The UFC returns to our screens this weekend after a two week break with a huge 15-fight card, headlined by light heavyweights Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith and Ryan Spann.
The 205lbs division is top heavy right now, with lots of guys vying for title contention and that includes former challenger Smith. A win for Spann however in his first ever main event would be a huge deal for him and mean he has no easy fights in his future.
Elsewhere on the card there is a hotly anticipated match-up between Ariane Lipski and debutant Mandy Bohm in the women’s flyweight division, while the likes of Joaquin Buckley, Nate Maness, Raquel Pennington, Impa Kasanganay and Arman Tsarukyan all fight too.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 36, we had a decent run going 6/9 with three perfect picks. That moved us to 402/633 (63.51%) with 177 perfect picks (44.03%) since we began.
A huge card, we’ve split our picks up into three this week so we’ll start with the opening four early prelim bouts.
Emily Whitmire (4-4) vs Hannah Goldy (5-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A start to the card with two women who have each lost their last two fights in the UFC. Whitmire was submitted by Amanda Ribas and then Polyana Viana in her two bouts, most recently at UFC Vegas 8, while Goldy dropped decisions to Miranda Granger in 2019 and then Diana Belbita in July.
Whitmire is a pressure fighter with decent striking in her arsenal, and her ground game isn’t as bad as the two defeats against elite competition made it look. Goldy is a striker who looks to overwhelm her opponent from distance with lots of volume, but defensively she is poor and she has a horrible tendency of backing herself up against the cage.
Neither of these women are the greatest and the loser will likely get cut from the company. Whitmire has the advantage in the sense that her style almost perfectly suits a fighter who hates pressure like Goldy does. Whitmire’s grappling and pressure should be enough to see her sail through to a comfortable decision win. PICK – Emily Whitmire via Decision
Gustavo Lopez (12-6) vs Alateng Heili (14-8-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The super exciting Lopez makes his return to the octagon to take on ‘Mongolian Knight’ Heili in the bantamweight division. Lopez submitted Anthony Birchak at UFC Vegas 13 before a fight of the night defeat to Adrian Yanez in March at UFC Vegas 22. Heili was on a four-fight win streak before stepping into the octagon against Casey Kenney in August 2020 last time out.
Lopez is a brilliant all-round fighter with really good jiu-jitsu skills on the mat but some electric striking too. Heili is a very solid wrestler with a powerful right hand to fall back on if needed and that could be big in this fight. Lopez has fallen in love with his hands recently despite his great ground game but it could help him against Heili who is a really low output fighter with poor cardio.
Heili will have the wrestling edge, meaning he could rack up top control in the early rounds and he’s powerful enough to keep Lopez worried about his striking. But my gut tells me Lopez is able to scramble back to his feet if he gets taken down and do plenty of damage on the feet with his hands to secure a late stoppage. PICK – Gustavo Lopez via Knockout, Round 3
Impa Kasanganay (9-1) vs Carlston Harris (16-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very interesting bout at 170lbs sees two relative newcomers to the UFC go head-to-head. Kasanganay has fought three times in the UFC, winning his debut before being on the wrong end of one of the greatest KO’s ever against Joaquin Buckley. He returned at welterweight and secured a submission win over Sacha Palatnikov at UFC Vegas 23. Harris made his UFC debut in May at UFC Vegas 26 and defeated Christian Aguilera via submission in the first-round.
Kasanganay is physically bigger and likes to try and lean on his wrestling for wins, but his punching power for his size isn’t impressive at all and his striking is relatively stiff. On the other side of the cage will be Harris, who is a lethal submission artist with great punching power and good wrestling to glue it all together.
Ultimately, this is a tough match up for Kasanganay. His strongest attributes aren’t as good as Harris’ abilities in those fields and his weaknesses play into Harris’ strengths too. Unless there has been lots of improvement, I expect Harris to just be a step too far and to be able to control the fight and potentially secure a submission on the ground. PICK – Carlston Harris via Decision
Erin Blanchfield (6-1) vs Sarah Alpar (9-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A UFC debut for a very highly-rated fighter in Blanchfield as she takes on Alpar, who is yet to win in the UFC. Blanchfield has won her last three in a row but hasn’t fought for over a year, while Alpar lost her UFC debut against Jessica-Rose Clark at UFC Vegas 11 last time out.
Blanchfield is a brilliant grappler with true submission skills to go with some great kickboxing and solid wrestling too. Alpar is a bantamweight who is moving down to flyweight for this fight so she will be the bigger fighter, but her wrestling being her biggest strength puts her in a world of danger against a top prospect.
