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.
Alex Pereira (4-1) vs Bruno Silva (22-6) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Someone is going to sleep in this middleweight bout to open the main card. Alex Pereira made his UFC debut at UFC 269 and scored a huge flying knee knockout, while Bruno Silva is on a seven-fight win streak with KO’s in all of them including Wellington Turman at UFC Vegas 29, Andrew Sanchez at UFC Vegas 40 and Jordan Wright at UFC 269 too.
Pereira is a world class kickboxer who owns two victories over middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in his career, who has shifted to MMA to force another fight with him. His takedown defence has shown improvements, but is still a glaring weakness right now. Silva on the other hand is a brawler with dynamite in his hands, but he also has a solid ground game and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Someone is going to sleep. It’s that simple. Pereira is super technical and very proficient with his striking, only needing to land clean once to put your lights out, while Silva looks to make the fight wild before landing a clean strike and putting your lights out too. The grappling gives Silva a huge chance though, although I don’t expect he’ll show it much. He will look to take his head off and Pereira can kick from range and pick him off to earn a huge knockout scalp on his resume. PICK – Alex Pereira via Knockout, Round 1
Drew Dober (23-11) vs Terrance McKinney (12-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A super short-notice bout in the lightweight division up next. Drew Dober has lost his last two fights against elite competition, getting submitted by Islam Makhachev at UFC 259 before dropping a decision to Brad Riddell at UFC 263. McKinney has made a big splash since his UFC debut, where he score a 7-second KO against Matt Frevola at UFC 263 and then earned a big win over Fares Ziam at UFC Vegas 49 just a few weeks ago. He steps in on eight days’ notice.
Dober is a hugely talented wrestler, whose entire game is based around shooting and then controlling opponents on the ground before raining down ground and pound or submissions. McKinney is a strong wrestler himself but he has serious knockout power too and is riding a huge wave of momentum right now. That said, it’s a big step up in competition for ‘T Wrecks’.
Dober’s chin has survived damage in the past, but he has been submitted in the past four times. McKinney showed in his last bout that he has submission skills and solid wrestling, which makes this fight very close on paper too. It’s hard to get a proper read on McKinney right now though, because he’s had less than half a round in the cage to date. I won’t be shocked if McKinney wins, but it will be mightily impressive. I expect Dober to wrestle defensively and use his striking on the feet to earn a good win, especially with the short-notice aspect being in his favour. PICK – Drew Dober via Decision
Khalil Rountree Jr (10-5) vs Karl Roberson (9-4) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fascinating bout at 205-pounds in this one between UFC stalwarts. Rountree Jr snapped a two-fight losing streak with a TKO win via leg kick against Modestas Bukauskas at UFC Vegas 36, while Roberson looks to snap his own losing streak after submission losses to Marvin Vettori at UFC Vegas 2 and Brendan Allen at UFC 261.
Rountree is a Muay-Thai fighter with incredible leg kicks and explosive power in his hands, with a largely improved and evolved game over the years. Roberson is a kickboxer outside of the cage, but for some reason when the door gets locked he starts looking to grapple a lot. This won’t be a grapple heavy affair though, with both guys looking to strike from range and use counters.
That favours Rountree though, because he is a fighter with much better output and volume as well as his leg kicking game being much more advanced. Both guys have the power to put the other out, but the likelihood is this will be quite a cagey affair and Rountree will be able to use his slight speed advantage to catch the judge’s eyes. PICK – Khalil Rountree Jr via Decision
Sodiq Yusuff (11-2) vs Alex Caceres (19-12) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Two very talented featherweights go head-to-head in this one. Yusuff saw a six-fight win streak snapped by Arnold Allen last time out at UFC Vegas 23, while Caceres is currently on a five-fight win streak with a submission against Seung Woo Choi at UFC Vegas 41 in his most recent outing.
Yusuff is a powerhouse of a striker who fights with great patience and composure, while Caceres is very unorthodox and has an ability to take the fight anywhere with good grappling skills and a karate style of striking. Yusuff is physically the bigger and stronger fighter, which means he will be full of confidence when it comes to the striking game as well as defending any takedowns.
Caceres is on a great run, but this is a bad match up for him. Caceres likes to use volume to get his range, but Yusuff will happily eat a pitter-patter strike to land a bomb and that’s what I expect he will do. He will press forward and force Caceres backwards, before landing some heavy strikes and either forcing a stoppage or earning a wide decision win. PICK – Sodiq Yusuff via Decision
Marlon Moraes (23-9-1) vs Song Yadong (18-5-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The best division in the UFC serves up yet another beautiful fight for the fans here. Moraes is on a rough run right now, with three losses in a row to Cory Sandhagen at UFC Fight Island 5, Rob Font at UFC Vegas 17 and Merab Dvalishvili at UFC 266. A controversial win over Jose Aldo is the only thing stopping him from a five-fight losing streak. Yadong on the other hand is one of the best young fighters in the company and is on a two-fight win streak after a decision against Casey Kenny at UFC 265 before a KO against Julio Arce at UFC Vegas 42.
Moraes is a world class striker, with incredible power in his high kicks and lightning fast striking in his hands. He has got huge problems with his cardio however and recently his chin has really let him down, with repetitive stoppages. Yadong is a terrific boxer with great speed and some good wrestling skills too, which he may need to use in order to gain a victory here. This has got fight of the night potential all over it.
If Yadong wants to secure the win, he needs to mix it up and drag the fight into the latter rounds. Moraes is a better striker and is incredibly well-rounded, but his cardio always drains away in every fight if he doesn’t get the finish early. Yadong is powerful enough to clip that chin of Moraes once again, especially if he’s tired, and earn himself a huge win that potentially ends Moraes’ run with the UFC. PICK – Song Yadong via Knockout, Round 2
Thiago Santos (22-9) vs Magomed Ankalaev (16-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A huge light heavyweight main event headlines this card with potential title implications. Santos has bounced back from three consecutive defeats to earn a decision win over Johnny Walker most recently at UFC Vegas 38, while Ankalaev is on a seven-fight win streak with his only defeat coming in the final second of his three-round fight with Paul Craig, where he was submitted. His most recent win came against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 267 via decision.
Santos is an excellent Muay-Thai fighter with ridiculous power in his punches, and a genuine ability to break your face. Ankalaev on the other hand is a very talented striker who also has grappling in his back pocket, but has patience and power in his strikes. Santos had both his knees ripped to shreds against Jon Jones and since coming back he’s been much more patient and less mobile, which doesn’t help him in this fight. He hasn’t lost his power, but he’s not as willing to stand and trade which may have been the key to winning this fight.
In a straight technique-for-technique clash with Ankalaev, he will lose. Ankalaev has speed, spinning attacks, a good variety to his strikes and enough power to put people out. Santos has a good chin but his lack of volume in recent fights worries me and that can allow Ankalaev to step in and pick him apart, while also not testing his cardio so he can waltz to a dominant decision win. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
The UFC have announced a light heavyweight title contention bout for the first quarter of 2022 as Thiago Santos takes on Magomed Ankalaev in a five-round main event.
The 205lbs division recently crowned a new champion after Glover Teixeira defeat Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 last month, and the next contender seems to be settled at Jiri Prochazka.
But beyond that, the top of the division is wide open and these two top six fighters will now be looking to enter their name into the conversation for the belt.
Santos previously had a title shot back at UFC 239 where he lost a split decision to Jon Jones, before two more back-to-back defeats against Glover Teixeira at UFC Vegas 13 and then Aleksandar Rakic at UFC 259.
He got back to winning ways in his most recent bout though against Johnny Walker in a unanimous decision win at UFC Vegas 38.
Ankalaev currently holds a 16-1 record, with his only defeat coming against submission specialist Paul Craig via triangle in the final second of their three-round bout.
He has since won seven-in-a-row, including KO wins over Ion Cutelaba twice, Nikita Krylov at UFC Vegas 20 and then most recently against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 267.
It’s set to be the toughest challenge of Ankalaev’s career, but the Russian fighter is tipped as one of the best prospects in the division and many believe that his brilliant striking skills could see him become a future champion in the UFC.
Santos will be keen to build momentum once again with another big name win to get himself back in contention to take on potentially get one final title shot to round off his career.
The fight will take place on March 12th 2022 on a Fight Night event, but the location and start time is yet to be confirmed by the organisation.
