After a banger of a pay-per-view card last weekend the UFC returns to their APEX in Las Vegas for a big light heavyweight headline fight card as Thiago Santos takes on Magomed Ankalaev in the main event.
The 205-pound division is wide open at the top end and a big win for either man could see them enter title contention in the very near future.
We’ll also see Marlon Moraes take on Song Yadong in a bantamweight co-main event, while the likes of Drew Dober, Terrance McKinney, Miranda Maverick and Alex Pereira competing too in a sneakily stacked card.
Last time out at UFC 272 we went 9/13 with four perfect picks to move to 557/865 (64.39%) with 238 perfect picks (42.73%) with our picks.
We’ll look to improve on that going forward and after starting with the early prelims on this 14-fight card here and then rounding off our prelims picks here, we move to our main card picks now.
Alex Pereira (4-1) vs Bruno Silva (22-6) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Someone is going to sleep in this middleweight bout to open the main card. Alex Pereira made his UFC debut at UFC 269 and scored a huge flying knee knockout, while Bruno Silva is on a seven-fight win streak with KO’s in all of them including Wellington Turman at UFC Vegas 29, Andrew Sanchez at UFC Vegas 40 and Jordan Wright at UFC 269 too.
Pereira is a world class kickboxer who owns two victories over middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in his career, who has shifted to MMA to force another fight with him. His takedown defence has shown improvements, but is still a glaring weakness right now. Silva on the other hand is a brawler with dynamite in his hands, but he also has a solid ground game and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Someone is going to sleep. It’s that simple. Pereira is super technical and very proficient with his striking, only needing to land clean once to put your lights out, while Silva looks to make the fight wild before landing a clean strike and putting your lights out too. The grappling gives Silva a huge chance though, although I don’t expect he’ll show it much. He will look to take his head off and Pereira can kick from range and pick him off to earn a huge knockout scalp on his resume.
PICK – Alex Pereira via Knockout, Round 1
Drew Dober (23-11) vs Terrance McKinney (12-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A super short-notice bout in the lightweight division up next. Drew Dober has lost his last two fights against elite competition, getting submitted by Islam Makhachev at UFC 259 before dropping a decision to Brad Riddell at UFC 263. McKinney has made a big splash since his UFC debut, where he score a 7-second KO against Matt Frevola at UFC 263 and then earned a big win over Fares Ziam at UFC Vegas 49 just a few weeks ago. He steps in on eight days’ notice.
Dober is a hugely talented wrestler, whose entire game is based around shooting and then controlling opponents on the ground before raining down ground and pound or submissions. McKinney is a strong wrestler himself but he has serious knockout power too and is riding a huge wave of momentum right now. That said, it’s a big step up in competition for ‘T Wrecks’.
Dober’s chin has survived damage in the past, but he has been submitted in the past four times. McKinney showed in his last bout that he has submission skills and solid wrestling, which makes this fight very close on paper too. It’s hard to get a proper read on McKinney right now though, because he’s had less than half a round in the cage to date. I won’t be shocked if McKinney wins, but it will be mightily impressive. I expect Dober to wrestle defensively and use his striking on the feet to earn a good win, especially with the short-notice aspect being in his favour.
PICK – Drew Dober via Decision
Khalil Rountree Jr (10-5) vs Karl Roberson (9-4) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fascinating bout at 205-pounds in this one between UFC stalwarts. Rountree Jr snapped a two-fight losing streak with a TKO win via leg kick against Modestas Bukauskas at UFC Vegas 36, while Roberson looks to snap his own losing streak after submission losses to Marvin Vettori at UFC Vegas 2 and Brendan Allen at UFC 261.
Rountree is a Muay-Thai fighter with incredible leg kicks and explosive power in his hands, with a largely improved and evolved game over the years. Roberson is a kickboxer outside of the cage, but for some reason when the door gets locked he starts looking to grapple a lot. This won’t be a grapple heavy affair though, with both guys looking to strike from range and use counters.