It’s a lose-lose for Blanchfield to be honest. There’s plenty of expectation on her shoulders and if she wins then it’s what she’s supposed to do, but if she loses then it’s a worry because Alpar isn’t the greatest fighter. With that said, I expect a good performance and a big win for Blanchfield. PICK – Erin Blanchfield via Submission, Round 2
**Ryan Benoit missed weight and wasn’t cleared medically to compete, so his fight with Zarrukh Adashev was cancelled.
Phillipe Lins fell ill before the weigh-ins and wasn’t able to get on the scales, so his fight with Ben Rothwell was cancelled.
Amanda Ribas and a member of her corner team tested positive for COVID-19 hours before the event, so her bout with Angela Hill was cancelled.
The card will proceed with nine fights.**
Carlston Harris def Christian Aguilera via Submission (Anaconda Choke), Round 1 (2:52)
Positive start for Aguilera in the opening minute as he tries to close the distance with strikes but Harris grabs him and looks for the takedowns. Aguilera is able to stay on his feet though and lands a big uppercut that seems to rock Harris. Harris stays calm and starts using his range well with kicks to recover, then lands a big left hand of his own that hurts Aguilera! Harris lands a nice right hand down the middle and then Aguilera shoots for a takedown to try and recover. Harris sprawls, locks up Aguilera’s neck with an anaconda choke and puts him to sleep! What a debut win!
Jun Yong Park def Tafon Nchukwi via Majority Decision (30-25, 29-26, 28-28
Good start to the fight from both men, as they both look to take the centre and be first ahead of their opponent. Park doing well behind his jab, using his great speed advantage to land well but Nchukwi is throwing good strikes too with more power. Park establishing the jab really well and trying to get Nchukwi to throw more so he can counter back. Nchukwi goes for an inside low kick but lands on the cup of Park and causes a pause in the action. Action resumes and Park continues with the jabs, both men trade leg kicks and the round ends. 10-9 Park.
Better start to the round for Nchukwi this time as he fakes a few times and lands a nice flurry of strikes to the face of Park. Park responds with his jabs once again but Nchukwi starting to throw some powerful kicks to the body. Park catches one of those kicks and looks for a takedown against the cage with it and gets a front headlock. Nchukwi fighting the hands and throws a knee to the body but misses and hits the cup once again for another low blow. The referee deducts one point from Nchukwi. Park continues to land his jab and come forward with his speed advantage and then changes levels for a takedown. Nchukwi reverses it with pure power and ends up on top but can’t land any damage before Park is able to work his way back up to the feet and start landing the jab again. Nchukwi goes in for a takedown but Park stops him with a headlock. Nchukwi uses pure power to lift him but Park locks in a guillotine and it’s tight, but the buzzer goes to end the round and save him. 20-17 Park.
Good exchanges at the start of the final round as Park’s jab goes to work once again while Nchukwi looks to come forward with a bit more urgency. A few low kicks from Nchukwi and some big swings with his right hand, but Park rolling well and is able to jab away with ease. Park changes levels and gets a takedown against the cage and is starting to wear on Nchukwi, putting all his weight on him and dragging him to and from. Park gets into three-quarter mount and starts throwing big elbows and heavy strikes, looking for a choke and big ground-and-pound as we enter the final 90 seconds. Nchukwi is bleeding badly but Park eases up on the mauling as the round ends and that’s a very dominant win. 30-25 for me.
Mike Trizano def Ludovit Klein via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Nice, tactical start to the fight from both guys as Trizano takes the centre and forces Klein backwards immediately. Klein lands a nice one two and Trizano responds with a right hand of his own before the exchange body kicks. Trizano’s pressure is forcing Klein to fight backwards and he’s struggling to get his attack going, but Trizano not landing much of his own. Klein shoots in with a nice double-leg takedown and gets Trizano down against the cage and tries to wrap his legs up Khabib-style. Trizano works his way back to his feet and the clinch and the round comes to an end. 10-9 Klein for me but it was close.
Nice right hand lands early on in the second round that puts Klein on his heels as Trizano continues his forward pressure. Klein goes for a head kick that just misses but follows it up with a nice right hand and a big left behind it. Klein shoots for a takedown again but Trizano is wise to it and stuffs it this time. Nice inside kick from Trizano as he forces Klein backwards again, but Klein explodes forward and lands a big left hand again. Trizano landing his jab well as he continues to push Klein backwards but he keeps bursting forwards with nice flurries. Klein bursts forward once more and gets another takedown and ends the round on top, but Trizano active off his back with body shots and should take that round. 19-19 for me.
