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.
Andre Petroski (8-2) vs Wellington Turman (18-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Exciting middleweight scrap up next. Petroski is 3-0 in the UFC after competing on TUF, KO’ing Michael Gillmore before submission wins over Yaozong Hu (UFC 267) and Nick Maximov most recently back in May. Turman is on a two-fight win streak, defeating Sam Alvey and then submitting Misha Cirkunov most recently in February.
Petroski has proven to be an excellent wrestler in this division with some solid submission skills, but he’s also a more technical striker than many though and has good power too. Turman is a bit of a reckless striker with some nasty low kicks, that play perfectly into his world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills. The problem he has here is that he’s outmatched pretty much everywhere.
Turman’s best hope of winning is landing a big counter punch that Petroski doesn’t see coming during an exchange or tapping him from his back, and both are very unlikely. Petroski should be able to dominate this fight wherever it goes, and he should be able to claim another finish to keep his run going. PICK – Andre Petroski via Knockout, Round 2
Erin Blanchfield (9-1) vs Molly McCann (13-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Women’s flyweight bout up next between two ladies on a great run. Blanchfield is undefeated in the UFC with dominant wins over Sarah Alpar, Miranda Maverick (UFC 269) and most recently JJ Aldrich, while McCann has won her last three in a row, including her last two against Luana Carolina and Hannah Goldy via spinning elbow knockout.
Blanchfield is arguably the best wrestler in the division, maybe outside of Valentina Shevchenko and Taila Santos, and that is where this fight will end up if she has her way. She is decent on the feet too, but wrestling will always be her bread and butter. McCann on the other hand is a straight up brawler, with a good boxing background and incredible aggression and durability, but she’s very small for the division. This is a lopsided match up.
McCann has tried to step up her level of competition before and fallen flat on her face, and it’s likely to happen again here. Blanchfield has a six-inch reach advantage which should see her comfortable on the feet, but if it ever gets hairy she’ll get a takedown relatively easily and maul “Meatball” on the mat for a dominant decision win. PICK – Erin Blanchfield via Decision
Dominick Reyes (12-3) vs Ryan Spann (20-7) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The return of “The Devastator” up next. Reyes arguably beat Jon Jones in their title fight back at UFC 247 but ultimately lost on the cards and was since KO’d by Jan Blachowicz (UFC 257) and Jiri Prochazka (UFC Vegas 25) in subsequent bouts. Spann got dominated by Anthony Smith in his first main event back in September 2021, but bounced back with a submission win of his own over Ion Cutelaba most recently back in May.
Reyes is a boxing specialist with a piston-like left hand and nasty body kicks to go with amazing durability and decent wrestling chops too. Spann is a decent wrestler himself but he has tremendous submission skills, earning 12 of his 17 finish wins via tap out. His striking however is bang average and with a lack of head movement to go with Reyes’ excellent takedown defence, this is his fight to lose.
Spann isn’t the most durable guy and he has a tendency to panic when faced with adversity. Reyes has the ability to put the pressure on early and has great accuracy with his left-hand that can put people out. He was able to keep up with Prochazka until his brains got scrambled, so if he can do that here he should be the one on the end of a big knockout win. PICK – Dominick Reyes via Knockout, Round 2
Brad Riddell (10-3) vs Renato Moicano (16-5-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Lightweight banger in the featured prelims slot up next. Riddell was on a great run before getting stopped by Rafael Fiziev at UFC Vegas 44, and was since submitted by Jalin Turner at UFC 276 in just 45 seconds. Moicano stopped Alexander Hernandez at UFC 271 with a rear-naked choke but stepped in on super short notice at UFC 272 to face Rafael Dos Anjos and got dominated for 25 minutes in his last bout.
Riddell is a stunning kickboxer, with unbelievable technique and decent power to go with a relentless volume, but his durability has taken a downward turn in recent bouts. Moicano is a superbly well-rounded fighter too with great striking and world class jiu-jitsu skills, with wrestling skills that help him implement that submission game. This is a mixed bag and could go one of two ways.
Moicano has the ability to get this fight to the ground quickly and work his submission game, which is relentless and almost certainly too much for Riddell to handle. But if he is able to survive the early round, his pressure and power is likely to overwhelm Moicano and he should be the one getting his hand raised. It’s a tough one to call, but momentum is on the Brazilian’s side and he’s also able to hold his own on the feet, so I think Moicano gets it done early by taking the back and getting a choke. PICK – Renato Moicano via Submission, Round 1
Muhammad has the perfect nickname heading into 2022 after the 2021 he had.
