After a banger of a pay-per-view card last weekend the UFC returns to their APEX in Las Vegas for a big light heavyweight headline fight card as Thiago Santos takes on Magomed Ankalaev in the main event.
The 205-pound division is wide open at the top end and a big win for either man could see them enter title contention in the very near future.
We’ll also see Marlon Moraes take on Song Yadong in a bantamweight co-main event, while the likes of Drew Dober, Terrance McKinney, Miranda Maverick and Alex Pereira competing too in a sneakily stacked card.
Last time out at UFC 272 we went 9/13 with four perfect picks to move to 557/865 (64.39%) with 238 perfect picks (42.73%) with our picks.
Damon Jackson (19-4-1) vs Kamuela Kirk (12-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A short-notice featherweight fight brings great interest in this one. Jackson has won two of three in his most recent UFC run, with a KO defeat to undefeated Ilia Topuria sandwiched between wins over Mirsad Bektic at UFC Vegas 11 and Charles Rosa at UFC Vegas 39. Kirk on the other hand has won three-in-a-row, including a win over Makwan Amirkhani in his debut at UFC Vegas 28.
Jackson is a very talented all-rounder, with decent striking and a nasty ground game to go with his wrestling skills. Kirk on the other hand is a very skilled striker with good takedown defence and a decent ground game if he does end up on his back. If Jackson is able to get on top then he’ll have the advantage, because that is where he’s at his best, but aside from that I have Kirk with an advantage in most areas.
He’s a much superior striker, he’s a good wrestler defensively and offensively and his cardio doesn’t usually let him down. It’s a short notice bout so that could change, but I think Kirk could claim a big decision win here. PICK – Kamuela Kirk via Decision
Trevin Jones (13-7) vs Javid Basharat (11-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A really fun bantamweight fight up next that’ll see an undefeated prospect make his debut. Jones earned a big KO win over Mario Bautista at UFC 259 after his debut was overturned to a no contest, before getting submitted against Saidyokub Rakhromonov most recently at UFC Vegas 34. Basharat is 11-0 and undefeated having finished each of his bouts inside the distance.
Jones is a good wrestler with a killer right hand and some serious knockout power, while Basharat is a composed Taekwando fighter with some excellent submission skills in his back pocket, contributing to six of his 11 finishes so far. Basharat has a size advantage in the fight, although a slightly lesser reach, and he will look to bounce around on the outside and counter with rangy attacks while dictating the pace.
He loves to attack the legs and body, which could allow Jones the chance to catch one and take him down, but even on the mat he has a very solid chance of controlling the bout. So long as he doesn’t get lamped with a one-and-done strike, I expect Basharat to claim the victory although I think he’ll see the judges for the first time. PICK – Javid Basharat via Decision
JJ Aldrich (10-4) vs Gillian Robertson (10-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Another short-notice bout here in the women’s flyweight division this time. Aldrich is on a two-fight win streak after decisions against Cortney Casey at UFC Vegas 21 and Vanessa Demopoulos at UFC Vegas 35, while Robertson snapped a two-fight losing streak last time out against Priscila Cachoeira with a submission win at UFC 269. Robertson steps in on three-weeks notice, replacing Ariane Lipski.
Aldrich is a striker who looks to avoid wrestling on the mat, but she has little chance of doing that here against Robertson. ‘The Savage’ is a brilliant wrestler with exceptional jiu-jitsu skills on the mat and with a big experience difference, this weighs heavily in her favour.
Robertson is capable of holding her own on the feet for a short period before looking to change levels for a takedown or clinch against the cage and look for trips. Once she gets hold of her, it will be tough for Aldrich to step away from that and then Robertson has the big grappling advantage. Expect her to get it down, control her on the mat before finally sinking in a rear-naked choke. PICK – Gillian Robertson via Submission, Round 2
Matthew Semelsberger (9-3) vs AJ Fletcher (9-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A fun welterweight bout is the featured prelim of the night with an interesting debutant. Semelsberger is a UFC veteran and scored a 15-second knockout win most recently at UFC 266 against Marin Sano to make it six wins in seven fights. Fletcher is an undefeated prospect who earned a contract with a flying knee KO win on Dana White’s Contender Series last time out. He’ll have Dustin Poirier in his corner this weekend.
