Tag Archives: Carla Esparza

UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira – Main card predictions

The UFC returns to the mecca of combat sports for UFC 281 when Israel Adesanya will defend his middleweight crown against long-time rival Alex Pereira at Madison Square Garden.

The two kickboxing rivals will go toe-to-toe in the octagon to see who is MMA’s best middleweight in the headline fight of the card, but is supported by one of the most stacked cards of the year.

In the co-main event we have the strawweight title on the line as Carla Esparza makes her first defence against former champion Weili Zhang, while Dustin Poirier will meet Michael Chandler in a lightweight war and Frankie Edgar has his retirement bout among other things.

Last week at UFC Vegas 64 we had a rough time with our picks going 6/11 with zero perfect picks, moving us to 766/1188 (64.48%) with 319 perfect picks (41.64%). 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 selecting the rest of the prelims, we move on to the main card here.


Dan Hooker (21-12) vs Claudio Puelles (13-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

A very fun lightweight fight up next. Hooker is currently in freefall, losing four of his last five across two weight divisions. He dropped first round finishes to Michael Chandler (UFC 257), Islam Makhachev (UFC 267) and Arnold Allen (UFC London) most recently, but did claim a decision win over Nasray Haqparast at UFC 266. Puelles on the other hand has won his last five in a row, including each of his last two via kneebar against Chris Gruetzemacher (UFC Vegas 44) and Clay Guida most recently.

Hooker is a very technical striker with excellent range and kicks, as well as great durability on the feet despite the first-round finishes recently. He’s a good boxer, has good power and an amazing gas tank, so can cause anyone problems on his day. Puelles on the other hand is a superb jiu-jitsu practitioner who wants this fight on the ground by any means necessary. That will be hard because his wrestling isn’t the best and Hooker’s takedown defence is usually very good.

Hooker has more paths to victory in this fight. He’s the better striker by a distance, has more varied attacks and has the defence to nullify Puelles’ best attacks. But he’s been in freefall for a while now and if he isn’t the fighter he once was, he’ll get beaten here. I do expect that he’ll be able to do what he does best though, and that’s force a high-pace kickboxing fight. I saw enough against Haqparast that he’s still got something to give to the division, just not against the very top guys, and Puelles isn’t that yet.
PICK – Dan Hooker via Decision

Frankie Edgar (23-10-1) vs Chris Gutierrez (18-3-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

A retirement fight in his back yard, this is Edgar’s farewell. He’s coming into this off the back of four defeats in his last five, with nasty KO losses against Cory Sandhagen (UFC Vegas 18) and Marlon Vera (UFC 268) in his last two bouts. Gutierrez has won six of his last seven, with a draw against Cody Durden stopping it being a 7-fight win streak. He has beaten Andre Ewell (UFC 258), Felipe Colares and Batgerel Danaa via KO in his most recent fights.

Edgar is one of the most well-rounded fighters in UFC history, but his wrestling has always been his bread and butter and where he has the most success. Mix that in with unbelievable heart and durability, and Edgar is a future hall of famer. Gutierrez on the other hand is a violent striker with vicious Muay-Thai and incredible kicks to go with a destructive right hand. He will kick the living daylights out of Edgar’s lead leg. Guaranteed.

It’s all about if Edgar can cope with that. My guess is he can’t. He’s been out for a year after back-to-back violent KO’s and that legendary chin has left him. He knows he’s retiring after this bout, and this is a hungry Gutierrez who as all the tools to send the crowd home unhappy. Edgar’s done and he knows it, this is a passing of the torch moment.
PICK – Chris Gutierrez via Decision

Dustin Poirier (28-7) vs Michael Chandler (23-7) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

Fight of the night right here, and maybe even fight of the year. Poirier is 3-2 in his last five, with those defeats coming in title fights to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira (UFC 269) via submission. He beat Dan Hooker (UFC Vegas 4) and Conor McGregor twice (UFC 257 and UFC 264) to earn those positions. Chandler on the other hand is 2-2 in the UFC with violent KO’s against Hooker and Tony Ferguson most recently, while he was beaten by Oliveira for the belt (UFC 262) and Justin Gaethje in an unbelievable fight (UFC 268).