‘Remember the Name’ isn’t new to the UFC, but in 2021 he finally became a household name with some impressive victories and memorable moments in the octagon.
He opened the year with a win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258 before stepping in on very short-notice to fight top contender Leon Edwards at UFC Vegas 21. When that fight ended in a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke, Muhammad took the momentum from the buzz of the fight and ran with it.
He called Edwards out all year and with dominant wins over Demian Maia at UFC 263 and then Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson at UFC Vegas 45 he may get his wish early in 2022 after breaking into the top five of the 170-pound rankings. What a year.
2. Erin Blanchfield (2-0 in 2021)
Blanchfield earned herself a big reputation outside of the UFC before finally making her debut with the organisation in September of this year, but she wasted no time making sure she made an impression.
A dominant decision win over Sarah Alpar set her up for a fight against Maycee Barber, who was forced to withdraw injured and was replaced by the equally highly rated Miranda Maverick at UFC 269.
Her performance in that fight was near flawless though as she showed her power, wrestling, composure and technique to waltz to a dominant decision win.
2022 could be a big year for ‘Cold Blooded’ if she continues winning in a division that is always desperate for new contenders with Valentina Shevchenko as dominant as ever.
1. Sean O’Malley (3-0 in 2021)
He’s not a new name and he’s without doubt one of the most popular fighters on the roster, but 2021 will be remembered as the real breakout year for Sean O’Malley in the UFC.
‘Suga’ opened the year with a brilliant knockout win over Thomas Almeida at UFC 260, as he dominated the Brazilian for three rounds before getting the highlight reel finish in the third-round.
He then fought short-notice opponent Kris Moutinho at UFC 264 and absolutely dominated for three rounds in that too. The UFC newcomer refused to go away, taking serious amounts of damage in the fight but O’Malley kept teeing off until the referee said enough was enough with seconds remaining.
He ended the year with a ranking though thanks to arguably the most impressive win of his year at UFC 269, when he stopped talented grappler Raulian Paiva in the first-round with a vicious combination.
Three wins, three knockouts and entering the new year as a ranked fighter – Sean O’Malley is the breakthrough fighter of the year.
Fast paced start to this fight as Robertson looks to take the centre and attempts a couple of takedowns early. Cachoeira defends them well and is starting to land some decent strikes on the feet, landing good jabs and starting to do damage. Robertson suddenly changes levels in the centre though and scores a nice takedown before looking to secure a kimura lock. She transitions into side control and then full mount and starts raining down huge elbows! Cachoeira is in danger and Robertson switches to the back and gets a choke in under the neck. Cachoeira tries to defend it by sticking her thumb in Robertson’s eye but she refuses to let it go and then gets the tap with one second left! What a performance!
Tony Kelley def Randy Costa via Knockout, Round 2 (2:15)
Very fast start from Kelley who steps forward immediately and starts chasing Costa across the cage looking to land big shots. Costa trying to weather the storm and countering with his jab, but Kelley continuing to come forward aggressively. Clinch against the cage and Kelley is trying to wear on Costa early, landing some nice knees but Costa seemingly the stronger fighter physically. Kelley switching stances as he throws his combinations and Costa is struggling to make reads, before they clinch up against the cage once again and tangle until the end of the round. 10-9 Kelley.
Another fast start from Kelley as he comes forward quickly again and starts the clinch battles again once again. Costa looks a little fatigued but he’s defending himself well and and staying in it. Costa starting to land his jabs well but Kelley closing the distance and making this fight ugly. Costa lands a nice kick and follows it up with a short right hand that hurts Kelley, but he clinches up quickly and starts defending. Kelley gets him in a Thai clinch and lands some big knees to the body and Costa drops to his knees! Kelley battering the body and thrashing elbows onto Costa who’s just trying to defend himself now. Kelley going for the finish and the referee steps in! What a performance from Kelley.
Ryan Hall def Darrick Minner via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-27)
Tactical start to the fight from both guys here as Minner lands a couple of leg kicks and misses wildly with some big strikes. Hall very patient and lands a nice body kick and then Hall shoots for the legs. Lots of transitions and rolling for submissions but Minner defending against the kneebars and heel hook attempts well. Minner gets back to the feet and lands a big right hand that cracks Hall who starts to retreat. Hall starts to go for a takedown again and ends up in top position landing some decent ground and pound to end the round. 10-9 either way, but I lean to Hall just.
