The UFC returns to Las Vegas and the T-Mobile Arena for the return of the GOAT, as Jon Jones finally makes the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight to compete for the title against Ciryl Gane.
Jones is the consensus GOAT in MMA, but hasn’t fought in three years. He’ll take on Gane in the main event at heavyweight to crown the new undisputed champion, after Francis Ngannou left the company while still holding the belt.
In the co-main event we’ll also see Valentina Shevchenko defend her flyweight belt against Alexa Grasso, while household names like Shavkat Rakhmonov, Cody Garbrandt, Bo Nickal and Ian Garry also feature on the card.
Last time we predicted a whole card was UFC 284, and we went 8/12 on the night with two perfect picks (not including the draw) to move to 837/1299 (64.43%) with 342 perfect picks (40.86%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims.
Esteban Ribovics (11-0) vs Loik Radzhabov (16-4-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Two UFC debutants open up the card in a fun lightweight bout. Ribovics is an undefeated fighter who has a 100% finish rate, with those split pretty evenly at six knockouts and five submission wins. Radzhabov has won three of his last four, including a win over Zach Zane in Eagle FC most recently via first-round submission.
Ribovics is an explosive fighter with fantastic power and an aggressive mindset, using lots of volume and constantly coming forward. His takedown defence isn’t the greatest, but he uses a kimura from the bottom very well offensively. As for Radzhabov, he’s a suffocating grappler with fantastic wrestling and a smothering top game. He has had some cardio issues in the past too, but his experience should see him get the edge here.
Ribovics has only been in the cage for a little over 2 minutes in the last three years, so there could be a bit of rust but there could also be some great improvements that we haven’t seen yet. The experience of grappling should see him safe from the kimura, and he should be able to control enough on the ground to claim the win.
PICK – Loik Radzhabov via Decision
Da’Mon Blackshear (12-4-1) vs Farid Basharat (9-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger in the bantamweight division up next. Blackshear earned a draw in his UFC debut last time out against Youssef Zalal, which snapped a four-fight win streak. Basharat is an undefeated fighter, who earned a UFC contract with a decision win on the Contender Series back in September 2022.
Blackshear is a wrestler who has okay striking and decent choke submission skills on his resume, but this is a tough outing for him. Basharat is a fluid striker with excellent footwork, solid low kicks, great speed and cardio for days. It seems to me the only way he loses this fight is if his as-yet untested takedown defence is awful.
He’s well-rounded though and mostly is able to move in and out and land lots of strikes while accumulating damage and avoiding receiving any. He seems like the far more complete fighter of the two, so Basharat should claim a lopsided decision win.
PICK – Farid Basharat via Decision
Jessica Penne (14-7) vs Tabatha Ricci (7-1) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Baby shark returns to the cage to take on a veteran in this one. Penne saw a two-fight win streak, including an armbar win over Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 265, snapped last time out against Emily Ducote. Ricci on the other hand has won her last two in a row, beating Maria Oliveira and then Polyana Viana most recently.
Both these women are at their best when grappling on the inside, with Penne using her wrestling and Ricci trying to use her judo to win fights. Ricci is also a decent striker from range, using her reach and length to jab before looking to instigate the grappling. Penne will certainly try to grind her way to a win, but I think Ricci’s volume could be the difference.
Ricci has multiple avenues to takedowns and she’s more than capable of being able to grind out control on the ground and beginning to threaten with submissions. Penne has a size advantage which could help with her takedown attempts, but I’m going with youth on the scorecards on this occasion.
PICK – Tabatha Ricci via Decision
Mana Martinez (10-3) vs Cameron Saaiman (7-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Banger at bantamweight up next once again. Martinez has won four of his last five, with his only defeat in that run coming via decision against Ronnie Lawrence. He bounced back from that with a split decision win over Brandon Davis back in October. Saaiman is undefeated and claimed a win in his UFC debut last time out, knocking out Steven Koslow at UFC 282 back in December.
Both of these are in the sport to scrap, straight up. Both guys bring the violence in their fights, with Martinez having some terrifying power in his hands that have earned him eight knockouts from his ten career wins. Saaiman is a constant whirlwind of attacks who is more than happy to get hit to land out two himself. Defensively he leaves himself open a bit which should encourage Martinez to land one of those nasty shots he loves.
However, the same should have been said about Martinez’s fights against Guido Cannetti and even Ronnie Lawrence, except he just simply didn’t look anywhere near convincing. Saaiman’s style is suffocating, and he will step forward to cause as much damage as possible. Martinez has the opportunity the put his lights out throughout the rounds, but ultimately I expect he’ll fail to pull the trigger once again and Saaiman’s accumulative damage will earn him the win.
PICK – Cameron Saaiman via Knockout, Round 3
Ian Garry (10-0) vs Song Kenan (18-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very intriguing welterweight scrap closes out this section of the card. Garry is undefeated and has shone in his three UFC performances so far, claiming a KO over Jordan Williams before decision wins against Darian Weeks and Gabriel Green most recently. Kenan on the other hand comes into this having gone 2-2 in his last four, with losses to Alex Morono and Max Griffin and wins over Derrick Krantz and Callan Potter.
Garry is a really talented striker on the feet, with excellent kicks and brilliant hand speed to go with some power and countering instincts. Kenan is a bit of a bulldozer, coming forward and winging big punches in the hope that they land to put someone’s lights out while relying on his chin. Garry also has some really good grappling skills on the mat, and Kenan’s defensive grappling and takedown defence is quite clearly the biggest hole in his game.
Machado has looked good in his fights so far, but people are likely expecting a little bit more from him at this point. This is a chance for him to put on a show using his entire skillset and really make a statement, and I think a big knockout win awaits.
PICK – Ian Garry via Knockout, Round 2