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
Great start to the fight for Kasanganay as he comes forward to close the distance early and lands a nice right hand. Palatnikov throws a kick which Kasanganay catches and then he lands another big right hand before getting a body lock and taking Palatnikov down to the ground. Kasanganay using heavy top pressure but not landing much damage and Palatnikov is able to get back to his feet. Kasanganay goes for another takedown but Palatnikov defends it well and they clinch against the cage now. Palatnikov starts teeing off against the cage but Kasanganay does well to avoid any strikes and clinch up again. Nice left hand lands from Palatnikov at the end of the round but should be 10-9 Kasanganay.
Kasanganay comes out quickly in the second round and lands a big right hand that drops Palatnikov! He forces the takedown with pure power and scrambles to take his neck. He locks in a rear-naked choke and squeezes, forcing Palatnikov to tap out! Big win for Kasanganay!
Da-Un Jung def William Knight via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 30-27)
Reserved start from both fighters as Knight comes out throwing low calf kicks to prevent Jung from letting his jab fly. Knight goes in for a takedown and lifts Jung but he defends it well, switches the position and is able to get a throw perfectly to end up in top position. Knight is landing some nice right hands from the bottom as he holds Jung in place, but Jung fires back with a couple of right hands of his own to shut that down. Jung passes into half guard and tries to move into side control but Knight sweeps him really well and explodes back onto his feet. Knight clinches up once again and Jung is able to get the same trip once more to get back in top position. Some decent ground and pound from Jung as Knight looks quite tired now but he’s able to explode to his feet again as the round ends. 10-9 Jung.
Knight comes out throwing lots of low kicks once again, but Jung is backing him up to the cage and looking to hunt him down. Both guys land a nice right hand each before Knight shoots in for a takedown. Jung defends it, clinches up and then lands the same outside trip once again to take top position and starts landing ground and pound against the cage. Knight tries to get to his feet but Jung stays heavy and drags him down to the mat once more, then takes his back and sinks in both hooks. Jung starts raining down punches and Knight is trying to explode out again rather than use technique. Knight is just surviving right now and Jung continues to smash him up from his back on top. Lots of damage but Knight survives the round. Could easily be a 10-8 round. 20-17 Jung.
Jung comes forward early in the final round and Knight has abandoned the leg kicks and is throwing bombs. Jung lands a nice uppercut, then switches levels and gets a big takedown! Knight explodes to his feet again but Jung is able to drag and throw Knight back to the mat with relative ease. Jung floats through the positions and ends up in side control, landing knees to the body and just completely dominating all the exchanges in this fight. Jung stays busy from top position on the ground landing damage for the rest of the fight for a very comfortable win. 30-26 Jung.
Luis Saldana def Jordan Griffin via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Really good start to the fight for Saldana as he comes out with his hands low and is throwing quick kicks to the legs and body. Saldana throws a night three punch combo that clips Griffin, who shoots in for a takedown and gets it but Saldana gets back up very quickly. More leg kicks from Saldana take Griffin off his feet but he keeps coming forward and lands two big punches as he rushes forward and goes in for a takedown again. Saldana defends well against the cage and they break, but Griffin stays in his face and keeps throwing big punches. He keeps pouring punches and then eventually gets the takedown, but Saldana is able to roll through and escape before Griffin gets a headlock and looks for some sort of bulldog choke. Saldana is able to escape and Griffin charges once again and just misses with a big head-kick before the round ends. Very close, but I go 10-9 Griffin.
Slower start to the round from both guys as Saldana comes out again looking for low kicks and front kicks to the body, but Griffin pressures him again. Saldana slips as he throws a kick and Griffin jumps on top. Saldana looks for an armbar and then switches to a heel hook to create space which gets both guys back up. Saldana jumps on the neck of Griffin looking for a guillotine, but Griffin is calm and escapes before getting the fight back down. He starts looking for a bulldog choke again but Saldana escapes it only for Griffin to continue with his pressure and get back into a dominant position. Griffin starts floating and then takes the back and sinks in a rear naked choke deep but he runs out of time so we’re going to the final round. 20-18 Griffin.
Saldana comes out in the final round and knows he needs a finish. He’s trying to stay out of wrestling range, using punches rather than kicks to avoid being taken down but he looks exhausted. Griffin isn’t exactly fresh himself but he’s coming forward still but doing enough to stay out of range. Saldana looks to kick off the cage with a superman punch but just misses with that and the follow up hook, before Griffin shoots in for a tired takedown against the cage. Saldana defends it well and switches the position around but Griffin gets his arm under the chin and looks for a rear-naked choke! Saldana stays calm and escapes and ends up on top with 90 seconds to go. Saldana is able to take the back of Griffin for a split second, but Griffin then switches around and finishes the round on top looking for a submission. Probably a Saldana round but should be a win for Griffin. 29-28.
Jack Shore def Hunter Azure via Split Decision (30-27 x2, 28-29)
Composed start to the bout from both men as they feel each other out with jabs and low kicks before they both clinch up against the cage. Shore looking like the stronger fighter as they battle for position and he gets a body lock in nicely and picks Azure up and sweeps the legs for a takedown. Azure gets back up quickly but Shore keeps the hands locked and continues to drag Azure around. Shore tries to take the back but Azure drops to his knees and counters by turning into Shore’s guard. Shore kicks off the hips to get back to his feet quickly before Azure can do any damage and they clinch against the cage again before separating. Both men throw a simultaneous kick that makes for a big thud before a nice high kick lands from Shore. Azure looks for a takedown against the cage but Shore defends and the round ends. 10-9 Shore.