Semelsberger is a heavy-handed puncher with a solid wrestling game, while Fletcher is also a well-rounded fighter who prefers his wrestling game to his striking, but he’s well capable of knocking guys out as his four career KO’s show. Despite the clear potential that Fletcher has though, this is a rough match up for him to debut in the organisation in. Semelsberger has terrific cardio and his wrestling is also good enough to compete against Fletcher, who is still relatively green in the MMA world.
Fletcher throws some naked kicks and has some good explosiveness, but those naked kicks are what Semelsberger thrives on to threaten takedowns and counter with his cement block of a right hand. Fletcher’s chin has never really been tested but we know Semelsberger has cardio for days and enough power to sleep people, so mixed with the wrestling I expect him to hand the newcomer his first defeat. PICK – Matthew Semelsberger via Knockout, Round 2
The UFC featherweight division headlines a banger of a card in the APEX as Edson Barboza takes on Giga Chikadze in the main event, while The Ultimate Fighter finals take place too.
Chikadze takes on the former lightweight contender in his first main event, but before that the finale of both the bantamweight and middleweight division from the Ultimate Fighter Returns finale will take place as Ricky Turcios takes on Brady Hiestand, followed by Bryan Battle taking on late replacement Gilbert Urbina.
Kevin Lee also makes his return to the octagon against Daniel Rodriguez at welterweight in his first fight since he was submitted by Charles Oliveira back in March 2020.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 34 we went a disappointing 6/12 with two perfect picks for the night to move to 389/612 (63.56%) with 171 perfect picks (43.96%). We’ll look to improve that here, starting with the early prelims.
Mana Martinez (8-2) vs Guido Cannetti (8-6) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun bantamweight fight to open the card in this one. Martinez makes his UFC debut on a two-fight win streak from Fury FC while Cannetti has lost four of his last six in the UFC organisation.
Martinez is a powerful puncher with excellent takedown defence as he likes to keep the fights standing, while Cannetti is an aged brawler who never really figured out the best way to get the best from his favourite style. Martinez is more powerful, more technical and quicker but Cannetti is the better wrestler and that is his best path to victory.
Unfortunately though, Martinez is more than good enough to keep him at bay with sprawls and good footwork and eventually he lands a nasty punch to close the show early on 41-year-old Cannetti. PICK – Mana Martinez via Knockout, Round 2
Jamall Emmers (18-5) vs Pat Sabatini (14-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Emmers is a solid wrestler who is nice and rangy for the weight class and with his style, while Sabatini is a sound striker who also has a superb ground game with ten submission wins to his name. Emmers is quite relaxed and has a good clinch game to go with his advanced wrestling, but Sabatini is arguably the more powerful fighter and definitely the bigger submission threat.
Despite that, Emmers has the advantage where the fight starts on the feet and is the better wrestler of the two for me so I think he’ll be able to nick a tight decision in a great fight. PICK – Jamall Emmers via Decision
JJ Aldrich (9-4) vs Vanessa Demopoulos (6-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two relatively young flyweights clash in this one in what should be a competitive bout. Aldrich got a win last time out at UFC Vegas 21 via split decision against Cortney Casey, while Demopoulos bounced back from two defeats in a row with a 37-second KO last time out in the LFA.
Aldrich is a great kickboxer with great kicking and range control in her game, while Demopoulous is a phenomenal grappler with heart and grit to come forward and strike if and when needed. With that said though, she’s hugely outclassed on the feet here. Aldrich will have a huge reach advantage in this one and Demopoulos’ wrestling isn’t great which doesn’t help her grappling edge.