Poirier is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the UFC with excellent boxing skills and some good wrestling too, but he also has great power and a phenomenal gas tank to work with. Chandler is one of the better wrestlers in the division with a solid double leg takedown, but he also has tremendous power and durability too as shown against Gaethje in their war. This is going to be explosive, but I think Poirier has the edge pretty much everywhere.

He’s more powerful, has more volume, better accuracy and more variety to his game. He’s more than good enough when wrestling defensively to deal with that, and his combinations will do real damage to Chandler’s chin, where he usually takes the one big haymaker well. It will be fast paced and could well go the distance, but I think “The Diamond” makes a statement with this one.
PICK – Dustin Poirier via Knockout, Round 2



Carla Esparza (20-6) vs Weili Zhang (22-3) – (Strawweight/115lbs)

Strawweight title fight up next in the co-main event. Esparza has won six in a row, winning the title at UFC 274 in one of the worst fights of all time against Rose Namajunas. Zhang bounced back after consecutive losses to Namajunas (UFC 261 & UFC 268) with a stunning KO win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their hotly anticipated rematch at UFC 275 to get another title shot.

Esparza is a wrestler, who tends to throw potshots in the hope of a reaction before shooting for the takedown and controlling her opponent on the mat. Zhang on the other hand is an absolute powerhouse with unbelievable speed and power on the feet, but she’s also a solid wrestler herself with good submission abilities. It’s weird to see the challenger so heavily favoured over the champion, but it’s hard to argue with in this instance.

Zhang has the advantage in all the striking and with physicality, but Esparza is by far and away the best wrestler she will have ever come up against. Esparza is able to be relentless with her attempts over 25 minutes, but Zhang should just be able to overwhelm her and really make a statement. Expect “Magnum” to overcome a slow first round to claim a big KO win in the early rounds.
PICK – Weili Zhang via Knockout, Round 2

Israel Adesanya (23-1) vs Alex Pereira (6-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

A rematch years in the making, but in an entirely different sport and with very different stakes. Adesanya is undefeated in the 185-pound division in the UFC, with five successful title defences against Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa (UFC 253), Marvin Vettori (UFC 263), Robert Whittaker (UFC 271) and Jared Cannonier (UFC 276). Pereira is 3-0 in the UFC with knockout wins over Andreas Michailidis (UFC 268) and Sean Strickland (UFC 276), plus an impressive decision win over Bruno Silva between those.

Both of these guys are world class, world champion kickboxers who excel in the striking realm. They fought twice previously with Pereira winning both times, once by decision and once by violent knockout. But that second bout was going in Adesanya’s favour until “Poatan” landed that ridiculous left hook of his. The game plan will be similar for both men, stand and strike and prove they’re the best. But in MMA it’s a different animal.

Adesanya will be able to move more with a bigger cage and less sharp corners to be trapped in, while he’s also arguably the better grappler of the two if he wants to throw that in there to catch Pereira off guard. I doubt he will, but he could. I think his speed advantage is the big thing here though. He’s much quicker than Pereira and while the striking exchanges will be close, I expect Izzy will leave more of a lasting impression. His cardio should hold up well too into the latter rounds such is his experience, and I expect he’ll exact his revenge to claim another title fight victory and cement himself as the best in the world.
PICK – Israel Adesanya via Decision

UFC 274: Oliveira vs Gaethje – Main card predictions

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.

Last time out at UFC Vegas 53 we had a poor night with our picks, going 5/11 with four perfect picks. That moves us up to 613/951 (64.46%) with 259 perfect picks (42.25%).

We’ll look to improve on that here with this massive 15-fight card, and after starting with the early prelims then moving on to the rest of the prelims here, we finish up with our main card picks now.


Donald Cerrone (36-16) vs Joe Lauzon (28-16) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

A retirement (?) fight opens up the main card between two legends of the UFC. Cerrone is winless in his last six fights with five losses and a draw (overturned to a no contest), with a first-round knockout defeat to Alex Morono at UFC Vegas 26 most recently. Lauzon on the other hand has lost three of his last four, with a win over Jonathan Pearce most recently via knockout way back in 2019.