Fast start from Azure in the second round as he goes straight in for a clinch against the cage and lands some nice knees to the body and thighs. Shore is patient and eventually gets back up and catches a kick from Azure and lands a right hand that drops Azure. Azure gets back up quickly though and Shore looks for a clinch against the takedown before going for a takedown of his own. He shoots in and Azure looks for a guillotine which forces Shore to abandon and go to his back to escape, but Azure ends up on top in half guard. Shore uses his long legs and hips really well to get back up to the feet and the clinch continues against the cage once again. Accidental low blow from Azure causes a short pause in the action but they clinch again when they resume. Azure lands a nice right hand when they separate and then lands a good right hook but Shore starts landing some strikes of his own too. Azure lands a big right hand clean but Shore responds with an uppercut as the round ends. Very close round, probably in Azure’s favour. 19-19.
Azure goes straight in for a takedown at the start of the third but Shore stuffs it well and starts working off his jab from the outside. Azure changes levels to avoid a right hand and goes for a single leg, but Shore defends it brilliantly once again against the cage. Stiff low kick from Shore and then a nice left hook lands that stings Azure, who shoots for a takedown quickly after but is denied. Shore stuffs another attempt and then takes Azure down himself, landing some short punches against the cage and leaning all his weight on Azure to drag him back down. He looks to take Azure’s back and then moves into mount, switching between both positions. Azure is able to get back to his feet but Shore keeps hold of him and is able to take him down once again as we enter the final 90 seconds. Azure scrambles and rolls through to escape Shore’s grip and ends up on top and looks to land ground and pound but Shore defends brilliantly and then escapes a rear naked choke attempt to see out the round. Should be a win for Shore, 29-28.
Jarjis Danho def Yorgan De Castro via Knockout, Round 1 (3:02)
Slow start to the fight for both guys as they throw some leg kicks and circle each other. Danho throwing more and more leg kicks but not much action in the first two minutes. Danho looks to clinch up but De Castro throws him off and lands a big left hand that wobbles Danho! He comes forward with more punches but Danho avoids and goes for a takedown. The two separate and De Castro continues to come forward, then both men throw big right hands and Danho lands on the side of the head and puts De Castro’s lights out!! He lands one more on the ground but it’s all over! What a knockout!
John Makdessi def Ignacio Bahamondes via Split Decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
Bahamondes using his length well very early on, with long jabs and front kicks. Bahamondes doing really well to mix up his attacks, landing leg kicks, jabs, straight rights, body shots and kicks while changing up his stance constantly. Makdessi just can’t get a read right now as Bahamondes keeps moving. Makdessi lands a big right hand that makes Bahamondes do the chicken dance and he pushes on for the finish, but Bahamondes clinches up to try and recover. Bahamondes now is trying to stay away and land from range but Makdessi continues to pour on the pressure. Bahamondes goes for a takedown against the cage but Makdessi defends it well. Bahamondes lands a couple of elbows on the break and they exchange strikes again as the round ends. That’s a really close round could go either way. I go Makdessi for the damage.
Bahamondes seems to have recovered now as he comes out popping his jab once again and circling on the outside. Makdessi taking the centre and looking to catch Bahamondes on his way in, but it’s not working too well for him just yet. Three jabs in a row land for Makdessi who returns with a big left hand of his own. Bahamondes lands a big straight left then misses with a few kicks before shooting in for a takedown, but Makdessi defends it with ease. Bahamondes starts throwing some knees against the cage before they separate and go back to trading straight punches. Both guys trading jabs and straights and landing, then Bahamondes lands a huge spinning heel kick to the head but Makdessi eats it. Makdessi responds with two body shots and a short left hook to the chin then lands a clean one two. Another super close round, I’ve got it even.
Third round following the pattern of the previous two, with Bahamondes landing from range but Makdessi standing firm in the middle and popping him back too. Bahamondes lands some nice jabs but Makdessi keeps landing the straight right and left jab in response. Bahamondes looks for a big knee that just misses and then he shoots in for a takedown to mix it up. Makdessi stuffs it and lands a nice right hand, before Bahamondes starts pouring on pressure and lands a big one-two. Bahamondes lands another nice left hand that sends Makdessi backwards but they continue to stand in a phonebox and trade for the remainder of the round in what was a brilliant fight. Another very close round, I don’t know how to call it. 29-28 either way, I lean to Bahamondes.
Mateusz Gamrot def Scott Holtzman via Knockout, Round 2 (1:22)
Good start to the round from both guys, with Gamrot looking to land from range to set up his takedowns while Holtzman is looking to counter with heavy punches. Gamrot steps in for a takedown and grabs the leg and tries to go for a heel hook but Holtzman defends it well. Gamrot lands a nice left but Holtzman responds with a huge left hand on his way in! Gamrot responds with a couple of left hands again and then goes for single leg again and transitions to a double leg to get the takedown against the cage. Gamrot allows him back up and throws a huge elbow to the ear that wobbles Holtzman towards the end of the round. 10-9 Gamrot.
Holtzman comes out very aggressive and starts walking Gamrot down, but he’s loading up his attacks with big uppercuts and overhands. Gamrot moving side to side to stay out of the way and he throws a big one two down the middle which folds Holtzman! He jumps on and lands a couple more shots before the referee gets in and waves it off. Huge win for Gamrot!