Hall coming out more aggressive now as he starts swinging kicks, before Minner lands a nice right hand and gets a takedown as Hall goes for a leg. Minner in Hall’s full guard and looking for ground and pound, but Hall is looking to throw up an armbar or triangle submission. Minner stands up and slams Hall down to escape it and goes back for ground and pound. Hall throws up another triangle and it’s tight and he starts throwing big elbows from his back but Minner surviving. Hall looks to advance to a straight armbar but Minner denies it and then he rolls to an omoplata attempt and ends the round with ground and pound. 20-18 Hall.
Final round and Hall rolls under a punch and secures a triangle attempt immediately from his back. Minner defends it well but Hall then switches and is able to get on top. He advances to full mount and is in complete control here, looking for an arm triangle.
Erin Blanchfield def Miranda Maverick via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Good start to the bout for Maverick as she steps forward aggressively and throws a few strong strikes. Maverick looks to step in with a right hand but Blanchfield ducks under and immediately has a body lock from the back. She maintains the lock and continuously forces Maverick to the ground with excellent wrestling. She moves to full guard and maintains position again, dragging Maverick to the mat every time she tries to get back to the feet. 10-9 Blanchfield.
Maverick starts up well with a little blitz but immediately Blanchfield is able to hip throw her and end up on top. Blanchfield quickly transitions to a crucifix position and starts blasting elbows down on Maverick, but she manages to just about escape as Blanchfield switches to an armbar attempt. Maverick just about defends but Blanchfield then goes for a kimura, but Maverick defends it well. Blanchfield switches to another armbar attempt but Maverick defends it by scissoring the head of her and the buzzer goes. 20-18.
Final round and Maverick is trying to go for a finish because she knows she needs it, but Blanchfield is landing well too. Clinch up against the cage and then Blanchfield catches a leg and moves straight into a takedown. She moves into top control and looks to dominate again and starts landing some big shots from mount. She controls the rest of the round from the top and claims a dominant decision win.
Andre Muniz def Eryk Anders via Submission (Armbar), Round 1 (3:13)
Good start to the fight for Anders as he takes the centre and starts to throw powerful strikes early. Muniz does well and throws a nice calf kick before throwing a short left hook. Anders goes for a right hand again and Muniz ducks under and changes levels with a big takedown. Muniz looks to pass from side control straight into mount but Anders defends it well. Anders gets to his feet but Muniz has a body lock and drags him back down after a bit of back and forth and takes the back. He threatens with a choke and then switches to an armbar attempt and forces the tap from Anders. What a performance.
Bruno Silva def Jordan Wright via Knockout, Round 1 (1:28)
Crazy start to this fight as Wright charges forward and looks to engage quickly with hard strikes. Wright continues to come forward and attack and he hurts Silva! They clinch up and Wright lands some big knees but Silva lands some big strikes too. They separate and Silva lands two huge blows and Wright is wobbled! Silva goes for the finish and drops him! Some huge shots and the referee steps in! What a KO by Silva!
Tai Tuivasa def Augusto Sakai via Knockout, Round 2 (0:26)
Slow and steady start so far with Tuivasa in the centre stalking Sakai, who’s throwing leg kicks and circling on the outside. Tuivasa goes for a nice combination and Sakai retreats, before they clinch up and Sakai lands a nice knee to the body. More knees to the body from Sakai as he holds Tuivasa close to him, before they separate and Tuivasa just misses with a big uppercut. Sakai landing heavy knees and hurting Tuivasa, but he then retaliates with a big right hand and forces Sakai to cover up before they clinch again to end the round. 10-9 Sakai, but Tuivasa looking dangerous too.
Second round and Tuivasa lands a huge left hook early and Sakai is rocked! Tuivasa steps forward and goes for the kill, landing huge hooks as Sakai tries to cover up. Another huge strike and Sakai is out coldddd! What a KO!
Dominick Cruz def Pedro Munhoz via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start to this fight as both guys look to take the centre and trade leg kicks and movement. Munhoz throwing hard low kicks but Cruz making him miss big. Munhoz throwing bombs but only just missing and Cruz is doing well to land blitzes and flurries of strikes. Cruz goes for a big right hand and Munhoz lands first with a big left hand that drops him! Munhoz lands a huge left hook and goes for the finish but Cruz grabs a leg and somehow survives. He gets up and continues the pattern of the earlier fight. 10-9 Munhoz.
