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.
We’ll look to improve on that here with this massive 15-fight card, starting with the early prelims.
Journey Newson (9-3) vs Fernie Garcia (10-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A fun bantamweight fight opens up the card between two interesting fighters. Newson is on a three fight winless streak, after dropping losses to Ricardo Ramos and Randy Costa (UFC Vegas 11) most recently. He did KO Domingo Pilarte in between those, but it was overturned to a no contest for a failed drug test. Garcia on the other hand makes his UFC debut after a successful appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Newson is a steady boxer with a decent wrestling game, but it’s hard to get a read on someone who has fought for less than 90 seconds in the last three years and is coming off a near two-year layoff. Garcia on the other hand is a volume striker with good speed and good wrestling defence to keep the fight in his wheelhouse. Neither guy has got great power, with just four KO’s across their combined 19 wins so it’s all about winning the 50/50 battles.
Newson will likely look to strike early on but when he realises that he’s not got the speed to match Garcia in the exchanges he’ll look to tie him up against the cage and wear on him. Garcia must be able to escape and get back to his boxing, which I think he will, to be able to claim a decision win. PICK – Fernie Garcia via Decision
Ariane Carnelossi (14-2) vs Lupita Godinez (7-2) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
An interesting strawweight bout up next between two women coming off wins. Carnelossi has won her last two by finish, knocking out Na Liang at UFC 261 before submitting Istela Nunes in her most recent outing. Godinez had three fights in six weeks at the back end of 2021, going 2-1 in that run with a defeat to Luana Carolina sandwiched between wins over Silvana Gomez Juarez and Loma Lookboonmee all by decision.
Carnelossi is a powerful striker with a good jab, good low kicks and a decent wrestling game when on the attack. Godinez on the other hand is a sharp boxer too, but she has excellent wrestling both offensively and defensively and that would surely give her the edge here. On the feet Carnelossi’s power is a game changer. She swings big hooks and has the ability to turn the lights out as her nine career KO’s show. but if she ends up on her back she is in trouble.
Godinez is a relentless grappler when she knows she can secure a takedown and from top position she should be able to keep Carnelossi exactly where she wants her. If she avoids the big contact in the early rounds, I expect Godinez to be able to wrestle her way to a relatively one-sided decision win. PICK – Lupita Godinez via Decision
Kleydson Rodrigues (7-1) vs CJ Vergara (9-3-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Flyweight banger up next between two exciting prospects at 125-pounds. Rodrigues has won his last six in a row, including his last fight on Dana White’s Contender Series where he dominated Santo Curatolo. Vergara on the other hand saw a five-fight win streak snapped when he lost his UFC debut to Ode Osbourne via decision back at UFC 268 in November.
Rodrigues is a striker who likes to use his length well and kicking game to set up range and straight strikes and has got a huge technique advantage in this bout. Vergara is a bit more of a brawler than that, but he has got a great clinch game that looks to wear his opponents down with hard knees and elbows. Unfortunately for Vergara though, he seems to be outmatched on this occasion.
‘K.R.’ has got the power to land well and early, while stylistically he is similar to Osbourne who gave Vergara lots of trouble last time out. Vergara will have to try and close the distance with his boxing and that should open him up to a big counter from Rodrigues, who’ll claim the statement KO win. PICK – Kleydson Rodrigues via Knockout, Round 2
Tracy Cortez (9-1) vs Melissa Gatto (8-0-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A very fun flyweight fight between two prospects in the division up next. Cortez is on a nine-fight win streak and is unbeaten in the UFC, claiming a split decision win over Justine Kish in her most recent outing. Gatto on the other hand has won each of her last three bouts, including finishes in her UFC debut against Victoria Leonardo at UFC 265 and then a KO win over Sijara Eubanks at UFC Vegas 45 last time out.
Cortez is a grinding wrestler who has surely been working on her jiu-jitsu game in recent times since starting a relationship with Brian Ortega. She tends to get takedowns and control opponents on the ground, while her striking is good enough to hold her own in the exchanges. Gatto on the other hand is a solid striker with decent power and kicks, while she showed her ground game is of more than adequate level when she went toe-to-toe with Eubanks.
If Gatto keeps the fight standing then it’s her bout to lose. She has a small reach advantage but also she has got some nasty jiu-jitsu off her back and that could be a problem for Cortez. With that said though, Cortez will do some big wrestling movements and will look to grind her way to a win, but she must stay very aware of the submission threat that is posed against her. Overall, there are more paths to victory for the Brazilian, so I expect her to edge out a tough fight. PICK – Melissa Gatto via Decision
Andre Fialho (15-4) vs Cameron VanCamp (15-5-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A banger in the welterweight division that was put together on super short notice. Andre Fialho returns to the octagon just three weeks after a huge win over Miguel Baeza last time out, having been beaten in his UFC debut by Michel Pereira at UFC 270 at the start of the year. VanCamp makes his organisation debut on the back of a four-fight win streak with three submissions in a row.