Tagir Ulanbekov def Allan Nascimento via Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
A couple of hard low kicks early from Nascimento to start the fight, but Ulanbekov taking the centre and flicking his jab out nicely. Another nice leg kick from Nascimento and then he follows that up with a nice right hand. Flying knee attempt just misses but Ulanbekov grabs a body lock and takes the fight to the ground immediately. Nascimento defending really well on the ground and threatening with an armbar, then sweeps to the top but Ulanbekov immediately gets up and tries to get the fight back down against the cage. Ulanbekov battling against submission attempts and ends up in a mounted guillotine and it’s tight! Nascimento fighting it and eventually pops his head out to survive! Amazing! Ulanbekov gets back to top position and is resting in a controlling position, with Nascimento threatening with a guillotine of his own. He now moves to a kimura trap to try and get to his feet but the round ends. Great round. 10-9 Ulanbekov for me.
Good start to the round again from Ulanbekov with his jab landing well, before he shoots in deep for a takedown. Nascimento defends it well against the cage but eventually Ulanbekov is able to change levels and get the fight down. Nascimento threatening with a kimura from the bottom, but Ulanbekov defending it well and eventually gets back into full guard without the threat. Nascimento being very active off his back, but Ulanbekov trying to stifle him from the top to control him. Nascimento tries for a triangle but Ulanbekov deals with it easily, before Nascimento lands a huge elbow from the bottom. Nascimento goes for an armbar and starts smashing him with elbows from the bottom to see out the round. Close, but I edge to Nascimento there for attacking more despite being on the bottom. 19-19.
Big knee attempt from Nascimento early on but Ulanbekov gets the fight to ground once again immediately. Nascimento went for a kimura trap immediately and swept him to get on top but once against Ulanbekov raced to the next position to maintain control. Ulanbekov in full guard just stalling and looking for a bit of ground and pound, but Nascimento seems happy enough on his back to look for submissions. Ulanbekov trying to pass guard but Nascimento is looking to make him defend as much as possible. He finally passes into half guard now and starts looking for some short elbows from the top. Big left hand lands but Nascimento still being active and trying to sweep him. Final minute and Nascimento goes for another kimura, but Ulanbekov defends it excellently again. Nascimento goes for a triangle armbar but Ulanbekov defends it and ends the round with some big ground shots to likely claim a win. 29-28 Ulanbekov.
Andre Petroski def Hu Yaozong via Submission (Arm Triangle Choke), Round 3 (4:46)
Lots of feinting early on from both guys, before Petroski flies in with a big left hand that just misses. Petroski lands two big left hands and then Yaozong goes for a head-kick that gets blocked and he ends up on his back. Petroski goes straight for the neck and jumps on a mounted guillotine but it’s not quite in yet. He lets go and takes the back, rains down some big ground and pound. He goes for the rear-naked choke and it’s tight but Yaozong explodes out and Petroski goes for a d’arce but Yaozong gets back to his feet. Petroski lands a big left hand again but Yaozong is still coming forward. Petroski throws two big strikes that lands clean but Yaozong eats it. Three huge left hooks land from Petroski but Yaozong is still standing and Petroski is exhausted. Single leg takedown from Petroski but Yaozong gets straight back up and keeps coming forward. One more left hand lands for good measure as the round ends. Crazy round. 10-9 Petroski.
Immediate takedown from Petroski and he goes for a guillotine again, but Yaozong scrambles out quickly and gets back to his feet. Petroski lands a huge left hand and then a couple more, before another takedown where he now looks to control the position. Another attempted guillotine from Petroski before he looks to control again. Petroski moves to side control and looks for a head-and-arm choke but Yaozong grabs his own leg to defend it. Petroski looks to move to his back but Yaozong defends it again, but Petroski is controlling him much better now. Petroski moves into full mount and then goes for the head-and-arm choke again, but once again Yaozong defends it. Yaozong gets back to his feet but Petroski keeps a body lock and takes him down once again. Petroski flows on the mat and takes Yaozong’s back again and is looking for a rear-naked choke. Petroski controls until the buzzer goes. 20-18 Petroski.
Petroski lands a big left hand as Yaozong pressures him to the cage early in the final round, but Petroski shoots for a takedown and then runs him the entire way across before getting him down. Petroski takes control and looks to move to his back, then lands a few big ground strikes before pulling Yaozong backwards onto the mat. Petroski flowing well and looks for a guillotine, before Yaozong gets back to his feet. Yaozong sprawls and slips and then Petroski lands a huge one-two Douglas Lima style. Petroski gets another takedown and ends up in full mount, landing big elbows but Yaozong refusing to give up. Another huge elbow from Petroski and he works to control again. Petroski moves to side control and locks up a head-and-arm choke once again and forces the tap with 15 seconds left! Great win from Petroski.
Lerone Murphy def Makwan Amirkhani via Knockout, Round 2 (0:14)
Early takedown in the opening round from Amirkhani as soon as Murphy switches to an orthodox stance. Amirkhani controlling him against the cage and looking to advance to three-quarter mount, but Murphy doing relatively well to defend so far. Amirkhani keeping the body lock tight and Murphy is trying hard to break the lock, but Amirkhani keeping it tight and keeping the fight as grappling heavy as possible as we enter the final minute. Amirkhani completely controlling the action through the first five minutes as the buzzer goes. 10-9 Amirkhani.
Amirkhani goes for an early takedown as soon as Murphy switches to orthodox again but Murphy blasts a HUGE knee and Amirkhani is out!!! Oh my word what a KO!!
Michal Oleksiejczuk def Shamil Gamzatov via Knockout, Round 1 (3:31)
Great first round from Oleksiejczuk who keeps the fight standing for the most part, before landing a crisp right uppercut that puts Gamzatov down. He follows it up with some big ground and pound and that’s all she wrote!
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def Benoit Saint-Denis via Unanimous Decision (29-26 x3)
Saint-Denis opens with a body kick, then Zaleski lands a nice one-two. Nice body kicks from Zaleski and some hard low kicks, but Saint-Denis coming forward still and then creates an angle for a takedown and slams Zaleski down. Zaleski gets back up relatively easily though and lands another hard low kick. Saint-Denis ripping some strong kicks to the body, but Zaleski responding with leg kicks. Big exchange of punches and Zaleski lands a hard right hand that rocks him, but Saint-Denis shoots in for a double leg to buy himself some time. Zaleski gets back up again quickly and continues to chop the lead leg. Level change from Saint-Denis but Zaleski keeps it standing, then just slips a big uppercut. Great round, 10-9 Zaleski for me.
Fast flurry of strikes between the two leads to Zaleski landing a big counter-right hand. Saint-Denis keeps coming and eats another huge right hand and then Zaleski lands a flush knee to the head. Saint-Denis is badly hurt but Zaleski keeps coming forward and landing big strikes. Saint-Denis won’t go down but Zaleski is pouring it on! Huge strikes and another big right hand and Saint-Denis is just refusing to go down. Zaleski is battering him and the entire arena is screaming for the referee to stop the fight but he won’t. Zaleski is lighting him up but he won’t go down and then he shoots for a takedown. Somehow, the round goes the full five minutes. Unreal. 20-17 at least.
Somehow they come out for the final round and Zaleski lands a hard low kick. Accidental eye poke from Zaleski causes a pause of the action. Saint-Denis tells the referee he can’t see , but the referee restarts the fight anyway without bringing in a doctor??? Zaleski lands a right hand that wobbles Saint-Denis, who shoots for a takedown that gets sprawled. Zaleski sitting on the top in full guard before they get back to the feet. Head-kick from Saint-Denis is blocked and Zaleski comes forward again with a right hand. Big left hand from Saint-Denis lands before a takedown attempt, but Zaleski is able to scramble to switch the position and then get back up. Final minute now and there’s an accidental low blow by Zaleski to cause another pause in the action. The referee takes a point away from Zaleski (???) who now steps forward with some more aggression. Round comes to an end with Zaleski chasing Saint-Denis down, but that should be that. 29-26.
