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.
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
Lando Vannata (12-5-2) vs Charles Jourdain (12-4-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Banger at featherweight to open up the main card in this one. Vannata claimed a split decision win back at UFC 262 in his last outing against Mike Grundy, while Jourdain earned a decision win over Andre Ewell at UFC Vegas 45 in his latest bout.
Vannata is a very talented kickboxer with great power in his hands and a sniper-like right hand, who absolutely loves a scrap and is more than willing to trade strikes for a knockout win. Jourdain on the other hand is also a brilliant kickboxer with great technique and power, but as a more regular featherweight we know he pushes the pace hard and eventually breaks opponents with his cardio as well as his striking. All of that equals a potential fight of the night bout between these two men.
Jourdain is the crisper striker from distance and while Vannata is a good wrestler, Jourdain is no scrub if the fight goes to the mat either. The early exchanges will undoubtedly be close and violent, but as the bout goes on I expect Jourdain to be able to carry it on further and with more weapons, he should claim a wild decision win. PICK – Charles Jourdain via Decision
Alexandr Romanov (15-0) vs Chase Sherman (15-9) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big short notice heavyweight bout up next, as Sherman returns to the organisation just days after initially being released by the company. Romanov is an undefeated monster with relentless grappling skills, beating Jared Vanderaa most recently via knockout back in October. Sherman is on a three-fight losing streak, getting submitted by Jake Collier at UFC Vegas 46 most recently in January.
Romanov is an exciting grappling machine, who uses amazing suplexes and takedowns to get the fight down before using a suffocating top game to blast his opponents with ground-and-pound as well as submissions. Sherman on the other hand is an old school heavyweight fighter, who stands quite flat footed and throws out jabs and low kicks one at a time before looping hooks as he looks to land a killer blow.
This is a shocking stylistic match up for Sherman and shy of landing a stunning one-punch KO there is only one direction that this fight is going in. Romanov will put him on his back and absolutely light him up until the referee pulls him off or the opportunity for a choke shows itself and he takes it. This won’t be a warm welcome back for Sherman and I’d be shocked if it gets out of the first round. PICK – Alexandr Romanov via Submission, Round 1
Sumudaerji (16-4) vs Manel Kape (17-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Another contender for fight of the night in this flyweight bout. Sumudaerji is on a three-fight win streak in the UFC defeating Zarrukh Adashev most recently at UFC Fight Island 8 last January, while Kape has won his last two fights after KO’ing Ode Osbourne (UFC 265) and Zhalgas Zhumagulov (UFC Vegas 44) in the first round.
Sumudaerji is a very talented striker who has earned 11 knockout wins in his career. He uses his length excellently, with great kicks and very good punches down the middle and has got a decent grappling game too. Kape is a very solid wrestler but his flashy striking is the stand-out attribute in his game, using flying knees and his amazing hand speed to counter his opponents. He fires off good combinations, but recently his output has come into question and is the reason for his two defeats in the organisation.
Both guys have got real knockout power and insane hand speed and this is a really close fight. The grappling is a good avenue to victory for Kape, but he doesn’t tend to use it much without his wrestling shoes in the UFC. Neither guy has ever been knocked out before, but if Kape can get the fight down his five submission wins and Sumudaerji’s four submission defeats are worrying. I expect a banger, but Kape has more paths to win and I think he takes one of them. PICK – Manel Kape via Decision
Maycee Barber (9-2) vs Montana De La Rosa (12-6-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A very fun women’s flyweight bout sees ‘The Future’ return to the octagon. Barber ended a two-fight skid by claiming a split decision against Miranda Maverick back at UFC Vegas 32, while De La Rosa claimed a KO win over Ariane Lipski at UFC Vegas 28 in her most recet outing.
Barber is a fighter who strikes well, closes distance with kicks and has good wrestling to control her opponent and use aggressive ground and pound. Her takedown defence is excellent too, and she uses elbows and knees well in the clinch too. De La Rosa uses her jab well and her heavy-handedness to hurt but her head movement is really lacking. Her takedown game has improved in recent years, but she’s not amazing yet and it will be difficult to see her claim repeated takedowns in this fight. If she does though, her jiu-jitsu is very good as her eight submission wins show.
Ultimately, this seems like Barber’s fight to lose though. She has a huge power advantage on the feet, she’s more aggressive and physically stronger too. If De La Rosa can get a takedown then it changes things, but I think she gets put out before that happens. PICK – Maycee Barber via Knockout, Round 2
Clay Guida (37-18) vs Claudio Puelles (12-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Grizzly veteran vs hot prospect in this co-main event. Guida is a legendary name in the sport and earned a submission win in his most recent fight against Leonardo Santos most recently back in December. Puelles on the other hand is on a four-fight win streak, earning a kneebar submission win against Chris Gruetzmacher most recently on the same card.
Guida is a grinder who uses his amazing cardio to constantly apply pressure on his opponents and wrestles them relentlessly. Puelles on the other hand is a lengthy fighter who uses kicks well but ultimately tries to get fights to the ground to use his amazing jiu-jitsu skills. He has some decent Muay-Thai skills too, using knees in the clinch well.
This fight is almost sure to take place largely against the cage with both guys working for control and trading shots on the inside. That screams like a Guida-style fight to me and there may be nobody better than him at this type of bout. Puelles on paper is likely to secure a submission, but he’s hittable on the feet and he doesn’t have better cardio than Guida so I have to go with the veteran here. PICK – Clay Guida via Decision
Amanda Lemos (11-1-1) vs Jessica Andrade (22-9) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
A fun strawweight main event between two fighters who are lacking star power but should still produce a great fight. Lemos has put together a five-fight win streak in the UFC, with a split decision win over Angela Hill most recently at UFC Vegas 45. Andrade took a trip to flyweight beating Katlyn Chookagian (UFC Fight Island 6) and Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 266) via first-round knockout either side of a title-fight defeat to Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261.
Lemos is a very good striker, with good kicks and great counter-striking down the middle. Andrade is a powerful unit with brilliant knockout power and some really good takedowns and slams in her arsenal. Lemos likes to open quickly with a blitz of strikes and forward pressure, which is something that Andrade has struggled with in the past. She has great experience though and her cardio is something that is a big advantage for her here.