Fialho is a powerhouse who constantly walks forward and throws heavy strikes as he closes the distance, with good defensive wrestling too. VanCamp on the other hand is a solid grappler with excellent submission skills, but his striking leaves plenty to be desired and that puts him in a world of trouble here. He’s a technical boxer with a nasty left hook and so long as the quick turnaround doesn’t negatively impact him this is his fight to lose.
VanCamp needs to get the fight to the ground and control the grappling exchanges to win this fight, but he’ll need to eat a host of strikes to get it there and I don’t see him being able to cope. Fialho lands big and early to hurt VanCamp and earn a nasty KO win. PICK – Andre Fialho via Knockout, Round 1
Mounir Lazzez (10-2) vs Ange Loosa (8-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Short-notice welterweight banger opens up this main card. Lazzez was on a three-fight win streak before coming up against Warrley Alves at UFC Vegas 46, getting KO’d in the first-round. Loosa on the other hand makes his UFC debut with a win over John Howard just two weeks ago earning him a spot following defeat on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Lazzez is an excellent kickboxer who showed great nous in the clinch too in his debut win, and he showed great composure against the big power of Alves before getting caught. Loosa is a talented fighter too, with a granite chin allowing him to walk forward and look to harm his opponents as much as possible. He also has decent takedowns, while his scrambling off the mat is brilliant too.
Lazzez has a speed advantage in this fight, but it’s due to be exciting because Loosa won’t be going anywhere and will force this fight to be at a good pace for the entire 15 minutes. He has the experience and the skill to win, but I’m getting a gut feeling that Loosa will be able to do something special here and ensure he’s in the UFC to stay. PICK – Ange Loosa via Decision
Pat Sabatini (16-3) vs TJ Laramie (12-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A very fun featherweight bout in this one. Sabatini is on an excellent five-fight win streak right now, including a submission of Jamall Emmers at UFC Vegas 35 and a decision win over Tucker Lutz last time out. Laramie on the other hand saw a four-fight win streak snapped by Darrick Minner at UFC Vegas 11 last time out, getting choked out in just 52 seconds.
Sabatini is an absolute wizard on the mat, with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and some improved kickboxing in recent years. Laramie is also a bit of a ground wizard in his own right, but the power in his hands and boxing is his avenue to victory in this one here. Sabatini has some top wrestling, where he chains together his takedowns and holds position before he works for submissions.
Sabatini has the advantage when it comes to the wrestling and grappling, which means he can dictate where this fight goes. Add to that the lengthy spell off that Laramie has had, I’d expect Sabatini to claim a win. He’s good enough to get a submission, but Laramie is very good too and should be able to see him off to go the distance at least. PICK – Pat Sabatini via Decision
Mayra Bueno Silva (7-2-1) vs Wu Yanan (11-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Women’s bantamweights back in the limelight for this one. Silva is 1-1-1 in her last three, submitting Mara Romero Borrella, before a majority draw against Montana De La Rosa and then defeat last time out to the brilliant Manon Fiorot. Yanan has lost her last two fights, with a unanimous decision loss to Joselyne Edwards at UFC Fight Island 7 over a year ago in her last bout.
Silva is a jiu-jitsu specialist with a nasty armbar that she often goes to, whether she’s in top position or working from her guard. Her kickboxing and wrestling are greatly improved over recent years too, although they still have plenty of work to be done. Yanan is a striker with great volume and good hand speed, but she really lacks in power and her defensive wrestling leaves plenty to be desired.
Yanan has a chance of victory by sprawling and brawling with one-two’s down the middle and stuffing the takedowns of Silva, but it seems unlikely judging off previous outings. Neither fighter is particularly big for the division, both previously fighting at flyweight, so expect Silva to be able to get the fight down eventually and pull off another of her trademark armbar finishes. PICK – Mayra Bueno Silva via Submission, Round 1
Miguel Baeza (10-2) vs Andre Fialho (14-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A banger at welterweight between two very exciting 170-pounders. Baeza has lost his last two fights, dropping a decision to Santiago Ponzinibbio before getting knocked out by Khaos Williams at UFC Vegas 42 in an incredible fight. Fialho was well beaten in a short-notice UFC debut back at UFC 270, dropping a decision to Michel Pereira.
