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, we round off our prelims picks now.
Damon Jackson (19-4-1) vs Kamuela Kirk (12-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A short-notice featherweight fight brings great interest in this one. Jackson has won two of three in his most recent UFC run, with a KO defeat to undefeated Ilia Topuria sandwiched between wins over Mirsad Bektic at UFC Vegas 11 and Charles Rosa at UFC Vegas 39. Kirk on the other hand has won three-in-a-row, including a win over Makwan Amirkhani in his debut at UFC Vegas 28.
Jackson is a very talented all-rounder, with decent striking and a nasty ground game to go with his wrestling skills. Kirk on the other hand is a very skilled striker with good takedown defence and a decent ground game if he does end up on his back. If Jackson is able to get on top then he’ll have the advantage, because that is where he’s at his best, but aside from that I have Kirk with an advantage in most areas.
He’s a much superior striker, he’s a good wrestler defensively and offensively and his cardio doesn’t usually let him down. It’s a short notice bout so that could change, but I think Kirk could claim a big decision win here.
PICK – Kamuela Kirk via Decision
Trevin Jones (13-7) vs Javid Basharat (11-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A really fun bantamweight fight up next that’ll see an undefeated prospect make his debut. Jones earned a big KO win over Mario Bautista at UFC 259 after his debut was overturned to a no contest, before getting submitted against Saidyokub Rakhromonov most recently at UFC Vegas 34. Basharat is 11-0 and undefeated having finished each of his bouts inside the distance.
Jones is a good wrestler with a killer right hand and some serious knockout power, while Basharat is a composed Taekwando fighter with some excellent submission skills in his back pocket, contributing to six of his 11 finishes so far. Basharat has a size advantage in the fight, although a slightly lesser reach, and he will look to bounce around on the outside and counter with rangy attacks while dictating the pace.
He loves to attack the legs and body, which could allow Jones the chance to catch one and take him down, but even on the mat he has a very solid chance of controlling the bout. So long as he doesn’t get lamped with a one-and-done strike, I expect Basharat to claim the victory although I think he’ll see the judges for the first time.
PICK – Javid Basharat via Decision
JJ Aldrich (10-4) vs Gillian Robertson (10-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Another short-notice bout here in the women’s flyweight division this time. Aldrich is on a two-fight win streak after decisions against Cortney Casey at UFC Vegas 21 and Vanessa Demopoulos at UFC Vegas 35, while Robertson snapped a two-fight losing streak last time out against Priscila Cachoeira with a submission win at UFC 269. Robertson steps in on three-weeks notice, replacing Ariane Lipski.
Aldrich is a striker who looks to avoid wrestling on the mat, but she has little chance of doing that here against Robertson. ‘The Savage’ is a brilliant wrestler with exceptional jiu-jitsu skills on the mat and with a big experience difference, this weighs heavily in her favour.
Robertson is capable of holding her own on the feet for a short period before looking to change levels for a takedown or clinch against the cage and look for trips. Once she gets hold of her, it will be tough for Aldrich to step away from that and then Robertson has the big grappling advantage. Expect her to get it down, control her on the mat before finally sinking in a rear-naked choke.
PICK – Gillian Robertson via Submission, Round 2
Matthew Semelsberger (9-3) vs AJ Fletcher (9-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A fun welterweight bout is the featured prelim of the night with an interesting debutant. Semelsberger is a UFC veteran and scored a 15-second knockout win most recently at UFC 266 against Marin Sano to make it six wins in seven fights. Fletcher is an undefeated prospect who earned a contract with a flying knee KO win on Dana White’s Contender Series last time out. He’ll have Dustin Poirier in his corner this weekend.
Semelsberger is a heavy-handed puncher with a solid wrestling game, while Fletcher is also a well-rounded fighter who prefers his wrestling game to his striking, but he’s well capable of knocking guys out as his four career KO’s show. Despite the clear potential that Fletcher has though, this is a rough match up for him to debut in the organisation in. Semelsberger has terrific cardio and his wrestling is also good enough to compete against Fletcher, who is still relatively green in the MMA world.
Fletcher throws some naked kicks and has some good explosiveness, but those naked kicks are what Semelsberger thrives on to threaten takedowns and counter with his cement block of a right hand. Fletcher’s chin has never really been tested but we know Semelsberger has cardio for days and enough power to sleep people, so mixed with the wrestling I expect him to hand the newcomer his first defeat.
PICK – Matthew Semelsberger via Knockout, Round 2