Joe Solecki def Jim Miller via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Very positive start from Solecki as he looks to be first in the striking exchanges between the two, but Miller just misses with his big left hand. Nice calf kick lands from Miller but Solecki is coming forward and landing nice short flurries of punches. Big right hand lands and forces Miller to think twice but then the veteran lands a nice body kick. Solecki shoots in for a takedown but Miller stuffs it and ends up on top, so Solecki goes into full guard and starts defending. Miller is landing some nice short elbows from the top position and stacking Solecki up to prevent him from being able to get back to his feet easily. Miller misses with an elbow as the rounds ends, probably a Miller round because of the top control. 10-9 Miller.
Solecki comes out aggressive in the second round and lands a nice right hand before shooting in for the takedown. Miller looks to defend it but Solecki takes the legs from under him and moves into full guard. Now it’s Solecki looking to stack Miller against the cage and throw some ground and pound, but Miller is staying busy from his back too. A few body shots from Solecki as he looks to wear Miller down heading into the final 90 seconds of the round. Not much action in this round but Solecki controlled it and takes the round. 19-19 going into the final round.
Both men see the route to victory as being on top and so immediately they both move into a clinch position. Solecki the physically stronger guy right now and gets a body lock, which Miller tries to roll through from but Solecki holds on and ends up on top once again. Solecki throwing short shots on the ground from half guard but Miller is trying to get back to his feet now rather than accepting the position. Solecki doing really well to control the position now and just doing enough damage to stop the fight from being stood back up. Solecki maintains the position for the rest of the round to secure what should be a straight forward decision win.
Daniel Rodriguez def Mike Perry via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 30-26)
Tense start to this one with both men respecting the power of their opponent early on. Perry throws a few le kicks and Rodriguez is throwing his jab well and has already busted up the nose. Rodriguez throws a big one-two down the middle that staggers Perry but he continues to come forward to look for a finish. Rodriguez is landing big one-twos at will and Perry is getting pieced up, so he changes levels and powers through with a takedown. He lifts Rodriguez up and slams him down but Rodriguez holding on for a guillotine which Perry does well to defend against and avoid. Perry stays in top position and works for some ground and pound to see the round out. Perry still in it, but that’s a Rodriguez round for me. 10-9.
Second round and Rodriguez is doing really well on the feet, with his jab landing at will and the left hand following up behind it cleanly too. Perry is throwing some nice leg kicks and is just struggling to be first with the punches because of the range difference. Perry gets a body lock and looks for a takedown which he gets, then tries to transition onto Rodriguez’s back, but Rodriguez does well to stay strong and get back up pretty quickly. Rodriguez continues to land the jab and left straight at will, but Perry is still standing in front of him and throwing shots of his own. Big right hook, left hand from Rodriguez lands clean. Perry comes forward looking for a takedown with 20 seconds to go but Rodriguez defends it well to claim the round again. 20-18 Rodriguez.
Final round and the pattern continues, as Rodriguez lines up the jab and takes the centre of the cage. Perry is struggling to land anything of note because he keeps getting pummelled every time he tries to go first. Perry shoots for a takedown but Rodriguez denies it again and shrugs him off in the clinch. Rodriguez throws three huge left hands in an exchange but Perry is still taking the punishment and trying to come forward. Perry’s face is so busted up right now and at this point it’s just about not getting finished as Rodriguez shoots in for a takedown but Perry stuffs it to see the round out with a big exchange. 30-27 Rodriguez, excellent performance.
Fast start to the fight from Dern as she charges forward throwing big punches with a couple landing but Nunes responds with a couple of her own. Dern charges forward again and lands a nice left hand, but Nunes throws a good right hand to counter it too. Dern shoots in for a takedown against the cage and lifts the leg high then sweeps the standing leg and dumps her down. She immediately works to advance the position and threatens with a leg attack to pass into half guard. From half guard she quickly moves into mount and starts raining down elbows from the top. She transitions into an armbar position and despite Nunes’ best attempts to defend it, Dern extends the arm and gets the tap out.
Julian Marquez def Sam Alvey via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2 (2:07)
Pretty tame opening to the round as Marquez takes the centre early and looks to figure out his range by flicking out his lead hand. Neither men throw anything really for the first two minutes barring a couple of missed hooks. Alvey is loading up big with his left hand and it’s allowing Marquez to avoid it well. Marquez lands a big right hook clean and Alvey is hurt. Marquez goes in again and lands two more that drops Alvey but he falls into Marquez and quickly recovers. Two more big right hands land from Marquez but Alvey just about stays standing and now throws a huge left of his own. Alvey is all the way back against the cage and just trying to hit Marquez on his way in but he’s missing wildly. 10-9 Marquez at the end of the round.
More of the same in the second round as Marquez backs Alvey up and lands a nice body shot, but Alvey explodes forward and lands a nice right hand of his own. Marquez throws an overhand right that lands clean on Alvey’s chin but he’s still there throwing his own heat. Marquez lands a huge right hand that drops Alvey and he goes all in for the finish with big strikes. Alvey looks to defend with a takedown but he’s eating big shots. Marquez abandons the strikes and goes for a rear-naked choke and puts Alvey to sleep for the win. Great performance.
Arnold Allen def Sodiq Yusuff via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start for Allen as Yusuff comes forward and throws a body kick which he catches and immediately gets a takedown. Yusuff does well to defend well against the cage and hooks up a guillotine choke that forces Allen to roll to his back and abandon the takedown attempt. Yusuff comes forward and is chopping away at the leg of Allen, but both men are throwing heat. Allen lands a big left hand but Yusuff keeps coming and clinches up. Allen lands a big left hand that drops Yusuff and he moves in to take top position but Yusuff does well to recover and avoid further damage. Allen goes for a takedown against the cage but it’s defended well and the round comes to an end with a nice exchange in the centre. 10-9 Allen.