Forward pressure once again from Trizano and it pays dividends early as he lands a big right hand that rocks Klein! Klein goes for a desperate takedown to survive and Trizano stuffs it, but Klein moves and manages to shake the cobwebs for now. Klein lands a nice left hand of his own but Trizano eats it, then Klein lands a nice leg kick. Body kick from Klein lands and Trizano goes for a right straight to the body. Trizano starting to land his strikes more as he forces Klein backwards and it forces another takedown from Klein. They get back up and then Klein takes him down again, but Trizano looks to sink in a guillotine but runs out of time. 29-28 Trizano for me but could go either way.
Phil Hawes def Kyle Daukaus via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 29-27)
Big pressure early on from Hawes as he backs Daukaus against the cage, while Daukaus looks to keep him at range. A few wild exchanges from both on the feet and Hawes goes in for a takedown early. He gets him down and passes the legs, but Daukaus holds on to the neck and it looks like Hawes has a Von Flute choke in. Daukaus elevates his hips and sweeps Hawes to end up on top and starts looking for control. Hawes eventually gets back to the feet and Daukaus goes in for a takedown again immediately but Hawes defends really well and the rest of the round plays out in a stalemate. 10-9 Daukaus for controlling the grappling against the cage.
Huge start to the second round from Daukaus as he comes out swinging with short hooks and combinations. He lands six or seven big punches and Hawes looks badly hurt on the feet before Hawes is able to clinch up and stall until he has recovered. They separate and Hawes lands a few strikes of his own and Daukaus gets wobbled! Daukaus immediately clinches up too but Hawes then breaks with a big elbow. Nice right hand against from Hawes and they clinch up, then both throw a knee at the same time but Hawes hits the cup to cause a pause. Action resumes and Hawes goes back to working the body with big hooks, slowing Daukaus down as the round ends. 19-19.
Final round and Hawes lands a big right hand early before shooting in for a takedown and getting the fight down. Daukaus trying to be very active off his back, but Hawes defending everything well and landing some nice short strikes from top position. Daukaus looks to sweep again but Hawes denies it and goes back to the ground pound, going body-head. Hawes starts landing heavy shots and forces Daukaus to try and cover up and the referee is threatening to call the fight off here. He moves enough to supress that, but Hawes is working brilliantly from top position and in complete control. Final 30 seconds and Hawes continues the ground and pound to win the round and probably the fight. Great performance. 29-28 Hawes.
Gregor Gillespie def Diego Ferreira via Knockout, Round 2 (4:51)
Interesting start to the fight as Gillespie takes the centre and lets off a nice left hook. Ferreira shoots a few strikes of his own before Gillespie goes for the early takedown, but the Brazilian defends with submission attempts and eventually gets back up to the feet. Gillespie shoots for another takedown but it’s denied, then Ferreira lets off a couple of right hands that have wobbled him! Gillespie keeps going to the well for the takedown but Ferreira is scrambling brilliantly and using his jiu-jitsu to escape regularly. Ferreira scrambles and sweeps to Gillespie’s back with hooks in, going for a choke and ground and pound but the round ends. 10-9 Ferreira.
Second round and Gillespie looks tired but he’s shooting in for the takedowns still and avoiding the big swings of Ferreira. Lots of scrambling on the ground and Ferreira looks for a kimura from the bottom but Gillespie just keeps moving and floating to the next position as Ferreira is tiring. Gillespie starts landing some big strikes and threatening with chokes of his own and is really wearing on Ferreira. Gillespie takes his back, flattens him out and starts landing big elbows and strikes and the referee steps in to end the fight! Huge win for Gregor Gillespie!!
Marcos Rogerio de Lima def Maurice Greene via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 30-27)
Fast start to the heavyweight bout as de Lima starts throwing wild hooks looking to take Greene’s head off. Both men swing and miss for the most part before they clinch up and de Lima takes the fight down to the ground in Greene’s full guard. Nice ground and pound from de Lima from top position as he’s putting some big pressure on to win the round. 10-9 de Lima.
Second round and immediately de Lima gets the fight down to the ground and gets control. Lots of control and ground and pound from top position as Greene looks to tie him up but it’s just more and more control and ground and pound. As the buzzer goes to end the round, Lima throws a big bomb and Herb Dean gives him a very serious warning. 20-18.
Third and final round and once again de Lima gets a very early takedown into top position and controlling the fight. Plenty of ground and pound again from de Lima as Greene just continues to accept bottom position and get beaten up. This is a completely one-sided fight and relatively pointless as the round ends. 30-27 for me because of a lack of damage, but could be a 10-8 for each round in reality.
