The UFC returns to our screens this weekend after a two week break with a huge 15-fight card, headlined by light heavyweights Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith and Ryan Spann.
The 205lbs division is top heavy right now, with lots of guys vying for title contention and that includes former challenger Smith. A win for Spann however in his first ever main event would be a huge deal for him and mean he has no easy fights in his future.
Elsewhere on the card there is a hotly anticipated match-up between Ariane Lipski and debutant Mandy Bohm in the women’s flyweight division, while the likes of Joaquin Buckley, Nate Maness, Raquel Pennington, Impa Kasanganay and Arman Tsarukyan all fight too.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 36, we had a decent run going 6/9 with three perfect picks. That moved us to 402/633 (63.51%) with 177 perfect picks (44.03%) since we began.
A huge card, we’ve split our picks up into three this week so we’ll start with the opening four early prelim bouts.
Montel Jackson (10-2) vs JP Buys (9-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very interesting fight as the highly-rated Montel Jackson takes on JP Buys, who moves up from flyweight after defeat in his debut with the UFC. Jackson has got a 4-2 record in the UFC including a big KO win over Jesse Strader last time out at UFC Vegas 22. Buys was highly rated outside the UFC and joined in March on the same card and got starched by Bruno Silva.
Jackson is a super powerful striker with brilliant submission skills on the mat too. He’s got a vicious right hand and has six knockdowns in the bantamweight division to show just how powerful he is. Buys had excellent wrestling outside the UFC and was tipped for big things, while his kickboxing is pretty decent too.
This is a weird match-up because Jackson is more powerful, a better submission threat and a far bigger man naturally. Buys needs to show some real improvements and get a bit of luck to be successful here and I just don’t see it, because Jackson is very good.
PICK – Montel Jackson via Knockout, Round 2
Nikolas Motta (12-3) vs Cameron VanCamp (15-5-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs) A double UFC debut in this one in what should be an exciting fight in the lightweight division. ‘Iron’ Motta steps in for his first official UFC fight after a win on the Contender Series at the back end of 2020 and on a three-fight win streak. VanCamp is a short-notice replacement for the veteran Jim Miller and makes his debut on a four-fight win streak. Motta is a Muay-Thai striker with great knees, kicks and a powerful right hand. VanCamp is more of a grappler, with nine submission wins from 13 career stoppage victories but he does like to stand and strike a fair bit. VanCamp likes to switch stances in order to get a better chance on a single leg takedown, but Motta is so incredibly powerful and is happy to throw good combinations and take chances. Motta’s takedown defence isn’t rubbish and VanCamp’s takedown offence isn’t quite sensational. But with Jim Miller the original opponent, I’m confident in saying he’s not more dangerous on the mat and that will help Motta. Motta will be able to stay away from VanCamp’s takedown and he will land heavy shots in order to get himself a big KO win.
PICK – Nikolas Motta via Knockout, Round 1
Rong Zhu (17-4) vs Brandon Jenkins (15-7) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A super-short notice bout at 155lbs as Rongzhu takes on the incoming Brandon Jenkins from the PFL on less than a week’s notice, after Dakota Bush withdrew. Rongzhu went on a ten-fight win streak before joining the UFC, winning his promotion’s lightweight title but he was beaten in his debut by ‘Kazula’ Vargas at UFC 261. Jenkins won his most recent fight last month against Jason Kilburn via flying knee.
Rongzhu is a very powerful striker with an impressive 11 knockouts inside 15 stoppage wins. He’s so aggressive and his experience for a 21-year-old is incredibly impressive. Jenkins also has some powerful striking, with ten knockouts from 15 career wins while he has decent wrestling in his back pocket also and some decent Muay-Thai.
If this fight was set up in advance, it would be sensational. But because it’s on short-notice, it’s hard to go against someone like Rongzhu. He’s got stoppage power, great cardio and submission skills too. This could potentially be a fight of the night, but I’m backing Rongzhu to get a spectacular KO.
PICK – Rongzhu via Knockout, Round 2
Pannie Kianzad (16-5) vs Raquel Pennington (11-9) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An interesting bantamweight bout at the top end of the 135lbs women’s division. Kianzad has won four-in-a-row, racking up victories over Jessica Rose-Clark, Bethe Correia, Sijara Eubanks and Alexis Davis most recently at UFC 263. Pennington on the other hand is 2-3 in her last five, but secured a dominant win over Marion Reneau at UFC Vegas 3.
Kianzad is a solid kickboxer with really sharp hands and good takedown defence, while Pennington will be looking to secure a clinch against the cage, slow the momentum and volume down before looking to make the fight very boring and just control positions rather than too much damage.
Kianzad will need to use her volume and power in this fight and Pennington will be keen to ensure that doesn’t happen. It’ll be a fight that won’t have many moments to look back on but in all honesty I think Kianzad has the ability to use her footwork and land enough to scrape a close decision.
PICK – Pannie Kianzad via Decision
Mike Rodriguez (11-6) vs Tafon Nchukwi (5-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Featured prelim bout between two interestingly rated light heavyweights. Rodriguez is 1-3 and 1 no contest in his last five fights, losing his last two to Ed Herman and Danilo Marques at UFC Vegas 18 via submission. Nchukwi started well in the UFC, beating Jamie Pickett at UFC Vegas 17 before moving down to middleweight and getting absolutely dominated by Jun Yong Park at UFC Vegas 26.
Rodriguez is a good boxer with solid cardio and good power, but his striking is in keeping with his ‘Slow’ moniker. Nchukwi is an incredibly powerful kickboxer, but he has shown tremendous cardio issues whenever asked to grapple and seemingly just gets completely lost on the mat. That doesn’t really help Rodriguez in this one, who’s ideal path is in the striking realm where he is realistically outmatched here.
Nchukwi has scary one-punch power and is patient despite his lack of experience. Nchukwi will stay patient from range and land short strikes, before exploding at some point in the first round and turning Rodriguez’s lights out and likely ending his UFC tenure.
PICK – Tafon Nchukwi via Knockout, Round 1