The UFC returns to Las Vegas and the T-Mobile Arena for the return of the GOAT, as Jon Jones finally makes the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight to compete for the title against Ciryl Gane.
Jones is the consensus GOAT in MMA, but hasn’t fought in three years. He’ll take on Gane in the main event at heavyweight to crown the new undisputed champion, after Francis Ngannou left the company while still holding the belt.
In the co-main event we’ll also see Valentina Shevchenko defend her flyweight belt against Alexa Grasso, while household names like Shavkat Rakhmonov, Cody Garbrandt, Bo Nickal and Ian Garry also feature on the card.
Last time we predicted a whole card was UFC 284, and we went 8/12 on the night with two perfect picks (not including the draw) to move to 837/1299 (64.43%) with 342 perfect picks (40.86%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims, and then moving on to the rest of the prelims on the card, we finish up with our main card picks here.
Bo Nickal (3-0) vs Jamie Pickett (13-8) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A hugely anticipated UFC debut up next. Nickal earned himself a UFC contract with two first-round finishes on the Contender Series, and is a three-time All-American wrestler and former Olympic hopeful. Pickett has lost his last two in a row, suffering a submission defeat to Kyle Daukaus before getting KO’d by Denis Tiuliulin at UFC 279.
Nickal is arguably the best wrestler in the UFC now that he’s got a contract, but he’s also a very good striker with excellent kicks and some very fluid jiu-jitsu skills too. Pickett is a volume striker with okay power and good cardio, but his career trajectory is on the way down and the UFC knows it. Wrestling is a big problem for Pickett, and against someone as good as Nickal he’s in trouble.
This seems like a party for the UFC to introduce the world to Nickal. Expect him to come out really aggressively in the first round, score a takedown and work for a finish to really arrive in the organisation.
PICK – Bo Nickal via Submission, Round 1
Mateusz Gamrot (21-2) vs Jalin Turner (13-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Absolute banger in the lightweight division up next that was put together on short notice. Gamrot steps in for Dan Hooker who broke his hand in training, and looks to bounce back from defeat to Beneil Dariush most recently. Turner on the other hand is on a five-fight win streak, with two KO’s and three submissions in that run including a 45 second guillotine against Brad Riddell most recently.
Gamrot is a fantastic wrestler with excellent grappling skills and decent power in his hands, but it’s wrestling that is always at the forefront of his mind. Turner alternatively is a really well-rounded fighter with great power in his hands and great length to his striking, but he also has good wrestling and is trying to improve his grappling skills. This is surely too big a test for him to try and check his grappling skills.
“Gamer” has got cardio for days and has the exact style of fighting that Turner will hate coming up against. “The Tarantula” will look to use his size to stay out of grappling exchanges and use those straight punches to land damage, but Gamrot is so experienced at this level that I expect him to find a way to get this fight to the ground and dominate on the mat to claim a decision win.
PICK – Mateusz Gamrot via Decision
Geoff Neal (15-4) vs Shavkat Rakhmonov (16-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Hugely intriguing fight at welterweight up next. Neal is on a two-fight win streak coming into this one, having edged out Santiago Ponzinibbio in a split decision and then KO’ing Vicente Luque in a career-best performance. Rakhmonov is undefeated and making waves, with a 100% finish rate evenly split between KO’s and subs. He dominated Neil Magny most recently, submitting him with a guillotine in round 2.
Neal is a powerful boxer with good volume and excellent cardio too, as well as some decent wrestling defence for the most part. Rakhmonov is one of the most complete fighters in the MMA, with amazing wrestling and sharp, accurate and powerful striking to go with it. Rakhmonov has dominated everyone, winning every round in his career and seems able to switch up his fight style depending on his opponent.
If they go toe-to-toe on the feet, then Neal has a chance because of his power. But history tells you that when Rakhmonov comes up against a striker, he’s happy to wrestle. When you consider that Magny dominated Neal with wrestling and Rakhmonov dominated Magny, there is a clear path to victory there and I expect him to find another choke midway through the fight to keep this amazing record going.
PICK – Shavkat Rakhmonov via Submission, Round 2
Valentina Shevchenko (23-3) vs Alex Grasso (15-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Women’s flyweight title fight up next. Shevchenko is one of the best women’s MMA fighters of all time, and is currently on a nine-fight win streak although her most recent performance against Taila Santos was razor close and many believed that she lost. Grasso on the other hand is on a four-fight win streak, with a decision over Viviane Araujo most recently earning her this shot.
Shevchenko is the most well-rounded women’s fighter ever. She has got elite striking, elite wrestling, elite cardio and nasty submission skills too. Grasso is a good boxer with good volume, but her wrestling isn’t great and her takedown defence is a big problem in this match up. Shevchenko has the edge everywhere, and this fight is a bit of a mismatch.
Expect “Bullet” to out-strike her on the feet before switching to her grappling mode, getting Grasso on her back before looking for that crucifix position that she loves to get another stoppage win with elbows.
PICK – Valentina Shevchenko via Knockout, Round 3
Jon Jones (26-1) vs Ciryl Gane (11-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Without a doubt the most highly anticipated heavyweight fight that could be put together right now. Jones is undefeated (his only pro loss came via a ridiculous DQ) and is the consensus greatest of all-time, but he hasn’t fought for over three years since beating Dominick Reyes pre-pandemic. Gane bounced back from his title fight loss to Francia Ngannou by knocking out Tai Tuivasa most recently at UFC Paris.
Jones is capable of doing everything, with fantastic striking and power to go with world-class wrestling, great jiu-jitsu and the best fight IQ maybe ever. Gane is a new generation of heavyweight, with fantastic footwork and amazing speed in his striking to go with brutal knockout power. He does have an achilles heel though, and that’s his wrestling defence. He will have a natural size difference on Jones though, and he must use that.
But “Bones” is the greatest of all-time for a reason. Expect him to start slowly and download all the data he needs, just like normal, before blasting in for a takedown and dominating Gane on the mat as we saw Ngannou do. We don’t know how Jones’ speed and endurance will hold up with an extra 50lbs of weight, so Gane could well make him pay, but I expect Jones to get the job done and cement himself as the greatest of all-time.
PICK – Jon Jones via Knockout, Round 3