Second round and Munhoz coming forward again and looking for his big bombs. Cruz using his excellent footwork well again though and is using his speed brilliantly. Cruz throwing great combinations on the feet and Munhoz is eating shots, but there isn’t enough power in them to hurt him. Cruz throws a hard low kick that hurts Munhoz and continues to throw his strikes brilliantly. 19-19.
Final round and Cruz has definitely taken over now with his speed and footwork. Cruz has made his reads now and is landing his combinations well, but Munhoz is throwing powerful strikes back and just barely missing. Cruz lands a big one-two clean down the pipe and Munhoz is starting to back up a little. Munhoz lands some nice jabs but Cruz is too slick and is moving so well, throwing leg kicks and left hands. Cruz lands a big combo in the centre as the round comes to an end and that should be the comeback victory for him. 29-28 Cruz.
Josh Emmett def Dan Ige via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Nothing happens between these two in the opening minute and them Emmett explodes with a massive overhand right that drops Ige! Emmett goes down for a finish but Ige recovers quickly and starts to wrestle. Both guys scramble well and end up back to their feet where they separate. Ige taking the centre now and using his jab well and sees out the round relatively comfortably. 10-9 Emmett most likely for the knockdown, but could go either way in honesty.
Emmett comes out with a big right hand early once again but Ige takes it and continues to come forward. Good exchanges on the feet and Ige landing his jab well with movement and power. Emmett looking for one big shot but he keeps missing it. Ige replies with a big strikes and wobbles Emmett with a big left hook. He stays patient and Emmett eventually recovers. Ige staying so calm though and using that jab well again, circling on the outside and threatening then ending the round with a big right straight. 19-19, Ige round.
Final round and Ige takes the centre once again, looking to use that jab and counter with his left hook. Emmett still looking for the power right hand but Ige seems to have him scouted now. Emmett steps forward and throws a straight right down the middle and wobbles Ige but he recovers very quickly and circles out. Ige lands his jab over and over, but Emmett is being more aggressive and coming forward. Both guys are missing with big shots as we enter the final minute. Emmett ducks under a big head kick but then eats a big uppercut. Both guys throw a final flurry, but that’s a super tough fight to call. Great fight.
Sean O’Malley def Raulian Paiva via Knockout, Round 1 (4:42)
Composed start to this fight from both guys as Paiva looks for an early takedown attempt but O’Malley sidesteps him into the cage. Body kick grazes the cup of Paiva and causes a short pause in the action. Paiva throws a hard low kick that gets a reaction, before O’Malley steps in with a hard straight left hand. Paiva trying to apply pressure but O’Malley moving well and avoids a leg kick then lands two left jabs and a big right hand behind it. O’Malley steps well to his right and lands a huge right hand that wobbles Paiva! He stays composed and lands a beautiful combination that hurts him badly! Huge body shot and hook combo drops Paiva and the referee steps in, huge win for O’Malley! Amazing!
Kai Kara-France def Cody Garbrandt via Knockout, Round 1 (3:21)
Lots of range finding in the opening minute of this fight as Garbrandt finds himself with his back against the cage circling, throwing some loose kicks. Kara-France just misses with a big overhand right and then just avoids a big right-hook from Garbrandt. Kara-France lands a big right hand that flattens Garbrandt! A big follow up shot drops him again but Garbrandt retreats and eggs him on, but he’s clearly hurt! Kara-France staying patient and then he lands a stunning combination that ends with a massive uppercut and Garbrandt is out! Kara-France lands a couple of strikes before Herb Dean steps in, but that’s that! What a KO!
Geoff Neal def Santiago Ponzinibbio via Split Decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Steady start to the fight for Neal with plenty of bouncing on his toes and throwing his jab and some leg kicks, forcing Ponzinibbio backwards. Both guys trade leg kicks and are starting to try and hold their ground in the centre. Neal lands a nice high kick and the referee warns both fighters about having their fingers out. A few short strikes each but not much damage so far. Neal using his jab well and both guys exchange before an accidental low kick from Neal causes a pause. They get back to it and Ponzinibbio lands a huge one-two right on the buzzer to end the round. 10-9 Neal for me.