Baeza is an absolutely brilliant striker, with excellent power and crisp technique adding to his ability to turn anyone’s lights out with a single punch or kick. Fialho on the other hand is a steady Muay-Thai fighter who pushes a steady pace throughout and proved to have a pretty decent chin, although he did lack speed or explosiveness. That leads me to believe Baeza will get back in the win column.
The Brazilian has got a ferocious low kick, decent grappling and some beautiful counter striking in his arsenal. As the fight goes on and Fialho takes more damage, there is more chance of Baeza landing big and closing the show so back a finish in this one. PICK – Miguel Baeza via Knockout, Round 2
Caio Borralho (10-1) vs Gadzhi Omargadzhiev (13-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A very peculiar co-main event in this one between two fighters making their UFC debuts after victory on Dana White’s Contender Series in their most recent bouts. Borralho has won seven in a row coming into this, while Omargadzhiev is an undefeated prospect.
Borralho is a black belt in jiu-jitsu but is also a solid striker, with some good karate stance kicks and some good power in his hands. Omargadzhiev on the other hand is a powerful wrestler with an excellent top game, and some steady attacks on the feet. This is a real 50-50 fight wherever the fight goes and it will be really interesting to see who has the advantages on the ground, because that’s likely where this fight will go in an ideal world for both guys.
With that said, Borralho seems to be the better guy defensively. He has good submissions defensively, is the better striker on the feet and he seems to be the physically stronger guy. This is a close fight, but I’m leaning towards the Brazilian to hand the Russian the first defeat of his career. PICK – Caio Barralho via Decision
Vicente Luque (21-7-1) vs Belal Muhammad (20-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
The fight of the night is the main event and this should be great fun. Luque has won his last four fights in a row earning stoppages against Niko Price, Randy Brown (UFC Vegas 5), Tyron Woodley (UFC 260) and Michael Chiesa (UFC 265) most recently. Muhammad on the other hand has is unbeaten in his last seven, with a no contest against Leon Edwards stopping his streak. He has beaten Demian Maia (UFC 263) and Stephen Thompson (UFC Vegas 45) in his most recent fights.
Luque is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division, with incredible boxing and some stunning jiu-jitsu skills mixed in with crazy intensity and cardio skills. Muhammad on the other hand is a solid kickboxer with brilliant wrestling skills and excellent cardio too, but he does lack knockout power from his arsenal. Muhammad is in a great vein of form in his career, mixing everything together to be able to really shut down his opponents’ offense. But Luque has so many weapons that I find it hard to see how he’ll be able to do that here.
The Brazilian pushes an unbelievable pace with superb power and technique, but he also has an excellent submission threat in scrambles and from his back too. For me, this is Muhammad’s peak level. I don’t see him getting into the title picture because the guys above him just have more to their game, whereas Luque has game-changing skills that can turn a fight on it’s head. I expect Luque to be tested, but I think he’ll be able to continue his run of finishes to push himself into the top five. PICK – Vicente Luque via Knockout, Round 3
Jasmine Jasudavicius def Kay Hansen via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Hansen shoots in for a takedown immediately as the fight starts and both women clinch against the cage fighting for position. Jasudavicius is able to defend and looks for a right hand on the break but misses. Hansen trying to box from the outside but Jasudavicius the longer fighter and able to land her jab well. Lovely slip and left hook from Hansen lands, then she changes levels looking for a takedown but Jasudavicius defends it really well. Clinch against the cage and then Hansen gets tripped and ends up on her back with Jasudavicius in her guard. Big elbow lands from Jasudavicius but Hansen is looking for something from her back. She kicks her off but Jasudavicius lands a big elbow on the ground before the round ends. 10-9 Jasudavicius.
Jasudavicius throws a kick early doors which Hansen catches and is able to trip her down. She looks to move straight into mount, but Jasudavicius sweeps her and ends up on top herself and is landing some big shots against the cage. Hansen is looking for armbars but is eating big elbows to the face. Jasudavicius controlling the position on top but not much happening and the referee stands them up. Hansen catches another kick but doesn’t get her down, then throws a big spinning elbow and then shoots in for a takedown but Jasudavicius defends it brilliantly and reverses the position against the cage. After some grinding against the cage Jasudavicius gets another takedown with 10 seconds left to take the round. 20-18.