Albert Duraev def Roman Kopylov via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-27 x2)
Kopylov starting off confidently in the centre, landing hard low kicks and one that even drops Duraev momentarily. Duraev explodes with a one-two and then a leg kick of his own. Duraev lands a right hand down the middle, then lands a low kick and left-hook combo that stuns Kopylov. Another hard leg kick from Duraev as he starts to pressure Kopylov back against the cage. Big elbow strike lands but Kopylov is giving as good as he’s taking so far. Duraev currently just too quick for Kopylov at the moment, but no great damage being done. Kopylov catches a high kick and lands a few uppercuts before they separate and Duraev goes for some more jabs. 10-9 Duraev at the end of the first.
Kopylov lands a big left hand early in the second and drops Duraev! Duraev manages to survive with good movement and then shoots in for a takedown against the cage. Duraev goes for a takedown and Kopylov grabs the fence to deny it! The referee stops the action, gives a hard warning and resets them which allows Duraev to get an immediate takedown. Duraev then transitions straight into full mount and starts attacking with ground and pound and threatening with a head-and-arm choke. Big ground and pound from Duraev and Kopylov is trying to fight back but getting hurt bad. Duraev landing big, heavy elbows from the top in full mount and Kopylov is getting beaten up bad. Duraev going for a head-and-arm choke but Kopylov defends it and Duraev goes straight back to the big elbow strikes from the top. Kopylov turns on to his belly and Duraev takes his back to look for a choke, before smashing in more ground and pound. Duraev goes for a rear-naked choke and it’s in deep but Kopylov is saved by the bell! 20-17 Duraev.
Nice body shot from Kopylov and a head-kick is blocked, before Duraev goes straight back for a takedown against the cage. Kopylov defends it well but Duraev keeps trying until they separate and reset in the middle of the octagon. Nice body kick from Kopylov again, but Duraev lands a big right hand and then goes back in for a takedown. Kopylov defending it excellently though and as he escapes, Duraev goes down with exhaustion. Kopylov lands a big left hand and Duraev is exhausted, but so is Kopylov. Kopylove with his hands on his knees, trying to invite Duraev towards him. Duraev just taking his time to circle as we enter the final minute but both men are just waiting for the final bell at this point. Duraev goes for a takedown but gets caught and then Kopylov goes for a big takedown of his own to end the round. 30-26 Duraev.
Zubaira Tukhugov def Ricardo Ramos via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start to this one as Ramos comes out very kick heavy, with low kicks and body attempts while Tukhugov just staying calm and patient. Nice left hand counter lands from Tukhugov that stumbles Ramos, which immediately makes the Brazilian think twice. Tukhugov forcing Ramos against the cage with his pressure and lands a big left hand. He follows it with a big right hand that opens up a huge cut! Tukhugov throws a big body shot and is pressuring Ramos hard now. Low kick from Ramos but Tukhugov counters with a nice one-two down the pipe. Big right hand swings wildly and misses but Ramos is very focused on avoiding rather than causing damage right now. Big counter-right hand from Tukhugov lands again. Tukhugov goes in for a left hook but Ramos counters with a spinning reverse elbow that opens a big cut up on Tukhugov! What a round! 10-9 Tukhugov for me.
Start of the second similar to the first, with Ramos trying to be first and Tukhugov trying to counter. Big right hand from the Russian lands but Ramos continuing to be on the front foot. Tukhugov slips a big combination and points at Ramos, before Ramos slips a counter one-two straight back. Nice low kick from Ramos lands and then a big one-two down the pipe. Tukhugov goes for a single leg but lets it go and lands a right hand of his own. Tukhugov starting to pressure Ramos against the cage but the Brazilian doing well to move and circle. Big right hand from Tukhugov lands and he follows up with two nice jabs. Tukhugov fires in with a blast double leg and gets a back trip to take the fight down with ten seconds left and likely take the round. 20-18 Tukhugov for me.
Tukhugov looking to take the initiative early on again and stepping forward with his jab. Ramos looks like he’s tiring but is landing his right hand well. Ramos lands a big knee with his back against the cage and then explodes forward with more strikes. Tukhugov stays calm though and continues to land his jab, while avoiding Ramos’ bigger strike attempts. Another stiff jab by Tukhugov but Ramos just misses with an elbow. More jabs from Tukhugov, who is pressuring Ramos backwards consistently. Ramos lands a right hand and then a low kick but Tukhugov still coming forward and then shoots for a takedown with 30 seconds to go. A few trip attempts but the buzzer goes and Tukhugov should earn the decision win.
Amanda Ribas def Virna Jandiroba via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Jandiroba shoots straight in for a takedown but Ribas sprawls and denies it immediately. Ribas fires a one-two down the pipe after slipping Jandiroba’s strike attempt, before Jandiroba sees another takedown attempt denied. Big one-two lands from Jandiroba and then she shoots for a takedown and secures it into full guard. Jandiroba goes for body-head strikes but Ribas throws her legs up and looks for a very unique submission, but Jandiroba stays calm, escapes and goes back to the ground and pound. Jandiroba scoops her over to the cage and stacks her up, looking for some strikes then launches down with a huge elbow. Jandiroba completely controlling on the ground right now with relentless pressure but then the referee stands them up. Jandiroba lands a big right hand that drops Ribas but the buzzer goes and potentially saves her! 10-9 Jandiroba.
Lots of bouncing to open the second round and then Ribas lands a big right hand straight down the pipe. Jandiroba responds with a right hand of her own before a spinning back kick from Ribas lands to the body. Nice counter right from Ribas again as both women stand toe-to-toe. Lots of big actions from both women but not much landing as of now, with Ribas pushing the action and Jandiroba on the back foot. Jandiroba goes for a single leg takedown but Ribas reverses the attempt and ends up on top, before they scramble up to their feet again. Lots of tough grappling to end the round, but Ribas takes it. 19-19.
Ribas pressuring hard in the third now with nice combinations and ending them all with a kick. Jandiroba is slowing up quite clearly and she shoots for a lazy takedown that Ribas stuffs then tries to trip her herself. Nice left hand from Jandiroba before Ribas counters the next strike with a nice left hand. Spinning kick to the body doesn’t land clean, before Jandiroba goes for another takedown but is denied. Big head kick from Ribas lands and Jandiroba is hurt! She goes for a spin kick that misses and that allows Jandiroba to recover her senses, but she’s very tired. Ribas still fresh and being first with her strikes as the fight winds down to a close. Should be a comeback 29-28 win for Ribas.
Ankalaev opening up early with some speedy strikes down the pipe, but Oezdemir staying calm in front of him. Oezdemir throws a wicked left hook that lands, then follows up with a left uppercut that wobbles Ankalaev. Oezdemir goes for a flying knee but misses and Ankalaev gets a body lock and puts him up against the cage. Oezdemir has Ankalaev backing up against the cage but both men are just missing with their strikes. Big one-two down the pipe from Ankalaev and he drops Oezdemir! He goes to finish but Oezdemir gets back up quickly and they reset. Another jab and left hand from Ankalaev lands and he’s now taking the centre. Oezdemir looks hesitant and Ankalaev’s left hand is landing at will almost. One-two followed by two more right-hands by Ankalaev as the round ends. 10-9 Ankalaev.
Oezdemir tries to rush in with his right hand but Ankalaev escapes, clinches up and then lands a big left hand on the break. Hard low kick from Oezdemir before Ankalaev throws another combination that just misses. Oezdemir steps forward with a right hand but Ankalaev counters with a hard right hook that cuts Oezdemir above the eye. Oezdemir’s only success really coming from low kicks but Ankalaev controlling the range and throwing his left hand well. Uppercut from Ankalaev lands and then he locks up a body lock against the cage, throwing hard knees to the thigh of Oezdemir. Ankalaev tries to get a takedown but Oezdemir defends well, then blocks a big left hand on the break. 20-18 Ankalaev.
Ankalaev staying very calm and jabbing well in this final round. Nice jab and a big right hand lands but Oezdemir eats it well. Oezdemir goes for a takedown but Ankalaev denies it and then lands a hard right hand. Ankalaev turning up the pressure a little now with a left head kick but Oezdemir still trying to find a moment. Big right hand lands from Oezdemir but Ankalaev eats it and steps to the side before returning to his jab. Entering the final minute now and both guys seem to have accepted the result of this one, with not much happening. Hard body kick from Ankalaev before a stiff right jab lands too. Takedown attempt from Ankalaev as the round ends, in what should be a 30-27 win for him.