Yusuff continues to push the pace and pressuring forward, but Allen is threatening with the big left hand once again. Yusuff lands some nice chopping leg kicks again and Yusuff is starting to land with his jab. He’s starting to touch Allen more and more, then Allen throws a huge head-kick that rocks him! Allen slips as it lands but he jumps back up and goes to land some ground and pound, but Yusuff recovers well once again and they get back to competing in the middle. Clinch against the cage and Allen is physically stronger and able to dictate the position more, and he sees out the round in control. 20-18 Allen.
Good start from Allen as he looks to back Yusuff up to the cage with his physicality and shoot for takedowns, but Yusuff refusing to accept it and defending really well. He switches the position on the cage and lands some nice knees to the body of Allen before they separate and go back into the centre. Lots of short exchanges and clinch work against the cage for the rest of the round as Yusuff arguably takes the round but it won’t be enough for a win. 29-28 Allen for me, very competitive fight.
Marvin Vettori def Kevin Holland via Unanimous Decision (50-44 x3)
Holland makes a fast start throwing some leg kicks and big right hands but early on he lands a low blow to cause a pause in the action. Vettori comes in tight for the clinch after the action resumes, but Holland is striking from range and lands a heavy right hand. Vettori finally gets a body lock and clinch against the cage to start wearing on Holland, but he defends the attempted trip well which forces Vettori to change to a double leg. Holland defends it well again and Vettori separates, but he’s right in Holland’s face and applying lots of pressure. Vettori is able to drag Holland down to the ground, but Holland starts throwing up-kicks to try and create space to get up to his feet. Vettori is able to get full guard and starts applying lots of pressure and looking to land ground and pound. Holland is able to roll through and gets back to the feet, but then eats a big left hand. Good first round from both, very close to score. 10-9 Vettori for me but could go either way.
Holland comes out fast once again and lands some sharp punches and straight kicks but Vettori is trying to close the distance earlier this time. Holland lands a big one-two but Vettori eats it, slips a shot and then shoots in for another takedown against the cage. He gets him down quickly this time and avoids the guillotine attempt to go into full guard and land big ground and pound strikes. Vettori starts stacking Holland against the cage and raining down strikes, completely dominant. Holland tries to kick out of it but Vettori controls the position well and gets right back to work with the ground and pound from the top position. More strikes from Vettori opens up a cut on Holland’s face and he tries to scramble out but Vettori just controls his position even once Holland gets back to his feet to end the round. 20-17.
Holland’s left eye is closing up but he’s battling on and Vettori comes out like a freight train and looks to go straight for the takedown again. He gets it quickly and then moves into mount almost immediately. He looks to set up an arm triangle submission and locks it in tight, but Holland doesn’t tap and is able to escape from the bottom to get back up to his feet. Vettori goes straight back for the takedown again but Holland does well to avoid it. Holland lands a couple of nice strikes standing but then once again Vettori changes levels, clinches against the cage and controls the position. Holland lands a couple of huge strikes that seem to wobble Vettori a little but the buzzer goes. 30-26 Vettori.
Big early left hand lands at the start of the fourth for Vettori, but Holland responds with a couple of big hooks of his own. Vettori shoots in for a takedown and gets it down pretty easily once again and goes straight into full guard to land some ground and pound. Vettori looks to stack Holland who rolls through to avoid it and gets back to full guard. Holland is able to get back to the feet after a short scramble but very quickly Vettori is able to drag him back down and goes straight into mount. He looks for the arm triangle submission again, but Holland stays calm and takes it back to half guard. Vettori lands some heavy strikes and then goes back into full guard before passing into half guard again. Vettori tries to stack him and Holland starts throwing up-kicks again but Vettori is just too strong and sees out the round on top. 40-35 Vettori.
Holland still looks fresh and lands a bomb of a right hand that gets Vettori’s attention, so the Italian changes levels and gets the takedown immediately and goes into full guard. Holland kicks off the cage and finds a way to get back to the feet but once again Vettori just locks his hands, finds an angle and drags him back down to the mat. Vettori steps over into half guard and starts throwing some more ground and pound with Holland fighting off his back. Vettori steps over into mount once again looking to set up the arm triangle choke, but Holland explodes back up to his feet. Vettori holds the body lock once again though and drags the fight to the mat again with 40 seconds to go and he sees the round out in control. 50-44 Vettori, pure domination.
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 start with the early prelims section here.
Impa Kasanganay (8-1) vs Sasha Palatnikov (6-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
After being on the wrong end of the 2020 knockout of the year, Impa Kasanganay returns to the octagon and moves down to welterweight to take on Sasha Palatnikov.
Palatnikov’s win was impressive for sure, but it largely came thanks to his opponents completely running out of gas in their bout allowing him to take over. He will not get that joy against Kasanganay, who can fight hard for 15 minutes with no issues. Palatnikov has a good kickboxing style but also has good takedowns, something that Kasanganay has the wrestling skills to shut down. He’s yet to win a fight in his career via knockout despite good power in his hands, but Kasanganay has all the tools to get back on the winning trail here. PICK – Impa Kasanganay via Decision
Da-Un Jung (13-2-1) vs William Knight (9-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fun light heavyweight bout between two prospects in the division looking to remain unbeaten in the UFC.
