The final UFC card of 2022 is upon us after a crazy year, with middleweight contenders battling it out in the main event.
Jared Cannonier returns to the octagon after a failed title attempt to take on Sean Strickland, whose last fight saw him beaten by the current champion in the division.
It’s a stacked 14-fight card including people like Drew Dober, Manel Kape, Bryan Battle, Said Nurmagomedov and more.
Last weekend at UFC 282 we went 6/11 with one perfect pick (we don’t count draws) to move to 795/1238 (64.22%) with 326 perfect picks (41.01%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims and then picking the rest of the prelims here, we move on to the main card here.
Cody Brundage (8-2) vs Michal Oleksiejczuk (17-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Interesting middleweight scrap opens up the main card here. Brundage has won his last two in a row, submitting Dalcha Lungiambula before KO’ing Tresean Gore most recently. Oleksiejczuk has won three of his last four, blasting Sam Alvey out of the octagon in his most recent fight for a first-round knockout.
Brundage is a wrestler who has transitioned to MMA, meaning he has developed a big overhand right and knows how to snatch a neck if the opportunity arises. However his bread and butter is takedowns and control from the top. “Hussar” on the other hand is a powerhouse knockout artist who has been competing at light heavyweight for a long time, but moves down here to a more natural looking weight class. He has good combinations and a great gas tank, but his takedown defence has been a problem throughout his career.
Normally that spells disaster, but Oleksiejczuk is now in his correct weight class and having smaller guys shooting on him could really help his defence. For as long as they’re standing, “Hussar” has the advantage and he will come forward with great pressure to stop Brundage shooting early and that means he should land clean to earn a big knockout win.
PICK – Michal Oleksiejczuk via Knockout, Round 1
Drew Dober (25-11) vs Bobby Green (29-13-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A very interesting lightweight scrap up next. Dober has won his last two via knockout, stopping Terrance McKinney and Rafael Alves in each bout. Green on the other hand saw his two-fight win streak ended by Islam Makhachev in his last bout, a short-notice main event, before serving a suspension for a failed drugs test.
Dober is a powerful striker with terrific boxing combinations and some solid kicks too, with some much improved defensive wrestling to go with it. Green is a striker too, who is far better than many expect whenever he fights but he lacks that finishing power in his hands despite his amazing defensive skills. He shoulder rolls a lot and is able to counter really well, while also having a good wrestling pedigree in his back pocket too.
This is a much closer fight than many would have you think. Green will land clean a few times with his counters, and he’s highly unlikely to get finished in a stand-up fight because of the way he defends and shoulder rolls. But judges love pressure and output, something Dober does really well and with the fight being close, that is likely to be enough to earn him the win on the cards.
PICK – Drew Dober via Decision
Alex Caceres (19-13) vs Julian Erosa (28-10) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Featherweight scrap next in a decent fight. Caceres saw a five-fight win streak snapped by Sodiq Yusuff last time out, while Erosa has won his last three in a row after submitting Charles Jourdain and then earning decision wins over Steven Peterson and Hakeem Dawodu most recently.
Caceres is a karate fighter with some unorthodox striking techniques and a super aggressive jiu-jitsu game if the fight ends up on the ground, with really sneaky techniques to end up on his opponents’ backs. Erosa on the other hand is a well-rounded fighter with steady stand-up and decent power, while he also has a nasty choke game himself once he hurts an opponent. Erosa likes to fight his hands low and use range management to avoid taking damage, and Caceres doesn’t have the power to put him out if he lands clean.
That means Erosa will be comfortable at distance and can counter with his heavy handed hooks to land big shots. There will likely be some takedown attempts on both sides and some scrambles which could see someone see their neck snatched, but overall I see Erosa getting the job done with his striking.
PICK – Julian Erosa via Decision
Amir Albazi (15-1) vs Alessandro Costa (12-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Short-notice flyweight scrap up next. Albazi is on a four-fight win streak with three of those in the UFC, beating all of Malcolm Gordon (UFC Fight Island 2), Zhalgas Zhumagulov (UFC 257) and Francisco Figueiredo most recently. Costa makes his UFC debut on two weeks’ notice on a seven-fight win streak, winning his last fight via knockout in just 12 seconds.
Albazi is a brilliant grappler with nasty jiu-jitsu skills, helping him earn nine submission wins in his career to date. He’s also a very technical striker and has great talent wherever the fight goes. Costa has a very similar skillset, with great wrestling and submission skills earning him six tap out wins in his career, while he has good knockout power in his hands too. It’s hard to know who the better wrestler is, but the biggest factor is the short-notice nature of this fight.
On paper they’re pretty evenly matched up, but keeping up with Albazi is hard enough on a full camp never mind on just two weeks’ notice. Expect “The Prince” to be able to overcome a tough first round to eventually take over and work his usual game, pushing the pace hard, landing good strikes on the feet and mixing in takedowns to secure the decision.
PICK – Amir Albazi via Decision
Arman Tsarukyan (18-3) vs Damir Ismagulov (24-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Absolute banger at lightweight in the co-main event. Tsarukyan saw his five-fight win streak ended by Mateusz Gamrot last time out in a controversial decision, while Ismagulov comes into this fight on a 19-fight win streak including a decision over Guram Kutateladze last time out.
Tsarukyan is a brilliant striker with great power and technique, while he is also a very strong grappler with fantastic top control and vicious ground and pound. Ismagulov is a powerful striker who works from the outside with kicks and combinations who also has some good takedowns in his pocket also. This is an intersting bout though, because they both favour the opposite method of attack.
Ismagulov will no doubt look to strike and try to catch a submission if the opportunity arises, while Tsarukyan will come forward with pressure and looping right hands before looking for a takedown. Tsarukyan isn’t a better strker than Ismagulov, but he’s closer in that realm than Ismagulov is to him in the grappling. That’s a big wave of confidence for him, so I expect the win to go his way.
PICK – Arman Tsarukyan via Decision
Jared Cannonier (15-6) vs Sean Strickland (25-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Main event time in the 185-pound division. Cannonier beat both Kalvin Gastelum and Derek Brunson (UFC 271) to earn a title shot with Israel Adesanya, but he was comfortably beaten in that fight. Strickland on the other hand was on a six-fight win streak before running into the new champion Alex Pereira on that same card, getting KO’d in the first-round violently.
Cannonier is a powerhouse of a striker with vicious elbows and dynamite in both hands, while Strickland is a solid boxer who uses fantastic pressure to overwhelm opponents. He also doesn’t use his wrestling, despite being a solid wrestler where needed. If Strickland chooses to fight the same way as he did against Pereira here, then he’s probably going to get knocked out again. If they clinch “Killa Gorilla” also has a great advantage there, to go with a reach advantage.
One thing Strickland has is volume. His gas tank almost never seems to empty and he can go for a very long time, which could see him really overwhelm Cannonier and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But Cannonier only needs to land one big shot and we’ve seen Strickland’s chin tested before, including his most recent fight. It could go either way but I think Cannonier lands flush at some point and puts an end to this one.
PICK – Jared Cannonier via Knockout, Round 3