That favours Rountree though, because he is a fighter with much better output and volume as well as his leg kicking game being much more advanced. Both guys have the power to put the other out, but the likelihood is this will be quite a cagey affair and Rountree will be able to use his slight speed advantage to catch the judge’s eyes.
PICK – Khalil Rountree Jr via Decision
Sodiq Yusuff (11-2) vs Alex Caceres (19-12) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Two very talented featherweights go head-to-head in this one. Yusuff saw a six-fight win streak snapped by Arnold Allen last time out at UFC Vegas 23, while Caceres is currently on a five-fight win streak with a submission against Seung Woo Choi at UFC Vegas 41 in his most recent outing.
Yusuff is a powerhouse of a striker who fights with great patience and composure, while Caceres is very unorthodox and has an ability to take the fight anywhere with good grappling skills and a karate style of striking. Yusuff is physically the bigger and stronger fighter, which means he will be full of confidence when it comes to the striking game as well as defending any takedowns.
Caceres is on a great run, but this is a bad match up for him. Caceres likes to use volume to get his range, but Yusuff will happily eat a pitter-patter strike to land a bomb and that’s what I expect he will do. He will press forward and force Caceres backwards, before landing some heavy strikes and either forcing a stoppage or earning a wide decision win.
PICK – Sodiq Yusuff via Decision
Marlon Moraes (23-9-1) vs Song Yadong (18-5-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The best division in the UFC serves up yet another beautiful fight for the fans here. Moraes is on a rough run right now, with three losses in a row to Cory Sandhagen at UFC Fight Island 5, Rob Font at UFC Vegas 17 and Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 266. A controversial win over Jose Aldo is the only thing stopping him from a five-fight losing streak. Yadong on the other hand is one of the best young fighters in the company and is on a two-fight win streak after a decision against Casey Kenny at UFC 265 before a KO against Julio Arce at UFC Vegas 42.
Moraes is a world class striker, with incredible power in his high kicks and lightning fast striking in his hands. He has got huge problems with his cardio however and recently his chin has really let him down, with repetitive stoppages. Yadong is a terrific boxer with great speed and some good wrestling skills too, which he may need to use in order to gain a victory here. This has got fight of the night potential all over it.
If Yadong wants to secure the win, he needs to mix it up and drag the fight into the latter rounds. Moraes is a better striker and is incredibly well-rounded, but his cardio always drains away in every fight if he doesn’t get the finish early. Yadong is powerful enough to clip that chin of Moraes once again, especially if he’s tired, and earn himself a huge win that potentially ends Moraes’ run with the UFC.
PICK – Song Yadong via Knockout, Round 2
Thiago Santos (22-9) vs Magomed Ankalaev (16-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A huge light heavyweight main event headlines this card with potential title implications. Santos has bounced back from three consecutive defeats to earn a decision win over Johnny Walker most recently at UFC Vegas 38, while Ankalaev is on a seven-fight win streak with his only defeat coming in the final second of his three-round fight with Paul Craig, where he was submitted. His most recent win came against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 267 via decision.
Santos is an excellent Muay-Thai fighter with ridiculous power in his punches, and a genuine ability to break your face. Ankalaev on the other hand is a very talented striker who also has grappling in his back pocket, but has patience and power in his strikes. Santos had both his knees ripped to shreds against Jon Jones and since coming back he’s been much more patient and less mobile, which doesn’t help him in this fight. He hasn’t lost his power, but he’s not as willing to stand and trade which may have been the key to winning this fight.
In a straight technique-for-technique clash with Ankalaev, he will lose. Ankalaev has speed, spinning attacks, a good variety to his strikes and enough power to put people out. Santos has a good chin but his lack of volume in recent fights worries me and that can allow Ankalaev to step in and pick him apart, while also not testing his cardio so he can waltz to a dominant decision win.
PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Decision