC debut at UFC 253 against Aleksa Camur.
Knight is an okay wrestler and a not-so great striker, while Jung is certainly a better stand-up fighter of the two. Jung has tremendous power as he has shown with ten KO wins in his career and good takedown defence. Knight is very physical and is able to wear opponents down, but Jung has a size advantage and is the better striker so I think he is able to get the finish by catching Knight at the end of his strikes.
PICK – Da-Un Jung via Knockout, Round 2
Luis Saldana (14-6) vs Jordan Griffin (18-8) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A UFC debut for Saldana as he takes on Jordan Griffin in the featherweight division. Saldana has won his last four fights in a row to earn this opportunity, while Griffin has lost three of his last four including his most recent fight against Youssef Zalal at UFC Vegas 4 back in June.
Saldana and Griffin are both very good, well rounded fighters who have lots of submission wins on their records. Saldana is arguably a better striker of the two, but he has a habit of jumping for submissions which could end up with Griffin on top which is where he’s at his best. Saldana has a great jab and some good kicks, but Griffin is a vet who knows all about grinding out wins if needed.
Griffin will look to close distance and get a takedown to work his top game, but Saldana will take lots of encouragement from Zalal’s joy against Griffin back in June. It’s a super close fight and both are evenly matched up, but I expect Griffin to use that vital experience just to grind out a close decision win.
PICK – Jordan Griffin via Decision
Hunter Azure (9-1) vs Jack Shore (13-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger at bantamweight between two hot prospects as Hunter Azure looks to make it consecutive wins against the undefeated Jack Shore.
Azure bounced back from the first defeat of his career to Brian Kelleher with a unanimous decision win over Cole Smith at UFC Vegas 9, while Shore continued his unbeaten run with a submission win over Aaron Phillips at UFC Fight Island 1.
Shore is a tremendous grappler coming out of Wales, with eight of his 13 career wins coming by submission. Azure is a great wrestler himself, with fantastic top control which makes him very hard to move once he gets on top of you. Both guys will come forward to lock up, but for as long as the fight is on the feet it’s Azure who has the advantage. Because of that, Shore will have the edge when it comes to getting the bout to the ground which means he has a huge edge.
Azure has suspect cardio and with Shore’s gruelling style designed to tire an opponent out before choking them out, I can’t see anything but exactly that happening again.
PICK – Jack Shore via Submission, Round 3