Aldrich is a very good professional and has good skills to be able to strike from range and just piece Demopoulos up from the outside to secure a comfortable decision win. PICK – JJ Aldrich via Decision
Matthew Semelsberger def Jason Witt via Knockout, Round 1 (0:16)
HOLY JESUS. Matthew Semelsberger lands a bomb of a right hand after 16 seconds and puts Witt out cold. Goodnight.
Jinh Yu Frey def Gloria De Paula via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Frey comes out with a nice left hand before the two ladies clinch and Frey gets an early takedown. De Paula threatens with an armbar from the bottom but Frey defends well and lands a few nice strikes from top position before a scramble allows her to take De Paula’s back. De Paula defends it well and is able to bring it back to full guard, before landing a couple of elbows from the bottom. Frey controlling the position with ease at the moment from the top although not much action from either fighter as we head into the final 90 seconds. Frey controls the position for the remainder of the round too as the buzzer goes. 10-9 Frey.
Slower start to the round from both women in this one as Frey lands a couple of nice left hands in exchanges. De Paula lands a few leg kicks from distance then goes up top with a nice head kick that lands clean. Frey continues to come forward to close the distance but De Paula doing well to get in and out quickly. De Paula in control of the exchanges on the feet halfway through the round and being first in the exchanges every time. Frey closes the distance and gets a clinch against the cage, but De Paula lands some nasty knees to the body and they separate. De Paula takes the centre now and is landing clean and fast into the final minute. Frey catches a kick but De Paula keeps her balance excellently to deny the takedown and should win the round. 19-19 going into the third.
De Paula comes out and throws her hands quickly once again, then has a kick caught and Frey sweeps her other foot away and gets an early takedown once again. Frey passes into half guard but De Paula threatens with a kimura grip, which allows Frey to pass into mount. De Paula tries to explode out but Frey takes the back and looks to sink in a rear naked choke. Frey staying composed on the back of De Paula who isn’t looking to get back to her feet at all as we enter the final minute. Frey gets the arm under the chin and tries for a one-armed choke but De Paula does really well to defend it and see the round out. Clear 29-28 win for Frey.
Aldrich takes the centre of the cage early on and has Casey circling the outside for the first 40-odd seconds before she engages in a clinch against the cage. Casey is able to stay strong and Aldrich separates, a big boost for Casey. Aldrich landing lots of leg kicks early on but Casey retaliates with some nice knees and a right hook as they clinch up once again. Casey charges forward once again with a flurry but Aldrich shoots and gets the takedown. Casey tries to threaten with a triangle and while Aldrich defends it will and lands a bit of ground and pound, Casey gets back to her feet. Aldrich gets it down again with a guillotine attempt in the final 30 seconds but Casey defends well and sees out the round. 10-9 Casey for me.
Casey looks stronger on the feet so far and she lands a big right hand that wobbles Aldrich! Casey follows it up with a head kick attempt that Aldrich catches and then Casey tries to jump on the back but ends up on the ground with Aldrich on top of her. Casey landing some nice strikes from the bottom but Aldrich now has wrist control after eating those shots and starts landing some huge ground and pound strikes with her left hand. Casey works her way back up to her feet against the cage with 90 seconds to go and throws two big right hooks that are blocked. Aldrich throws a right hook and then shoots in for another takedown with 20 seconds to go and gets it to end the round on top. 19-19 for me.
Final round and Aldrich comes forward again to get Casey backing up and she lands a nice one-two. Aldrich continues to push forward but Casey lands a couple of jabs nicely too. Big right hook and left straight from Casey lands and rocks Aldrich’s head back. A big exchange from the two sees them both landing well as we hit the halfway point. Aldrich lands a jab and then Casey turns away to move and Aldrich throws a big left straight down the pipe. Casey throws a hook that just misses and then Aldrich changes levels with a beautiful takedown. Casey gets back to her feet against the cage but Aldrich maintains a body lock until Casey is able to break the grip and separate. Casey comes forward with flurries again and is landing hard shots. Spinning back kick from Aldrich lands in Casey’s nether-regions and the referee pauses the fight with three seconds to go. Super close round, I’ve got it 29-28 Aldrich just.
