The UFC returns to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 282 as they will crown a brand new undisputed light heavyweight champion when Jan Blachowicz takes on Magomed Ankalaev in the main event.
Originally a three-round co-main, former champion Jiri Prochazka was forced to withdraw from his rematch with Glover Teixeira and vacate his title after suffering a shoulder injury in training, which saw this fight bumped up to a title fight.
We’ll also see the UK’s own compete as Paddy Pimblett and Darren Till compete on the main card, while there is some deep prelim fights on the card too.
Last time out at UFC Orlando we had a shocking night, going 5/14 with just one perfect pick to move to 789/1227 (64.3%) with 325 perfect picks (41.19%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims and then moving on to the rest of the prelims here, we finish up with our main card picks now.
Bryce Mitchell (15-0) vs Ilia Topuria (12-0) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Arguably the fight of the night opens up the main card. Mitchell is a wrestling and submission specialist, undefeated professionally with decision wins over Charles Rosa, Andre Fili (UFC Vegas 12) and Edson Barboza in his last three. Topuria is a sensation too, also undefeated, with three consecutive KO wins against Damon Jackson (UFC Vegas 16), Ryan Hall (UFC 264) and a huge comeback against Jai Herbert last time out in London.
There may not be a more relentless and suffocating wrestler in the UFC than Mitchell, who grabs on to whatever he can get hold of and finds a away to take you to the mat. Once there he dominates the position and works for submissions, completely in control throughout. Topuria on the other hand is a stunning striker with great power and technique, but he is also a brilliant grappler himself with seven submission wins on his record. This is an incredible fight.
They are so well matched, both riding huge waves of momentum and both have pretty exciting styles. Both are supremely talented wherever this fight ends up, but Mitchell has fought the higher calibre of fighter. His win over Barboza is crazy good because he dominated on the feet and the mat and I’m not convinced Topuria is a better striker than Barboza is. With that said I’m leaning towards “Thug Nasty” to get the decision win, but don’t be surprised however this ends up.
PICK – Bryce Mitchell via Decision
Darren Till (18-4-1) vs Dricus Du Plessis (17-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A huge fight in the middleweight division once more on this card. Till has lost four of his last five, starting with a title fight loss to Tyron Woodley. He also lost to Jorge Masvidal, Robert Whittaker (UFC Fight Island 3) and Derek Brunson, but claimed a decision win over Kelvin Gastelum in the middle of that run. Du Plessis is 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Markus Perez (UFC Fight Island 5), Trevin Giles (UFC 264) and most recently Brad Tavares.
Till is a pure striker, with an unorthodox karate stance to go with his Muay-Thai striking skills and great power and speed. He’s also a black belt in jiu-jitsu, although we’ve never seen why, and he’s been working his grappling with the incredible Khamzat Chimaev in recent months too so it’s likely improved. Du Plessis is also a brilliant striker, with fantastic power in his punches and kicks and a wildly aggressive style. He pushes a hard pace and looks to take his opponent’s head off with every strike. Till is without a doubt the best striker he has ever faced though.
There’s no doubting that Till’s back is against the wall here and he needs a win, and there is a great opportunity for him. Du Plessis’ aggression leaves him open to be hit a lot and if Till lands flush he has the power to put you out. His movement is good too and countering is his best weapon. So long as he’s as sharp as we know he can be, Till counters Du Plessis with that bomb of a left hand and gets a career-saving win.
PICK – Darren Till via Knockout, Round 3
Alex Morono (22-7) vs Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-6) – (Catchweight/180lbs)
A short-notice catchweight bout up next. Morono is stepping in on a few days’ notice for Robbie Lawler while on a four-fight win streak, beating Matthew Semelsberger most recently at UFC 277. Ponzinibbio on the other hand has lost his last two, dropping razor thin decisions against Geoff Neal (UFC 269) and Michel Pereira most recently.
Morono is a power striker, who uses decent boxing combinations and a good mix of wrestling too to overwhelm his opponents with his cardio. Ponzinibbio is a sensational striker with excellent power in his hands and his kicks, as well as an iron chin and great combinations. The time away from the octagon saw Ponzinibbio lose his status as one of the guys, he’s still good enough to beat Morono for me.
Both of these guys will be amped, but the short-notice nature of it tells me Ponzinibbio will be able to push the pace more and try to overwhelm him with his pressure. If he can force Morono backwards against the cage and start throwing he should land enough and have enough moments to claim a win on the cards.
PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Paddy Pimblett (19-3) vs Jared Gordon (19-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A banger in the co-main event in the lightweight division. Pimblett has taken the UFC by storm since arriving, going 3-0 with three finishes against Luigi Vendramini, Kazula Vargas and Jordan Leavitt most recently. Gordon on the other hand has won four of his last five, losing to Grant Dawson via submission before bouncing back last time out with a decision win over Leonardo Santos.
Pimblett is a wild man, with fantastic ground skills when it comes to his jiu-jitsu and his submission skills, but his striking is decent too and he possesses good power. Gordon is a well-rounded fighter too with an excellent ground game himself, but he prefers to stand and strike and string combinations together. This is Pimblett’s biggest test to date in the UFC and this is not a gimme fight by any means.
On the feet I would say that Gordon has the edge. Pimblett is wild and leaves himself open to being clipped regularly sometimes, but when it comes to the ground Pimblett is the man with the advantage. He’s aggressive on the mat for submissions, his sweeps are excellent if he ends up on the bottom and he’s relentless when it comes to pressure. I don’t think Pimblett can secure the finish here, but he should be able to get enough control time on the mat and land enough on the feet to get another win.
PICK – Paddy Pimblett via Decision
Jan Blachowicz (29-9) vs Magomed Ankalaev (18-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Big time light heavyweight title fight up next in the main event. Blachowicz bounced back from losing the title to Glover Teixeira at UFC 267 with a win over Aleksandar Rakic in May, while Ankalaev extended his winning streak to nine in a row when he beat Anthony Smith via TKO back at UFC 277.
Blachowicz is a well-rounded fighter with fantastic power in his hands, but it’s his grappling where he really excels as he looks to use his size to wrestle opponents and control them on the mat. Ankalaev is a stunning striker with brilliant kickboxing skills, and his Dagestani background also means that he is a superb wrester and a master of Sambo fighting. Neither of these guys are particularly quick and their knockout power is prevalent but not their only route to victory.
It’s an interesting bout to analyse, but it would be very surprising if Ankalaev doesn’t claim the belt at this point in his career. He’s the better striker on the feet, his grappling is as good and he matches up well for size too, so it’s hard to see where Blachowicz can get the win. With that said, I’ve been wrong on Blachowicz before, but I expect a bit of a masterclass here from Ankalaev on the feet to claim a lopsided decision win.
PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Decision