Khamzat Chimaev def Jingliang Li via Submission (Rear-Naked Choke), Round 1 (3:16)
Chimaev ducks under a right hand and goes straight for a takedown on Li, who defends it well before eventually getting lifted, slammed and controller. Chimaev throwing some ground strikes again but Li defending well, although Chimaev is controlling him with wrestling so far. Heavy ground and pound from Chimaev as he puts a hook in and starts searching for a choke. Chimaev goes on the back and flattens Li out and starts smashing him with ground and pound! Huge shots from Chimaev but Li is still trying to fight him! Chimaev switches to the back and goes for a choke and sinks it in! Li fighting the submission but Chimaev switches sides, readjusts the grip and puts Li to sleep! Wow!! What a performance! The hype is real!
Alexander Volkov def Marcin Tybura via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Great start from both guys as Volkov comes forward with some body shots and stiff hooks, but Tybura replies with a big left hand of his own. Volkov using his length well to land straight shots and avoid Tybura’s returns so far, before Tybura changes levels on him to no avail. Tybura gets inside and goes for a takedown, but Volkov denies him really well before breaking with an elbow attempt. Big one-two from Volkov but Tybura steps forward again with pressure to close the distance. Tybura changes levels on Volkov but he turns him and ends up on top, landing a big elbow early. Tybura stalling on the ground by just holding Volkov tight to him and Volkov goes for a forearm to the throat to try and disrupt the breathing. Volkov lands a few more ground strikes to end the round in control and take it on the cards, 10-9.
Volkov using his front kick well once again and the big right hand following behind it. Tybura pressing the pace and forcing him backwards, but his takedown attempts are being denied quite comfortably. A few uppercuts in the clinch from Tybura land before another takedown attempt is denied. Volkov throws a knee that is caught and Tybura tries for another takedown, but Volkov denies him again and lands a right hand as they separate. Nice one-two from Tybura lands and Volkov is starting to tire now. Left hand misses from Tybura again and then Volkov lands a beautiful right hook. Tybura fakes a jab and goes for another takedown but Volkov denies it and sees out the round. Hard to score, but it’s probably even going into the third.
Tybura on the front foot once again in this final round, almost chasing Volkov but neither doing much damage. Volkov lands a hard knee to the body before Tybura goes for another takedown that gets stuffed. Nice one-two from Volkov as they separate but it’s still Tybura pushing forward. Big left uppercut followed by a right hand from Volkov lands and then he denies yet another takedown! Short left hook from Tybura lands and then he goes in for a takedown again that Volkov defends routinely at this point. Tybura tries a hip toss but Volkov holds a body lock and has the back, landing big knees to the thigh. Big right hands from Volkov land and then some nice combinations as Tybura starts to tire. Big one-two from Volkov but Tybura responds with a big left of his own. Final minute now and both guys are breathing heavy. Volkov lands a big right hand, slips Tybura’s strikes and lands a nice combination to back Tybura up. Straight right hand each as the round comes to an end, should be a Volkov decision win 29-28.
Islam Makhachev def Dan Hooker via Submission (Kimura), Round 1 (2:25)
Hooker trying to keep length nice and early here with a few low kicks as Makhachev takes the centre and just looks for his moment. Makhachev throws a nice hook then dips low and catches Hooker’s leg to get an immediate takedown and move straight to half guard in his own corner. Makhachev throws a nice elbow in tight and is now attacking a kimura! Makhachev readjusts the grip, steps over and twists the arm behind the back and secures the tap out! Unbelievable performance from Makhachev!
Petr Yan def Cory Sandhagen via Unanimous Decision (49-46 x3)
An exchange of leg kicks between the two in the opening minute, as Yan takes the centre and Sandhagen looks to circle on the outside and use his length. Yan lets a left hand fly but it just misses, before a nice low kick followed by a body shot from Sandhagen. Low kick from Yan and Sandhagen counters with two nice left hands before changing levels to go for a takedown. Yan defends it well though and they go back into a close exchange of striking. Hard low kick from Yan lands before Sandhagen steps forward and just misses with a left. Sandhagen forces Yan to the cage and lands a few touching shots, before a nice kick to the body. Hard strikes from Sandhagen land but Yan returns with a big right hand of his own before Sandhagen changes levels again. Big flying knee from Sandhagen lands and the round ends. 10-9 Sandhagen.
Hard low kick from Sandhagen to open up the round, before both guys use their feints really well. Body kick from Yan lands but he misses with the follow up right hand and Sandhagen responds with a right hand of his own. Huge body kick from Yan lands clean and then Sandhagen responds with a nice left hook to the body himself. Head kick attempt from Yan is caught and Sandhagen throws a nice right. Yan responds with a low kick and then a big left hand to the chin. Sandhagen moving well still and touching Yan well, but Yan starting to counter with powerful strikes of his own. Yan just misses with a big left hand and both guys exchange body shots again. Sandhagen goes for a takedown but Yan defends it well and keeps the fight standing. Big knee from Sandhagen again but Yan eats it well. Yan pushing forward and putting his pace on this fight, but Sandhagen using his length well to stay out of real danger. 19-19.
Soft left hands from Sandhagen before he checks a leg kick and lands a beautiful left down the pipe to wobble Yan. Yan comes forward with a spinning kick to the body before Sandhagen lands his jab again. Huge left hook to the body from Yan lands but Sandhagen comes forward again with his jab and circles on the outside. Hard leg kick but Yan checks it and then he lands a big left uppercut. He goes for a combination but Sandhagen avoids it and lands a one-two of his own. Yan trying to turn the pressure up but Sandhagen slipping shots well and avoiding clean hits. Big one-two from Yan lands but Sandhagen staying calm and circling on the outside. Body kick from Yan but Sandhagen moves forward to trade with him. Yan throws a big hook and then a spinning back fist and drops Sandhagen! He goes for vicious ground and pound but Sandhagen stays calm and after some scrambles, they get back to the feet and the round ends. 29-28 Yan.
Yan starting to walk Sandhagen down a bit now but he isn’t going anywhere. Nice jabs again and a nice knee attempt just misses, but Yan is throwing big left hands and landing clean. Another big left from Yan lands flush but Sandhagen still standing. Body shot from Sandhagen gets a big left straight reply from Yan, but Sandhagen continuing to poke at him with jabs. Yan with a body kick and then a beautiful one two lands. Sandhagen shoots for a takedown and gets it, but both guys go for a heel hook before they scramble back to their feet. Yan ducks under a spinning back fist then lands some big combinations to the head and body. Yan continuing to march forward and the big hooks are landing, but Sandhagen responds with a big elbow. Yan steps forward and blasts Sandhagen with a huge right hand, but Sandhagen just eats it. Yan stuffs a takedown and they start scrambling again, with Yan throwing big combinations. 39-37 Yan.
Final round and Sandhagen still trying pick his shots while Yan is walking him down. Hard low kick from Yan gets a big reaction from Sandhagen, before he tries another jump knee that Yan blocks. Yan looking to close distance again but Sandhagen still fresh and moving well, flicking out his jab. Yan goes for three hooks but misses them all thanks to good movement, before Yan tries for a takedown and Sandhagen denies him. Huge head kick from Yan lands but Sandhagen shakes his head and says no, before Yan goes for more big hooks. Final 90 seconds and Yan is still coming forward. Right jab from Yan before Sandhagen makes him miss several times. Big left hand from Sandhagen lands and then he avoids the spinning back fist. Big knee from Sandhagen with ten seconds left but Yan responds with a spinning kick to the chin and they go wild with seconds remaining to end the fight. What a bout! 49-46 Yan for me.
Glover Teixeira def Jan Blachowicz via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2 (3:02)
Hard leg kick from Blachowicz opens up the fight as Teixeira looks to take the centre. Teixeira changes levels and goes for the takedown, before spinning him off the cage and securing it. Straight into full guard as Blachowicz looks to tie him up and avoid that vicious ground and pound game of Teixeira’s. Teixeira pulling the head up and making Blachowicz very uncomfortable on the bottom, grinding his elbows and head against him too. Teixeira goes for an elbow but just misses, then cranks the neck up again and then lands a short elbow. Final minute and Teixeira starting to be more active from the top position and that’s the round. 10-9 Teixeira.