Knight is an okay wrestler and a not-so great striker, while Jung is certainly a better stand-up fighter of the two. Jung has tremendous power as he has shown with ten KO wins in his career and good takedown defence. Knight is very physical and is able to wear opponents down, but Jung has a size advantage and is the better striker so I think he is able to get the finish by catching Knight at the end of his strikes. PICK – Da-Un Jung via Knockout, Round 2
Luis Saldana (14-6) vs Jordan Griffin (18-8) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A UFC debut for Saldana as he takes on Jordan Griffin in the featherweight division. Saldana has won his last four fights in a row to earn this opportunity, while Griffin has lost three of his last four including his most recent fight against Youssef Zalal at UFC Vegas 4 back in June.
Saldana and Griffin are both very good, well rounded fighters who have lots of submission wins on their records. Saldana is arguably a better striker of the two, but he has a habit of jumping for submissions which could end up with Griffin on top which is where he’s at his best. Saldana has a great jab and some good kicks, but Griffin is a vet who knows all about grinding out wins if needed.
Griffin will look to close distance and get a takedown to work his top game, but Saldana will take lots of encouragement from Zalal’s joy against Griffin back in June. It’s a super close fight and both are evenly matched up, but I expect Griffin to use that vital experience just to grind out a close decision win. PICK – Jordan Griffin via Decision
Hunter Azure (9-1) vs Jack Shore (13-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger at bantamweight between two hot prospects as Hunter Azure looks to make it consecutive wins against the undefeated Jack Shore.
Shore is a tremendous grappler coming out of Wales, with eight of his 13 career wins coming by submission. Azure is a great wrestler himself, with fantastic top control which makes him very hard to move once he gets on top of you. Both guys will come forward to lock up, but for as long as the fight is on the feet it’s Azure who has the advantage. Because of that, Shore will have the edge when it comes to getting the bout to the ground which means he has a huge edge.
Azure has suspect cardio and with Shore’s gruelling style designed to tire an opponent out before choking them out, I can’t see anything but exactly that happening again. PICK – Jack Shore via Submission, Round 3
Tagir Ulanbekov def Bruno Silva via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Really fun first round here as both men come out swinging heavy blows. Silva works on the leg with some big calf kicks and Ulanbekov looks to counter it with his range and big punches. Both men land heavy shots throughout the round and Ulanbekov does score a takedown at one point but doesn’t land much damage while down there. Silva did more damage in the round, but it’s super close. 10-9 Silva for me.
Another thrilling round as Ulanbekov avoids the leg kicks for the most part and pops the jab to secure some dominance. He’s landing the jab and countering the leg kicks that do come with a big right hand that opens up a cut under Silva’s eye. A nice takedown where he lands some damage but a scramble gets them back up. Good round, frantic pace. 19-19.
More jabs and more control from Ulanbekov in the final round as he establishes more control. Silva is throwing haymakers but Ulanbekov countering with strikes of his own. Takedown attempts are generally denied by Silva and there are several scrambles to keep everyone on their toes. Ulanbekov continues to land nice jabs and avoid leg kicks and despite a late flurry from Silva, he should take the win here.
Tracy Cortez def Stephanie Egger via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
A competitive first round between the two ladies as Cortez does well with the striking before then jumping into a takedown and controlling the fight on the ground. Egger does well to eventually get back up but Cortez really controlling where the fight takes place and what happens there too. 10-9 Cortez.
A very active second round for Cortez once again here as she lands some nice shots again before landing a takedown. She lands some heavy ground and pound but then gets rocked by an up-kick by Egger! She jumps on Cortez’s back and tries to sink in a rear-naked choke but Cortez does well to shake her off and get back on top. More heavy ground and pound and she takes the back too to land more damage and control the rest of the round. Great performance so far from her. 20-18 Cortez.
Final round and it’s more of the same from Cortez. Egger tries to push forward for a takedown of her own but Cortez defends it well and lands some nice strikes. She defends really well against the cage again to deny the takedown before spinning out and landing a trip of her own to take the back. From there on out she controls the rest of the round with ground and pound and should earn a comfortable win. 30-27 Cortez.
Giga Chikadze def Omar Morales via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
A competitive opening round between these two featherweights. Giga Chikadze throwing lots of kicks to maintain distance and range but Morales is retaliating with haymakers. Chikadze keeps with the body kick that lands beautifully but Morales continues to come forward. Good pressure and a good pace for the Georgian. 10-9 Chikadze.
Second round is more of the same as Chikadze throws nice kicks again to try and maintain distance but Morales coming forward with hooks, overhands and jabs. Some leg kicks from Chikadze cause a big lump on the front of Morales’ leg and he’s struggling to move too freely on it but both guys continue to put everything into their strikes as the second round closes. 20-18 Chikadze.
Final round and Morales marches forward to close the distance early. Chikadze unable to set his feet too well and is moving around well but lots of jabs landing but big punches missing the target. Chikadze throws a huge straight right that lands flush and knocks Morales down! He jumps on him and looks for ground and pound to finish the fight but Morales defends well to avoid the majority of the strikes and manages to get back to his feet. Chikadze desperate for the finish starts throwing axe kicks, superman punches and even a rolling lariat kick but he doesn’t quite get it. 30-27 Chikadze.
Tony Kelley def Ali AlQaisi via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
A very fun round! AlQaisi gets an early takedown and lands lots of knees to the body before a scramble. AlQaisi gets a nice trip but Kelley sinks in a deep triangle and attacks the the arm too for the second half of the round. AlQaisi is tough and Kelley extends the arm fully but he refuses to tap out! The round comes to an end, crazy round. 10-9 Kelley.