Andrade is able to weather storms and keep pushing forward, while Lemos is considerably slower in the third round than she is in the first. So with this fight set for five rounds, Lemos could be in trouble if she doesn’t get it done early. I don’t think she will either and Andrade will eventually slam her down and do enough damage on the mat to get a referee stoppage late on. PICK – Jessica Andrade via Knockout, Round 4
Vince Morales def Louis Smolka via Knockout, Round 1 (2:02)
Good early start from both guys as Smolka lands a low kick or two while Morales lands a few jabs cleanly and then goes to the body too. Smolka trying to push the pace and step forward, but Morales evading relatively easily and landing some nice strikes of his own. Smolka goes to clinch with a knee and as they separate Morales lands a huge right hand that puts Smolka out cold face first! He follows up with a couple but the referee stops it quickly and that’s that! What a KO!
Claudio Puelles def Chris Gruetzemacher via Submission (Kneebar), Round 3 (3:25)
Hard body kick to open up the fight for Puelles, but Gruetzemacher fires back with one of his own. Puelles shoots for a takedown and gets it, ending up on top and working from full guard. Gruetzemacher defending well from his back, taking very little damage. He throws up a lazy armbar which Puelles uses to pass guard and try to take the back, but Gruetzemacher gets his back to the cage and staying calm while fighting hands. Puelles steps over and moves into full mount and starts raining down elbows and strikes. Gruetzemacher avoiding most of the strikes and gets half guard back well and survives the round well. 10-9 Puelles.
Puelles opens up with kicks again and then goes for a couple of lazy takedowns again. Gruetzemacher denies it but rather than keeping the fight standing he tries to transition and ends up on top but not doing much offensively. Puelles throws up a triangle as a threat but Gruetzemacher defends well and eventually they get back to the feet. Puelles lands some big kicks and a nice left hand before another lazy takedown attempt that Gruetzemacher denies easily. Puelles trying to throw some hard head kicks but Gruetzemacher avoiding damage and lands some low kicks of his own. Clinch against the cage and Puelles lands some nice elbows and knees before switching levels for a takedown but it’s not a good attempt and the round ends. Probably 19-19 but could be 20-18 Puelles.
Final round and Gruetzemacher comes forward more aggressively and looks for a knee in the clinch but accidentally lands a low blow to cause a pause in the action. Restarted now and Gruetzemacher coming forward again with more volume. Nice body shots and a left hand before Puelles shoots and it gets sprawled. Some nice short elbows in the clinch by Gruetzemacher force another shot but he sprawls and then spins on to the back of Puelles for a few strikes before they get back to the feet. Gruetzemacher gets a nice foot sweep to be on top but Puelles goes for a leg and tries for a heel hook but Gruetzemacher defends it and ends up on the back. Nice ground and pound but Puelles rolls for the leg again and extends a straight kneebar to get the tap! Big win for Puelles!
William Knight def Alonzo Menifield via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Knight comes out quickly and goes straight for a takedown attempt but Menifield is able to sweep him as he hits the ground and ends up in side control. Knight manages to slip out around the back and tries to get into mount quickly before moving to the back and looking to lock in a rear-naked choke. Menifield defends it well and explodes back to the feet himself before they clinch up against the fence. Knight holding on to the neck of Menifield to stay standing, but Menifield doing well to stay out of a guillotine and force Knight to continue defending. Menifield throws a right hand but Knight counters with a big left hook that drops him! He goes for the finish but the buzzer goes and he survives. 10-9 Knight. Great round.
Menifield opens with a low kick and then a big strike that sends Knight backwards and literally running away from Menifield. Menifield lands a big right hand flush that wobbles Knight, but he stays patient then throws a low kick. Nice left hook from Menifield again and Knight looks very hesitant to throw now. Knight throwing wild strikes but missing hugely and Menifield staying calm and just looking to pick Knight off a little bit now. Left hand landing well for Menifield again and Knight doesn’t really have an answer for it. Knight explodes with the right hand with 15 seconds to go and starts going wild again but doesn’t land flush and the round ends. Definitely a Menifield round. 19-19.
Both guys look more hesitant in this round as they clinch up and Menifield pushes Knight to the cage. Menifield holding Knight against the cage and not much happening as we hit the halfway point of the round. 90 seconds left and it’s just more of the same position for this round. Separation as we get into the final minute and Knight goes for a flying knee. Some wild head kicks miss and Menifield stays on the outside for the rest of the round to likely earn a victory.
Cheyanne Vlismas def Mallory Martin via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Fast start to the fight from both women as Martin takes the centre and they start throwing hands. Some beautiful combos from Vlismas land but Martin is trading back and landing some shots of her own. Vlismas defending against Martin’s strikes well and landing some excellent counter strikes from the outside. Martin in the centre and start to fake some strikes but Vlismas reading well and countering. Martin lands a beautiful short left hook and Vlismas clinches up to throw some short uppercuts and dirty boxing before stepping out of the way again. Lovely right hand lands again as the rounds closes out. 10-9 Vlismas.
Fast start again from Vlismas as she steps forward with fast combinations again and excellent lateral movement. Martin standing in the centre again but she’s being more hesitant to throw now. Nice right hand, left high kick combo from Vlismas lands sbut Martin continues to come forward and then lands a nice body shot. Vlismas lands a beautiful counter right hand. Martin clinches and starts looking to wrestle a bit, but Vlismas defends it well and keeps it standing for now. Nice knees from both ladies landing but Martin is getting the better of the exchanges. They separate and both land a right hand simultaneously before going back to the pattern of the fight. 20-18 Vlismas.
Martin moves for a takedown early on in the final round but Vlismas defends it brilliantly against the cage again before separating. Beautiful one two lands from Vlismas and Martin goes for another takedown but Vlismas defends it well again. Martin lands some knees in the clinch but Vlismas is able to separate and comes forward with some more clean strikes of her own. Big right hand lands from Vlismas in the exchange and Martin steps back slightly before changing levels and going for a takedown again, but Vlismas keeps her balance and keeps it standing again. Both women landing their jabs together but then Vlismas lands a couple of extra shots that she adds to the end of it. Vlismas’ striking has just been a level ahead and she ends the fight stepping forward with big combinations! Great fight! 30-27 Vlismas for me.