Nice exchange of right hands between the two ladies at the start of the round as Hansen tries to close the distance. Jasudavicius fakes a takedown and lands a nice left hand, before Hansen fires back with a crisp right hook that lands clean. She’s landing well on the feet despite being smaller, but Jasudavicius lands her jab well too in return. Beautiful left hand lands from Hansen but Jasudavicius eats it and continues to come forward. Hansen having the better of the fight on the feet but she needs a finish. Final 90 seconds and they trade big strikes, before another left hook from Hansen. Jasudavicius just misses with a left high kick, then Hansen lands a big elbow and a left hand. Jasudavicius gets hold of Hansen and lands some big knees in a Thai clinch for the final ten seconds. 29-28 Jasudavicius for me.
Lots of forward movement early on from Demopoulos, but Juarez moves away relatively easily and lands a bomb of a right hand. Hard low kicks land from Demopoulos but then Juarez lands another huge overhand right that drops her! She moves in for ground and pound and lands some heavy shots but Demopoulos manages to control her posture on the ground and cover up. Demopoulos starts looking for an armbar and is threatening hard with it. She sweeps Juarez from the bottom with the arm locked up and gets the tap! What a brilliant comeback win!
Matt Frevola def Genaro Valdez via Knockout, Round 1 (3:15)
High pace to start this one as Frevola goes high with a kick that just misses before both guys start swinging from the hip. Hard low kick from Frevola lands but both guys land with big right hands. Frevola pushing forward and lands a big right hand that wobbles Valdez! He drops him and then goes for ground and pound but Valdez keeps going. They get back to the feet and Frevola lands another hard right that drops him again! Valdez goes for a left hand that lands but Frevola too powerful now and knocks him down again! Valdez trying to defend himself but Frevola starts landing big knees up the middle. Huge strikes again from Frevola and Valdez goes down again but the referee still letting it go. Frevola takes his back instead, moves into mount and starts raining down punches and forces the referee to stop the fight! Wow, what a crazy fight! Huge win for Frevola!
Tony Gravely def Saimon Oliveira via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Very fast start to this fight as Oliveira throws a high kick and then a big flying knee as Gravely moves in for a takedown. Oliveira sweeps and gets on top and looks for a guillotine and it’s in deep, but Gravely is gutting it out and trying to lift the hips to ease the pressure. He pops his head out and lands some big ground strikes before controlling position from the top. Oliveira works his way back up to his feet and looks for a guillotine again, but Gravely steps behind him and takes him back down to the ground. Oliveira works his way back up again but Gravely throwing short combinations then shoots for a takedown again. Oliveira goes for another guillotine, but Gravely takes him down again and should take the round. 10-9.
Second round and Gravely immediately comes in for a takedown and gets it. Oliveira threatens with a kimura from the bottom but Gravely denies it and steps in. Good pressure again, but Oliveira lands a big left hook before Gravely goes for a takedown and denies another guillotine attempt. Gravely steps in and changes levels with an excellent takedown again and passes into half-guard immediately as Oliveira looks to throw elbows from the bottom. Gravely landing some big shots from top position but Oliveira eats them to get back to his feet, then starts throwing some hard elbows to force a break. Gravely taking Oliveira down whenever he wants now and landing heavy shots to end the round. 20-18 Gravely.
Oliveira comes storming out wildly but Gravely immediately goes to his wrestling to get a takedown and fight off another guillotine choke attempt. Oliveira throwing short elbows from the bottom but Gravely controlling the position well. Oliveira works his way back up to the feet, before Gravely goes for the takedown once again and successfully stops any momentum. Once again Oliveira goes for a guillotine but Gravely defends it easily and lands some solid ground and pound too. Oliveira works his way back up once more but Gravely lands a nice right hook as we enter the final minute. Exchange of strikes and Gravely lands a big uppercut that wobbles Oliveira. Spinning back elbow from Oliveira and a big knee but Gravely takes him down. Back up and a big knee from Gravely lands followed by a left hook before the round ends. 30-27 Gravely, great fight.
Jack Della Maddalena def Pete Rodriguez via Knockout, Round 1 (2:59)
Good pace to this fight early on as Maddalena applying pressure and stepping forward. Maddalena using his jab brilliantly but Rodriguez is responding with decent combinations of his own, including a nice left uppercut. Maddalena’s jab is picking Rodriguez apart and has busted his nose up bad. Maddalena lands a right hand, then follows it with a brilliant combination that rocks Rodriguez! Big left hand lands and drops Rodriguez and he follows it up with two shots on the ground to end the fight! What a performance from Maddalena.