More active start to the round as Ponzinibbio comes forward with a hard low kick and some straight right hands. Big one-two from Ponzinibbio down the middle to counter Neal’s leg kick and then a short right hand from Neal lands too. Ponzinibbio changes levels and blasts a takedown before Neal sweeps him to get back to his feet nearly immediately. Hard left hand lands from Neal, but Ponzinibbio lands a nice left jab-right hand. Neal lands a hard right hand but then eats a big leg kick in return, before a one-two of his own down the middle into the final minute of the round. Neal lands a big shot and Ponzinibbio claims it was a finger but the referee says no. They stare at each other and then trade a couple of strikes before the round ends. 19-19.
Final round and Ponzinibbio lands a right hand before Neal lands a left. More exchanges in the centre and Neal lands a hard right hook that wobbles Ponzinibbio but he recovers quickly and lands a hard low kick. Neal starting to come forward and throws his left hand before a left high kick that just misses. Right hand gets a reaction from Ponzinibbio again, but then he lands a hard low kick to get Neal to back up. Hard left hand from Neal lands but Ponzinibbio replies with a solid right hook himself. Hard low kick and Neal steps backwards, but then he counters another attempt with a right hand. Neal coming on strong with jabs but Ponzinibbio continues to come forward too. Neal lands a big three-punch combo with the left hand and Ponzinibbio is wobbled! Final 30 seconds and Ponzinibbio just misses with a right hand to end the fight. Good fight. 29-28 Neal for me.
Nunes opens up with a hard low kick that drops Pena immediately. Nunes lets her up and kicks the leg again, before Pena tries to throw a small flurry. Nunes throws a right hand that drops Pena and then she eventually drops on top of her looking to control on the ground. Nunes looks to transition to the back for a rear-naked choke but Pena just about defends it, before Nunes gets back to top position. Pena threatens with a kimura from the bottom but Nunes stays patient, defends it and sees the round out on top. 10-9 champ.
Nunes takes the centre and she starts looking for huge strikes early doors but Pena isn’t going anywhere. Pena is landing her jab at will and Nunes is getting hurt! Nunes trying to slug it out but she’s slow and looks exhausted already. Pena keeps coming and is smashing Nunes up! Big strikes from Pena and Nunes is rocked! Pena goes for a takedown and immediately goes to the back and locks up a choke! NUNES TAPS! NUNES TAPS! AND NEWWWW!!!
Charles Oliveira def Dustin Poirier via Submission (Rear-naked choke), Round 3 (1:02)
Fast paced start to the fight as Oliveira looks to take the centre and land body shots and his jab, but Poirier lands a right hand that knocks Oliveira off balance. Oliveira lands a big strike of his own and backs Poirier up and then he clinches looking for knees. Poirier getting kicked in the body and firing back with big combinations and drops Oliveira again. He lands a huge shot on the ground but Oliveira ties him up and then Poirier stands them up again immediately. Body work from Oliveira again is affecting Poirier and the rounds ends. Wow. 10-9 Poirier.
Huge start to the second round again as the frantic pace starts again and Oliveira immediately goes in for a takedown against the cage. He drags Poirier to the ground but as he tries to escape Oliveira takes the back. Poirier tries to escape but Oliveira holds his arm in place and illegally holds the glove before rolling into full guard. He lands some huge, thudding elbows as Poirier looks to defend off his back. Oliveira absolutely dominant with pressure and elbows but Poirier survives. 19-19.
Oliveira comes out fast once again and shoots in for a takedown and immediately transitions to a body lock from behind. He drags Poirier down and then jumps on to his back, sinking in hooks and looking for a standing rear-naked choke. Poirier defending the hands but Oliveira continues to switch the grips, sinks in the choke and forces the tap! Amazing!! What a fight!
Last time at UFC Vegas 44 we had a pretty good night with our picks, as we went 9/13 with five perfect picks to move to 491/765 (64.18%) with 207 perfect picks (42.16%).
We’ll look to improve on that here on this massive 15-fight card, starting with the early prelims.
Gillian Robertson (9-6) vs Priscilla Cachoeira (10-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A women’s flyweight bout opens up the card live from the T-Mobile Arena. Robertson has lost her last two-in-a-row against Taila Santos at UFC Vegas 17 and Miranda Maverick at UFC 260, while Cachoeira has won her last two via knockout against Shana Dobson and then Gina Mazany at UFC 262.
Robertson is a skilled grappler who is very keen on securing takedowns and then working her submission game, scoring six submission wins in her career. Cachoeira on the other hand is a strong striker with good power and solid stand-up skills, but she has had troubles with the grappling game in the past.