Blachowicz comes out with the jab early and lands a nice left hand combination, before denying Teixeira’s takedown attempt. Big left uppercut from Blachowicz before Teixeira closes the distance and rushes Blachowicz against the cage with a clinch. Blachowicz denies another takedown attempt and is just popping his jab. Teixeira goes wild and lands a big left hand that wobbles Blachowicz! Blachowicz responds with a nice right hand combination that staggers Teixeira himself, but the Brazilian gets a takedown quickly and moves into mount immediately! Teixeira flattens him out and gets the arm under his neck and gets the tap!!! Unbelievable!! AND NEW!!
Magomed Ankalaev (15-1) vs Volkan Oezdemir (17-5) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A light heavyweight banger to open up the main card! Ankalaev is on a six-fight win streak with knockout wins over Ion Cutelaba twice including at UFC 254 and then a decision against Nikita Krylov at UFC Vegas 20. Oezdemir on the other hand saw his two fight win streak snapped by a violent knockout by Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251.
Ankalaev is a violent kickboxer with stunning power and great technique on his side. Oezdemir on the other hand is a good striker too with legit one-punch knockout power and good grappling defence skills (except against Daniel Cormier). Ankalaev likely has the power and technique advantage in this fight, but Oezdemir is a slick mover and I think he has the speed edge here.
Oezdemir will need to use his calf kicks well and hope to land with one of his powerful looping hooks, but those hooks will likely be countered by the crisp, straight strikes of Ankalaev and I expect he’ll turn the lights out midway through the fight. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Knockout, Round 2
Li Jingliang (18-6) vs Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A super exciting welterweight banger between Li Jingliang and the returning Khamzat Chimaev. Li is coming off a stunning knockout win over Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC Fight Island 7 where he was a huge underdog, while Chimaev is fighting for the first time since his third win in 60-odd days at UFC Vegas 11 where he KO’d Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds.
Li is a very powerful striker with great low kicks and crisp boxing, while Chimaev has shown great power in his hands but also a relentless ground game that just completely crumbles his opponents. Chimaev’s background is also in kickboxing and on the regional scene he was knocking guys out for fun.
If Li is to earn a victory in this one he needs to keep the fight standing and exchange on the feet. Unfortunately for him, Chimaev’s power is enough that he won’t be scared to exchange on the feet but also his wrestling game is just too good to be able to avoid for 15 minutes. Chimaev takes his time but eventually storms a takedown and pummels Li until the referee steps in. PICK – Khamzat Chimaev via Knockout, Round 2
Alexander Volkov (33-9) vs Marcin Tybura (22-6) – (Heavweight/220-265lbs)
A very fun heavyweight bout between two guys looking to stay in-and-around the top five. Volkov started the year with a knockout win over Alistair Overeem at UFC Vegas 18 but then got dominated by Ciryl Gane at UFC Vegas 30. Tybura on the other hand is on a five-fight win streak currently with KO’s over Greg Hardy at UFC Vegas 17 and then Walt Harris at UFC Vegas 28.
Volkov is a power, technical boxer who stands at 6ft 8′ and is very mobile and athletic. Tybura on the other hand is a powerful striker who uses his leg kicks really well and throws good combinations with his hands. His previous toughest opponent was arguably Derrick Lewis and he got stopped in the third round, while Volkov dominated Lewis until a literal last second KO in the fifth.
With his size advantage and technical prowess, this fight seems to play into Volkov’s hands. He’s got a pretty good chin on his own, good knees to the box and enough power to end it early. In the end, I think he pieces Tybura up for 15 minutes and gets a wide decision win. PICK – Alexander Volkov via Decision
Islam Makhachev (20-1) vs Dan Hooker (21-10) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A really fun fight at the top of the lightweight division as Islam Makhachev takes on Dan Hooker on short-notice. Makhachev is on an eight-fight win streak, with stoppages against Drew Dober at UFC 259 and Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31 most recently. Hooker was on a two-fight losing streak after defeats to Dustin Poirier at UFC Vegas 4 and Michael Chandler at UFC 257, but bounced back with a decision win over Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266. He replaces Rafael Dos Anjos on just a few weeks notice.
Makhachev is the prodigy of former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and his style in the cage shows that. He is a terrific wrestler with brilliant pressure and a decent array of strikes too, while Hooker is a kickboxer with amazing cardio and good knockout power in his hands too. Hooker loves to throw knees up the middle and he is always game for a fight, but this seems like a stretch too far.
Makhachev is comfortable on the feet but he will look to shoot in for the takedown and grind on Hooker. ‘Hangman’ is a good scrambler, but Makhachev is by far the best wrestler he’s fought and the likelihood of him getting back up could be slim. Islam may get caught once or twice but once he gets the reads he’ll take him down and dominate him for a wide and dominant decision. PICK – Islam Makhachev via Decision
Petr Yan (15-2) vs Cory Sandhagen (14-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
One of the best fights of the year on paper for the interim bantamweight title. Petr Yan was unstoppable in the UFC, claiming the title with a KO win over Jose Aldo at UFC 251 before his disqualification loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 meant he lost the belt. Sandhagen was on a tear and earned a shot himself with KO’s over Marlon Moraes at UFC Fight Island 5 and Frankie Edgar at UFC Vegas 18 before a razor close defeat to TJ Dillashaw in July.
Yan is a brilliant all-rounder, with excellent boxing, tremendous footwork and good wrestling too. He has fight-changing power on the feet but is also patient enough not to rush in and commit himself. Sandhagen is a brilliant striker with great range and length, with a decent wrestling game in his back-pocket too. Yan is the smaller guy by some way here, but he is a clean, technical fighter who is in his prime right now.
Sandhagen will no doubt look to use his length and spinning techniques to keep the fight in his world, but Yan’s forward pressure and wrestling ability means he just has a little edge. Sandhagen has struggled in later rounds in the past and I think Yan can outwork him over 25 minutes for a thrilling win. PICK – Petr Yan via Decision
Jan Blachowicz (28-8) vs Glover Teixeira (32-7) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A light heavyweight title fight between the top two ranked guys in the world. Blachowicz is coming off the back of five-fight win streak including winning the belt with a KO of Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 before a dominant win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 259. Teixeira earned himself a title shot with a five-fight win streak of his own, ending in a dominant KO win over Thiago Santos at UFC Vegas 13.
Blachowicz is a really well-rounded fighter with his ‘legendary Polish power’ matched up with great wrestling and excellent cardio. Teixeira on the other hand has got crisp boxing and excellent power, while his ground game is among the nastiest in the UFC in any weight. Blachowicz and Teixeira are both veterans of the sport, but the four-year age gap does certainly help the champion.
Teixeira will likely want to use his clean technique on the feet to land his big strikes, while Blachowicz will look to close the distance and make it dirty to use his physical style before unloading his big right hand. Teixeira will also look to get this fight to the ground to use his jiu-jitsu, but if Blachowicz ends up on top he’ll have the edge there too because of his physicality. Blachowicz for me has a power and speed edge on the feet and I think he lands one of those big shots early and gets the finish with some ground and pound. PICK – Jan Blachowicz via Knockout, Round 3
Angela Hill vs Ashley Yoder was cancelled on the day of the event due to a positive COVID-19 test from one of Yoder’s cornermen. The fight has been rescheduled for UFC Vegas 21, on March 13th.
The card will proceed with nine fights.
Dustin Jacoby def Maxim Grishin via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Pretty steady start to the fight from both fighters as both men meet in the middle and trade calf kicks. A few attempts that miss from both guys before Grishin looks for a shot and takedown. Jacoby avoids it then as he steps forward Grishin lands a nice straight right that drops Jacoby. Grishin lands a big strike onto him on the ground then looks to take the back but Jacoby defends well and gets back up to his feet relatively unscathed. Heavy calf kick from Grishin lands before Jacoby just misses with a mean overhand right. Jacoby lands a nice head kick but Grishin walked through it and lands a big leg kick in return. Grishin lands a big punch after catching a kick and drops Jacoby again and ends the round on his back looking for a rear naked choke. 10-9 Grishin.
Jacoby with a better start to this round, landing some nice calf kicks and his jab well too, as Grishin fakes a few level changes and looks for some counter strikes. Jacoby circling on the outside against the cage, with Grishin looking to cut him off with good footwork and some nice hooks. Nice jab from Jacoby and then a clean left hook lands as Grishin starting to slow down a little. Grishin looks to clinch up but Jacoby lands a huge right hook that pushes Grishin onto his back foot. Lazy shot from the Russian is easily stuffed by Jacoby and he looks to be in the ascendancy as the round comes to a close. 19-19 going into the third.