Victor Henry def Raoni Barcelos via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Very even start to the fight as both guys trade singular shots while they look for range and movement. Barcelos lands a nice left hand then follows up with a beautiful combination that lands heavy on Henry. Henry throws a body kick but Barcelos side steps and lands a nice counter right. Big uppercut from Barcelos and a quick one-two lands, then he just misses with a big right hook. Henry lands a big left hand and Barcelos shoots, but Henry stuffs it and eats two big punches. Henry stepping forward now and he’s landed some big strikes too on the chin. Barcelos takes his head off the centre line and lands a big left hand, but Henry comes forward again. Barcelos landing heavy strikes but Henry still coming and lands some big shots of his own. Barcelos trips him to get a takedown but lets him back up immediately and Henry hurts him with a left hand. He rushes forward to clinch and lands some big punches before the round ends. 10-9 Barcelos, but momentum with Henry.
Henry keeping the pace very high at the start of the second after noticing Barcelos fade. Barcelos lands a nice combination, but Henry throwing kicks and then he lands a nice left hook. Nice double jab from Barcelos and after some more soft touches, Barcelos lands a big, hard one-two. Barcelos starting to land heavy again with some nice combinations but Henry is still right there. Two big right hands from Henry land but Barcelos responds with a very good combination in close. Barcelos catches a kick and goes for a trip takedown, but Henry gets back up immediately and they go back to trading. Big head kick just misses from Barcelos as the buzzer goes. 19-19? It’s very close.
Final round and Henry is working some heavy body kicks while Barcelos looking to land big punches to counter it. Both men are landing heavy strikes but neither going anywhere. Barcelos is fading and Henry is just continuing to come forward. Henry starting to land clean strikes on the chin and Barcelos is reacting. Henry looking for a finish but Barcelos clinches and Henry looks for a takedown. Hard knees to the back of the leg from Barcelos before he explodes out and lands some huge strikes on Henry. Left hand wobbles Henry but he’s still there and fights back himself to end the round and surely claim the win. 29-28 Henry for me.
Michael Morales def Trevin Giles via Knockout, Round 1 (4:06)
Three hard low kicks from Giles to open the round and Morales hasn’t checked any of them. Morales throws one back but then Giles throws another and then drops him with a huge one two! Morales recovers quickly and clinches, but Giles uses his strength and drags him down to the mat. Giles moves towards an arm triangle submission but Morales sweeps him brilliantly to end up on top, although Giles is able to scramble back to his feet quickly. Morales throws a big counter right hand and lands clean and Giles is hurt! Morales follows up with huge strikes and follows up with heavy ground and pound to force the referee to step in and stop the fight! Big performance from Morales, what a win!
Said Nurmagomedov def Cody Stamann via Submission (Guillotine), Round 1 (0:47)
Nurmagomedov comes out fast and aggressive early on with strikes including a spinning back fist and spinning back side kick. Stamann shoots in for a takedown immediately because he doesn’t like that and Nurmagomedov grabs the neck quickly. He locks in a high-elbow grip, rolls through and secures the tap out! Wow! What a performance.
Michel Pereira def Andre Fialho via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start from Fialho as he takes the centre immediately and throws a nice combination. Fialho goes for a wheel kick but misses, before Pereira throws a big body kick and then a huge combination after kicking off the cage. Nice jab from Fialho lands and makes Pereira stumble back against the cage, then another lands flush too. Nice overhand right from Pereira lands but Fialho eats it then steps forward, feints, and lands a beautiful combo flush on the chin. Pereira responds with a couple of big shots too but Fialho has been excellent so far. Fialho coming forward and the jab is landing beautifully, before Pereira goes for a takedown and sees it stuffed. Big overhand right from Pereira lands but then he slips and Fialho ends the round on top landing some nice ground and pound. 10-9 Fialho.
Second round and Pereira has scaled back the wacky explosions and has gone back to fundamentals, and is doing well. Big left jab to the body and right overhand lands, Big combination and Fialho is rocked. Pereira goes for a flying knee but misses before landing a crazy body kick and a front flip lariat. Hard strikes land from Pereira, but Fialho responds with some big strikes himself. Big wheel kick misses again from Pereira, but then the hard front kick to the body lands. Pereira clinches and throws knees to the body, but Fialho lands some hard uppercuts at the same time. Pereira continuing to throw front kicks to the body, and mixing it up with hard right hands. Fialho counters with a right hand of his own as Pereira scores a takedown with 20 seconds to go. 19-19, great recovery.