Bryan Barbarena def Darian Weeks via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Weeks coming out of the gate confidently throwing lots of kicks but nothing really landing. Barbarena launches forward and Weeks changes levels with a body lock and then secures a takedown, but Barbarena gets back to his feet quickly. Weeks looking very comfortable and throwing plenty of strikes, but Barbarena lands a big inside low kick and gets a big reaction. He throws a few more quickly after and Weeks is limping now, but fighting through it. Change of levels from Weeks as he gets it against the cage, but Barbarena reverses the position and starts chopping at the leg again. Weeks having problems with his leg but still stepping forward. Barbarena staying patient and lands a nice left hand before another heavy low kick to end the round. 10-9 Barbarena.
Weeks comes out early and secures a takedown immediately but Barbarena defends well from his back before eventually getting back to his feet. Weeks continuing to be aggressive but Barbarena using his experience well to stem the tide. Weeks throwing some wild hooks and Barbarena throwing some tired ones of his own and both are landing, but nothing doing too much damage yet it seems. Barbarena lands another hard low kick and starts to go to the body as the round ends. That’s anybody’s round but I lean towards Barbarena again. 20-18.
Barbarena turning the pace up in the final round, coming forward and throwing combinations but Weeks gets another body lock and pushes him against the cage. Nice knee from Barbarena and they trade big hooks before going back into the clinch. Barbarena throws a high kick and slips but he gets back up quickly. Weeks is tired now and Barbarena is coming forward, landing some big hooks to the body and then a left hand to the chin. Weeks lands a couple of hooks of his own but Barbarena eating them and coming forward again with the body shots. Hard low kicks again from Barbarena but Weeks is digging in and landing some big hooks of his own. A few hard strikes land well but Barbarena takes them and fires back with his own. He’s really taken over in this round and is continuing to pour the pressure on in the final minute. Weeks changes levels under a hook and secures a big takedown in the final seconds but Barbarena jumps up and lands a big strike that wobbles Weeks! He moves forward with big swinging strikes that miss as the buzzer goes! Great fight. 30-27 for me but could be 29-28 too with round two being close.
Manel Kape def Zhalgas Zhumagulov via Knockout, Round 1 (4:02)
Super fast start to this one as Kape opens with a flying knee attempt before both men trade combinations. Zhumagulov throwing hard leg kicks and hard right overhands and connecting with some, but Kape moving well and landing a few counters of his own. Zhumagulov lands a big right that sends Kape stumbling backwards, but he responds with a nice right hand too. Zhumagulov coming forward hard and fast and pushing the pace but Kape is moving well and countering effectively too. Kape lands a nice body shot and a knee and he starts picking his shots. Hard one-two lands and drops Zhumagulov! Kape steps forward and looking for the finish but staying calm, then lands a huge string of punches that puts Zhumagulov down covering up and the referee steps in! What a knockout! What a performance!
Dusko Todorovic def Maki Pitolo via Knockout, Round 1 (4:34)
Lively start from both guys looking to step in and land first with their jabs and some low kicks. Pitolo lands a low kick and then a big right hand lands flush. Another low kick gets a reaction from Todorovic but he changes levels and shoots in for a takedown. Pitolo latches on to the neck and goes for a guillotine but Todorovic stays calm, rides it out and eventually secures top position as he starts to look for ground and pound. Todorovic dominating on the ground and trying to move to a crucifix position while landing big strikes and then he moves into full mount. Todorovic flattens Pitolo out and starts raining down heavy ground and pound until the referee waves it off! Hugely impressive win.
Alex Morono def Micky Gall via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Slow start from both guys as Morono takes the centre and tries to feel his way into range before firing a strong right hand to the chin of Gall. Hard low kick from Gall lands but both fighters being very patient and not throwing much early on. Morono lands a nice right hand and then eats a body kick, before firing in another nice one-two that lands on Gall. Lots of feinting and patience and then Morono lands a jab that sits Gall down! Morono goes for the finish but Gall manages to tie him up on the ground by going for a leg lock and recovers enough to get back to his feet at the end of the round. 10-9 Morono.
Gall comes out for the second round with a jab to the body before a nice right hand lands. Morono comes back with a powerful hook himself and then he steps in with a left hook that lands well too. Gall charges forward and lands two big hooks and Morono just misses with a check-left hook counter. Gall continues to come forward with hooks and a jab and he’s fighting very well from range right now. Lovely right hook counter from Morono just clips Gall before he misses with another in the next attack. Gall trying to use his size to be first, but Morono using his technique to match him or even beat him to it. Gall changes levels and shoots for a takedown but Morono sprawls to deny it and ends the round landing a hard left hook. 20-18 Morono.
Big overhand right lands from Morono on Gall, who fires back with a body kick that just misses. Another nice right hand from Morono connects but Gall replies again with a nice double jab followed by a low kick. Morono staying out of range but stepping in quickly when he wants to throw his strikes. Gall misses with a big right hand as we enter the final two minutes. Hard right hand from Morono before both guys trade wild swings in the final minute. Spinning back fist from Morono lands and Gall starting to come forward with his hands down. Both guys swing wildly as the buzzer goes, should be comfortable for Morono.
Chris Curtis def Brendan Allen via Knockout, Round 2 (1:58)
Fast start from Allen as he comes out with a few strong strikes that just miss before a big takedown attempt sees him pick Curtis up and slam him down, before taking the back. Curtis defends well and they separate quickly though. Curtis lands a nice four-punch combo to the head of Allen but he eats it and comes back with a nice knee. Allen goes for a head kick before Curtis returns with some big strikes again. Hard body kick from Allen before they trade low kicks together. Lead elbow from Allen lands before Curtis lands a nice right hook counter and then goes to the body himself. Head kick from Curtis just misses but he follows it up with a nice one-two. Allen goes for a takedown and then transitions for a leg lock but Curtis defends it well and ends up on top to end the round. Close round, 10-9 Allen for me but only just.
Hard low kick early from Allen drops Curtis to one knee before another hard low kick lands. Both guys trade in the pocket and Allen just misses with a knee. Allen lands a hard body kick but Curtis replies with a nice one-two down the pipe. Both guys trade big right hooks and Allen is wobbled!! Curtis going for the finish and lands a strong knee and Allen goes down again and the referee waves it off! Amazing! What a KO!
Slow start to this one as Santos looks to keep his distance and use his powerful strikes from range. Santos lands a powerful body kick and Guida drops in pain! Santos goes for the kill with huge ground and pound strikes to the head and body but Guida is surviving currently. Santos blasting him with big strikes and the referee is looking closely but Guida is holding a leg and surviving! Guida gets up and manages to create separation and Santos is exhausted! Guida goes on the offensive for the final minute with his crazy pressure and wrestling! What a round! 10-9 Santos.