Cachoeira has the ability to end this fight on the feet, but if it goes to the ground then it’s all Robertson. Robertson has better cardio than Mazany, who dominated Cachoeira in their bout before her cardio ran out. Robertson shouldn’t have any such issues and if she can secure the takedown early with her wrestling, then she has the skills on the ground to tie up and early submission win. PICK – Gillian Robertson via Submission, Round 1
Randy Costa (6-2) vs Tony Kelley (7-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger at 135-pounds up next. Costa has been impressive in victory and defeat so far in the UFC, but was stopped in his last fight by Adrian Yanez at UFC Vegas 32. Kelley on the other hand is 1-1 in the UFC so far, with a win over Ali AlQaisi at UFC Fight Island 5 last year coming via decision last time out.
Costa is a brilliant young boxer, with excellent combinations and head movement to go with his power and kicking game too. Kelley is a well-rounded fighter who can mix up takedowns with some striking on the feet. Costa’s biggest issue in this fight is his cardio, because he seems to fade in the second round every time. He throws with great power but it goes against his gas tank, but if he slows it down his technical deficiencies come to the surface.
Kelley is going to have issues here. He is skilled enough to cause problems, but his big flaws play straight into Costa’s strengths and that likely leads to a short night. He throws lots of naked kicks while in range of his opponent and he doesn’t defend his body relatively well, so expect Costa to drop him early with a counter and finish it with follow up shots. PICK – Randy Costa via Knockout, Round 1
Ryan Hall (8-2) vs Darrick Minner (26-12) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A grappler’s paradise in this one between two of the best jiu-jitsu artists in the game. Ryan Hall saw his winning streak snapped at UFC 264 when he got KO’d by Ilia Topuria, while Minner got KO’d by Darren Elkins at UFC Vegas 32 in his last outing too.
Both of these guys are jiu-jitsu masters. Hall is one of the most feared submission artists in the world, with his leg lock attacks absolutely brutal and dangerous. Minner is just as feared in the grappling world in MMA, with his 22 submission wins in his career. Defensively though, Minner has been submitted eight times himself and that shows that he isn’t the best when he’s not on offense.
Hall is the greatest jiu-jitsu player in MMA since the Gracie’s probably and with both of these guys guaranteed to try and take it to the ground, it’s just an open goal to Hall eventually claiming a submission win yet again. PICK – Ryan Hall via Submission, Round 1
Alex Perez (24-6) vs Matt Schnell (15-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A super fun flyweight bout up next. Perez makes his return to the cage after his title fight submission loss to Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 255, while Schnell looks to return to winning ways after a decision loss to Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 262 earlier this year.
Perez is a very well-rounded fighter with good boxing skills and some excellent grappling skills too, while Schnell is equally well-rounded with some decent submission skills and a good high guard when striking, although he doesn’t have show-stopping one-punch power. His wrestling isn’t the best and I think Perez has the edge there, while on the feet he also has a disadvantage int his match up.
Schnell’s best hope in this one is to either clip Perez on the feet in an exchange, or locking up a submission in a scramble. Perez is likely to be able to out-box him in a striking battle and he has the grappling to survive for the most part so I think he grinds him down on the feet with leg kicks and lands the bigger shots in the fight to earn the judge’s decision. PICK – Alex Perez via Decision
Miranda Maverick (11-3) vs Erin Blanchfield (7-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A really, really competitive women’s flyweight bout closes out the early prelims section of the card. Maverick suffered a close defeat to Maycee Barber last time out at UFC Vegas 32 to snap a five-fight win streak, and replaces her in this fight. Blanchfield made it four wins in a row when she earned a decision over Sarah Alpar at UFC Vegas 37.
Maverick is a solid wrestler who looks to take her opponents down and grind them down with ground-and-pound attacks, while her power on the feet is good too. Blanchfield is of a similar ilk, with brilliant wrestling and a very good jiu-jitsu game while her striking game has seen huge improvements in recent years.
This is such a 50/50 fight that it’s really hard to pick. I think Maverick has a slight edge in wrestling, but Blanchfield definitely has the submission edge in grappling exchanges while Maverick probably has a slight edge in striking. Defensively Maverick leaves herself open a lot, but her experience against top level opponents is also a factor. Ultimately, it’ll be razor thin but I think Maverick can use that experience to earn a decision win. PICK – Erin Blanchfield via Decision
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
Elsewhere on the card, Nina Nunes (formerly known as Ansaroff) makes her return to the octagon after giving birth last year when she takes on another new mother in Mackenzie Dern in a fight high up on the strawweight rankings too.