Fialho continuing to come forward in this final round but Pereira seems to have figured him out and is now landing hard low kicks. Nice combination from Pereira, before he shoots for a takedown but doesn’t get it. Fialho forces Pereira backwards with strikes but then he replies with an explosive right hand. Pereira chopping away at the body but Fialho not going anywhere and landing his jab well. Pereira getting in and out with his strikes, but Fialho is still there and is landing really well. Pereira goes for one of those body kicks but gets it a bit low and there’s a pause in the action. Crazy exchanges to see the round out from both guys, but Pereira should claim the victory.
Deiveson Figueiredo def Brandon Moreno via Unanimous Decision (48-47 x3)
Hard low kick from Figueiredo early on, but when he goes for a second Moreno avoids it and chases him looking for a strike. Clinch against the cage forces a stalemate for about a minute, before they break and Moreno just misses with a left hook. Hard low kick from Figueiredo sits Moreno down but he bounces back up quickly. Another hard low kick from Figueiredo and then Moreno lands a hard right hand that seems to hurt Figueiredo. The Brazilian changes levels and drags Moreno down with a takedown and transitions to the back, but Moreno scrambles up to his feet quickly. Spinning low kick hurts Figueiredo’s leg but he lands a nice right hand before the buzzer ends the round. 10-9 Figueiredo, just.
Moreno coming forward well in this second round and he looks confident and calm. Figueiredo lands a right hand, then goes for a body kick but Moreno catches it and tries to drop him to the ground but they immediately scramble back up to the feet. Moreno starting to throw his own low kicks and both guys are looking to counter the other as it stands. Moreno steps in and lands a nice left hook to the body before a left to the chin, before Figueiredo changes levels and grabs a leg but misses with the big right hand. Nice combination to the body from Figueiredo, but Moreno fires back with a left hand. Figueiredo throws a big right hand that hurts Moreno, but the champ returns with a shot of his own that hurts Figueiredo. Both guys just miss with a head kick and the buzzer goes. 19-19.
Both fighters land a left hook early, before Moreno charges in with a knee but gets taken down. He gets to the cage and gets back to his feet while preventing Figueiredo from taking his back. Low kick each to add to the damage, before a left hand makes Moreno stumble! Moreno responds with a right hand that makes him wobble too, then they exchange big strikes again that make each other stumble. Hard low kick from Figueiredo but Moreno lands a few big strikes again that keep Figueiredo on the back foot. Another hard leg kick forces Moreno to the ground, before he throws a big combo that sees a left hand land on the chin of Figueiredo. Heavy left hand from Figueiredo lands but Moreno returns fire with the same strike himself. Head kick from Moreno is partially blocked. Figueiredo lands a huge right hand that drops Moreno! He sinks in a guillotine choke but the buzzer goes! Saved by the bell! 29-28 Fig.
Hard low kick again from Figueiredo and Moreno is hurting. Moreno throws a couple of low kicks himself and gets a reaction from Figueiredo, but Fig taking the centre. Hard low kick from Moreno puts Figueiredo down to one knee but he bounces back up immediately. Figueiredo just misses with a left hook and right cross, before a body lock and clinch against the cage as he looks for a takedown. Moreno scrambles out and starts throwing big flurries, with a left hook landing well. Hard body kick from Moreno, but Figueiredo returns it. Round ends with little action, got to give it to Moreno. 38-38.
Some good distance management early on from both guys before Moreno steps in and gets a takedown. Figueiredo uses his butterfly guard to elevate Moreno and scramble back to his feet quickly though. Nice left hand from Moreno lands, before a hook to the body too. Great slip from Moreno as he avoids Figueiredo’s strike and lands a strong left hand. Big right hand from Figueiredo lands and he drops Moreno! Moreno responds with a nice left hand, before Figueiredo lands a head kick. Both guys land a flush one-two. Final 30 seconds and both guys just start swinging for the fences, with both guys landing clean and both getting hurt. Amazing fight. 48-47 Fig for me, but no complaints if it goes the other way.
Francis Ngannou def Ciryl Gane via Unanimous Decision (48-47 x2, 49-46)
Ngannou takes the centre immediately and Gane bounces on the outside, before shooting in for a takedown but Ngannou defends it well. Ngannou clinches well against Gane and then Gane looks for an upwards elbow. Ngannou lands a big right hook and uppercut, but Gane avoids the big actions and steps away. Spinning kick to the body lands for Gane, and then he moves side-to-side and lands a nice jab too. Ngannou staying very calm so far and then clinching against the cage, landing a big knee to the body. Gane switches the position and lands a knee of his own, before Gane throws a nice body shot. Gane lands a push kick to the body and the round ends. 10-9 Gane.