Kelley comes out in the second round a bit more aggressive, looking to take the centre again and throw strikes. AlQaisi moves for a takedown but Kelley blocks well, then AlQaisi steps forward and eats a huge knee! Kelley lands a right straight too and pounces on top looking to finish the fight but AlQaisi does well to avoid it and get back up in a clinch. AlQaisi secures a trip of his own and ends up on top looking for ground and pound before looking for another guillotine to finish the round. Tough round but 20-18 Kelley for me.
Immediate takedown for AlQaisi to open the round but Kelley gets straight back up. Another clash and Kelley lands that huge knee again to drop AlQaisi! Big punches as he tries to put him away but AlQaisi survives again. Kelley looks to sink in a submission but he never gets the chance to really lock it up. AlQaisi gets back to his feet and lands a beautiful spinning back-fist flush on the chin! Kelley stays standing though and lands a low blow accidentally. A short pause and they get back to with Kelley taking the centre and the two exchanging wild swings before the buzzer. 30-27 Kelley but a great fight.
Joaquin Buckley def Impa Kasanganay via Knockout, Round 2 (2:03)
What a fight this is! Both men come out with bombs and Buckley is getting the better of the shots. Big hooks land and back Kasanganay up against the cage but he throws huge shots back and connects too. Big uppercut from Buckley lands right on the eye but neither man goes backwards at all. Buckley lands a takedown and throws some vicious elbows but Kasanganay gets back to his feet well and lands a nice knee up the middle that knocks the mouthguard out of Buckley’s mouth. Fun first round. 10-9 Buckley.
Second round is much of the same with both men throwing heavy shots looking to take each other’s heads off. Kasanganay marches forward then throws a knee and Buckley responds with a head kick. Kasanganay catches the kick but Buckley, with his foot still in Kasanganay’s hand, spins and throws a spin kick with his other foot into the face and gets a violent knockout!! WOW! Knockout of the year!
Chris Daukaus def Rodrigo Nascimento via Knockout, Round 1 (0:45)
That was quick! Chris Daukaus steps forward and lands a bomb of a right hand that instantly hurts Nascimento. He lands some big ground and pound and is clearly hurting Nascimento with the power and speed. Nascimento gets back up but a big one-two lands again that drops him and the referee stops it. Hugely impressive knockout win.
Tom Breese def KB Bhullar via Knockout, Round 1 (1:42)
Tom Breese is back! He starts the fight with a snapping jab to the chin, Bhullar starts countering with leg kicks. Breese lands a beautiful left hook into the jaw of Bhullar who’s rocked but Breese keeps calm. He steps forward and lands another big jab that drops Bhullar and then some ground and pound gets the referee to stop the fight. Big win for Breese!
Illia Topuria def Youssef Zalal via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Zalal comes out and is bouncing around the octagon with movement to stay away from the takedown attempts that are inevitably on the way. Topuria steps forward with nice jabs and then finally shoots, clinches up and throws Zalal over his head for a lovely suplex takedown. Topuria immediately jumps into mount and looks to sink in several submission attempts but Zalal survives them all as the buzzer goes. 10-9 Topuria.
The second round starts with Zalal looking for a takedown against the cage but Topuria defends himself perfectly well and then secures a trip of his own to take the fight down. More submission attempts from Topuria again but Zalal showing his jiu-jitsu chops to defend everything well but he looks tired and out of ideas on the feet. 20-18 Topuria.
Final round and an immediate takedown from the Spaniard gets him back in control. Scrambles and attacks on the ground see Topuria take Zalal’s back but once again the Moroccan defends multiple submission attempts. Back to the feet with a minute to go and both men are now exhausted. Zalal comes forward with some nice punches but Topuria shoots and gets another takedown to see out the fight. 30-27 for me.
Tom Aspinall def Alan Baudot via Knockout, Round 1 (1:35)
Both men come out swinging big, heavy shots nice and early. Baudot throws some spinning attacks that miss wildly as Aspinall just waits out for the right moment. He rushes him against the cage with a front kick to the thigh and then lands two big short right hands to the jaw of Baudot. He changes levels and gets a takedown straight into mount and pours on some heavy ground and pound with elbows. Baudot curls up in a ball and the referee stops the fight. Another quick win for the Brit.
Dricus Du Plessis def Markus Perez via Knockout, Round 1 (3:22)
Perez storms out across the octagon and pressurises the debutant immediately, suffocating him against the cage. Du Plessis throwing lots of leg kicks but Perez eating them and returns a solid body kick of his own. Du Plessis throwing lots of volume but not landing much of anything significant as he continues to throw leg kicks. He rushes across with a combo but misses them all and both fighters end up against the cage. Perez tries for a back elbow and Du Plessis lands a short left hook to the side of the head that drops Perez! He lands two big shots while Perez is down and the referee waves it off. Huge debut win fo Du Plessis!
Marcin Tybura def Ben Rothwell via Unanimous Decision (29-27 x3)
A straight up slug fest of an opening round between these two heavyweights. Rothwell comes out with punches in bunches and lots of forward pressure, almost forcing Tybura to just cover up and take them. He moves around well and starts landing some of his own shots but both guys basically sitting in a phone box and swinging. Great entertainment. 10-9 Rothwell.
Second round is more of the same but at a bit of a slower pace. Rothwell has lost the pop he had in the first round but is still coming forward and landing short hooks and straights, while Tybura is landing kicks and jabs well. Tybura landing heavy shots on a very tired Rothwell now but he continues to march forward and bite down on his mouthpiece. Into the final round! 19-19.
