Misha Cirkunov (15-8) vs Alonzo Menifield (12-3) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Big boys open up the main card. Cirkunov has lost four of his last five fights, being finished in three of them. He got KO’d by Johnny Walker at UFC 235, before submitting Jimmy Crute later in 2019. Since then though he got KO’d in 71 seconds by Ryan Spann at UFC Vegas 21, before dropping a decision to Krzysztof Jotko at UFC Vegas 38 and then being submitted by Wellington Turman 89 seconds into the second round. Menifield has won three of his last four, submitting Fabio Cherant at UFC 260 and dominating Ed Herman at UFC 265 before losing to William Knight at UFC Vegas 44. He returned to the win column in June, dominating the controversial Askar Mozharov and earning a first round KO.
Cirkunov made his name as a brilliant grappler with decent striking, but his decline in recent years has been hard to watch and he’s a shell of his former self now. Menifield on the other hand looks at his physical peak and as powerful as ever with his striking, while his defensive grappling has improved somewhat too.
Cirkunov on paper has the skills to claim a win here, but his performances in recent times mean it’s hard to be sure he can still go at this level. With Menifield’s power in his hands, it’s very possible that he lands hard early on Cirkunov and completely scrambles his brain, which then allows him to land an early finish as the faster and stronger fighter. PICK – Alonzo Menifield via Knockout, Round 2
Jordan Wright (12-3) vs Dusko Todorovic (11-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Middleweight banger next and someone is going to sleep. Wright has never gone the distance in his career and has been finished in three of his last four getting KO’d by Joaquin Buckley (UFC 255), Bruno Silva (UFC 269) and most recently Marc-Andre Barriault. He did beat Jamie Pickett with a first-round KO at UFC 262. Todorovic’s last four have gone a similar way, going 1-3. He was KO’d by Punahele Soriano at UFC Fight Island 7 and then dropped a decision to Gregory Rodrigues at UFC Vegas 28. He beat Maki Pitolo at UFC Vegas 44 with a first-round KO, but was stopped by Chidi Njokuani most recently back in May.
Wright has an unorthodox karate style and charges forward with reckless abandon, knowing that if he lands flush he can put you out. But he also leaves himself wide open and isn’t the most durable. He’s kill or be killed and we love it. Todorovic is a well-rounded fighter alternatively, with good grappling and pacing but also with the power to end a fight too.
“Thunder” tends to start a little slowly and that tells me Wright could take advantage. If he steps forward and lands one of his nasty elbows or knees when Todorovic is coming in for a takedown it could end the night early. The longer it goes the more it leans in Todorovic’s favour, but I think Wright gets the upset win here with a big KO with his early blitz catching Todorovic cold. PICK – Jordan Wright via Knockout, Round 1
Askar Askarov (14-1-1) vs Brandon Royval (14-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Fight of the night right here in the flyweight division. Askarov was unbeaten and set for a title match before his last fight, but he ran into Kai Kara France and couldn’t get the job done so comes into this off his first career loss. Royval lost back-to-back bouts to Brandon Moreno (UFC 255) and Alexandre Pantoja but has since bounced back with big wins over Rogerio Bontorin (UFC Vegas 46) and most recently submitted Matt Schnell at UFC 274.
Askarov is a wrestler, plain and simple. He looks to get hold of your legs, drive you to the mat and keep you there while landing some ground and pound to keep the referee happy. He’s also got some decent kickboxing in his pocket, but he’s primarily a grappler looking for control. Royval is an absolutely wild fighter who looks to do the opposite of whatever his opponent wants because he’s so well-rounded. He is a genuine submission threat on the ground but is also an excellent scrambler capable of keeping the fight standing if needs be.
Royval likely needs a finish to win here, because if it goes the distance it’s because Askarov has been able to hold him down and win rounds. If he’s able to scramble up and strike, he’s by far the bigger finishing threat in this fight. The blueprint to beat Askarov is there now, but Royval’s takedown defence isn’t as good as Kara France’s and if you keep getting taken down it doesn’t really matter how often you get up, so expect the Russian to earn another decision win. PICK – Askar Askarov via Decision
Cub Swanson (28-12) vs Jonathan Martinez (16-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger of a co-main event here. Swanson has won three of his last four, bouncing back from being KO’d by Giga Chikadze at UFC Vegas 25 to KO Darren Elkins himself at UFC Vegas 45. Martinez on the other hand has won three in a row, earning decision wins over Zviad Lazishvili, Alejandro Perez and most recently Vince Morales.