Both of these fighters are super well-rounded with crisp striking and a solid ground game too. Cerrone looks to use his kickboxing skills while on the mat his jiu-jitsu is always capable of helping him out of a hole, while Lauzon is a brawler who comes forward and looks to land big strikes or force mistakes to latch on to submissions.

This is interesting because stylistically they match up great but their approach is very different. Cerrone is a notoriously slow starter while Lauzon tends to explode early and blitz his opponents, which could help him earn a quick win here. But skill for skill, I do think Cerrone has him here. He’s been more active in the cage and he is the bigger man naturally so I think he claims a decision win in an all-out war.
PICK – Donald Cerrone via Decision

Mauricio Rua (27-12-1) vs Ovince Saint Preux (25-16) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)

A light heavyweight fight that really has no business being on the main card between a legend and a legend killer. ‘Shogun’ got well beaten in his last fight back at UFC 255 when he tapped out to strikes against Paul Craig, while OSP has suffered back-to-back knockout defeats against Jamahal Hill at UFC Vegas 16 and then Tanner Boser and UFC Vegas 30.

These two fought way back in 2014 with OSP earning a knockout win in just 34 seconds. ‘Shogun’ is a talented striker with powerful punches, excellent kicks and decent grappling skills when the fight hits the ground. OSP is a rangy striker with a beautiful left hook counter, while his ground game has seen him pick up an excellent eight wins via submission including his patented ‘Saint Preux choke’.

If the weight cut goes well, Saint Preux wins this fight. It’s really that simple. He has the range and style to keep Shogun away in a striking battle, has the power to knock him out and if he gets the fight down to the ground he has the qualities to control him and even get a submission. This should be a pretty straightforward fight for OSP to claim a win.
PICK – Ovince Saint Preux via Decision

Michael Chandler (22-7) vs Tony Ferguson (26-6) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

Absolute banger in the lightweight division between two of the top seven ranked fighters, both coming in on losing streaks. Chandler made his debut with a first-round KO against Dan Hooker at UFC 257, before suffering a KO loss to Charles Oliveira for the title at UFC 262 and then a fight of the night loss to Justin Gaethje at UFC 268 in November. Ferguson saw a 12-fight win streak snapped by Gaethje back at UFC 249 in a one-sided five-rounder, before getting dominated by Oliveira at UFC 256 and then Beneil Dariush at UFC 262.

Chandler is a gladiator who walks his opponents down and swings huge hooks to the head, setting them up with jabs to the body and threatening with his excellent wrestling skills. Ferguson is a wild fighter, with incredible cardio ability, amazing jiu-jitsu skills and great power to go with an iron chin. But he has looked a shadow of himself in recent fights and his decline looks set to continue here. Against both Oliveira and Dariush they were able to nullify him entirely with wrestling and keep him on his back, something Chandler is more than capable of doing.

Ferguson will want the fight standing and will want to encourage a war with Chandler, who has proven to be chinny in the past and reckless when he gets carried away. But the blueprint to beat Ferguson is there and his tank seems to be emptying after being unbelievable in his prime. Chandler clips Ferguson in a big exchange, takes him down and dominates for 15 minutes for a huge win.
PICK – Michael Chandler via Decision



Rose Namajunas (12-4) vs Carla Esparza (19-6) – (Strawweight/115lbs)

Huge title fight between the two women who competed against each other in the first ever strawweight title fight in UFC history. Namajunas won the belt with a first-round KO win over Weili Zhang at UFC 261, before winning a close fight in a rematch at UFC 268. Esparza has won five in a row coming into this bout with decisions over Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, Marina Rodriguez (UFC Fight Island 3) and Yan Xiaonan most recently via knockout.

‘Thug Rose’ is a very well rounded fighter. She has got amazing striking, with great speed and power in her kicks and punches while her footwork and range management is near perfect. She’s also very good on the ground, with five submission wins across her career. Esparza is a terrific wrestler, who looks to use those skills to get the fight to the ground and work her own terrific submission game, as she did against Namajunas in their first fight where she won via rear-naked choke.

