The UFC heads to Arizona for a huge pay-per-view card this weekend headlined by two massive title fights in the lightweight and strawweight divisions.
The main event will see Charles Oliveira defend his 155-pound title for the second time against Justin Gaethje, who looks to earn the belt at the second time of asking.
In the co-main event we’ll see Rose Namajunas defend her 115-pound title for the second time of her second stint as champion when she takes on Carla Esparza, reigniting a rivalry years in the making from the inaugural title fight in the division.
We’ll also see Michael Chandler fight against Tony Ferguson in a huge lightweight fight, as well as ‘Shogun’ Rua, Donald Cerrone, Randy Brown, Khaos Williams, Danny Roberts and more.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 53 we had a poor night with our picks, going 5/11 with four perfect picks. That moves us up to 613/951 (64.46%) with 259 perfect picks (42.25%).
We’ll look to improve on that here with this massive 15-fight card, and after starting with the early prelims we move on to the rest of the prelims now.
Blagov Ivanov (18-4) vs Marcos Rogerio de Lima (19-8-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight banger up next in the prelims between two vets. Ivanov has lost his last two fights via split decision to Derrick Lewis and Augusto Sakai, and this will be his first fight since May 2020. Lima on the other hand is on a two-fight win streak after claiming a decision win over Maurice Greene at UFC Vegas 26 before knocking out Ben Rothwell in just 32 seconds at UFC Vegas 42.
Ivanov is a grinding wrestler who has done excellently against power punchers in the past, despite results going against him in his last two fights. His chin is solid and he will look to take this fight down, but he must avoid an early blitz from Lima. Lima will step forward and wing absolute bombs on the feet trying to take his opponent’s head off, with low kicks to set them up and some decent defensive wrestling too.
This fight goes one of two ways. Either Lima gets an early KO win via his blitzes in the opening round, or Ivanov survives that and wrestles his way to a dominant win on the ground with control and relentless takedowns. I favour the Russian, despite his long layoff, because of the level of competition and power punchers he’s faced off with in the past.
PICK – Blagoy Ivanov via Decision
Brandon Royval (13-6) vs Matt Schnell (15-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
One of the potential fights of the night in the flyweight division between two absolute killers. Royval snapped a two-fight losing streak last time out by earning a split decision win over Rogerio Bontorin at UFC Vegas 46, while Schnell saw a defeat to Bontorin at UFC 262 in his last bout overturned to a no contest.
Royval is a great all-round fighter with explosive power on the feet and excellent skill off his back and scrambles to get the fight back to the feet, but he has struggled against overpowering wrestlers in the past. Schnell on the other hand is also a well-rounded fighter who prefers the game on the ground to work for submissions, with his chin historically rather shaky in the past.
Royval will undoubtedly have the edge on the feet with his kill-or-be-killed style. He will pressure forward and has the edge on the striking, while he won’t fear the fight potentially hitting the ground. It’s a really tough fight to call, but I do slightly edge towards Royval. Both fighters are well matched everywhere, but the weight cut has affected Schnell negatively in the past and I just expect Royval to overwhelm him for a finish midway through.
PICK – Brandon Royval via Knockout, Round 2
Macy Chiasson (8-2) vs Norma Dumont (7-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A woman’s featherweight fight with no title implications is rare, but we’ve got one here. Chiasson suffered a submission defeat against Raquel Pennington in her last bout after two wins in a row before that, while Dumont is on a three-fight win streak with decisions against Ashlee Evans-Smith, Felicia Spencer and most recently Aspen Ladd.
Chiasson is a solid fighter with good knockout power in her striking, good wrestling offensively but she does struggle defensively against grapplers. Dumont on the other hand is a superb grappler with great submissions, while her Muay Thai and boxing are enough to cause plenty of problems for anyone in the division. If she watched the tape on the Pennington vs Chiasson fight, Dumont will know she can essentially mirror that performance for a win.
Dumont has got a size advantage naturally in terms of this being her natural weight class, but she also has the boxing skills to work behind her jab and hurt Chiasson with her poor striking defence. Chiasson has the tools to win this fight, but she’s historically always struggled to reach her potential in fights and with Dumont on a wave of momentum and flying I expect a dominant decision win.
PICK – Norma Dumont via Decision
Francisco Trinaldo (27-8) vs Danny Roberts (18-5) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A fun one at welterweight between a veteran and a fan favourite. Trinaldo earned a split decision win over Dwight Grant last time out to make it four wins in five for the 43-year-old. Roberts on the other hand returned from a two-year layoff to earn a split decision win over Ramazan Emeev in his last bout back in October.
Trinaldo is a low-output striker who has good power and tends to grind out his opponents with grappling and wrestling skills. Roberts on the other hand is a good striker with dynamic and explosive power, but his grappling is essentially non-existent and that doesn’t help him against the experience of Trinaldo.
The Brazilian has all the tools to win this fight. He has got great strength and he has an ability to slow fights down to his own pace. Roberts has the speed and power edge, just, but that grappling availability makes me lean away from him. It’ll be close though.
PICK – Francisco Trinaldo via Decision
Randy Brown (14-4) vs Khaos Williams (13-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Absolute banger at welterweight in the featured prelim bout of the night. Brown has won his last two fights, submitting Oliveira with a one-armed rear-naked choke back at UFC 261 before a decision win over Jared Gooden last time out. Williams is on a two-fight win streak himself, earning a decision over Matthew Semelsberger at UFC Vegas 29 before knocking out Miguel Baeza in a banger at UFC Vegas 42.
Brown is a terrific striker who uses his length brilliantly and has nasty power, while his grappling is of a very good level too when he is able to take an opponents back especially. Williams is a very technical striker on the feet who has got one-punch KO power to put anyone in the division to sleep. This fight is incredibly close and both fighters are often underestimated, but there is an edge for Brown in this bout.
‘Rude Boy’ can use his length well and while he probably can’t match Williams for power, he can match his output and he uses his length and range really well. Williams has got power that lasts the full 15 minutes and his output stays high throughout. Both guys will want this fight standing more than on the ground which means Williams will have a chance for as long as the clock is ticking, but I do lean towards Brown using that range and output to earn a close decision win.
PICK – Randy Brown via Decision