The UFC returns to pay-per-view with a banger of a main event that will see Aljamain Sterling defend his bantamweight title against Henry Cejudo.
The reigning champion takes on the two-weight world champ who never lost his belts as he returns to the octagon for the first time in three years.
We’ll also see a welterweight title eliminator in the co-main event as Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns go head-to-head in a five-round fight on just two weeks’ notice.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 72 we got the main card pick wrong, but our last full card predictions went well at UFC 287 as we went 8/12 with three perfect picks to move to 866/1339 (64.68%) with 355 perfect picks (40.99%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims.
Daniel Santos (11-2) vs Johnny Munoz (12-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A fun bantamweight fight to open up the card. Santos comes into this fight 1-1 in his last two bouts, dropping a decision to Julio Arce before knocking out John Castaneda most recently back in October 2022. Munoz is also 1-1 in his most recent fights, getting knocked out by Tony Gravely before earning a decision win against Liudvik Sholinian most recently.
Santos is a wild man with a fantastic gas tank that he weaponises to push the pace against his opponent and launch a bombardment of attacks with his striking. He’s also a decent grappler, with really good scrambles and defensive transitions. Munoz is a solid grappler with seven of his nine finish wins coming via submission. He’s also got a strong jab, but prefers to fight at a relatively slower pace than what Santos will push on him.
Munoz needs to get a takedown and find a way to keep “Willycat” on the mat for as long as possible to drain him. That seems unlikely though considering Santos’ own good grappling abilities, and with the pressure and power he possesses in his strikes I expect him to cause Munoz big problems with his pressure and claim a stoppage win midway through the second round.
PICK – Daniel Santos via Knockout, Round 2
Joseph Holmes (8-3) vs Claudio Ribeiro (10-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Middleweight scrap up next between two relative newcomers to the UFC. Holmes made his UFC debut in 2022 and fought three times, going 1-2 with a submission loss to Jun Yong Park most recently. Ribeiro made it into the UFC thanks to a win on the Contender Series but he ran into Abdul Razak Alhassan on his debut and was KO’d 28 seconds into the second round.
Holmes is a decent boxer with some good wrestling, but his overall level isn’t the highest and he’s highly unlikely to ever make any big waves in the UFC. Ribeiro on the other hand is a power puncher with a fan friendly style that sees him throw bombs and hard low kicks, but his overall game is limited.
If this is an MMA fight then Holmes should be able to mix things together enough to find himself in dominant positions and using his jab and movement to earn the win. If they decide to just scrap though, Ribeiro will clean his clock. The safe pick here is Holmes to do enough to go the distance and win on the cards, but don’t be surprised if he gets splattered by one big right hand.
PICK – Joseph Holmes via Decision
Rafael Estevam (11-0) vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-8) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A very fun flyweight fight up next. Estevam makes his UFC debut as an undefeated fighter after winning on the Contender Series last time out, while Zhumagulov is coming off three losses in a row with the last two being controversial split decisions.
Estevam is a terrific wrestler with fantastic technique and some really good chain wrestling to make sure he gets the position he wants. He’s also got a great gas tank to be able to push for those takedowns relentlessly, although his stand up game is bang average. Zhumagulov is a decent well-rounded fighter with good grappling and striking, but his cardio often starts to fade in the second half of the fight and lands him in big trouble.
He has the skillset to start well in this fight and land well on the feet while avoiding takedowns, but as his cardio depletes and Estevam starts pushing more and more, he will fade again. Estevam will do damage and ultimately look to keep him down, and that should be enough to earn him the win on the judge’s cards.
PICK – Rafael Estevam via Decision
Phil Hawes (12-4) vs Ikram Aliskerov (13-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
This is a really fun middleweight bout. Hawes has lost two of his last three fights by stoppage, getting knocked out by Chris Curtis and Roman Dolidze but he claimed a stoppage win of his own between those fights over Deron Winn. Aliskerov makes his UFC debut in this one on a five-fight win streak, with four of those coming via finish. His only loss in his career came against Khamzat Chimaev back in 2019.
Hawes is a powerhouse with great striking power and some decent wrestling, although he hasn’t used it effectively during his run in the UFC yet. Aliskerov is a similar fighter with some good striking, but his greatest strength is his wrestling ability and his cardio that he weaponises really well. That’s an issue for Hawes as the fight goes on, because his cardio has let him down several times before.
Aliskerov is going to want to chain wrestle and put the pressure on Hawes early to take away the big power. If he’s successful with that, then he should be able to control the fight more and more as it goes on with his wrestling and claim a comfortable win.
PICK – Ikram Aliskerov via Decision
Braxton Smith (5-1) vs Parker Porter (13-8) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big boys are out to play in this one. Smith is 5-1 professionally, but his only loss came against Chase Sherman way back in 2014. Since returning to MMA in 2022 he has gone 5-0 with five first-round knockouts. Porter on the other hand is a UFC veteran at this point, and has been stopped in the first round of each of his last two fights against Jailton Almeida and Justin Tafa.
Smith is as basic a heavyweight as they come, with a good chin and a ridiculously heavy right hand but limited skills anywhere else. Porter on the other hand has that too, but he’s also a grinding wrestler when he needs to be and he has plenty of experience on the big stage and how to get wins.
Unless “The Beautiful Monster” lands a stunning punch early doors that catches Porter off guard, expect him to end up with his back on the mat and Porter doing plenty of ground and pound damage to a tired opponent to make the referee step in and wave it off inside the distance.
PICK – Parker Porter via Knockout, Round 2
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