This fight is eight years later though and Namajunas is so much better than she was back then. She has completely evolved as a fighter to go up several levels and while Esparza is still great, it feels like Namajunas has to make a mistake to lose this fight. Add to that her record in rematches (4-0), I can’t look past Namajunas landing a hard kick at some point and getting another finish in a title fight to retain the belt.
PICK – Rose Namajunas via Knockout, Round 3

Charles Oliveira (32-8) vs Justin Gaethje (22-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

The best fight of the night on a wild card headlines the event for the lightweight championship. Oliveira is on a ten-fight win streak, with a submission win over Dustin Poirier most recently at UFC 269 in December. Gaethje bounced back from defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 with a huge win over Michael Chandler in his most recent fight.

Oliveira is one of the most complete fighters in the UFC. He has terrific Muay Thai striking skills with vicious knees and elbows, as well as crisp boxing and a snappy front kick to the body to go with the best submission skills in UFC history and amazing cardio. Gaethje is, like Chandler, a gladiator who just walks his opponents down and looks to take their head off with crazy power punches. He also has chopping low kicks, great wrestling defensively and an insane will to just never quit as well as amazing cardio of his own. This is, quite simply, going to be amazing.

In a straight up fire fight on the feet, Gaethje has the edge. He’s the more powerful fighter and he has got excellent head movement to go with it. But the grappling of Oliveira is an incredible game changer in this fight. The ease with which Khabib was able to get Gaethje down and advance positions to get a submission was scary, so Oliveira will feel and know he can do the same if he gets the chance to grapple. There is always a chance that Gaethje lands a nasty uppercut or a violent hook that turns the lights out, but with how good Oliveira has looked recently I expect him to be able to work his grappling patiently and eventually take the neck of Gaethje to leave him sleeping just like Khabib did before him.
PICK – Charles Oliveira via Submission, Round 3

Major UFC fights announced for coming months

The UFC have been busy planning some big fights for the coming weeks and months.

Title fights, fight night main events, contender bouts, rumoured scraps in the pipeline and more have all been mentioned over recent weeks so here’s the big round-up for everyone that needs it.

Starting with April’s pay-per-view opener, we’ll list off all the fights that have been officially announced or rumoured for cards going through the summer so far.



UFC 273 takes place on April 9th after a two-week break in action with a big title-fight double header.

Already announced is the headliner between Alexander Volkanovski v Korean Zombie for the featherweight title, while Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan will finally meet in their rematch for the bantamweight title.

But we will also see the return of Khamzat Chimaev as he takes on Gilbert Burns in a bout that UFC president Dana White has admitted will serve as a title eliminator bout in the welterweight division.

The following week will see another welterweight clash serve as the main event in the Apex, as Vicente Luque takes on Belal Muhammad at UFC Vegas 51.

Down at 135-pounds at the end of April we’ll see a top contender bout between Rob Font and Marlon Vera battle in the main event of UFC Vegas 53, before UFC 274 takes place from Phoenix, Arizona.

Originally scheduled to be in Brazil, we’ll now get the 155-pound title fight between Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje in the headline slot in Gaethje’s home state, while Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza will meet in their long-anticipated rematch for the strawweight title in the co-main event.

We’ll also see an amazing lightweight bout between Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson on that card, as well as a stack of other amazing fights.

The following week the UFC is targeting the rescheduled main event from the UFC Columbus card in the light heavyweight division between Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic, as well as a fun fight between Katlyn Chookagian and Amanda Ribas.

Then at UFC 275 the delayed light heavyweight title fight between Glover Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka will take place, while ‘Bullet’ Valentina Shevchenko will fight Taila Santos for the flyweight championship in the co-main event.

We’ll also see the return of Robert Whittaker at that event, as he is scheduled to take on Marvin Vettori in the middleweight division to get back on the title trail once again.