Guida comes out super aggressive and lands a big left hook then goes for a takedown again. He gets the fight down to the ground quickly and starts blasting knees to the body of Santos who is completely out of it through exhaustion. Guida goes for the neck, takes the back and sinks in a rear-naked choke and forces Santos to tap! Incredible! What a comeback.
Jamahal Hill def Jimmy Crute via Knockout, Round 1 (0:48)
Crute comes out hard with some heavy leg kicks and high kicks but Hill stepping out and avoiding too much damage. Hill fires a hard right hand down the pipe and drops Crute who immediately shoots for a takedown out of instinct. Hill gets some separation and counters with another solid right hook to the chin that puts Crute down and out! One more strike on the ground before the referee gets there and that’s that! Unbelievable from Jamahal Hill! Wow!
Rafael Fiziev def Brad Riddell via Knockout, Round 3 (2:20)
Tactical start to this one from both guys as they throw out some feelers for each other. Fiziev looks to land one of his trademark head kicks but just misses, before both guys trade hooks. Big exchange of counter strikes from Fiziev in particular as he rips the body with his lead leg. Riddell just misses with a right hand and then slips a kick from Fiziev. Riddell goes for a jab to the body and overhand right but just misses as Fiziev takes the centre and pushes him back against the cage with pressure. Both guys land a big right hook each before Fiziev fires a hard low kick at the end of it. Hard body kicks again from Fiziev before Riddell ends the round with a beautiful combination that sees two strikes land on the chin. Good round, 10-9 Fiziev.
Hard low kick from Riddell opens the round up. Riddell throwing his jab out before committing to combinations, but Fiziev lands a nice right hand counter too. Fiziev lands a jab followed with a step-in elbow that cuts Riddell badly over the eye. Nice left hand from Riddell lands though and then Fiziev lands with a short left hook. Both guys fire the same combination that ends with a left hook at the same time and both land too. Lovely right hook lands from Fiziev and then he goes for a knee but Riddell ties him up in a clinch before they separate. Back to the body kick from Fiziev and that’s the round. 20-18 Fiziev for me but could be 19-19.
Fiziev goes for a low leg kick but Riddell catches it and shoots for a takedown and briefly gets it, but Fiziev pops up to his feet quickly. They clash together again and Fiziev lands a hard right hand in the exchange, but Riddell’s right hand landed too. Big left hook from Riddell lands after a body shot as he starts to get more aggressive in this final round. Riddell changes levels and attempts a takedown but Fiziev denies it, before a big clash of strikes yet again from both guys. Riddell circles away on the outside and Fiziev throws a spinning wheel kick and catches Riddell clean in the face!! Riddell is out on his feet and Herb Dean steps in quickly before any more damage can be done!! WOW! What a KO! Amazing!
Jose Aldo def Rob Font via Unanimous Decision (50-45 x2, 49-46)
Fast start to this fight as Font comes forward and starts to use his jab immediately, following up with one-twos. Aldo lands a body kick before Font charges forward and gets a surprising takedown. Font forcing Aldo to be very defensive in the early going, landing his jab clean and following it with a right hand too. Font just misses with an uppercut but lands a glancing elbow as Aldo looks to step away. Aldo ducks under a straight right and counters with a pull right hand, but Font is putting it on him so far. Big body shot from Aldo lands and both guys trade leg kicks. Font lands his jab again and a nice right hand before Aldo rolls and blocks the follow up strike attempts. Aldo lands a one two straight down the pipe and Font goes down! Aldo goes for the finish but after a couple of shots on the ground the buzzer goes to end the round. Whew. 10-9 Font.
Font coming forward once again behind his jab with a relentless pace trying to offset Aldo’s rhythm. Nice right hand from Font lands but Aldo seems calm. Aldo lands a huge one-two again and the right hand is flush and sends Font backwards reeling, but Aldo goes for a big knee that misses and Font is able to recover. Aldo just misses with a big left uppercut and then blocks a right hook from Font. Right hand lands from Font and gets Aldo’s attention, so he fires back with another hard right hand himself. Font trying to land but he seems to be lacking in power, so Aldo returns with a big right hand again. Font goes for a takedown but Aldo denies it easily, but then eats a right hand. Huge body shot from Aldo. Round ends, what a fight. 19-19.
Aldo has returned to his old ways and lands three very hard low kicks early on that are affecting Font immediately. Nice one-two from Font and then he goes for a takedown that Aldo manages to defend and reverse to end up on top himself. Aldo into side control and lands a nice short elbow before going back into full guard. Font looking to be active from his back but Aldo doing well to control him and minimise the threat. Font gets back to his feet and looks for some combos but Aldo pushes him off. Aldo’s right eye has closed up now but he lands a hard body shot before Font comes over the top with a right hand that just misses. Hard low kick again from Aldo and it drops Font! Another hard one but Font is coming forward again and landing his jab well. Another low kick from Aldo to end the round, but he looks like he’s tiring. 29-28 Aldo.
Font comes aggressively but Aldo rolls with it and lands a huge right hand once again that drops Font! Font is wobbling badly and Aldo going for the finish but Font is scrambling and Aldo eventually settles in side control. Font trying to find a way back to his feet, but Aldo controlling him well and looking to pass. Aldo eventually passes into mount but Font quickly gets full guard back. Aldo looking to get some ground and pound off but Font is defending it well and landing some short elbows of his own off his back. Aldo continuing to control the position on the ground though as the round ends and he’ll take the round. 39-37 Aldo.
Fast start from Font as he comes out swinging hard in combinations to the body and to the head. Aldo looks hesitant and tired now but Font is coming forward much fresher. Font clinches up and Aldo is tying him up against the cage, then Font lands a big elbow. Aldo coming forward and lands a big right hand again before Font clinches again against the cage. Font throwing some strikes but Aldo fairly comfortable with where the fight is currently. Font creates space and lands a big uppercut but Aldo responds with a hard right hand and wobbles Font again! Aldo lands two more and Font goes down but Font ties up Aldo on the mat to try and recover. Aldo gets to his back and gets two hooks in and is seemingly looking for a choke, but he’s not rushing. Aldo locks in a body triangle and is looking for a rear-naked choke with 30 seconds left but Font fights out of it and survives the round to make the buzzer. What a fight. 49-46 Aldo for me.
