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, we now move on to the rest of the prelims on the card.
Julian Marquez (9-3) vs Marc-Andre Barriault (14-6) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Fun middleweight scrap up next. Marquez has gone 2-2 in his last four, submitting Maki Pitolo and Sam Alvey, while dropping a decision to Alessio Di Chirico and Gregory Rodrigues. Barriault on the other hand is also 2-2 in his last four, alternating wins and losses respectively against Dalcha Lungiambula, Chidi Njokuani, Jordan Wright and Anthony Hernandez.
Marquez is a speedy striker with good power, and he has also got some sneaky submission skills from the mat with a propensity to go deep into fights and steal results. Barriault is a super powerful striker, with great physicality and a really good clinch game. This is going to be a war of attrition, with both guys to get hit several times and the winner is whoever can come through it best.
I lean towards Barriault for that. He’s the better striker on the feet, and Barriault is a decent defensive wrestler too. Marquez struggles with his defence a lot of the time on the feet, and the way he got knocked out by Rodrigues last time out means he could well not be the same fighter anymore. Barriault should do enough across a 15-minute striking battle to get the nod on the cards.
PICK – Marc-Andre Barriault via Decision
Viviane Araujo (11-4) vs Amanda Ribas (10-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two contenders in the flyweight division go up next. Araujo has won three of her last five, but was beaten by Alexa Grasso most recently which essentially cost her a title shot on this card. Ribas on the other hand is in the same vein of form, but suffered a split decision loss to Katlyn Chookagian most recently back in May 2022.
Araujo is a fearsome striker with excellent boxing and some really stout takedown defence. Her biggest issue has always been her cardio problems, but going all five rounds with Grasso last time out showed that may have been sorted. Ribas is a nasty jiu-jitsu practitioner, but her striking defence is horrible and her durability is more than questionable.
If Ribas is able to get a takedown, then it will be her fight to lose. But Araujo’s got the takedown defence to stuff the first few attempts and make Ribas work for it. While she does that, she should be able to land some big strikes on the feet, and that could potentially set up a short night at the office, although with her last seven fights going the distance I expect this one will too.
PICK – Viviane Araujo via Decision
Derek Brunson (23-8) vs Dricus Du Plessis (18-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A huge middleweight fight up next that could potentially set up the next title challenger for later this year. Brunson was on a five-fight win streak and set for a title shot before he ran into Jared Cannonier and got elbowed into oblivion. This is his first fight in over a year. Du Plessis on the other hand is currently on a six-fight win streak including being unbeaten in the UFC, with a submission win over Darren Till most recently back at UFC 282 in December.
Brunson is a wrestler, who uses his grappling to control opponents on the mat and rain down ground and pound strikes to claim victories. Du Plessis is an all-action fighter with a really wild style. He’s a powerful striker with good speed and solid low kicks, but he’s also a pretty good wrestler too and has got ten career wins by submission. Brunson’s wrestling is usually what separates him from his opponents, but Du Plessis is a solid grappler and has a big speed and physicality advantage.
Du Plessis is likely to push the pace hard in the early exchanges, making Brunson work hard for any successes and that will no doubt have an effect on his cardio. I expect the South African to make a statement once again and claim a violent finish to put himself into the title picture for 2023.
PICK – Dricus Du Plessis via Knockout, Round 2
Cody Garbrandt (12-5) vs Trevin Jones (13-9) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Slugfest at bantamweight is the featured prelim bout on this card. Garbrandt has lost five of his last six fights, with four of them coming via knockout including his most recent defeat to Kai Kara France down at flyweight in December 2021. Jones alternatively has lost his last three in a row, dropping a decision to Raoni Barcelos most recently in October 2022.
Garbrandt is a former world champion whose career has just fallen off a cliff. He’s a brilliant boxer with amazing power in his left hand, but he often lets his ego take control and leaves his chin up in the air leading to him getting put out. Jones is a tidy grappler with strong wrestling and good power in his hands, and with a four-inch reach advantage he will feel he can land big shots first and more violently.
“No Love” is in a must-win situation, but so is Jones. Garbrandt will feel that he has the power to knock anyone out, but Jones is a very durable fighter and the grappling advantages he has will put him at ease too. Whoever lands big first will win this fight, but Garbrandt’s volume and variety of strikes should see him do enough to get a really necessary win.
PICK – Cody Garbrandt via Decision