Dana White has also confirmed that the organisation are expecting welterweight champion Kamaru Usman to return in the summer, and he has promised the next title fight to British fighter Leon Edwards with the target aimed for international fight week in July.

It’s a great year coming up, so keep your eyes on Tap Ins & Tap Outs for coverage of all these events coming up.

UFC Vegas 27 Fallout: Font shines in main event, Esparza back on top

The top of two of the most exciting divisions in the UFC have got themselves a new contender after UFC Vegas 27.

In the men’s bantamweight division, number three ranked Rob Font took on number four ranked Cody Garbrandt in the main event and put together a striking clinic to completely dominate the former champion en route to a unanimous decision win.

It was a fight billed to see whether Garbrandt had really evolved into a more mature fighter after getting back on the win trail last time out following three knockout losses in a row, or whether Font could establish himself as one of the best in the world and worthy of being in the title picture.

In the end though, both proved to be true. Garbrandt was able to stick to a game plan for the majority of the fight and not lose his mind, then entering a brawl at the detriment of his chin. However, Font’s game plan and ability to jab and use a six-inch reach advantage just proved too much to overcome on this occasion for the 29-year-old.

Losing to a top fighter isn’t something to be ashamed of and Font has now proven he is among the best in the world.

With the title being held up currently with the champion Aljamain Sterling recovering from neck surgery, Font is aware that he is unlikely to get the next shot. Following the fight he called to get the winner of the fight between Cory Sandhagen and TJ Dillashaw, whose cancelled bout has been rearranged for July 24th.

While that’s unlikely to be the deal considering Sandhagen in particular feels he deserves a shot already, never mind with a win over Dillashaw, he’s earned himself the right to make such call outs and give UFC president Dana White a headache.

In the co-main event, we saw an old contender re-emerge as the inaugral champion of the division Carla Esparza ended the unbeaten run of Yan Xiaonan in the UFC with a second-round TKO win.

Esparza dominated the fight, using her excellent wrestling to secure top position and win the positional battle before progressing into a crucifix position and raining down strikes on her bloodied opponent until the referee stepped in to stop it.

After the fight she called for White and the UFC to make a rematch of the first ever fight for the belt between herself and newly crowned champion Rose Namajunas.

White isn’t as convinced, telling the post-fight press conference that he needed to decide between Esparza or giving Weili Zhang an immediate rematch.

Esparza is now on a five-fight win streak and after losing the title back in 2015 to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she never got another opportunity at the belt. She’s the best placed 115lbs fighter to challenge for it now and it would be more than deserved.

UFC Vegas 27: Font vs Garbrandt – Main card predictions

Bantamweights lead the way at UFC Vegas 27 this weekend when Rob Font and Cody Garbrandt go toe to toe in the main event.

The number three and four ranked 135lbers in the world will battle it out to give UFC president Dana White a headache when it comes to the top of the division right now, as ‘No Love’ looks to prove he really is back while Font looks to prove he’s a real contender among the elite.

Elsewhere on the card Yan Xiaonan takes on Carla Esparza in the co-main event to potentially determine the next contender for Rose Namajunas’ strawweight title, while Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan meet in their delayed middleweight scrap too.

Last week at UFC 262 we didn’t have the best of nights prediction wise, going 6/12 with two perfect picks to move up to 314/494 (63.56%) with 136 perfect picks (43.31%).

We’ll look to improve that here with this 13-fight card, and after picking the early prelims here and the rest of the prelims here, we move onto the main card now.


Jack Hermansson (21-6) vs Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

A fight that could easily have been a headline bout this time last year opens up the main card as the veteran Jack Hermansson takes on the prospect Shahbazyan in the middleweight division. Hermansson was on a decent run before getting knocked out by Jared Cannonier, before he bounced back with a very quick heel hook win over Kelvin Gastelum then got dominated by Marvin Vettori last time out. Shahbazyan was on an absolute tear himself, before his first main event against Derek Brunson saw him get dominated and finished in the third round.

Hermansson is one of the best grapplers in the division, with a sneaky submission game and fantastic top control once he gets on top, while Shahbazyan is as pure a striker as they come in the division with sensational kickboxing. Hermansson will be happy to stand if he can keep the distance short, but if he gets hold of him will almost certainly look to put him on his back.