Grishin doing well in this third round by taking the centre and landing the left hand well. Grishin throws a nice leg kick that takes Jacoby off balance but he bounces up quickly again. Grishin throws another leg kick but Jacoby checks it and sends Grishin off balance. Jacoby throws a flying knee that partially lands, but Grishin grabs hold of him and tries to tie him up on the cage, switching positions and landing a nice combo. Final minute of the round and it’s still up for grabs but Jacoby’s leg attacks are stacking up. Grishin now avoiding the leg attacks and lands a nice combo against the cage to end the round. Really close, but I lean towards Grishin for that final round. 29-28 Grishin.
Ronnie Lawrence def Vince Cachero via Knockout, Round 3 (2:38)
Lots of fast movements from both fighters in the opening minute of the fight, with Lawrence bouncing around on the outside and throwing leg kicks and spinning body kicks, while Cachero looks to land shots as he comes in. Lawrence finally shoots and gets the takedown immediately, but after some scrambles Cachero manages to get back to the feet. Lawrence continues to strike well on the feet with Cachero still looking for counter strikes, landing a big right hand before another takedown attempt. Lawrence gets into top position and avoids a triangle attempt from Cachero and ends the round in a dominant position. 10-9 Lawrence.
More of the same in the second round as Lawrence comes out really aggressive with kicks and body work. Cachero looks to be a step behind on the feet and Lawrence is so busy too, constantly touching him or moving. Takedown from Lawrence again and he holds the position well this time on top and passes into side control. Lawrence looks for the neck and Cachero gets back up to his feet, then Lawrence takes him down again but Cachero grabs the neck and goes for a guillotine. He transitions to a d’arce choke attempt but Lawrence defends it perfectly, stands up and then takes the fight down once again. He looks for a head and arm choke from three-quarter mount but Cachero defends well until the round ends. 20-18 Lawrence.
Both fighters meet in the middle and Lawrence throws a spinning body kick again. Nice leg kick lands and drops Cachero and Lawrence goes straight for a finish. Lots of short ground and pound strikes before a German suplex slams Cachero down again. Lawrence maintains control on the top and starts landing ground and pound and looks to take the back. Cachero defends well but Lawrence ends up back on top and is throwing big ground and pound strikes from mount now. So many strikes from Lawrence as Cachero keeps trying to move but Lawrence is relentless and gets the stoppage win. What a performance.
Alexis Davis def Sabina Mazo via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 30-26)
Fast start to the fight as both women open up with big combo exchanges, with Mazo landing hard and heavy early on. Mazo throws a body kick as Davis throws a leg kick which drops Mazo, and Davis drops down to make it a grappling match quickly. Davis passes into side control relatively quickly and Mazo tries to explode up, but Davis holds on and takes her back. Both hooks in and she rolls away from the cage and as she hunts for a rear-naked choke Mazo tries to reverse the position but Davis holds it and ends the round landing shots while having back control. 10-9 Davis but Mazo was dominant on the feet early on, so will have confidence.
Davis comes out aggressive in the second with lots of peppering leg kicks and marching forward, but Mazo is staying calm and throwing shots back herself. Lots of jabs and straights from Mazo landing clean on Davis, but the leg kicks are persistent and causing lots of damage to Mazo right now. The Colombian Queen continues to come forward with her jab but Davis’s leg kicks are so relentless. Final 30 seconds of the round and Davis shoots for the takedown and gets it and ends the round on top. Close round, but probably Davis’. 20-18.
Final round and Mazo throws a body kick that gets caught and she gets sent back to the ground almost immediately. Mazo looks for a heel hook to threaten but Davis defends it well and gets back on top with ground and pound before taking her back early on in the round. Mazo looks to reverse into her guard but Davis looks fresher and stronger and pops back onto the top. More ground and pound from Davis and Mazo looks for an armbar but it’s defended well and she’s able to take the back once again. Final minute and she’s hunting for a finish but Mazo defending honourably and manages to see the round out. 30-27 Davis, very good performance from the veteran.
Thiago Moises def Alexander Hernandez via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Fun start to the round with both guys pushing forward and throwing heavy strikes together. Hernandez taking the centre of the cage and forcing Moises to circle along the cage, with the Brazilian throwing lots of heavy calf kicks. Hernandez lands a nice body kick and is throwing good shots to the head and body. Moises lands a nice right hand on Hernandez and then Hernandez fires back with a body kick that clips the top of the cup and causes a pause in the action. Both fighters meet in the middle once the action resumes and the both miss wild overhand rights at the same time. Moises lands a heavy right hand that cracks Hernandez and he pushes forward for a finish, but misses everything and the round ends. Close, but I edge it to Moises. 10-9.
Hernandez opens the round with a right hand that misses and Moises lands a beautiful counter strike of his own. Hernandez is trying to be first a lot the time and Moises seems content with that and counters back perfectly almost every time. Spinning back kick from Moises is partially blocked but does some damage, before a nice left hand stuns Hernandez. Moises’ striking defence has been stellar so far and the round ends with Moises coming forward with big swings but Hernandez avoiding them and landing a nice counter of his own. 20-18 but again, close round.
Moises comes out hard early in the final round and lands some nice right hands. Hernandez still in this as Moises shoots for a takedown but Hernandez stuffs it and lands some nice punches as Moises holds his foot before they separate. Moises throws a few head kick attempts that narrowly miss as they continue to swing and miss on each other. Big head kick from Moises lands and he starts talking to Hernandez while walking him down and throwing big strikes and kicks. Hernandez stays composed but doesn’t land anything significant as the round ends. 30-27 Moises for me.
Alex Caceres def Kevin Croom via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 30-27)
Croom comes out hard early on with some heavy swings but Caceres stays composed, avoids them and lands some nice kicks to the legs and body. Croom comes forward though and is looking to make it a dirty fight, clinching up and trying to grind him down. Caceres gets double underhooks and looks for some knees but Croom escapes well and continues to press against the cage for a trip. Croom finally manages to get the fight down by dragging Caceres from his back, but he ends up on the bottom and eats some big ground and pound shots. He gets back to the feet and tries the same takedown again to end the round. 10-9 Caceres.
Croom comes out looking for a takedown early once again, but Caceres defends it really well once again. Croom goes in for another shot and eats a beautiful check right-hook that stuns him, but he continues to come forward again. Another takedown attempt and Caceres starting to feel it so Croom finally gets him down. He lands a nice elbow but then Caceres throws up a triangle and it looks tight. He picks the ankle too and tries to tighten it and as it looks like no way out for Croom, he then inexcusably just lets it go!? They battle for position for the remainder of the round but that is probably a Croom round. 19-19.
Final round and Caceres lands some huge counter strikes that wobble Croom! He keeps walking forward and is throwing some really lazy takedown attempt, clearly is absolutely exhausted. Caceres is defending the takedown attempts with ease and landing some nice strikes and eventually Caceres is the one who gets the takedown. He takes the back and wraps in a body triangle and starts throwing some ground and pound, before looking to sink in a rear naked choke. More ground and pound strikes from Caceres as he takes the round, potentially a 10-8, and the victory.
Pedro Munhoz def Jimmie Rivera via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Crazy start to this one as Munhoz rushes out and goes for a high kick that gets countered and he ends up on his face. Both men stand in the pocket and trade big hooks and crosses each, with Rivera landing the heavier shots. Munhoz throwing some heavy calf kicks to the lead leg, while Rivera is countering with huge hooks that are landing flush. Rivera starting to return the leg kicks now too as Munhoz is wearing the damage more on his face. Munhoz lands two big calf kicks and drops Rivera both times! Rivera responds with a nice one two but his leg is in bits as the round ends. 10-9 Rivera.
Munhoz goes for another leg kick but Rivera moves and counters with a straight right hand and then charges forward to get the fight down to the ground. Munhoz instantly goes for a leg lock but Rivera rolls through into a 50/50 position and both fighters let go and stand back up. Rivera lands three big shots in a row but Munhoz fires a nasty leg kick in the middle of it that drops him to one knee again. Rivera throwing a few kicks of his own and then they both exchange big left hooks that land simultaneously. Munhoz lands another kick that drops Rivera and denies a takedown attempt from Rivera too. A wild exchange in the centre ends the round and it’s a Munhoz one. 19-19.