Good start to the round for the debutant as Garcia takes the centre of the octagon and starts looking to land strikes through the guard of Haqparast. Lots of feelers and blocked strikes from both as Haqparast throws a very heavy left hand that that is partially blocked too. Garcia shoots in for a takedown against the cage but Haqparast denies him, but Garcia lands a nice knee to the body on the break. Garcia fakes a takedown and throws a huge overhand right that lands flush and wobbles Haqparast, but he recovers quickly and keeps going. Great rip to the body from Haqparast but Garcia backs him against the cage and throws a nice elbow that just misses too. Garcia goes for two more takedowns against the cage but they get stuffed well too as the round ends. 10-9 Garcia but it’s a close round.
Garcia comes out quickly in the second round once again and puts the pressure on against the cage well. Garcia lands a couple of nice hooks but Haqparast stays composed and starts digging to the body with some great punches. Nice elbow from Haqparast lands and Garcia comes forward with a right hand of his own. Haqparast lands two nice left hands and Garcia charges forward again with jabs and front kicks to the body. Haqparast denies a takedown attempt and then lands a left hand, before throwing Garcia to the floor with a judo throw. Great uppercut lands from Haqparast but Garcia continues to walk forward with jabs, before Haqparast lands a big body kick too. Big front kick to the body again from Haqparast who denies another takedown on the buzzer. 19-19 for me, but could be 20-18 Haqparast.
Garcia looks a bit slower in this final round but is still coming forward with intensity. Haqparast has started finding his timing now though and lands a great elbow followed by an uppercut and hook that land clean. Another elbow and uppercut from Haqparast lands as Garcia continues to come forward, but Haqparast throwing body kicks hard that are slowing Garcia down more and more. Straight left lands against for Haqparast as Garcia is bleeding now and getting picked apart on the feet. Garcia lands a nice right hand as we enter the final minute of the round and they exchange kicks. Big head kick from Haqparast twice lands but he doesn’t get the finish as the round ends. 29-27 for me.
Rani Yahya def Ray Rodriguez via Submission (Head and Arm Choke), Round 2 (3:09)
Fast start as Rodriguez goes for a head kick off the bat and then lands a straight right in an exchange, but Yahya goes straight for a body lock looking for a takedown and eventually gets it. Yahya with heavy top pressure, landing some nice ground and pound but really just trying to maintain position from half guard. Yahya looking to move into side control with great shoulder pressure but abandons it after decent defence from Rodriguez. Final minute now and Rodriguez manages to get into full guard for a few seconds before Yahya looks to lock up a head and arm choke with 20 seconds left but Rodriguez defends well and survives the round. 10-9 Yahya, easily.
Rodriguez opens the second round with some nice boxing once again, keeping a distance and doing well but he backs up to the cage and Yahya gets another takedown at the first attempt once again. Straight back into half guard once again and Yahya starts threatening with the head and arm choke early on. Rodriguez tries to explode up with the butterfly guard but Yahya jumps over it, gets back into half guard and passes to the other side. He sinks in the head and arm choke and forces Rodriguez to tap. Beautiful performance from Yahya.