While Shahbazyan has got great talent for all to see, his hype has made people forget he’s only 23. He’s in no rush to hit the top of the mountain right now and I think he still has holes in his game that ‘Joker’ can expose and I think he’ll get the win here.
PICK – Jack Hermansson via Knockout, Round 2

David Dvorak (19-3) vs Raulian Paiva (20-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)

A potential fight of the night at flyweight here as two 125lbers look to break into the top ten of the rankings with a big win. Dvorak has won 15 fights in a row, including wins over Bruno Silva and then Jordan Espinosa in 2020, while Paiva bounced back from consecutive defeats to earn back-to-back wins over Mark De La Rosa and then Zhalgas Zhumagulov at UFC 251.

Dvorak is a special grappler, with good striking to set up his takedowns where he will look to control position and eventually try and get to the back and look for chokes. Paiva on the other hand is a super striker with quick hands and great kicks, who’s ground game is okay but not so much when it’s against someone like Dvorak. ‘The Undertaker’ is relentless with his pressure and can hold his own on the feet too, meaning those kicks Paiva throws leave him susceptible to getting them caught and taken down.

Paiva could win the striking battle on the feet, but Dvorak will win any grappling battles on the mat and that’s where the difference lies. For me, Dvorak gets the fight down and controls position to nullify the threat of Paiva for a wide decision win.
PICK – David Dvorak via Decision

Felicia Spencer (8-2) vs Norma Dumont (5-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)

The first ladies on the card get a nice spot on the main card as former title challenger Felicia Spencer looks to get back in the win column against Norma Dumont. Spencer took ‘Cyborg’ to a decision in a losing effort before beating Zarah Fairn dos Santos via KO in the first round to set up a defeat to Amanda Nunes at UFC 250. Dumont got slaughtered in her first UFC performance against Megan Anderson, before earning a win at bantamweight over Ashlee Evans-Smith.

Spencer is a natural 145lbser among the women which is a positive immediately, with great striking and decent grappling to boot. Dumont on the other hand is a grappler with jiu-jitsu skills and a decent bit of striking on the feet, but will have a huge size disadvantage that she’ll need to overcome. Spencer is the far better wrestler and has better striking and this fight just seems like a lay up for the bigger woman in a division that is limited in it’s contenders.

Spencer should be able to have her way entirely in this one for a dominant decision win.
PICK – Felicia Spencer via Decision

Justin Tafa (4-2) vs Jared Vanderaa (11-5) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)

The big men get a run-out in this one as ‘Bad Man’ Justin Tafa takes on Jared Vanderaa in the heavyweight division. Tafa is 1-2 in the UFC, losing his debut to Yorgan De Castro before knocking out Juan Adams and then losing to Carlos Felipe at UFC Fight Island 7 in January. Vanderaa on the other hand also lost his UFC debut, getting KO’d by Sergey Spivak at UFC Vegas 19.

Tafa is a brawler, with tremendous power in his hands but an interesting chin and not the best boxing skills as he showed against Felipe. Vanderaa is a striker/wrestler type, who will look to step forward to close the distance with his hands and then get hold of you to put you on the ground. He has a big height and reach advantage meaning Tafa will have to take risks to step inside.

Despite that, I don’t think Vanderaa will be able to get a finish. If Tafa lands a heavy shot or two early on it could cause big problems, but Vanderra should be able to use his size and experience to see out a pretty comfortable win.
PICK – Jared Vanderra via Decision

Yan Xiaonan (13-1 1NC) vs Carla Esparza (18-6) – (Strawweight/115lbs)

A huge fight at the top of the strawweight division between a touted future champion against the inaugral champ of the weight class. Xiaonan is on a six-fight win streak and undefeated in her last 12 fights, with an impressive win over Claudia Gadelha back at UFC Vegas 13, while Esparza has won four-in-a-row including a split decision over Marina Rodriguez at UFC Fight Island 3 last summer.