Neil Magny def Geoff Neal via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Great start to the round from Neal as he steps forward quickly and immediately puts Magny on the back foot. Nice straight shots as Magny looks to throw a kick or two, but Neal catches it and pushes him back to the cage. Nice one-two lands from Neal before they clinch up and Magny starts to throw some nice knees to the body. Magny bursts forward with a flurry of punches to get a clinch, but Neal takes him across to the cage. Magny changes levels and gets a takedown and looks to take the back, but Neal spins out and gets back to the feet once again. Another clinch against the cage as the round ends. 10-9 Neal.
Magny looking to up the pressure a bit in the second now as he starts throwing some kicks to the body and nice flurries to the head too. Neal doing well to block most of them though and firing back with some nice combinations of his own. Neal clinches and gets a nice trip before a big left hand lands, but Magny gets up and then shoots for a takedown of his own. Neal sprawls and puts Magny against the cage. Nice straight left lands from Neal before Magny goes for a single leg takedown but Neal defends it relatively well until Magny changes the angle and is able to take the back with a body lock. Magny is able to escape it again as they go back to trading in the centre. Magny just touching him with more jabs and kicks as Neal’s output is starting to slow a little. Another clinch against the cage and Neal lands a big elbow as the round ends. 19-19, great fight.
Neal looking to close the distance in the third but trying to avoid a clinch situation, as Magny continues to throw out jabs that are barely landing. Magny definitely the more active of the two, but not much damage being done by either guy at the moment. Neal stuffs a Magny takedown attempt, as he starts to walk Magny down more. Nice one-two lands against the cage but Magny immediately grabs him and clinches before separating and landing some nice jabs. Neal looking frustrated now and Magny gets hold of him and drags him down to the mat, but Neal gets back up quickly once again. Final 30 seconds and Neal lands a huge straight left but Magny sees out the round with with jabs to probably take the win. 29-28 Magny.
Alex Morono def Donald Cerrone via Knockout, Round 1 (4:40)
Fast start from Morono as he charges out into the centre, but Cerrone grabs hold of him and clinches up against the cage to drain that early start out of him. Morono swinging bombs as they separate but Cowboy avoiding it for now and landing a few shots of his own. Nice body kick from Cerrone and then Morono swings in hard again, but Cerrone changes levels and goes for a takedown that is denied. Morono gets a trip of his own but allows Cerrone up and hits him with a right hand on his way up. Morono throws a big right hand that lands clean on Cerrone and he’s backing up. Cerrone throws a left hand and Morono ducks under and a huge looping left overhand cracks Cerrone clean! He’s badly hurt and Morono goes for the finish, throwing a big body shot and knees to the head. Big right hands again from Morono and the referee steps in with Cowboy out on his feet! Wow! What a knockout win for Morono!
Slow start to the fight in this one as both women look to feel each other out early on, with Waterson throwing some hard leg kicks that are just missing. Rodriguez takes the centre as the round goes on, throwing some nice body kicks and hard punches while Waterson looks to counter with some nice spin kicks. Rodriguez trying to close the distance to nullify the kicks but Waterson moving well so far to stay out of danger. Bit of a wild clinch at the end of the round ends with a nice knee from Rodriguez, good round that could go either way. 10-9 Rodriguez for me.
Waterson unloading with kicks in this second round, looking to really keep Rodriguez at distance with a side kick counter. Rodriguez continues to come forward and throw the right hand, but Waterson keeps moving away. Waterson goes for a takedown but Rodriguez stuffs it easily and then lands two big punches. Rodriguez grabs a clinch against the cage and lands a nice knee to the body and Waterson separates. Both women trade leg kicks before Rodriguez goes for another clinch and lands some more knees. Waterson goes for a leg kick that just misses but then she lands a body kick and avoids a big right hook from Rodriguez. Big flurry of hooks from Rodriguez followed up by some big knees and an elbow to end the round. 20-18 Rodriguez.
Waterson goes for a leg kick early but misses and ends up on her butt, before Rodriguez catches her with a nice head kick on her way up. Waterson clinches against the cage but Rodriguez defends well and the separate with the Brazilian back in the centre. Rodriguez lands some huge hooks and Waterson covers up hurt, before stepping out and escaping. Two hard leg kicks by Waterson put Rodriguez down for a second, before a nice body kick too. Rodriguez swinging with a lot of power, but Waterson is absorbing it for now. Rodriguez is landing heavy punches but Waterson is still moving and countering with leg kicks and side kicks. Leg kick from Rodriguez followed up by a three-punch combo lands nicely. Rodriguez clinches and throwing big knees but Waterson replies with an uppercut to end the round. 30-27 Rodriguez.
