The UFC returns to the USA and a full crowd for a fight night event this weekend as Curtis Blaydes fights Chris Daukaus in Columbus.
After an amazing trip to London, we have another heavyweight main event this time with two fighters battling to stay in top five conversations and enter their name into the round-robin that’s buzzing in Francis Ngannou’s absence.
We’ll also see a huge flyweight eliminator between Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France to see who could be the next title contender in the division.
Last time out at UFC London we had a great night, going 10/12 with our picks with three perfect picks to move up to 578/891 (64.87%) with 244 perfect picks (42.21%).
Marc Diakiese (14-5) vs Viacheslav Borshchev (6-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A lightweight bout to open up the main card in this one. Diakiese has lost five of his last seven and is battling for his UFC career right now, having lost to Rafael Fiziev and then Rafael Alves most recently at UFC Vegas 42. Borshchev is 6-1 professionally with a huge body shot KO against Dakota Bush at UFC Vegas 46 in his debut last time out.
Diakiese and Borshchev are both strong kickboxers with good explosive power in their attacks, while grappling is their weakness although they’re strong enough to hold their own. Diakiese has a major speed advantage between the two and from the outside will look to land kicks and combinations, while Borshchev will look to walk forward and counter with power shots and he has the ability to end the show early.
This will be a highly entertaining striking battle and I’ll be surprised to see it go the distance. Diakiese’s defeats have come to some of the top guys in the division, and Borshchev is one of the best strikers in the division. It’ll be fun and competitive, but I think the power advantage will take it’s toll as the fight goes on for him to score a late finish.
PICK – Viacheslav Borshchev via Knockout, Round 3
Ilir Latifi (16-8) vs Aleksei Oleinik (59-16-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big heavyweight bout in this one to warm the crowd up for the rest of the main card. Latifi is a former light-heavyweight who has lost three of his last four, but picked up a win against Tanner Boser last time out at UFC Vegas 28 via split decision. Oleinik has lost his last three, getting KO’d by Derrick Lewis (UFC Vegas 6), Chris Daukaus (UFC Vegas 19) and dropping a decision to Sergei Spivak most recently at UFC Vegas 29.
Latifi is a little man for the division with big weight and an excellent wrestling skillset, while Oleinik is a submission specialist looking for his 60th professional win. He is the master of the Ezekiel choke and is even capable of getting taps off his back with it, so Latifi must be careful. He has an incredible squeeze and can take a huge shot on the chin. Age is a big factor in this fight with a combined age of 82, so I don’t think it lasts too long.
Latifi is going to look to take the fight to the ground with wrestling and stay on top, throwing elbows and ground and pound to earn a win. Oleinik will happily go to ground and will look to sweep him with jiu-jitsu and then explode with chokes and limb attacks.
If this fight is on the way to the mat, then there are plenty of avenues from which Oleinik can secure a submission. He’s by far the bigger man, with Latifi way undersized for the division, and with great experience and submission skills I expect him to be be able to stay on top for long enough to wrap something up and squeeze the life out of Latifi for a win.
PICK – Aleksei Oleinik via Submission, Round 1
Askar Askarov (14-0-1) vs Kai Kara-France (23-9) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An absolute banger and my pick for the fight of the night in this flyweight bout. Askarov is undefeated earned a dominant win over Joseph Benavidez at UFC 259 last time out. Kara-France has found a resurgence recently and earned a huge KO win over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 269 to set this title eliminator bout up.
Askarov is phenomenal. His wrestling is so clean and crisp, and his grappling skills deserve far more praise than they get and they already get plenty. Askarov’s striking is decent too, with decent power and enough to concern opponents to back up to the cage which allows his takedowns. Kara-France has got solid boxing skills and great power in his hands, while his takedown defence is decent and his lateral movement is solid.
This is a really good match-up, with different outcomes possible for both fighters. Ultimately though, the wrestling of Askarov just looks like too much for Kara-France to handle. Despite his good scrambling skills, Askarov has a habit of controlling guys once he has them down and his attempts are relentless until he gets them there. I’ve not seen anybody deny him on the mat yet, so until Kara-France does it it’s hard to predict he will.
PICK – Askar Askarov via Decision
Matt Brown (25-18) vs Bryan Barberena (16-8) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Big banger at welterweight incoming here. ‘The Immortal’ Brown is on a farewell tour and earned a big KO win over Dhiego Lima at UFC Vegas 29 in his last bout, while Barberena is 2-2 in his last four with a win over Darian Weeks at UFC Vegas 44 last time out bringing him on a wave of momentum.
Brown is a brawler at this stage of his career, with violent striking and great power in his limbs while he looks to take your head off. He’s also a solid wrestler when he needs to lean on it, which isn’t very often. Barberena is a powerful brawler too, but he’s been more prone to punishment since getting badly beaten by Vicente Luque five fights ago.
This fight will almost certainly be a barn-burner. Barberena will walk forward into the range that makes Brown incredibly dangerous and they’ll brawl in a phone booth until someone falls. Brown could get clipped, but the likelihood is he uses his clinch game well to land elbows and knees too. Ultimately that will be the difference and Brown climbs further up the all-time knockout list.
PICK – Matt Brown via Knockout, Round 2
Joanne Wood (15-7) vs Alexa Grasso (13-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A women’s flyweight fight as the co-main event, but no idea why considering some of the fights on this card. Wood (formerly Calderwood) is on a two-fight losing streak, dropping a decision to Lauren Murphy at UFC 263 and then getting submitted by Taila Santos at UFC Vegas 43. Grasso on the opposite hand has won each of her last two, claiming a decision win against Maycee Barber most recently at UFC 258.
Wood is a solid striker on the feet with good pressure fighting, mixing in clinches but struggling to battle against submission and grappling experts. Grasso is a solid boxer with some decent takedown skills of her own, while the volume of her striking is high. Wood likes 50/50 positions quite a lot to try and stamp her authority on fights, but Grasso will look to avoid them and just pump her jab and kicks from distance.
Defensively both of these women are not good defensively when it comes to grappling, so expect it to stay on the feet as much as possible. Wood needs to close the distance and will try to clinch, but Grasso has good movement and excellent boxing and that should ultimately be enough to stay away from the clinch and claim a pretty comfortable win.
PICK – Alexa Grasso via Decision
Curtis Blaydes (15-3) vs Chris Daukaus (12-4) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweight main event, stake your claim for fight of the night. Blaydes was on a great run before running head first into a Derrick Lewis uppercut at UFC Vegas 19 and going unconscious, but bounced back with a dominant win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 266. Daukaus was doing the same until Lewis KO’d him against the cage at UFC Vegas 45 in the final card of 2021 to snap a five-fight win streak.
Blaydes’ game plan is the same against everyone – shoot for the takedown and dominate you on the ground until you can’t get up or the timer runs out. Daukaus on the other hand has got brilliant boxing and hand speed and is believed to have tremendous jiu-jitsu skills although it’s not been seen in the UFC just yet. If he’s going to win here though, he’ll need to show it from his back.
Blaydes will use his looping hooks on the feet and some low kicks to set up takedowns against the cage and while that’s the plan Daukaus will use his speed to land as much damage as he can. Once Blaydes shoots though, it’s unlikely he doesn’t get the fight down and then it’s a case of whether or not Daukaus can get back up or submit him from his back. I’d hedge my bets that is highly unlikely. Blaydes will lay and pray for 25 minutes from top position and do enough damage to earn a dominant win.
PICK – Curtis Blaydes via Decision