We also get to finally see the exciting bout between Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev, while Jimmy Crute and Brendan Allen also return to action on the main card.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 43 we went 6/11 on the night with two perfect picks to move to 482/752 (64.1%) with 202 perfect picks (41.91%).
We’ll look to improve on that this time around, starting with the early prelims here.
Louis Smolka (17-7) vs Vince Morales (10-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun bantamweight bout to open the card here. Smolka is 2-2 in his last four fights, but earned a win over Jose Alberto Quinonez via KO at UFC Vegas 16 last time out, while Morales bounced back from consecutive defeats to earn a decision win over Drako Rodriguez at UFC 265.
Smolka is an excellent grappler with some solid submission skills, earning seven tap-outs wins in his career, while Morales is a technical striker who has a missile of a right hand. This is a fight that is close because they both have glaring advantages over their opponent in different areas and it’s all about where the fight takes place. Smolka’s submission skills mean he will want the fight on the mat, while his ‘kill or be killed’ mindset plays right into Morales’ hands.
With that said, Smolka is notoriously bad at securing takedowns himself and while the fight is on the feet he is in danger of being clipped. Because of that, I expect Morales to be able to keep it standing and land enough power shots to secure a judge’s decision. PICK – Vince Morales via Decision
Jared Vanderaa (12-6) vs Azamat Murzakanov (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight bout up next with a short-notice opponent stepping in against an undefeated prospect. Vanderaa steps in on a week’s notice to take on UFC debutant Murzakanov after getting stopped by Alexandr Romanov at UFC Vegas 39.
Vanderaa is a power puncher on the feet who is a natural heavyweight fighter, with a six-inch height advantage and a nine-inch reach advantage over Murzakanov in this fight. ‘The Professional’ is a natural light heavyweight fighter who has great power in his hands too and has earned eight stoppage wins from ten career wins. Murzakanov has got excellent footwork and movement, but this size difference is a big thing to overcome.
Thankfully for him, Murzakanov has got excellent wrestling available to him too and that could be the difference here. Vanderaa’s takedown defence is basically non-existent and with the power both guys have, the likelihood is he takes it down to the mat and works him with ground and pound to secure a big debut win. PICK – Azamat Murzakanov via Knockout, Round 3
Claudio Puelles (11-2) vs Chris Gruetzemacher (15-4) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The lightweight division is on show in this one to close out the early prelims. Puelles has won three-in-a-row with a decision win over Jordan Leavitt at UFC Vegas 28 most recently following a two-year absence, while Gruetzemacher earned a decision win over Rafa Garcia last time out to get back on the winning trail following a 1-3 run.
Puelles’ record looks good but when you watch the fights in the UFC, they’re less than impressive. He was battered by Felipe Silva before securing a comeback submission, Mariano isn’t UFC calibre and Leavitt was dead on his feet after the first round. He’s still a good submission artist though and has a solid top game. Gruetzemacher is a power puncher with solid wrestling and terrific cardio, which makes this bout a rough time for Puelles.
On the feet Gruetzemacher has a clear edge and Puelles’ takedown game isn’t strong enough to get his top game going here. Overall, Gruetzemacher has a clear edge everywhere unless he ends up under Puelles, so I think Gruetzemacher will be able to slam an exclamation point with this win with a KO. PICK – Chris Gruetzemacher via Knockout, Round 2
Alonzo Menifield (11-2) vs William Knight (10-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Fireworks at 205lbs in this one as Menifield and Knight finally get to meet after their bout was scrapped twice earlier this year. Menifield earned consecutive wins with a submission of Fabio Cherant at UFC 260 before a decision over Ed Herman at UFC 265, while Knight KO’d Cherant at UFC Vegas 34 following a mauling against Da Un Jung at UFC Vegas 23.
Knight’s striking isn’t the cleanest and his offensive wrestling isn’t the most impressive, but he uses his brute strength in clinch situations to get the fight down to the ground and then unleash violent ground and pound. Menifield is a bit more well rounded but seems to lack some cage IQ and struggles to make in-fight adjustments. He seemed shocked by the strength of OSP and if that’s the case, then Knight could blow him out of the water.
That said it’s a 50/50 fight between these two and while Knight’s ground-game is better, Menifield has changed up his approach in recent fights and fought well from the outside in his most recent bout. It’ll be competitive, but I think Menifield lands a big right hand on a blitzing Knight to secure a KO win. PICK – Alonzo Menifield via Knockout, Round 2
Claudio Puelles def Jordan Leavitt via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Interesting start to the fight as both men trade leg kicks and body kicks before Leavitt changes levels and shoots in for a takedown. Puelles immediately rolls through to try and reverse but Leavitt holds onto the single leg and forces a scramble for the position. Neither men give anything up and eventually Leavitt is able to get into the guard but only for a few seconds before Puelles kicks him off. Leavitt doesn’t let go and tries to hold him down again but Puelles is eventually able to get back to the feet where they trade leg kicks again. Puelles shoots in for a takedown this time but Leavitt defends it pretty well before Puelles gets into his guard with about 40 seconds left. Neither fight lands any real offence as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Leavitt probably.
Second round more of the same early on from both guys with a few rangy kicks before Leavitt shoots in for a single leg takedown again. Puelles defends it well once again and manages to reverse to end up on Leavitt’s back, but he’s able to reverse into a kneebar attempt to escape and ends up with Puelles in his guard again. Puelles stands up and avoids an up-kick before landing a big left hand as Leavitt looks to get back up and they end up on the ground once again. Puelles looks to take the back and starts throwing a few strikes to free it up but Leavitt is defending faitly well. Puelles locks in a body triangle with 30 seconds to go but nothing else happens and the round ends. 19-19.
Puelles opens up the round with a takedown early on this time and he gets it easily, with Leavitt pretty content to work from his back currently. Leavitt tries to scramble back to his feet but Puelles doing really well to shut it down and starts landing some ground and pound too. Position over submission for Puelles so far but Leavitt is trying to get up again and goes for an inverted triangle but Puelles avoids it pretty easily. Puelles in the north-south position but not doing enough so the referee stands them up with 90 seconds to go, only for Puelles to score an instant takedown once they resume. A bit of ground and pound but nothing crazy and Puelles should waltz to the victory 29-28.