Final round and it’s all to fight for, so Rivera comes storming out and starts throwing big hooks and straights that land clean. Munhoz continues to throw the leg kicks and then throws one up to the head too. Rivera still throwing big punches but Munhoz showing that chin that has seen him never get stopped. Two accidental low blows from Munhoz cause short breaks but they go again. Final minute and Rivera lands two huge left hands and Munhoz is wobbled. He catches the leg kick and throws some big strikes and has Munhoz backing up but it’s not enough for the knockout and it’ll go to a decision. 29-28 Munhoz.
Montana De La Rosa vs Mayra Bueno Silva – Majority Draw (27-28, 28-28 x2)
Fast start from De La Rosa as she comes out and lands a couple of nice punches square to the face of Silva early on. Silva looks for a Thai clinch on a couple of occasions but De La Rosa is able to get the underhooks and push her against the cage. She gets the takedown nicely and Silva is able to get back up, but De La Rosa tries to put her back down immediately and is denied only by a fence grab. The referee stops the fight and deducts a point from Silva because it prevented a takedown. They go again and Silva lands more excellent knees while De La Rosa’s right hand is connecting well too. Great round, 10-8 De La Rosa.
Second round starts quickly again and Silva lands a big head kick that rocks De La Rosa! She’s throwing with some real venom and forces De La Rosa to shoot for a takedown, but Silva defends it well and ends up on top. Some big ground and pound from the Brazilian but De La Rosa gets back up to the feet well and recovers. Nice takedown attempt from De La Rosa and she eventually is able to dump her down and control from top position. Lots of ground and pound strikes and ends the round looking for a head and arm choke. Very close round, but 20-17 for me.
Silva opens the round once again with a Thai clinch and a head kick attempt that just misses. Silva throws a nice left hand that lands but De La Rosa closes the distance well and they tie up against the cage. De La Rosa looks for a takedown against the cage and Silva starts throwing elbows and punches, which busts up the nose of De La Rosa. She gets her up against the cage and goes for a single leg but instead of taking her down just holds against the cage and tries to beat her up. Into the final minute and De La Rosa gets the takedown and ends the round on top landing ground and pound for what should be a decision win.
Magomed Ankalaev def Nikita Krylov via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
A tentative start to this one as Krylov closes the distance early and immediately goes for a takedown, not looking to trade on the feet too much. He gets him against the cage and eventually drags him to the ground, isolating the leg and trying to hold him down. Ankalaev is able to get up to his feet and they separate, which allows Ankalaev to start throwing some strikes. Nothing significant from either fighter as we enter the final minute. Ankalaev shoots for a takedown but Krylov is able to stay on the feet and the round ends. 10-9 Krylov, just.
Wild start to the round as Ankalaev comes out and looks to land some big shots early on. Krylov circling on the outside with his back to the cage, as Ankalaev circling and taking the centre cutting him off. Nice left hook from Ankalaev lands but Krylov responds with a right cross of his own. Takedown attempt from Krylov denied and then Ankalaev gets a clinch and lands a big knee up the middle. Krylov goes for a spinning attack but Ankalaev reads it and gets a takedown off it and ends up in top position. Krylov defending well from the bottom in his butterfly guard, so Ankalaev pops up and forces the issue to get Krylov on his back and lands a couple of elbows before the buzzer goes. 19-19.
Body kick from Krylov opens up the round but Ankalaev continues to march forward. Krylov goes for a takedown but it’s shrugged off and seconds late it’s Ankalaev who shoots against the cage. Nice inside trip gets the fight down and he’s looking to land some ground and pound, but Krylov is able to get back upright. Ankalaev holds on to him and eventually trips him back down against the cage and starts throwing some ground and pound. Complete control from top position by Ankalaev for the remainder of the round and that should be enough to get him a victory. 29-28 Ankalaev.
Ciryl Gane def Jairzinho Rozenstruik via Unanimous Decision (50-45 x3)
Very slow start to the fight as both mean stand in the centre and just kind of stare each other out for the first two minutes. Gane flicks out a lovely jab and avoids a wild swing from Rozenstruik but other than that not much action so far as we hit the halfway point of the round. Gane throws a lazy body kick that Rozenstruik catches and then he throws a combo, of which one punch lands. Gane throws a better body kick and then changes levels to go in for a takedown against the cage. Rozenstruik defends and then goes for some elbows, which allows Gane to get the takedown to end the round. 10-9 Gane.
More of the same from both fighters in the second round as Gane throws the snappy jab and some body kicks, while Rozenstruik is just waiting for the right moment to throw a big counter strike. A couple more jabs and Rozenstruik steps forward to start an attack and Gane changes levels quickly and turns him against the cage. Gane then throws Rozenstruik to the ground and jumps to take the back for a choke, but Rozenstruik escapes quickly. Rozenstruik catches a kick and walks him backwards but doesn’t throw anything and allows Gange off the hook and the second round ends. 20-18 Gane.
Gane starting to loosen up a bit in this round with a nice head kick early on that brings a smile from both competitors. More jabs and some leg kicks too from Gane, while Rozenstruik is still very flat and throwing next to nothing. Big swing from both men lands simultaneously but they both continue to stand tall. More jabs from Gane to the chin and body, before a nice on-two followed by a leg kick lands too. Jab and leg kick combo from Rozenstruik lands nicely and he ends the round landing a big right hook that Gane eats and goes for a single leg as the buzzer goes. 30-27 Gane, light work right now.
Gane continues from the outside with the jab and fighting at a really easy pace, with Rozenstruik essentially refusing to throw at this point. Gane on the front foot and landing lots of leg kicks and jabs, but just really untroubled. Gane goes to close the distance against the cage and throws a knee that glances the cup and causes a pause in the action. Nice jab from Gane followed with a big left hook lands clean as he sees out the round with ease. 40-36, this isn’t a good fight at all.
Final round and Gane continues with what he’s been doing for the past 20 minutes – jabs and leg kicks. Rozenstruik still seemingly forgetting he’s allowed to hit Gane back, as Gane closes the distance and clinches up against the cage. Both men throw some light knees before they separate and get straight back to the pattern of the fight so far. Rozenstruik throws a left hand and Gane overpowers him back to the cage and clinches up as we enter the final 90 seconds. Gane uses his strength again and takes the back of Rozenstruik before dragging him down momentarily and the fight ends against the cage. 50-45 Gane, bleh.
Last week we went 6/12 for predictions with just two perfect picks, taking us to 236/371 (63.61%) with 106 (44.92%) perfect picks since starting in June 2020. We’ll look to improve that this weekend with a fun 12 fight card and having already started with the prelim fights, we’ll preview the main card here.
Alex Caceres (17-12 1NC) vs Kevin Croom (21-12 1NC) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Caceres is an exciting fighter, who throws lots of spinning attacks and can fight from either stance while Croom is very much a kill-or-be-killed style fighter. Caceres is the better martial artist of the two, with better footwork, a better jab and better kicks but Croom has the power advantage and is more likely to get a finish. Despite that, I think Caceres is able to outlast Croom for the full 15 minutes but more likely is that Croom lands the more telling shots throughout and gets a finish. PICK – Kevin Croom via Knockout, Round 2
Angela Hill (12-9) vs Ashley Yoder (8-6) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Despite their close fight the first time around, I can’t see this one being as competitive. Hill is the better striker by a distance and has improved her ground game to a point where she can stuff the takedowns of some of the better wrestlers in the division and fight off her back and get back to her feet well. Yoder will try to get this fight to the ground to add to her four submission wins, but Hill is just too advanced now and should get a pretty comfortable win. PICK – Angela Hill via Decision
Pedro Munhoz (18-5) vs Jimmie Rivera (23-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Probably the highest level fight on the card as Munhoz and Rivera meet in a rematch from back in 2015. Rivera won that one via split decision and has since gone on to have a great run in the UFC although he has lost three of his last five but won against Cody Stamann last time out. Munhoz has lost two in a row too, losing to Aljamain Sterling and Frankie Edgar most recently back in August.