Slow start to the round from both guys, as Gane throws a front leg side kick to the body. Nice low kicks from Gane and a jab, but the round has been very slow so far. Gane throws a big body shot and hook that lands well, but Ngannou relaxed and eats them. Ngannou misses with a big right hand but they clinch and Gane separates easily. Ngannou throws the one-two and just misses, but Gane responds with a spinning heel-kick that lands well. Gane is basically fighting at walking pace right now, in complete control while Ngannou is barely throwing. Hard body kick lands from Ngannou as we head into the final 30 seconds. Gane throws a right hand and Ngannou replies with an uppercut that lands, but not flush. Gane bounces around the outside to see out the round. 20-18.
Gane very relaxed for the opening minute as he moves around on the outside before throwing a kick that Ngannou catches and he slams him to the mat! Ngannou in side control looking to control the position but Gane does well to get out. Ngannou takes the back and lands some good shots in the ground and pound but Gane gets back up and they separate. Big spinning elbow from Gane on the break lands but Gane then steps back and steps in with a big double leg takedown. Gane goes for a kimura but Ngannou defends it well and ends the round on top. 29-28.
Gane showing his gas tank is nowhere near empty with good movement again, as Ngannou holds the centre and moves slowly. Gane walking around with his hands low, landing short leg kicks before Ngannou throws a hard body kick. He gets a body lock and spins to get Gane down to the mat. Gane trying to keep wrist control but gives it up and throws a short elbow, with Ngannou looking for ground and pound. Another takedown from Ngannou as he looks to move into full mount, but Gane manages to roll out. Ngannou gets him against the cage and lands a big knee to the chest before ending the round on top. What a combeack this is. 38-38, final round.
Gane comes out with leg kicks again and just misses with a big overhand right. Big left hand from Gane lands but Ngannou still in the centre and eats it. Gane changes levels and gets a single leg takedown, but Ngannou tries to get back up. Gane goes for a leg attack and Ngannou manages to get on top instead! Gane rolls it back through and torques for a heel hook but he can’t get it and now Ngannou gets back on top. Ngannou in half-guard and stalling the position as we enter the final minute. Gane can’t work any offense from the bottom and Ngannou is controlling the position. Ngannou looks for ground and pound to end the round and he’s surely taken the decision victory! 48-47 Ngannou.
The first pay-per-view of the year brings us two huge title fights in the smallest and biggest weights available to the men.
In the main event of the night Francis Ngannou will take on former teammate and interim champion Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title of the world, while the co-main will see the trilogy between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo for the flyweight title.
Rodolfo Vieira (8-1) vs Wellington Turman (17-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
This fight got moved up to the main card during fight week and it’s no surprise why. Rodolfo Vieira got submitted by ‘Fluffy’ Hernandez in the submission of the year at UFC 258 in one of the shocks of the year, before bouncing back and submitting Dustin Stoltzfus. Turman is one of the youngest veterans in MMA, and snapped a two-fight losing streak with a split decision win over Sam Alvey at UFC Vegas 35 last time out.
Vieira has the nickname ‘the black belt hunter’ for a reason. He is one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, not just MMA, and has great ability to secure takedowns using his body weight as well as wrestling. Turman is also a talented grappler but who has fallen in love with his hands more recently, looking to box and use his physicality. That won’t go well here though.
Vieira is going to stand only for as long as he has to before looking to bulldoze Turman into a takedown and then working his incredible jiu-jitsu skills for a submission. He managed to conserve energy against Stoltzfus to take it into the third round last time, but he won’t need to do that here as he’ll smoke him early. PICK – Rodolfo Vieira via Submission, Round 1
Michael Morales (12-0) vs Trevin Giles (14-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very exciting welterweight bout in this one. Michael Morales comes into the UFC as an undefeated fighter having earned a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series back in September, while Giles saw a three-fight win streak snapped at UFC 264 by Dricus Du Plessis when he got knocked out.
Morales is an exciting well rounded fighter, with good speed with his hands and decent wrestling too. Giles on the other hand is making his welterweight debut having spent the vast majority of his career at middleweight. He has good power in his hands and good movement, but he isn’t the most explosive out there. Morales has great length and uses it well, but so does Giles.
It’s a very close fight on paper with different factors going in favour of different fighters. Giles is moving down in weight and we don’t know how he’ll cope, but Morales is pretty green and this is a huge step up in competition compared to the rest of his career. In what should be a decent fight, I think Giles will be able to use his boxing and size well to give Morales his first professional defeat. PICK – Trevin Giles via Decision
Cody Stamann (19-4-1) vs Said Nurmagomedov (14-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very exciting bantamweight fight between two grappling machines at 135-pounds. Stamann has lost his last two in a row, dropping decisions to Jimmie Rivera and most recently Merab Dvalishvili at UFC Vegas 25. Nurmagomedov, the cousin of Khabib, earned a KO win over Mark Striegl at UFC Fight Island 6. He hasn’t fought in 14 months since though.