Sean Woodson def Youssef Zalal via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Fast paced start to this one as Woodson takes the centre and looks to pump out his jab, while Zalal is firing leg kicks and firing overhand rights to counter. Zalal starts landing some nice strikes from the middle and Woodson starting to back up a bit, so Zalal shoots for a takedown. Woodson is able to stuff it against the cage though and then lands a couple of nice kicks before a left hand wobbles Zalal! Zalal recovers well and seems to have the speed advantage so is landing first and preventing the jab of Woodson from being effective. Zalal moves in for another takedown but Woodson defends it well against the cage again before they break and Zalal goes for a double leg this time and gets it to end the round on top. 10-9 Zalal but close round.
Woodson comes out strong in the second round and lands some nice body kicks to back Zalal up, but the ‘Moroccan Devil’ avoids it and goes in for a takedown against the cage once again. Zalal breaks and lands an elbow before shooting back in again, then lands another elbow as they separate again. Woodson loading up with kicks and Zalal finding it pretty easy to avoid them, but Woodson lands a nice straight left. Zalal throws a nice left hook that lands before both guys trade leg kicks and then Woodson lands a nice left hand and jab again. Zalal shoots for a takedown against the cage with 20 seconds left but Woodson synchs up a guillotine but just runs out of time. 19-19 for me.
More of the same at the start of the final round as Zalal goes for another takedown and puts Woodson against the cage, but he is able to defend it well again and break out into the centre. Woodson takes the centre and is forcing Zalal backwards now, landing some decent strikes but then Zalal shoots in again to stop that momentum. Woodson throws a couple of nice knees to the body and is looking for a guillotine again but Zalal picks him up to escape with a minute to go. Zalal shoots in again but Woodson switches it and goes for a guillotine from the top, but Zalal explodes out and they get back to swinging to end the fight. 29-28 Woodson but close for sure.
Manon Fiorot def Tabatha Ricci via Knockout, Round 2 (3:00)
Tentative start from both ladies early on as Fiorot uses her significant size advantage to land he patented side kick and jab. Ricci circling on the outside and bursting with some flurries, but Fiorot staying calm and composed and lands a nasty body kick. She follows up with a nice left hook straight to the chin, but Ricci keeps moving and looking for an entry. Huge left straight from Fiorot down the pipe lands and easily denies a takedown attempt. Fiorot fires off a combination but Ricci just about slips it and gets away. Fiorot has the centre and lands a big left hand again but Ricci responds with a nice strike as the round ends. 10-9 Fiorot but Ricci is showing promise.
Fast start to the second round for Fiorot as she starts to hunt Ricci down and throw combinations against the cage. Fiorot goes for a takedown inexplicably but Ricci denies it and eats another combination up top. Ricci trying to throw some leg kicks but Fiorot checks and keeps coming forward, clinching up and landing two big elbows. Fiorot steps forward with a big combination and drops Ricci and starts teeing off! Ricci gets back to her feet but Fiorot keeps pouring it on and eventually the referee mercifully steps in to end it. Huge knockout win!
Alan Patrick vs Mason Jones – NO CONTEST (Accidental eye poke)
Absolutely wild first round to start as Jones takes the centre of the octagon and looks to counter some crazy strikes from Patrick. The Brazilian shoots for a takedown but Jones avoids it and lands a nice right hand. Patrick throws some spinning kicks and back fists but Jones is slipping then and responding with big counters. Big exchange of punches from both men as Jones lands a left hand that staggers Patrick. Jones pushes forward with more pressure and Patrick clinches up and pulls guard but Jones starts smashing him with ground and pound. Big, heavy elbows from top position and huge strikes from the top and the referee nearly waves it off but he just runs out of time. 10-9 Jones, great round.
Patrick opens the second round with some more wild techniques before Jones steps in, gets a trip and starts working from top position once again. Some nice ground and pound strikes land but Patrick is able to jump back to his feet. He eats a big left hand and then an accidental eye poke causes a stop. Patrick tells the doctor he can’t see and the fight is waved off. Tough break for Jones.
Steady start to the fight from both guys as they look to feel each other out early on. Amirkhani shoots in for two takedowns but Kirk is able to slip his leg out both times pretty easily. Kirk steps forward and looks to land a right hand but Amirkhani then steps in to close the distance with another shot. This time he gets hold around the body of Kirk and throws him over his head and refuses to let go, before securing a trip and getting heavy on top. Kirk is able to push Amirkhani off and get up relatively quickly though and with no damage before a nice left hand clips Amirkhani. A bit of pressure from Kirk but the round ends, 10-9 either way.
Good start to the second round from Kirk as he steps in with some nice body work and a few straight right hands. Attempted flying knee just misses from Kirk, who then lands a massive right hand right to the side of the head. Three big body shots in a row from Kirk and Amirkhani shoots in again for a takedown but this time gets it, with Kirks attempts at a guillotine and heel hook coming to nothing. Amirkhani now in top position, staying heavy but Kirk throws up a triangle armbar and it’s tight! He locks it out and extends but Amirkhani refuses to tap and the buzzer goes. 20-18 to Kirk for me but could be 19-19 or 20-18 the other way too to be fair.
Final round and Amirkhani lands a big left hand clean on the chin to open up. Both guys look tired and after another left hand from Amirkhani he shoots for the takedown and secures it. Amirkhani heavy on top again, but Kirk throws up another triangle that just can’t get locked up. Kirk gets him back up to the feet but Amirkhani keeps hold of him and drags him down to the mat again, but this time Kirk reverses it and ends up on top. Kirk throwing body shots from the top as Amirkhani just holding him down to stall for time. Kirk postures up and lands a big left hand and the round ends with a stalemate for position. Super close fight, honestly could go either way.
Muslim Salikhov def Francisco Trinaldo via Decision (30-27 x3)
Very tense opening to this fight as both men throw out lots of feints and feelers early on, with Trinaldo coming forward. Salikhov throws a beautiful body kick that slaps, but Trinaldo rushes forward and lands a nice left hand in response. Salikhov taking his time and trying to counter, lands a big overhand right after missing with a left hook and then throwing a big body kick again. Trinaldo coming forward in bursts again and lands a nice left hand to the chin. Salikhov throws a leg kick but it gets checked and then follows up with a big left uppercut that drops Trinaldo! He follows up with some big ground and pound but Trinaldo stays calm on his back and sees it out until the bell. Whew! 10-9 Salikhov.