Xiaonan is a great striker, with terrific speed and solid kicks to go with some brilliant takedown defence. That will be put to the test though against Esparza, who’s biggest strength is her wrestling skills. She can get you to the ground and control the top position, with decent strikes and submission skills. Xiaonan’s path to victory is clearly on the feet, with decent power although all her UFC fights thus far have gone the distance.

Ultimately it comes down to whether or not Esparza can put Xiaonan on her back and keep her there, but I’d be very shocked if that’s the case. Expect Xiaonan to piece her up on the feet and deny the takedown attempts to cruise to a huge win on the judge’s scorecards.
PICK – Yan Xiaonan via Decision

Rob Font (18-4) vs Cody Garbrandt (12-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

An absolute banger of a main event that will almost certainly be the fight of the night as Rob Font and Cody Garbrandt do battle at 135lbs. Font is coming off the back of a three-fight win streak, with a stunning first-round knockout over Marlon Moraes last time out at UFC Vegas 17, while Garbrandt snapped a three-fight knockout loss streak with a stunning knockout win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250.

Both Font and Garbrandt are boxing heavy fighters, with terrific hand speed and legitimate one-punch power. Font is the technically cleaner fighter of the two, working behind his jab with great footwork and combinations, while Gabrandt is quicker and more powerful but a bit looser with his technique. Font’s biggest win came in his last fight and while impressive on paper, Moraes has proved to be rather chinny in recent fights and that’s definitely something to consider. Garbrandt’s three losses were all by knockout because he refused to fight smart but we’ve seen his brilliance in the past and he looked much better against Assuncao too.

It’s a super even fight, between two guys who will feel they can beat the other at what they do best. For Font, he’s never been knocked out in the past but also never had to go five rounds. Despite that, I think Garbrandt’s past of being knocked out viciously could play against him in this one. Font hits hard and clean and with his speed to counter, I think he gets the biggest win of his career.
PICK – Rob Font via Knockout, Round 3

UFC Fight Island: Whittaker vs Till – Main Card Predictions

As the UFC brings to an end the first edition of Fight Island, the middleweight division is hotting up. Former champion Robert Whittaker makes his return in his first bout since losing the belt as he takes on former welterweight title contender Darren Till in the main event.

Before that though, a stacked FIFTEEN fight card will see plenty of big fights and talented fighters enter the octagon. I’ll break down the main card here, and offer up my predictions for each fight.

Last time out for UFC Fight Island: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2, I correctly predicted 6/10 winners on the night with just one of those completely correct (winner, round, method). I expect to do much better this time around and hope to improve on that record.

You can see my predictions for the prelims of this card here.

Khamzat Chimaev (7-0) vs Rhys McKee (10-2-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)

After a mesmerising debut just 10 days ago, Chimaev returns to the Octagon looking for his second win in his second weight division when he takes on Cage Warriors’ ‘Skeletor’. McKee is a solid striker with great jiu-jitsu and will definitely be able to put up more of a fight than John Phillips did. Chimaev though was so dominant against Phillips, a big middleweight, that it’s very hard to discount the size and strength difference. Chimaev has a rocket strapped to his back right now and another dominant win on Fight Island will only see his stock rise further.
PICK – Khamzat Chimaev via Submission, Round 1

Alex Oliveira (21-8-1, 2NC) vs Peter Sobotta (17-6-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)

Another potential fight of the night contender here, as ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira looks to make it back-to-back wins in 2020 against the returning Sobotta. The German hasn’t fought since 2018, when he was well beaten by Leon Edwards. Both fighters are technical strikers, with Oliveira loving a hard kick, but also both are more than comfortable on the ground. Sobotta is a better grappler than striker and will want the fight on the ground if he can be in control there and he could go for a submission. If Oliveira ends up in control, we’ll see big ground and pound strikes that could potentially set up submissions. Overall, Sobotta’s inactivity is likely going to cost him here and Oliveira should be able to sneak a win.
PICK – Alex Oliveira via Unanimous Decision

Paul Craig (12-4-1) vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)