Stamann is a staunch wrestler, who has his whole game based around being able to take his opponent down and control the position for 15 minutes – something that 11 decision wins from 19 proves. Nurmagomedov in the opposite corner has largely worked as a kickboxer in the UFC, but the wrestling and submission skills have been seen previously in his career unsurprisingly. Nurmagomedov is likely to try and strike with Stamann, using his scrambling ability to get off the mat if any takedowns are given up at all.
Both guys are fairly well-rounded, but Stamann is clearly far more predictable than the Dagestani. That makes him much easier to plan for and I expect that while Nurmagomedov will probably get taken down at some point, he’ll be able to land plenty on the feet and get up consistently to be able to earn a decision win. PICK – Said Nurmagomedov via Decision
Michel Pereira (26-11) vs Andre Fialho (14-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
This one has got fireworks written all over it, so expect someone to go to sleep. Pereira is on a three-fight win streak after beating ‘Khaos’ Williams at UFC Vegas 17 and Niko Price at UFC 264 most recently by decision. Fialho is stepping in on short-notice for his UFC debut, on a four-fight finishing streak in UAE Warriors.
Pereira is an absolute mad man who is a specialist in capoeira, with explosive kicks and punches as well as some excellent wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills. Fialho has been dubbed ‘the knockout machine’ for his aggressive style, where he walks forward and tries to bait his opponent into a straight up brawl. Doing that against a fighter like Pereira is begging for trouble, but we’ve seen some crazy KO shocks in the past and I wouldn’t put it past him.
Ultimately though, this one looks like it may be too much of a step up for Fialho. Pereira is a legit contender at welterweight and with very little training for the fight, his gas tank isn’t guaranteed either. Pereira will trade big shots and mix in his takedowns to secure an impressive victory via choke. PICK – Michel Pereira via Submission, Round 2
Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) vs Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Absolute banger of a title fight in the flyweight division next between the two best 125-pounders in the world. This is the third time in a row these two have faced off against each other after a draw at UFC 256 and then Moreno’s famous title win at UFC 263 last year.
Moreno and Figueiredo are incredibly well-rounded fighters, but both with their primary aims slightly different. Moreno is an excellent grappler with a tremendous gas tank and he is happy to strike to pressure before stepping in for takedowns. Figueiredo on the other hand is an absolute powerhouse who looks to take his opponent’s head off with strikes, but also has the ability to tap his opponent out with his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Both guys are at their peak right now and coming into this with no worries or concerns, so it really is a tough pick.
I have to go with the reigning champion to retain though. In the last bout, Moreno’s pressure was excellent and he showed that he could take the power of Figueiredo even when he got hit clean. He also managed to outscramble the Brazilian on the ground and when he got a dominant position, he held onto it and secured the submission. I don’t think he gets a finish here, but I do think he grapples and scrambles his way to a unanimous decision win. PICK – Brandon Moreno via Decision
Francis Ngannou (16-3) vs Ciryl Gane (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The best heavyweight title fight in the history of the UFC headlines this card. Francis Ngannou is on a five-fight knockout run, which culminated in him claiming the title at the second attempt with a second-round KO of Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. Gane is undefeated in his professional career and enjoyed some stellar victories in 2021, defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20 and Alexander Volkov at UFC Vegas 24 before knocking out Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 to become interim champion.
Ngannou is the most powerful man to ever compete in MMA, with an explosion of power and a genuine ability to knock anyone out with a single strike. Gane on the other hand is one of the most technical heavyweight fighters ever, with brilliant kickboxing and even some solid wrestling too. This is a genuine battle of power vs precision, but it’s crazier that they are former teammates and sparring partners. Ngannou showed greatly improved wrestling against Miocic which could potentially narrow one path to victory for Gane, but ultimately he has got more than one.
Gane has the speed and footwork advantage, while he is also a good clincher too. But what Ngannou has is the ability to end any fight in a split second with one punch and it’s really tough to pick against him. But I’m going to. Gane has been flawless so far in his MMA career and while Ngannou has game-changing power, Gane is no slouch himself. With all the movement, speed and the fact he will know Ngannou better than anyone else make me lean towards Gane putting on a clinic and earning a late finish to become the undisputed king of the heavyweights. PICK – Ciryl Gane via Knockout, Round 4