Tybura comes out in the third round as the much fresher fighter and starts picking Rothwell apart using his speed and jab. Rothwell is still throwing heavy shots but Tybura using his footwork and head movement to make him miss and lands a lovely uppercut against the cage. Another flurry from Rothwell but again Tybura avoids and this time he changes levels and secures a takedown. Tybura gains the top position and goes to work with the ground and pound. Completely dominant third round and a big win for the Pole. 29-27 for me.
A very tentative start to the fight from both guys as then just circle the outside of the octagon trying to make reads and make their opponent bit on feints. Barboza throws a nice body kick, Amirkhani responds with a nice jab. Takedown attempt by Amirkhani is well defended by Barboza who separates immediately and breaks away. Barboza throws a body kick but Amirkhani catches it and takes Barboza down with 5 seconds of the round left. That probably steals the round too. 10-9 Amirkhani.
Second round begins and it’s still pretty tentative between the two. Barboza throws a nice leg kick but lots of feints and reads. Barboza throws a beautiful right straight that drops Amirkhani! He looks for the ground and pound but Amirkhani survives and pops back up to his feet. Barboza feinting again and lands the exact same shot again and gets another knockdown! He goes for the ground and pound again but this time he tries to wrap up an anaconda choke but Amirkhani breaks out of it. Final seconds of the round and Amirkhani lands another takedown to close it out but that’s a Barboza round. 19-19 at best for Amirkhani. 20-17 at worst.
Final round and Amirkhani comes out firing looking for a takedown early. He powers through after an initial good bit of defence from Barboza and stacks him up against the cage. Now he’s raining down ground and pound but Barboza moving well off his back to avoid all the damage. The referee stands the fighters back up bemusingly and Barboza lands a big left hand to the head. The fight ends with both men raising their arms but there’s only one winner here. Barboza back in the W column.
Cory Sandhagen def Marlon Moraes via Knockout, Round 2 (1:03)
A combative and intense opening round as both fighters look to take control early on. They trade leg kicks with Moraes throwing overhand rights to counter the rangier Sandhagen. Both guys taking it in turns to step forward and initiate the attacks. Spinning back fists from both guys too and then a nice one-two combo from Sandhagen is followed up with a solid body kick. Sandhagen throws another one but Moraes catches it and drags the fight to the ground as the round ends. 10-9 Moraes but it’s a very close, competitive fight so far.
Second round comes out and lots of feinting and leg kicks from Sandhagen. Out of nowhere Sandhagen shouts out to the commentators that Moraes’ orbital bone might be broken. More leg kicks and Moraes flies in with heavy hooks that miss wildly. Sandhagen throws a spinning wheel kick that lands on the top of the head and drops Moraes! Sandhagen pounces on top and lands ground and pound before the referee waves it off. What a finish! What a win!
Last weekend we secured 7/11 correct picks with four perfect picks (winner, method, round) so we’ll look to carry on the good run with this card.
Ali AlQaisi (8-4) vs Tony Kelley (6-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
After a five-fight win streak to enter the UFC, Ali AlQaisi dropped a decision in his UFC debut back in August against Irwin Rivera. Kelley made his UFC debut in August also, following a win after a three year layoff. He took on Kai Kamaka III and was also beaten via decision, but that bout came at featherweight. With a cut down to bantamweight, the big question mark for this fight is whether or not his gas tank holds up. Other than that, Kelley outclasses AlQaisi in every aspect of the fight so if the weight cut goes well I expect a comfortable victory for the Team AlphaMale fighter. PICK – Tony Kelley via Unanimous Decision
Impa Kasangnay (8-0) vs Joaquin Buckley (10-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Two Contender Series products coming off quick turnarounds of differing fortunes from their UFC debuts. Kasanganay fought Maki Pitolo just two weeks after his win on the Contender Series and outclassed his opponent to a decision win on his debut. Buckley didn’t have such luck, taking on Kevin Holland just a week after his Contender Series win but suffering a knockout loss in the third round. It’s an interesting bout because of these guys have explosive power and good movement, but Kasanganay just has a bit more to his game. He’s got the length advantage and a great jab and he’s a naturally bigger guy too with Buckley fighting a lot of his career at 170lbs. Overall it will be a fun watch but I’m backing Kasanganay to take the decision. PICK – Impa Kasanganay via Unanimous Decision
Rodrigo Nascimento (8-0) vs Chris Daukaus (9-3) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Right, fireworks time. The big boys face off in this bout as Chris Daukaus returns to the octagon following his knockout win back at UFC 252 against Parker Porter, while Rodrigo Nascimento also looks for back-to-back wins following his submission win against Don’Tale Mayes in May. Daukaus is a mobile boxer, despite his physique, and has tremendous hand speed to go with his power. Nascimento though, is a stud grappler who can throw hands and has a chin too. If the fight stays on the feet, Daukaus has the advantage but the likelihood is that it won’t stay there for long enough for that to matter. Nascimento will use his striking to get close enough for a takedown and eventually get the submission win to move to 9-0. PICK – Rodrigo Nascimento via Submission, Round 2
Tom Breese (11-2) vs K.B Bhullar (8-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A fight that was supposed to take place last weekend but due to short notice got moved, prospect Tom Breese takes on would-be Contender Series fighter K.B Bhullar who jumped the queue and got a contract without having to appear on the show. Breese was 7-0 when he joined the UFC and won his first three in a row, before a decision loss to Sean Strickland. He bounced back from that with a knockout win over Daniel Kelly but then fell again, this time to Brendan Allen with a first round knockout. Bhullar is an unorthodox striker who is well-rounded enough to be considered a viable threat wherever the fight goes. His issue is that he hasn’t fought anyone of the level of Tom Breese. On the feet I think Breese has the advantage and on the ground they’re likely to be pretty equal. I’ll be honest and say I’ve not seen nearly enough of Bullar to put him up against Breese and for that reason the Brit gets the nod for me. PICK – Tom Breese via Unanimous Decision
A three round main event on top of a decent looking card is what the UFC have put together for the fans this weekend, as they return for yet another Fight Night card at the APEX in Las Vegas.
Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith takes on prospect Aleksandar Rakic in the light-heavyweight division, with all eyes on the top of the division following Jon Jones vacating the belt for a move up to heavyweight.
With 11 fights on the night including a stacked main card considering it’s a Fight Night event, i’ll break down the card and pick my winners for each fight. Last weekend’s card chopped and changed so much between the predictions being written up and the card happening (Thurs-Sat) that we didn’t keep track of the picks. Hopefully no such thing will happen here.
Christian Aguilera (14-6) vs Sean Brady (12-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
After an impressive short notice win back in June, Christian Aguilera gets another shot in the UFC this time against undefeated Sean Brady. Aguilera is on a three-fight win streak heading into this bout with two knockout wins, while Brady has won four of his last five by unanimous decision. Aguilera has great power in his hands but other than that doesn’t hold any substantial advantages in this fight. Brady is a Gracie-black belt in jiu-jitsu but also comfortable on the feet and he’ll be more of an issue than Anthony Ivy was wherever the fight ends up. He should be able to control the bout on the feet and on the floor and he’ll scoop another decision win. PICK – Sean Brady via Unanimous Decision
Emily Whitmire (4-3) vs Polyana Viana (10-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
After fighting in the Ultimate Fighter house, ‘Spitfire’ has gone 2-2 in her last four fights including submission defeats to Gillian Robertson and then Amanda Ribas in her last outing. She takes on Polyana Viana who has lost her last three in a row after winning her UFC debut. This will be her first fight in over a year. Whitmire has struggled against grapplers and wrestlers in almost all of her fights and she comes up against a submission expert in Viana. Despite her recent poor run, Viana has all the skills and strengths to be able to secure a tap in this fight. She had the same advantages in her last fights though and failed, so this is far from a guaranteed pick but I expect her to snap her streak. PICK – Polyana Viana via Submission, Round 1
Alex Caceres (16-12) vs Austin Springer (12-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Caceres will enter the Octagon this Saturday night against a third scheduled opponent of fight week after original opponent Giga Chikadze dropped out for undisclosed reasons before initial replacement Kevin Croom also dropped out. He now takes on Springer, who’s holds a win over Chikadze on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2018. Despite a late submission win in that fight, he didn’t earn a contract and has one win since, last October. Caceres has back-to-back wins for the first time in four years after victories over Steven Peterson and Chase Hooper. Caceres has a great ground game and good submission skills but Springer is stronger on the feet as his 7 KO wins show. It’s sure to be a tight affair but with such short notice for the fight, Caceres should be able to scrape a close decision win. PICK – Alex Caceres via Unanimous Decision
Zak Cummings (23-7) vs Alessio Di Chirico (12-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Most of Cummings’ career so far in the UFC has been at welterweight, but he takes on ‘Manzo’ at 185lbs in this fight as he looks to take his UFC record to 9-4. Di Chirico is 3-4 in the UFC coming into this fight, having lost his last two fights via decision to Kevin Holland and Makhmud Muradov. Cummings, despite being a slightly smaller guy in the fight, he has the more powerful hands, the better wrestling and the more prominent submission game with with 12 of his 23 wins coming via tap-out. He should be able to control this bout regardless of where it ends up and secure a relatively easy decision win. PICK – Zak Cummings via Unanimous Decision
Hannah Cifers (10-6) vs Mallory Martin (6-3) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
After losing her UFC debut to Maycee Barber, Cifers went on to win her next two via decision before being finished in her next three fights against Angela Hill, Mackenzie Dern and Mariya Agapova. She steps into the octagon to take on Mallory Martin who had won five in a row before a submission defeat in her UFC debut to submission expert Virna Jandiroba back in December. Cifers has a big right-hand but other than that, Martin dominates her. She’s got a reach and height advantage over Cifers plus a much stronger wrestling game. She should be able to just overpower Cifers to the ground and beat her down using ground and pound for a finish or a very wide decision win. PICK – Mallory Martin via Knockout, Round 2
Impa Kasanganay (7-0) vs Maki Pitolo (13-6) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
After being submitted in the first round by British fighter Darren Stewart earlier this month, Maki Pitolo returns to the octagon to take on a Contender Series winner with an even shorter turnaround on fights. Kasanganay beat Anthony Adams via decision just 18 days prior to this Saturday night and will come in as an underdog in his UFC debut. Pitolo is a bruiser who has great boxing and enough power to finish Justin Sumter with body shots. Kasanganay is a wrestler who seems to take big shots before eventually feeling his way into a fight but is also capable on the feet. The big difference for me here is that Pitolo will comfortably be the best fighter Kasanganay has ever fought. The waiver is that both are coming off quick turnarounds but one off a win and one off a stoppage defeat. It’s a tough fight to pick and could be fight of the night, but I’m leaning towards Pitolo to grind out a decision. PICK – Maki Pitolo via Unanimous Decision