Good start from Trinaldo in the second round as he comes forward again and bull-rushes Salikhov, landing a nice right hand. Salikhov looks for the uppercut again that just misses, but then follows up with a couple of right hands himself that do land. Trinaldo lands a nice left hand before Salikhov lands a huge right hook that wobbles Trinaldo again! Trinaldo swings some huge punches after he recovers but Salikhov slips them all and lands some nice right hands of his own in between to really start piecing Trinaldo up. Salikhov is seeing the punches coming now and slipping then countering as he throws Trinaldo to the ground. 20-18 Salikhov but Trinaldo is still in this fight.
Final round and Trinaldo comes out swinging once again, but Salikhov counters with a left hook and gets a big eye poke for his troubles. After a pause in the action Trinaldo comes forward and lands a big left hand to that eye that wobbles him. Salikhov responds with a body kick and leg kick, but Trinaldo continues to come forward and look for that big left hand. Salikhov lands a nice leg kick and pushes Trinaldo to the ground at the same time, then eats up some time with a few leg kicks to his grounded opponent too. The referee stands him up and Trinaldo continues to come forward again as we enter the final minute as Salikhov lands a nice straight right hand. Big left hand from Trinaldo forces Salikhov to change levels and dump Trinaldo to the mat to see out the final 30 seconds and surely claim a win. 29-28 Salikhov for me.
Boser taking the centre early on and being the aggressor with some head kick attempts. Latifi just circling on the outside as Boser bounces around and feints some strikes, before another kick attempt gets caught and Latifi puts him on the mat immediately. Latifi works from guard into side control and looks to grind, but Boser is able to swivel his hips and explode back to his feet. Boser steps in with some nice jabs and a left straight but Latifi looking to clinch up every time. Boser lands another big jab and throws another two kicks to see out the round. Tough to score to be honest but I lean to Boser.
Latifi looking to punch his way in early in the second round, stepping forward with a nice overhand right. Boser responds with good foot work and his jab, slipping Latifi’s big punches and just piecing him up rather than landing bombs of his own. Boser steps forward and lands a big right hand that makes Latifi go down holding his eye, but the referee doesn’t step in and Boser goes for the kill! Huge ground and pound strikes against the cage but Latifi defends himself well and eventually clinches up. He shoots for a takedown but Boser defends it and goes for his jabs once again to end the round. 20-18 Boser for me.
Final round and Boser steps out with his jabs again but Latifi goes for an early takedown this time and gets it. Straight into Boser’s guard and this time Latifi is throwing some ground and pound strikes with heavy top pressure, stopping Boser from doing anything significant from his back. More grinding ground and pound from Latifi for almost two minutes at the end of the round and it’s his round but I think Boser will get the nod. 29-28 Boser for me.
*TOM BREESE VS ANTONIO ARROYO CANCELLED DUE TO A MEDICAL ISSUE FOR BREESE*
Montana De La Rosa def Ariane Lipski via Knockout, Round 2 (4:27)
Very patient start to the fight from both women, as Lipski using some feints as De La Rosa keeps the distance short. A few kick attempts from Lipski but eventually De La Rosa closes the distance, secure a body lock and gets Lipski to the ground. De La Rosa stays heavy on top and works her way to full guard where she starts raining down elbows and cuts Lipski wide open to the side of her eye. Lipski not doing much to get up and De La Rosa is able to just land big strikes at will here as the round ends. 10-9 De La Rosa.
Second round and Lipski lands a big right hand immediately, but De La Rosa shoots and gets the takedown perfectly in response. De La Rosa is able to slide into side control and has Lipski against the cage, keeping her in a really tough position and landing those big elbow strikes once again. Lipski is threatening with a kimura but it doesn’t have much hope and then De La Rosa slides into full mount and starts raining down huge elbows and punches. Lipski trying to roll away but De La Rosa refuses to let her and just keeps thumping away until the referee steps in and ends it! Huge win for De La Rosa!
Gregory Rodrigues def Dusko Todorovic via Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
A super start to the fight from the UFC newcomer as Rodrigues steps forward and is landing his power jab well. Rodrigues firing his right straight perfectly too and is catching Todorovic clean very, very often. A clinch up against the cage sees Rodrigues with a judo throw put Todorovic down, but he gets back up to his feet immediately. More crisp right hands land from Rodrigues as Todorovic just eats them, but he’s walking back with his chin high. Todorovic lands a nice right hand of his own to see out the round but that’s a Rodrigues round clearly. 10-9.
Rodrigues coming out aggressive in the second round and finding a home for that right hand over and over again. Some digs to the body from Rodrigues and another big right hand, before a power double leg secures him a takedown too. Todorovic tries to get up using the cage and eats a knee to he head but is able to get away. Rodrigues lands a big straight right hand on the chin again as Todorovic steps forward and throws a little flurry. Final minute and Rodrigues slips a punch and lands a beautiful left-hook, right hand combo. 20-18 Rodrigues, but he’s start to slow down a little.
Third and final round and Todorovic looks like he’s still trying to make reads. Good jab lands twice and forces Rodrigues backwards, but he replies with another big right hand that lands flush. Rodrigues goes for a takedown but Todorovic defends it well this time. Rodrigues steps forward again and lands some big combinations and then eats a jab for his trouble. Rodrigues lands a big right hand once more and then goes to the body, but Todorovic replies with a nice left hand of his own. Into the final 30 seconds and Todorovic lands some great body shows but eats another right hand. Todorovic goes for the takedown at the end of the round but the buzzer goes and it should be a win for the newcomer.
Santiago Ponzinibbio def Miguel Baeza via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast paced start to this one as Ponzinibbio takes the centre of the cage and looks to land some jabs and his right hand as backs Baeza up against the fence. Baeza responding with his kicks, throwing a lot of heavy leg kicks to the lead leg and throwing his right hand behind it. Baeza blasting those calf kicks and forcing Ponzinibbio backwards, and then he lands a nice left-right hand combo. Ponzinibbio comes forward again and lands a nice left hand but Baeza is throwing more and more leg kicks and they’re really totalling up now. Big flurry from Ponzinibbio at the end of the round lands a couple of strikes but ultimately that’s a Baeza round. 10-9.