There is no doubting that Swanson is all about controlled chaos. He’s very powerful on the feet and also a very big ground threat too, while his wrestling has always been good enough to cause problems to opponents. Martinez on the other hand is a great striker with some of the most powerful kicks in the UFC, while his boxing combinations are solid and his takedown defence good enough to keep the fight where he wants it the majority of the time.
Swanson dropping down a division at this stage of his career is a weird move, and I don’t think it pans out too well for him here. Martinez is very quick and powerful, but he also has the footwork to keep opponents at distance and control range. Swanson likes to swing heavy and if he misses that is sure to affect his cardio. With Martinez whipping that vicious left body kick in constantly too, he could match Chikadze with a body kick finish, but I think an entertaining decision win is more likely for “Dragon”. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Decision
Alexa Grasso (14-3) vs Viviane Araujo (11-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Main event in the flyweight division up next. Grasso has won each of her last three fights, claiming decision wins over Ji Yeon Kim and Maycee Barber (UFC 258), before submitting Joanne Wood back in March in the first round. Araujo has won three of her last four, defeating Montana De La Rosa and Roxanne Modafferi (UFC Fight Island 8) before losing to Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 262. She got a decision win over Andrea Lee last time out.
Grasso is a great striker with solid boxing combinations and nice low kicks. Araujo on the other hand is a specialist kickboxer and striker, with some great Muay Thai skills too but she struggles to mix in any sort of grappling with her game. She is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and has four submission wins on her record, but she very rarely is able to do anything on the ground. Grasso will be comfortable on the feet, knowing she is unlikely to need to defend anything.
Both fighters are far more likely to go the distance than get a finish, and with their skillsets matching up the way they do this is unlikely to be a super entertaining, back and forth bout. Someone is going to get blown away most likely. Araujo’s cardio is alarmingly bad, and Grasso’s never been in a five round fight before either but she’s never given out before the buzzer. Araujo’s power may be more eye catching early on, but the steady pressure and constant buzzing of Grasso should see her claim the decision win. PICK – Alexa Grasso via Decision
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims section of the card.
Elise Reed (5-1) vs Sam Hughes (6-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
The smallest women on the card open the event. Reed bounced back from a debut defeat to Sijara Eubanks last year with a split decision win over Cory McKenna at UFC London back in March in her last outing. Hughes on the other hand snapped a three-fight losing streak by picking up a big majority decision over Istela Nunes just last month at UFC Vegas 51.
Reed is a decent striker who uses her reach and length well, while having great footwork and being able to use a variety of strikes. Hughes is a fighter who uses her cardio as a weapon and looks to wrestle her opponents to the mat before fishing for submissions. She got a win last time out over Nunes by wearing on her and bringing the cardio issues to the fore, but that’s not something she can do with Reed.
If Reed is able to move as well as usual and keep the fight standing for the first few minutes at least, she should be able to pick her off with her striking to claim a decision. If Hughes can get the takedown though, then it’s a whole new problem. With that said, I expect the former to take place, so I’m picking Reed. PICK – Elise Reed via Decision
Chase Hooper (10-2-1) vs Felipe Colares (10-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A very fun featherweight scrap up next. Hooper started well in the UFC but going 1-2 in his first three, with a heel hook submission win over Peter Barrett at UFC 256 for a comeback win. But last time out at UFC 263 against Steven Peterson saw him take some time away from the cage. Colares on the other hand has alternated losses and wins since joining the UFC, with a split decision loss against Chris Gutierrez last time out.
Hooper is a submission beast with nasty jiu-jitsu on the ground, but his wrestling is pretty poor and he often struggles to get the fight there. His striking is bang average too, proving just how good his submissions are considering his record. Colares on the other hand though is a very aggressive striker who likes to swing for the fences and take heads off, but his ground game is pretty solid too and he’ll be confident of holding his own.