Rodriguez staying patient in the centre as we enter the main event rounds, throwing some low kicks and searching for a home for the big right hand. Waterson keeps moving around the cage, throwing leg kicks of her own as Rodriguez lands a body kick. Waterson goes in for a takedown and gets it, straight into the guard of Rodriguez. Waterson controls the position and lands some heavy elbows on the ground with Rodriguez pinned against the cage. Rodriguez threatens a kimura to try and escape but Waterson rains down big elbows again to end the round on top. 39-37 Rodriguez.
Final round and Waterson staying calm in the centre, not shooting straight in for a takedown as many would have expected. Rodriguez just misses with a right hand and then Waterson throws back-to-back head kicks with the second one clipping Rodriguez. Side kick to the body from Waterson looks like it hurts Rodriguez, but she stays calm and then hits Waterson with a big right hand of her own. Waterson finally goes for the takedown but Rodriguez stuffs it and lands a nice body shot. Another big body shot and left hook from Rodriguez but Waterson replies with a right hand. Waterson steps forward and lands a side kick to the body again, but Rodriguez throws a jab and then looks to clinch up. Big knee and head kick from Rodriguez but Waterson keeps moving and the two women go out swinging as the round ends. 49-46 Rodriguez for me. Great fight.
Aguilera is a striker with a very heavy right hand and good pressure, but his gas tank has given him problems in the past. Against a solid grappler and cardio machine in Harris, that is a bad recipe. Aguilera has got the power to turn a fight around with just one punch but the way Harris shoots in at the hips and holds his opponents down, the opportunities to land that big punch will be few and far between.
Harris should be able to get a takedown and work his top game and search for submissions, but I think he grinds out a comfortable decision win. PICK – Carlston Harris via Decision
Jun Yong Park (12-4) vs Tafon Nchukwi (5-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Park is a very adept boxer but has shown great wrestling chops in his most recent wins, making him able to dictate where this fight takes place. Nchukwi on the other hand is still very green, with activity on the feet not the best although he does possess great power. Nchukwi has won his last five fights before he’s entered the cage, with his frame just intimidating guys into respecting him way too much.
The skillsets aren’t too indifferent but with Park’s experience and ability to switch it up, I think he’ll come in confident and stick to his game plan of working behind the jab and mixing in takedowns to get the decision. PICK – Jun Yong Park via Decision
Ryan Benoit (10-7) vs Zarrukh Adashev (3-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Benoit is an okay striker with decent best takedowns, but he has great cardio and absolutely never gives in. Adashev is a brilliant kickboxer who hasn’t had the rub of the green with opponents, who have had him outgunned in size. Adashev has good power of his own too and has won two of his three victories via knockout. Benoit has good power in his hands and has a much better ability of mixing the fight up to make it happen in different places.
It should be a high energy fight between the two but I think Benoit is able to mix it up enough to take a close decision. PICK – Ryan Benoit via Decision
Ludovit Klein (17-2) vs Mike Trizano (8-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A hugely fun fight coming up at 145lbs here as kickboxing demon Ludovit Klein takes on former Ultimate Fighter winner Mike Trizano. Klein won his UFC debut at UFC 253 with a beautiful knockout against Shane Young, while Trizano returns after almost exactly two years out following a loss to Grant Dawson.
Klein has brilliant striking and has won each of his last three fights via head kick, but also has good submissions on the mat too. Trizano is a good kickboxer on his own accord, but also has really good takedowns and is a bit more of a physical fighter. If the fight is a clean, technical bout then Klein will eat him alive but if Trizano can make it ugly and mix it up he has a path for victory.
Overall though, I think Klein’s stopping power just seems to be the biggest difference between the two. He has good takedown defence, nasty knees and elbows and is a powerful puncher so I think he could get the finish. PICK – Ludovit Klein via Knockout, Round 2
Ben Rothwell (38-13) vs Phillipe Lins (14-5) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
This is not going to be a great fight in all honesty. Rothwell has great power and a good chin but other than the big right hand there’s nothing special going on for him. Lins is a wrestling heavyweight who doesn’t really go for takedowns much and just tends to throw strikes that are there for the sake of being active.
This fight won’t be the most memorable, but Lins got knocked out by Boser who doesn’t hit nearly as hard as Rothwell so I think this one goes a similar way. PICK – Ben Rothwell via Knockout, Round 1