Fantastic start to the round from Baeza as he targets the calf kicks once again. Baeza lands three body kicks in a row and as Ponzinibbio throws a jab he gets kicked in the calf once again. Big overhand right from Baeza wobbles Ponzinibbio but Baeza stays calm and doesn’t go straight for the kill. Ponzinibbio throws a few calf kicks of his own and a nice right hand but Baeza then goes back to work with the leg kicks. Ponzinibbio starting to land his jab a lot more now as he comes forward with a big flurry of strikes. Ponzinibbio coming forward constantly and is landing lots of strikes in the second half of this round with big combinations to end the round. 19-19.
Fast start to the final round too as Ponzinibbio steps forward again and they trade jabs. Baeza lands two leg kicks again then follows with a right hand that staggers Ponzinibbio. The Argentine continues to come forward with the lead jab and is now throwing a right hand behind it, but Baeza retaliates with a nice right hand combo to the head and body. Ponzinibbio lands a huge flurry and Baeza is hurt, but Baeza lands two right hands and hurts Ponzinibbio right back! Body kick from Baeza before a left hook lands from Ponzinibbio! Both men trade huge leg kicks and exchange wild hooks. Big uppercut from Baeza but Ponzinibbio lands a big one-two, followed by a Baeza right hand again. Both men spend the final 30 seconds going absolutely crazy with hooks and power punches, with Ponzinibbio getting the better of the exchange to end the round! What a fight! 29-28 Ponzinibbio for me.
Roman Dolidze def Laureano Starapoli via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Staropoli comes out very early and very quickly with a solid body kick, followed by two heavy leg kicks. He goes for a head kick that misses and Dolidze immediately shoots in for a takedown. Staropoli gets to his feet against the cage but Dolidze keeps a body lock and drags Staropoli down over and over again for almost the full round. A few knees to the thigh from Dolidze but otherwise a pretty dull round. 10-9 Dolidze.
Second round starts with an immediate power double leg from Dolidze who gets the fight down momentarily before they end up against the cage once again, in the same way as they did the first round. Staropoli eventually is able to spin away and get away from the grip of Dolidze and then lands a couple of kicks again. Big left uppercut from Staropoli lets Dolidze change levels and get another takedown. More clinching against the cage as Staropoli tries to escape and finally he does, before going for a takedown of his own and the same stalemate occurring again. 20-18 Dolidze.
Third and final round and we see more of the same from both fighters, with Staropoli unable to get his striking game going at all because of Dolidze’s strength whenever he gets close. Dolidze holding him against the cage throughout and any spec of danger is evaded. 30-27 Dolidze, next please.
Marcin Tybura def Walt Harris via Knockout, Round 1 (4:06)
Fast start to the round from Harris as he comes forward with intent and starts throwing bombs early. Huge rights and lefts from Harris landing clean but Tybura still standing and wobbling. Harris tries to clinch and goes for knees, then throws a flurry of hooks that drops Tybura again. He goes for a finish but Tybura drives forward for a takedown and gets it against the cage. Harris does well but then Tybura catches a kick and sweeps the leg to get on top. He transitions to the back and puts one hook in, working for a rear naked choke. He then starts landing heavy strikes that are having a big effect on Harris and eventually the referee steps in and ends the fight! Huge knockout win for Tybura!
Jairzinho Rozenstruik def Augusto Sakai via Knockout, Round 1 (4:59)
Slow start to this one as Rozenstruik takes the centre and flicks out a leg kick or two, but generally both guys just feeling each other out for now. Another leg kick is matched by Sakai this time and then goes for another but Rozenstruik catches it and just misses with a counter right hand. Sakai throws a right hand that misses and Rozenstruik fires back with an overhand that whistles past Sakai. Rozenstruik backs Sakai against the cage and throws a flurry of shots but Sakai defends well. He does it again and this time lands a left hook right hand and Sakai is down! He lands a couple of follow ups just before the horn goes but it’s all over! Huge win!
Last time out at UFC Vegas 27 we went 7/11 with three perfect picks to go up to 321/505 (63.56%) with 139 perfect picks (43.3%).
We’ll look to improve that here on this huge 14 fight card, starting with the early prelims.
Claudio Puelles (10-2) vs Jordan Leavitt (8-0) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A very fun lightweight fight should open the card as ‘El Nino’ returns after 21 months away to take on the undefeated ‘Monkey King’. Puelles hasn’t fought since September 2019 when he beat Marcos Mariano, while Leavitt won his UFC debut in just 22 seconds by KO’ing Matt Wiman via a violent slam at UFC Vegas 16.
Puelles’ last two wins weren’t the most impressive, considering he got absolutely battered and pulled out a hail Mary kneebar in the third round before beating one of the least impressive lightweights ever in Mariano. On the other hand Leavitt has got excellent wrestling and grappling skills while also having some exciting striking skills too, despite his only knockout being the slam last time out.
Realistically, Leavitt should absolutely dominate wherever this fight goes and if he can’t get a finish it’ll be a very lopsided decision win. PICK – Jordan Leavitt via Decision
Sean Woodson (7-1) vs Youssef Zalal (10-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Two highly rated featherweights go head-to-head next when ‘The Sniper’ takes on ‘The Moroccan Devil’ at 145lbs.
Zalal is a good wrestler by nature with a decent array of strikes in his arsenal, but against Choi he really struggled to get either of those attacks going. Woodson is a boxing-heavy fighter who has great takedown defence, but he has shown that he’s been able to be ground down before. Zalal will need to push the pace, but unfortunately for him that isn’t really in his style and Woodson is likely to be able to out-volume him and keep the fight standing for long enough to secure a win. PICK – Sean Woodson via Decision
Manon Fiorot (6-1) vs Maryna Moroz (10-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two highly-rated flyweight prospects go head to head in this one as Fiorot looks to continue her fledgling career against ‘The Iron Lady’.
Fiorot has overcome a debut defeat to win six-in-a-row, including her last four via knockout. Her UFC debut ended with a head-kick knockout win over Victoria Leonardo at UFC Fight Island 8 in January, while Moroz is 5-3 in the UFC including decision wins over Sabina Mazo and Mayra Bueno Silva in her last two.
Fiorot is an excellent kickboxer who uses her kicks well to keep a distance before landing power strikes, while Moroz is a combination boxer with terrific speed and technique. The problem she’ll have however is that Fiorot has a big power and defensive edge and on top of that has a ground game she can fall back on too.
Moroz is durable but she’s never been hit the way Fiorot can hit her and I think think the French ‘Beast’ keeps her knockout streak going. PICK – Manon Fiorot via Knockout, Round 2