This is a fight with all the signs of a mauling. Colares will march forward looking for big strikes and his ground game should be good enough to hold Hooper off. With that said, Hooper will go until the bell sounds and if he makes any mistakes, ‘The Dream’ will be ready to take advantage. PICK – Felipe Colares via Decision
Jonathan Martinez (15-4) vs Vince Morales (11-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger in the bantamweight division up next between two guys who love to bang. Martinez has won each of his last two fights via decision, defeating Zviad Lazishvili and Alejandro Perez, while Morales claimed a decision win over Drako Rodriguez at UFC 265 before knocking out Louis Smolka last time out at UFC Vegas 44 in the first round.
Martinez is a boxer, with traditional stance helping his fast hands to fly, but he also has developed his kicking game excellently since joining the UFC and that could have a big say on this fight. That’s because while Morales has great power in his hands, he is very prone to kicks to leg as shown by Gutierrez and Martinez has all the skills to be able to replicate that.
There is always a chance that Morales simply smashes Martinez with his weighty right hand and puts his lights out, but more likely in my eyes is that Martinez stays at distance and lands enough damage to secure a relatively comfortable decision win. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Decision
It’s not the most stacked card this week in name value, but there are some very fun fights on the card that we’ll look to predict.
Last week at UFC Vegas 40 we struggled at went 5/10 with zero perfect picks, moving us to 439/689 (63.72%) with 187 perfect picks (42.6%) since June 2020.
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims.
Jonathan Martinez (13-4) vs Zviad Lazishvili (13-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A super short notice fight to open up the card as an undefeated champion makes his UFC debut. Martinez has done well in the UFC but was beaten by knockout last time out against Davey Grant at UFC Vegas 21, while Lazishvili earned a submission win in his last bout in September 2020.
Martinez is a technical boxer with a great jab and some heavy low kicks, but he has a lot of issues with his weight at these smaller divisions. Lazishvili is a grappler extraordinaire who uses his excellent wrestling to get the fight to the ground and work for his submissions.
Lazishvili will look to close the distance, wrestle Martinez to the ground and hold him there until a submission shows itself or the referee brings the round to an end. Martinez is good in the grappling himself but he won’t want to find himself under Lazishvili. It should be a banger, but I have to go with the undefeated fighter for his ability to dictate where the fight goes. PICK – Zviad Lazishvili via Decision
Livinha Souza (14-3) vs Randa Markos (10-12-1) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
A fun strawweight bout is scheduled for the card here between two fighters coming off defeats. Souza got a win against Ashley Yoder at UFC 252, before she lost via TKO to Amanda Lemos at UFC 259 most recently. Markos on the other hand has lost four straight, including a submission to Mackenzie Dern at UFC Vegas 11 and then via DQ last time out at UFC Vegas 25 for an illegal up-kick.
Souza is a good wrestler with some really strong takedowns in her arsenal, but she is one of the best when it comes to poor game plans and throwing away fights. Markos on the other hand is a good striker, who has seen her takedown defence exposed in recent fights. Souza has a habit of trading strikes with opponents even when it’s their strength and her weakness.
If she remembers that she’s a judo black belt and has a huge advantage on the ground in this fight, she would win relatively easily. If she chooses to strike, which she almost certainly will, she gives Markos a chance. Unfortunately for Markos though, the takedown is always there against her and I expect Souza will use it at some point to earn a decision win. PICK – Livinha Souza via Decision
Jeff Molina (9-2) vs Daniel Lacerda (11-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A banger at flyweight in this one between two hot prospects. Molina in on an eight-fight win streak, winning his UFC proper debut via decision against Qileng Aori at UFC 261. Lacerda in the other corner is on a three-fight win streak, all coming in the first-round and he makes his UFC debut.
Molina is a technical boxer on the feet with great volume and good cardio, while Lacerda is a violent kickboxer with some brilliant submissions off his back and in his back pocket. Molina has a great jab, good low kicks and his takedown defence is probably average which sets up a brilliant fight. Lacerda has insane power in his legs with kicks and scary power in his hands, never going beyond the second-round in his career.
Lacerda’s only defeat came via an injury to his shoulder, but the fact he has never gone into deep water is a worry. We don’t know how good his cardio is and we know that Molina can control the pace for a full 15 minutes. With that said, Lacerda has a brilliant killer instinct and because of his submission game the kickboxing could potentially open up for him to score a finish. PICK – Daniel Lacerda via Knockout, Round 1
Khama Worthy (16-8) vs Jai Herbert (10-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A very fun lightweight scrap between the veteran Worthy and the newbie fighting for his UFC career in Herbert. Worthy has lost each of his last two via knockout, getting stopped by Ottman Azaitar at UFC Vegas 10 before Jamie Mullarkey KO’d him at UFC 260. Herbert has also been stopped in his two UFC outings, getting KO’d by Francisco Trinaldo at UFC Fight Island 3 before a submission defeat to Renato Moicano at UFC Vegas 30.