Charles Jourdain def Marcelo Rojo via Knockout, Round 3 (4:31)
Fun start to the first round as both men trade hard kicks to begin, with Jourdain throwing lots of head kicks. Rojo throws a right hook that misses and then they clinch, with both men landing nice knees before Jourdain separates. Nice left hand from Rojo looking to counter but just misses, then Jourdain lands a nice uppercut in the clinch. Rojo throwing lots of knees in the clinch towards the face, but they’re not quite landing yet. Rojo lands a leg kick that drops Jourdain, then lands a one-two as Jourdain gets back to his feet. Very even round as we head into the final 90 seconds and Rojo throws a nice flurry that lands nicely before looking to rip Jourdain’s body with a left hook. Jourdain retaliates with nice body shots in the clinch before the round ends. 10-9 Rojo for me but genuinely could go either way.
Rojo comes out hard in the second round and throwing some hard shots and combinations that either graze or just miss Jourdain. Strong leg kick is responded to by Jourdain with a great jab, who then lands a big right hook. A close exchange sees Jourdain accidentally eye-poke Rojo which forces a pause in the action but they get back to it quickly with flurries. Jourdain catches a kick and lands a big body shot and right hook, before Rojo charges forward and lands a big three-punch combo to the head, followed by a knee and body shot. Clinch against the cage is a stalemate and Rojo looks for a spinning elbow on the break. Snappy jab from Jourdain lands flush but Rojo continues to come forward and just misses with that big knee again. Jourdain eats some big leg kicks and responds with a huge flying knee that lands! He lands a couple of big hooks too with Rojo rocked but he survives the round. Another close one, 19-19 for me.
Fast start for Jourdain in this final round as he comes forward and puts the pressure on Rojo immediately, landing his left hand a lot. Rojo is considerably slower now and Jourdain is picking him apart, then lands a huge left hand down the middle that drops him! Jourdain jumps on him and looks for the ground and pound finish, then runs and jumps off the cage to continue the strikes. Heavy shots on the ground but Rojo is tiring and Jourdain is landing big. Jourdain lets Rojo back up and they start throwing haymakers against each other looking for a finish. Jourdain keeps pounding away and lands another left hand that drops Rojo and the referee ends it! What a performance!
Angela Hill def Ashley Yoder via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Competitive start to the fight with Hill looking to land straight rights and Yoder landing some nice kicks so far. Hill has the centre of the cage and is feinting the body shots, then shoots in against the cage for a clinch. Hill lands some nice knees before Yoder looks for a head and arm throw but it’s well defended by Hill. Hill responds with a huge elbow and then goes back to the clinch before they separate with about 90 seconds to go in the round. Hill controlling the range right now and landing shots freely and has a big speed advantage to get in and out, avoiding the attacks of Yoder. Hill steps in with a front kick to the body then lands three huge overhand rights that rock Yoder! She goes for a finish and takes Yoder down but she recovers enough to see out the round. 10-9 Hill.
More of the same in this second round as Hill takes the centre and looks to land body kicks and overhand rights. Yoder can’t get close enough for the takedown and is getting picked apart on the feet. Hill lands a big straight right hand once again that snaps Yoder’s head back and she’s in total control right now. Hill goes for a clinch and lands some nice knees to the body, with Yoder starting to slow down a bit. Hill lands more right hands and now is chopping down the legs of Yoder. Big knee to the body followed by a kick and Yoder is hurting. Flurry of punches to the head and Yoder is surviving right now, then Hill goes for a knee to the body and Yoder catches it and secures a takedown to end the round on top. 20-18 Hill.
Yoder comes out like a bull in a china shop looking to close the distance and get a takedown but Hill immediately out-muscles her, clinches up and starts landing big knees to the body against the cage. Hill just too strong physically for Yoder and completely dominating the position and pace of the fight. Big punch to the body again from Hill before another clinch and some more nasty Muay Thai knees to the body allow Yoder to overpower her onto the floor. Yoder controls the position from the top and is fighting Hill well, but Hill is too strong and gets back to the feet and lands more knees again. Round comes to an end with Hill landing two big right hands to take a wide decision. Great performance. 30-27 Hill.