Last time out at UFC 260, we went 8/10 on the night to improve our record to 270/426 (63.38%) with 121 perfect picks (44.81%).
With a belting 14 fights on the card, we’ve split it up into three sections and having already predicted the early prelims here we move onto the rest of the prelims now.
Yorgan De Castro (6-2) vs Jarjis Danho (6-1-1 1NC) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The big boys are in action on this card as Yorgan De Castro looks to snap a two-fight losing streak against Jarjis Danho, who makes his first appearance in a cage fight in almost five years.
Castro dropped consecutive decision defeats to Greg Hardy and Carlos Felipe, while Danho lost and drew his last two fights but hasn’t fought since September 2016 for no reason in particular. Both guys are heavy punchers who have a sledgehammer of a right hand and are completely one dimensional when it comes to a game plan.
Neither man has ever been finished before but combined they have got ten wins by stoppage, with nine knockouts and a single submission in Danho’s favour. Both guys are going to trade swinging their right hand and whoever’s chin holds up the most will get the win but this will not be the most exciting fight the longer it goes. PICK – Yorgan De Castro via Knockout, Round 1
John Makdessi (17-7) vs Ignacio Bahamondes (11-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Striking technique meets striking power in this lightweight bout as John Makdessi takes on debutant Ignacio Bahamondes. Makdessi lost his last bout to Francisco Trinaldo and then tore his ACL, making this his first fight in just over a year while Bahamondes has won his last two fights coming into this debut.
Makdessi is as pure a striker as they come in the UFC, landing ZERO takedowns in his 17 previous UFC fights while Bahamondes is a powerful striker who stands at 6ft 3 and has a tremendous reach advantage. He has a few defensive lapses still, which Makdessi can absolutely take advantage of, but with a 12 year age gap and a 7.5 inch reach advantage it’s hard to see this going the Canadian’s way.
Bahamondes has the power advantage with hands and even legs, so I think Bahamondes can use the reach and power to get a win in a fun back-and-forth fight. PICK – Ignacio Bahamondes via Knockout, Round 2
Norma Dumont (5-1) vs Erin Blanchfield (6-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An exciting debut for Erin Blanchfield as one of the biggest prospects in women’s MMA enters the UFC to take on Norma Dumont in the bantamweight division.
Dumont has gone 1-1 in her two-fight UFC career so far, losing at featherweight to Megan Anderson before winning a decision against Ashlee Evans-Smith at UFC Vegas 15 and will fight Blanchfield in a short-notice fight. Blanchfield is a natural flyweight fighting up a division in her debut due to the short notice.
Dumont will have a considerable size advantage, but Blanchfield is a really exciting jiu-jitsu practitioner. Her ground game is stunning and her striking is only improving as her last knockout win via head-kick showed, but Dumont is a good wrestler on her own accord. While Blanchfield is brilliant, it’s hard to overlook the size disparity especially considering ‘Cold Blooded’ uses her physicality so well at flyweight. It will be a tough debut for her, I think Dumont gets the win. PICK – Norma Dumont via Decision
Scott Holtzman (14-4) vs Mateusz Gamrot (17-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Gamrot is a very wrestling heavy fighter, whose bread and butter is to close distance and get the takedown to dominate from top position. Holtzman is more of a striker with good boxing skills and while his takedown defence is horrible, I can’t see him being able to hold off Gamrot’s attacks for long periods.
Holtzman has had wars in the past so his cardio isn’t really in question here, but those wars came against sub-par opposition which just adds to the concerns around the 37-year-old. Gamrot gets him down and grinds him out for a wide decision win. PICK – Mateusz Gamrot via Decision
Jim Miller (32-15) vs Joe Solecki (10-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The featured prelim bout plays host to some history this weekend as Jim Miller becomes the fighter with the most octagon appearances when he takes on Joe Solecki in the lightweight division.
Miller is now 37 and his explosiveness has depleted, which gives Solecki a big advantage if they get to the ground. The issue for both is that usually when two grapplers meet the fight will stay on the feet, where Miller probably has a slight edge. But with his cardio problems, the longer the fight goes the more it swings in the younger man’s favour and while Miller is probably good enough to avoid getting tapped out, Solecki is likely to dominate the majority of the bout for a decision win. PICK – Joe Solecki via Decision