Both of these guys have got genuine knockout power in their strikes, with Worthy earning nine KO wins in his career and Herbert earning eight KO wins in his career. Both guys are kickboxers at their core, but Worthy is far more power-based rather than technical, while Herbert is tidy striker with the power to match.
Worthy is likely to try and close distance and land one heavy shot to turn the lights out, but if Herbert can stay long and use his range well he will have an edge. The longer the fight goes, Herbert has more advantages under his belt and I think Herbert’s power and technique together mean he can stay in there to do enough damage and save his UFC career. PICK – Jai Herbert via Knockout, Round 2
The UFC middleweight division is back in the spotlight in the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night, on a card that was supposed to take place in London initially.
The main event will see Derek Brunson take on the UK’s own Darren Till with the winner making a case to become the next fighter to challenge for a title shot after Robert Whittaker’s upcoming rematch with Israel Adesanya.
Last week at UFC Vegas 35, we went 7/12 with three perfect picks on the night to move up to 396/624 (63.46%) with 174 perfect picks (43.94%). We’ll try to improve on that here, starting with the prelims.
Jonathan Martinez (13-4) vs Marcelo Rojo (16-8) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger to start the night in the bantamweight division. Martinez’s record in the UFC currently stands at 4-3, with a KO defeat to Davey Grant last time out at UFC Vegas 21 while Rojo lost an incredibly exciting debut against Charles Jourdain in his last fight on the same card.
Martinez is a very technical boxer with genuine knockout power and some crisp striking combinations and he’s also nice and comfortable on the ground. Rojo is aggressive too and has some great strikes of his own but he’s not quite as tidy technically. Martinez for me is the more powerful and we’ve seen him take the action to strong fighters in the past and if he’s likely to continue that way then he’s got the edge here.
Rojo is more than capable of stepping forward with pressure and landing heavy blows of his own, but with the more comfortable striking and good footwork I think Martinez will be able to get a stoppage in a brilliant fight. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Knockout, Round 2
Dalcha Lungiambula (11-2) vs Marc-Andre Barriault (12-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A very exciting middleweight fight up next. Lungiambula earned a decision win last time out against Markus Perez at UFC Fight Island 8 in January, while Barriault earned his first UFC win against Abu Azaitar at UFC 260.
Lungiambula is a grappler who uses big bursts of energy to land some strikes and then go in for the takedown, while Barriault is a considerably better striker than him with constantly improving scrambles off his back. Lungiambula is shorter with a longer reach, but his cardio issues make him struggle as the fight goes on. His striking is pretty poor and while Barriault isn’t stunning in any department, his cardio keeps him going later and gives him a chance here.
On the feet Barriault has a clear edge and while Lungiambula will likely score a takedown or two, Barriault is able to get back to his feet and with the cardio issues visible for all to see he could secure a sneaky decision win. PICK – Marc-Andre Barriault via Decision
Julian Erosa (23-10) vs Charles Jourdain (11-3-1) – (Catchweight/150lbs)
Yet another banger of a fight at the halfway point of the prelims in a short-notice catchweight bout. Erosa had won three in a row before his most recent fight, which saw him knocked out by Seung Woo Choi at UFC Vegas 29. Charles Jourdain is 1-1-1 in his last three, with a win over Marcelo Rojo last time out at UFC Vegas 21.
Erosa is a slick striker who is always looking for an exciting war with his opponent, marching forward to slug it out with whoever is standing across the cage from him. Jourdain is a fantastic boxer himself with a great jab and plenty of punching power in his bank and good durability. Erosa has a wrestling edge over Jourdain, but ‘Air’ has a fantastic gas tank and great scrambles so even that is a tough run to victory.
Overall, Erosa will land powerful strikes but leave himself open to eating some of his own from the more powerful fighter and Jourdain should be able to score the victory in a fun fight. PICK – Charles Jourdain via Knockout, Round 2
Jack Shore (14-0) vs Liudvik Sholinian (9-2-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The undefeated against the unknown in this one. Jack Shore is 14-0 including 3-0 in the UFC, with a split decision win over Hunter Azure last time out at UFC Vegas 23, while Sholinian makes his promotional debut on a four-fight win streak.