Eryk Anders vs Darren Stewart – NO CONTEST (Illegal knee)
Lots of feelers being put out by both guys early on with feints and flicks before Stewart lands a nice left hand. A good exchange between the two and it’s Stewart who comes out on top once again, as he starts showboating a little. Anders shoots in for a takedown but Stewart does well to defend it and the battle in the clinch. Stewart lands some good knees but then Anders lands a huge left hand that rocks him! Anders lands some huge punches and drops Stewart but the Brit continues to fight back. Anders throws an illegal knee (d’oh!) against the cage and the referee stops the fight. Stewart tries to continue but the doctor calls the fight off. No contest called.
Fun start to the fight as both men look to feint early. Nicolau lands an immediate leg kick that hurts Kape but he continues to come forward with jabs and leg kicks of his own. Nicolau being more explosive and faster right now and Kape falling into the same trap as his first fight by being not active enough. Nicolau gets a takedown and Kape is able to work his way back to the feet and slip out of a guillotine attempt. Nicolau gets another takedown and ends the round on top. 10-9 Nicolau.
Second round and Kape comes out with more urgency this time. Big left uppercut lands and rocks Nicolau early! He follows it up with a couple of other shots and when he’s landing he’s hurting Nicolau. He stuffs a takedown attempt and comes forward again, but this time Nicolau lands a big hook of his own. Kape lands a leg kick and then a knee followed by a right hand that lands flush. Kape walking Nicolau down against the cage and letting strikes flow but Nicolau shoots for a power double across the cage and gets him down, but Kape bounces straight back up. Nicolau tries to launch forward with a left hand but misses and Kape counters with a right hook. 19-19, much better.
Kape takes the centre in the third round and is letting his hands go again. Kape throws a nice leg kick but Nicolau throws a nice left hand that lands on the forehead. Kape stings him with a nice jab and then lands a nice counter right hook again. Nicolau goes for a takedown but Kape stuffs it brilliantly and stands back up immediately. Nicolau gets back up and drops Kape with a leg kick and starts landing with a lot of volume. Big hooks and straight land but Kape replies with a right hook well. Final minute and Kape throws a head kick then follows it up with a left hook. He stuffs two takedown attempts brilliantly and is throwing big combinations too. Huge flying knee lands from Kape and then he follows it up with another to the body! Nicolau lands a spinning back elbow as the round ends! Super close round but I think Kape edges it. 29-28.
Davey Grant def Jonathan Martinez via Knockout, Round 2 (3:03)
Good start to the round from Grant as he comes forward well and applies pressure with lots of strikes and kicks. Martinez happy to stand and trade with him and throws an excellent leg kick to hurt Grant. Grant continues with spinning kick attacks and high kicks but Martinez is countering really well with his fast hands. Grant with a switch step and a big right hook but it’s well blocked by Martinez. Big leg kick from Martinez again but Grant keeping the pressure on with kicks from range and heavy hooks. Huge left hook from Martinez lands on the chin and Grant gets dropped! Martinez looks to land some ground and pound but the round ends and allows Grant a chance to recover. 10-9 Martinez.
Grant comes out nice and aggressive in the second round and continues to chop away at the leg, before Grant lands a right hand on the chin. Grant continues to come forward with flurries and then shoots in for a takedown but Martinez defends it brilliantly. Grant lands another right hand and is throwing combinations now just to touch him and is stopping Martinez from throwing anything significant because of the pace. Grant throws a body shot and left hook and Martinez is OUT!! Grant follows it up with an extra shot but it’s all over! Wow!
Dan Ige def Gavin Tucker via Knockout, Round 1 (0:22)
DAN IGE!!! ONE PUNCH KNOCKOUT!! HOLY COW!
Ryan Spann def Misha Cirkunov via Knockout, Round 1 (1:11)
Fast start to the round from both fighters as they exchange jabs and kicks, as Cirkunov lands a low blow by accident after 30 seconds. A short pause and they get to it again and Spann lands a straight right hand that drops Cirkunov! He goes for the ground and pound but Cirkunov kicks him off and so Spann makes him get back to the feet. Spann stays calm and then lands a big punch on the side of the head that drops him again and after some ground and pound the referee waves it off! Huge KO for Ryan Spann!
Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad – NO CONTEST (Accidental eye poke)
Tentative start to the fight as Edwards takes the centre of the cage and forces Muhammad backwards immediately, landing a body kick and following up with a big one two. Edwards goes for a takedown against the cage but Muhammad clinches up and reverses the position well before they separate. Edwards throws a head kick and wobbles Muhammad! Edwards throws some wild hooks but Muhammad blocks them all and then Edwards shoots for a takedown but once again it’s denied well by Belal. Body kick from Muhammad lands nicely but it’s Edwards pushing the pace and pressuring forwards. Big one-two from Edwards lands again and wobbles Muhammad before the buzzer goes to end the round. 10-9 Edwards.
Second round starts and both guys are aggressive early on. Edwards goes to throw a head kick and his hand accidentally pokes Muhammad in the eye as it lands. Muhammad goes down screaming and crying, saying he can’t see anything. Herb Dean waves the fight off almost immediately and it’s another no contest.
It’s finally a Leon Edwards fight week! After almost two years away from the cage for several reasons, the Briton returns to the octagon to take on short-notice opponent Belal Muhammad in the main event.
Edwards has been promised a title shot with a big performance and knows that just winning isn’t enough, while Muhammad will be keen to show he does belong in there and isn’t just a late replacement.
Semelsberger is a power striker who looks to put fights away as his four knockout wins show. He has decent takedown defence too, which will come in handy against Witt who looks to take fights to the mat and control position and look for submissions. With Semelsberger’s aggression, he can leave himself open to takedowns by someone as good and willing as Witt. With that said, Witt has been knocked out four times in his career before and against the power of Semelsberger it’s a fair question to ask how his chin will hold up. Overall, I back Witt to be able to get the takedown and control the top position enough drain Semelsberger of his power and take a decision win. PICK – Jason Witt via Decision
Gloria de Paula (5-2) vs Jinh Yu Frey (9-6) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
A UFC debut in the strawweight division as Gloria de Paula takes on Jinh Yu Frey, coming off two straight losses. De Paula earned her spot with a win on Dana White’s Contender Series back in November, while Frey was submitted via kneebar back in June 2020 by Kay Hansen before being outclassed by Loma Lookboonmee in October.
De Paula is a fantastic Muay Thai striker, who loves to throw combinations and has a considerable size advantage in this fight against Frey, who used to fight at atomweight before joining the UFC. Frey will have to press forward and make in an uncomfortable fight which totally goes against her style or grind out a decision from top position which is unlikely considering De Paula’s improving grappling skills. This fight arguably couldn’t be a worse match up for Frey and she should be dominated by the bigger fighter, in what will likely be the last fight of her UFC career for now. PICK – Gloria de Paula via Decision
Cortney Casey (9-8) vs JJ Aldrich (8-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A couple of UFC vets in the women’s MMA world match up in the flyweight division here. Casey went 1-1 in 2020, tapping Mara Romero Borella before being tapped herself by Gillian Robertson at UFC Vegas 3 just a month later. Aldrich has gone 1-2 in her last three, being knocked out by Maycee Barber and losing a decision to Sabina Mazo with a win over Lauren Mueller sandwiched between them.
Both women are strikers by trade but haven’t knocked anyone out in the UFC yet despite lengthy runs with the company, which means we should have an entertaining bout on our hands. Aldrich is the sharper and more crisp striker but Casey is more physical and aggressive which allows her to bite down on her mouthpiece and go toe-to-toe with anyone in the company. The accuracy of Aldrich is likely to mean she lands the more eye-catching shots and that could be the difference between getting a judge’s decision. PICK – JJ Aldrich via Decision