Two wild submission artists who both struggle against fighters with real, genuine quality, this is a weird fight. Craig drew his last fight against Shogun, which many think he won, but before that he had exchanged between wins and losses since 2017. Antigulov had been a finishing machine until recently, where he now lost his last two by knockout. Antigulov has struggled to get through the first round previously and if he does this time he’ll start to fade. But his game plan is constantly to go for the takedown and Craig is so confident on his back that he likes to pull guard so he may not have his cardio tested in the end. This is really a ‘pick-em’ fight where nothing would surprise me, I’d avoid betting on this one.
PICK – Gadzhimurad Antigulov via Decision

Carla Esparza (16-6) vs Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2) – (Strawweight/115lbs)

A fun women’s fight coming up where both have a severe disadvantage in the others comfort zone. Despite being only 5ft 1, Esparza loves to try and impose her wrestling game on her opponents while Rodriguez is a muay-thai fighter who throws vicious knees and elbows in the clinch. In both of Rodriguez’s draws she was ragdolled on the ground in 10-8 rounds and while Esparza isn’t as physically imposing as Calvillo she is good on the ground. If Esparza can get the takedown, Rodriguez will find it hard to get back up and will likely lose that round. I’m going to back Esparza to get enough takedowns and control enough on the floor to secure a decision win.
PICK – Carla Esparza via Unanimous Decision

Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs Alexander Gustafsson (18-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)

Another weird fight on the card sees two all-time greats of the sport clash in the heavyweight division. Werdum has lost his last two, including being KO’d by Alexander Volkov while Gustafsson lost his last two by finish against Jon Jones and Anthony Smith. Werdum dominated on the ground against Oleinik in his last bout but was overwhelmed on the feet. If you’re going to get overwhelmed on the feet by Oleinik, then Gustafsson will probably murder you. If the fight hits the ground for whatever reason though, Werdum has a big advantage on the mat. Overall though, I think Gustafsson has too much of a striking advantage for Werdum and now that he’s at heavyweight he should have more power too.
PICK – Alexander Gustafsson via Knockout, Round 2

Mauricio Rua (26-11-1) vs Antonio Nogueira (23-9) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)

A fight that should probably be happening in Brazil if it’s happening at all, but the trilogy bout has arrived between ‘Shogun’ and ‘Minotouro’. Rua won the previous two bouts via decision but now I’ll be shocked if this goes the distance. Rua is 38 and Nogueira is 44, both are likely to retire by the end of the year. This is a fight for the nostalgia and it should end up in the same result. Nogueira has pop at the end of his shots but is slow and laboured now, while Rua is 4-1-1 in his last 6 bouts. The gas tank is nearly empty for both and both have shown that their chins are not what quite what they used to be anymore in recent times. Noguiera hasn’t fought for over a year and at this age I expect that to make a massive difference. Rua will land clean and end this one early.
PICK – Mauricio Rua via Knockout, Round 1

Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs Darren Till (18-2-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

The main event is a fight that everyone has been looking forward to and rightly so. A high level striking bout is almost certain to take place here and with five rounds on the clock should be a very fun one. Whittaker’s last fight was when he was destroyed by Israel Adesanya in their title fight, while Till’s last bout was an underwhelming win over Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut. Whittaker has a wide stance and focuses a lot on kicks to maintain his distance, while Till uses his kickboxing background to stay out and then his footwork to steam in and land his big left hand. Whittaker seems to be very underrated because of the way he lost to Adesanya and it’s interesting to see for me. The Australian has powerful striking and excellent defence, something we saw against Yoel Romero. Till’s chin was touched by Woodley and Masvidal and if Whittaker lands in a similar fashion then the results could be the same. Whittaker himself has been prone to a big punch too recently though, as he was dropped 4 times in his last two fights. Till will pressure from the off but Whittaker is proven at this level and will be prepared for it. His pacing has been proven too since he’s done the five round haul many times. I think overall, Whittaker is just too well-rounded to fall into Till’s traps for his big left hand and while I think Till will land some big shots, Whittaker will do enough for the decision win.
PICK – Robert Whittaker via Unanimous Decision