Shore is a slick submission grappler with eight wins via tap-out in his career, but he’s also shown improved striking in recent performances too. Sholinian was part of the most recent TUF season on Team Ortega and takes the fight on short notice. He is a brilliant wrestler with some decent submission skills of his own but some brilliant top control to round off his skills.
The Welshman is the overwhelming favourite but this fight is a bit closer than that. Shore has the edge on the feet, has more experience on the big stage and is a good wrestler in his own right. If Sholinian gets top position, Shore is good enough to submit him from his back but the likelihood is he controls the fight and earns a finish as the fight goes on either late in the second or in the third. PICK – Jack Shore via Submission, Round 2
Molly McCann (10-4) vs Ji Yeon Kim (9-3-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Featured prelim bout is a women’s flyweight clash coming off defeats. McCann has lost her last two, getting dominated by Taila Santos and most recently Lara Procopio at UFC Vegas 18 while Kim was beaten by Alexa Grasso at UFC Vegas 8 last year in her last fight.
McCann is a straight up brawler who walks forward with pressure and looks to outland her opponent as much as possible using her kicks and cardio as a weapon. Kim is a technical striker with a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, using her counter-attacking skills as much as she can. It’s almost to her detriment in that sense, because she never kicks due to how good her boxing is and she is often left waiting for a long time.
McCann is well out-matched in terms of height and reach but she’s a much improved wrestler and has the edge there over Kim. Kim doesn’t really use her reach as much as she should and her defence isn’t the best which means she will leave herself open and that tells me McCann has a path to victory, which I think she’ll take – just. PICK – Molly McCann 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.
Both guys are quite well rounded all over the mixed martial arts world, but Anders seems to struggle under pressure. Stewart seems super confident in his chin and that means he’s happy to walk forward and he’s certainly more active. I think he has the physicality advantage too and with good submission skills and a power advantage, I think Stewart does enough to start 2021 off the right way. PICK – Darren Stewart via Decision
Manel Kape (15-5) vs Matheus Nicolau (15-3-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
After a disappointing UFC debut, Manel Kape makes the quick turnaround to take on Matheus Nicolau in the flyweight division on short notice. Kape fought Alexandre Pantoja at UFC Vegas 18 but hesitancy to throw shots saw him miss out on a decision that was there for the taking, while Nicolau has won his last two and makes his UFC return after two fights away from the promotion.
Kape is an explosive fighter with great power and tremendous speed, who has pretty good takedown defence too. Nicolau loves to push the pace and come forward with pressure, throwing leg kicks really well. He’s a fairly hittable fighter though, which doesn’t stand him in good stead against the power of Kape. While offensively he’s solid, defensively he has plenty of lapses and Kape is the better overall fighter in this bout. Without having too much wrestling to worry about, Kape should be able to be more free-flowing in his attacks and I think he could get the stoppage win. PICK – Manel Kape via Knockout, Round 2
Jonathan Martinez (13-3) vs Davey Grant (12-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Grant has a fantastic ground game as his eight submission wins show, but he’s recently started backing that up with a wild-brawling style to set those takedowns up to get it down. Martinez however is a better, more powerful striker than Grant and has supplemented his striking style with some really improved takedown defence. Grant is 35 now and his durability won’t last forever against younger, stronger, more powerful strikers and this is one of those fights. While I don’t think Martinez quite has the power to put Grant’s lights out, he should clinically out-strike him for a wide decision win. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Decision
Dan Ige (14-3) vs Gavin Tucker (13-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Ige is a pressure fighter who loves to box and throw excellent combinations, although his power isn’t among the top of his attributes. Tucker on the other hand is also a good boxer but he relies more on his wrestling and top position in fights. Both guys are pretty well rounded and while Ige is definitely beatable and has clear flaws to his game, he is a better version of Tucker. He’s the better wrestler, better striker and neither have great knockout power so I expect Ige to use his experience to grind out a decision win. PICK – Dan Ige via Decision
Misha Cirkunov (15-5) vs Ryan Spann (18-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The big boys of the card square off in the co-main event in the light heavyweight division. Cirkunov has lost three of his last five and hasn’t fought since a win over Jimmy Crute back in 2019, while Spann was on an eight-fight win streak before getting KO’d by Johnny Walker at UFC Vegas 11.
Cirkunov is one of the best grapplers in the division, with eight submission wins in his career including each of his last five wins. Spann is also a grappler with great submission skills with 11 wins via tap-out in his career but there are levels to this ground game in MMA. Cirkunov is the smaller fighter in this fight but he’s so powerful and knows exactly how to place his weight to keep you wherever he wants you. Neither are the best strikers so I expect Cirkunov to show his skill in the ground game and dominate from start to finish with top control. PICK – Misha Cirkunov via Decision
Leon Edwards (18-3) vs Belal Muhammad (18-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A welterweight main event as Leon Edwards finally returns to the octagon to take on a short-notice opponent in ‘Bully’ Belal Muhammad. Edwards is on an eight-fight win streak but hasn’t fought since beating Rafael Dos Anjos in July 2019 after fights with Tyron Woodley and Khamzat Chimaev x3 fell through. Muhammad is now on a four-fight win streak after a win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258 just a few weeks ago.
Edwards is a super-fit and well rounded fighter, with great boxing to set up his fantastic wrestling and top control game. Muhammad is a very similar fighter in that sense, but he’s never been able to show it against the calibre of fighter that Edwards has done in the past. Muhammad had some problems with the leg kicks that Lima gave him in those fights and it’s a path that Edwards could look to expose to make takedowns a bit easier as both fighters will look to take the centre and control positions. Edwards will throw elbows in the clinch and as Muhammad tries to close the distance which will give Edwards the edge and he should win this one pretty comfortably, although a finish is unlikely on either side. PICK – Leon Edwards via Decision
This is a considerably smaller card than the last one we saw, with just 9 fights on this card rather than the 15 we saw last weekend. I’m going to break down the 4 preliminary fights here and make my picks for each bout.
Last time out, I got 11/15 correct with 7 of those 11 absolutely perfect (winner, round, method). Lets see if I can do any better this time around.
Chris Gutierrez (15-3-1) vs Cody Durden (11-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
After a defeat in his UFC debut, Gutierrez has bounced back to win his last three in a row including a TKO via leg-kicks in his last outing. Durden steps in on just six-days notice for his UFC debut off the back of a seven-fight win streak. The big difference in this fight is the level of opponent they’ve each fought prior. This will comfortably be Durden’s biggest test to date and Gutierrez should really prove too much for him. Durden is a solid wrestler with decent striking, but Gutierrez has different level hands in comparison. His leg kicks are violent and his right hook is crisp and accurate. That should be enough to keep Durden’s wrestling at distance for a decision win. PICK – Chris Gutierrez via Unanimous Decision
Jamall Emmers (17-5) vs Vincent Cachero (7-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Vincent Cachero has stepped into this fight on less that two days notice after Timur Valiev dropped out prior to the weigh-ins. Emmers is a very good wrestler who’s top control and positions are very good while Cachero isn’t really excellent at anything. He’s 1-2 in his last three fights and Emmers should be a whole level above him here. In reality, Emmers lands an early takedown and pummels Cachero into a finish but knowing Emmers’ history he’ll likely stand with Cachero to polish his skills and take a decision win instead. PICK – Jamall Emmers via Unanimous Decision
Johnny Munhoz Jr (10-0) vs Nathan Maness (11-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Straight up… this fight got announced overnight and I don’t know enough about either of them to really make a genuine pick. So it’s a stab in the dark. Nathan Maness just because he’s actually been training. PICK – Nathan Maness via Knockout, Round 3
Frankie Saenz (12-6) vs Jonathan Martinez (11-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
This is your typical two-outcome fight. Either Frankie Saenz uses his wrestling expertly for a decision win or he gets knocked out by the superior striker in Martinez. Saenz is 2-4 in his last 6 and was knocked out in his last fight against Marlon Vera in the first round 16 months ago. Martinez on the other hand won two in a row before poor judging saw him lose his last bout to Andre Dewell via split decision. Martinez has a reach advantage and will use his youthfulness to constantly move away from Saenz’s wrestling and strike from range. He has good power and Saenz is coming to the end of a good career but this is old school vs new school and the new school should have too much power for him. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Knockout, Round 2