Munhoz is a fantastic wrestler and has great power in his hands, similar to Gilbert Burns in the way that he’ll march forward and throw knowing he can grapple. Rivera is the more polished and better striker though and he has fantastic takedown defence too. If Munhoz can get the fight down then he should be able to ride out to a comfortable decision from top control, but the chances of him getting the takedown are slim. Rivera is incredibly experienced and has such an edge on the feet, plus a win over Munhoz already, that I think we see a repeat here. PICK – Jimmie Rivera via Decision
Montana De La Rosa (11-6) vs Mayra Bueno Silva (7-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An interesting flyweight clash between two unranked fighters looking to make their way into the top 15. De La Rosa got beaten by Andrea Lee back in 2019 before getting a win over Mara Romero Borella and then suffering a loss last time out to Viviane Araujo in September. Silva on the other hand lost her first fight of 2020 to Maryna Moroz before bouncing back with an impressive submission win over Romero Borella in September.
Both these women are impressive grapplers, with 13 submission wins combined in their careers. Silva has some decent boxing behind her too, coming out of the same camp that a certain Charles Oliveira trains at. Neither fighter will be keen to go to the ground with the other because of the submission threat, which means the striking becomes key. Silva has that advantage and she’s arguably got the better jiu-jitsu too, although De La Rosa has the better wrestling. It’s not the most confident pick, but Silva gets a decision win for me. PICK – Mayra Bueno Silva via Decision
Nikita Krylov (27-7) vs Magomed Ankalaev (14-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A very, very fun fight at light heavyweight as Nikita Krylov steps into the octagon to take on Magomed Ankalaev. Krylov is only 28-years-old but has 34 professional fights to his name, alternating wins and losses in his last five going back to 2018. Ankalaev was literally one second away from a perfect 15-0 record, but was submitted at 4:59 of round three against Paul Craig back in 2018. He won his last two fights by knockout against Ion Cutelaba, with serious power in the rematch after a controversial first fight.
Krylov is a sensational grappler with good power in his hands, while Ankalaev is a fantastic striker with excellent takedown defence. Ankalaev’s footwork is high level, while he loves to throw a head kick in the same way Krylov does. It’s a really exciting match up that is evenly matched for the most part. Krylov has the edge on the ground but whether he can get it there is questionable, while on the feet Ankalaev has the edge but Krylov isn’t completely outclassed there.
It should be highly competitive but with Ankalaev’s power advantage on the feet, I think the Russian can get it done. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Knockout, Round 3
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-1) vs Ciryl Gane (7-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The blueprint to beat Rozenstruik is there, despite the fact he got the win, from the fight against Alistair Overeem. He has unbelievable power as he showed to win that Overeem fight, but a top kickboxer is able to keep distance and land big on him. Gane has the ability to do all that, but also can take the fight to the mat and bust out some of his excellent submission skills too. Gane doesn’t have Ngannou power, but he does train with him on a regular basis and they will be perfectly prepared for Rozenstruik’s style.
While I wouldn’t be shocked to see Rozenstruik land a killer shot that puts Gane away because his power is that insane, I think Gane is the more well rounded martial artist, has the speed and footwork advantage and I think he gets a huge win to break into the top five. PICK – Ciryl Gane via Decision
Opportunities have arisen and the current roster is ready to take them. Here are ten fighters who have big years ahead of them. Whether it’s new comers charging up the rankings or seasoned professionals putting themselves into the hall of fame, keep your eye on them all.
Many fans’ Fighter of the Year for 2020 and it is hard to argue against it. Five fights and five wins, which was a joint record in the UFC for victories in a calendar year, has seen ‘The Trailblazer’ race up the middleweight rankings into 10th place.
Displaying a wide range of abilities throughout his run has made people stand up & take notice. He now needs to build on that and this year could see Holland be involved in some big nights. But first he must deal with number seven ranked Derek Brunson.
Being knocked off the pound-for-pound top spot by Khabib Nurmagomedov didn’t go down well in the Jones household. He immediately took to Twitter to vent his frustrations and it was clear to see he wants and feels he deserves that spot back.
Already considered by many as the greatest of all time, moving up and becoming the heavyweight champion sets that accolade in stone. A legacy defining year ahead for Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones.
2020 was a big year for the Chechen but 2021 could be even bigger. After his debut on Fight Island he set a turnaround record of 10 days to get his second UFC victory and became a fan favourite instantly.
Now 3-0 in the UFC he will face Leon Edwards on March 13th, where a win will propel him into the top half of the welterweight division. He’s ready to fight anyone at anytime so expect him to be active. Only his potential opponents will stop that.
By the time arenas are full to capacity with fans, could the new star already have gold around his waist?
Another man moving up in weight class, the middleweight champion has dealt with the contenders put his way so far and is looking to test himself at 205lbs in the light heavyweight division.
An immediate title fight with newly crowned champion Jan Błachowicz at UFC 259 would put ‘Stylebender’ in the small company of multi-weight champions. It would also set up a potential super fight with former champion Jon Jones.
Is this the year people start mentioning Adesanya in the G.O.A.T debate?
The Englishman likes to get his opponents out of the octagon quickly, however showed patience to win a unanimous decision on Fight Island.
He has a story to go along side his skills too, a survivor of being shot in the face twice earns him the nickname ‘The Miracle’. Opportunities will certainly come his way this year and he’ll be ready to take them.
The only man flying the flag for England in the heavyweight division, the all action scouser can start moving into the rankings in 2020.
His first outing of the year is scheduled for UFC Vegas 19 next month against Andrei Arlovski and gives Aspinall a chance to test himself against an experienced veteran, who has been in the cage with the likes of Miocic, Overeem & Rozenstruik.
Fighting early in the year allows him to get another two or three more fights in and this knockout artist will surely give us some highlights in 2021 in return.
The number three ranked strawweight is on an incredible 11 fight streak in MMA, six in the UFC, and is right in line for a title shot in 2021.
By her own admission one more fight will be needed before that opportunity is earned, and a possible match up with the number two ranked Joanna Jędrzejczyk is one Dana White should be looking to make.
Whichever opponent comes her way, a win will see the possibility of a historic event. If China carries on their successful fight against COVID-19, imagine an all-Chinese title fight with current champion Zhang Weili in Asia, with fans in attendance. What a night that would be.
Kape is scheduled to make his debut in the UFC at flyweight on the main card of UFC Vegas 18 and comes into the company after leaving Rizin as the champion. He also served as the back up to the UFC 256 main event between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno.
Another exciting young fighter who doesn’t like to leave his fate to the judges, he’s got 15 wins on his record with 14 coming via TKO or submission. An impressive win can introduce him to fans and set him up for a huge 2021.
Nicknamed ‘Kungfu Monkey’, Yadong is on an impressive eight fight unbeaten run.
His first fight of the year is scheduled to come on the prelims card at UFC 259 against another young fighter, Kyler Phillips. With a wide range of finishes on his record, Yadong is someone who will excite people this year and can start moving up the featherweight division and will be keen to make up for inactivity last year.
He’s now on course to get himself into title contention with a successful 2021. The 11th ranked light heavyweight is scheduled to face number eight ranked Nikita Krylov in his biggest test yet at UFC Vegas 20 next month.
A win there and if the Dagestanian can be active and add to his 9 finishes, he can end the year knowing a fight for the belt won’t be far away.
Joel Alvarez def Alexander Yavkolev via Submission (Armbar), Round 1 (3:00)
Fight starts with Alvarez throwing lots of leg kicks to stop Yavkolev’s forward motion. Yavkolev finds a moment to change levels and shoot for a takedown and falls straight into a guillotine. Alvarez squeezing tight but Yakvolev not panicking and eventually pops his head out into full guard. He starts with ground and pound, targeting the body but Alvarez attacking from the bottom with elbows to the head. Yavkolev not looking to pass and Alvarez throws up an armbar out of nowhere. Yavkolev tries to fight it but Alvarez is too good and secures the tap. Huge win for the Spaniard.
Miranda Maverick def Liana Jojua via Knockout, Round 1 (5:00)
A good start to the fight for both fighters as they start throwing early. Jojua counters Maverick’s attempted entries with solid right hands to the jaw. Maverick adapts the entry and starts landing a lot of power shots with the southpaw stance. Jojua is coming forward again now but Maverick throws a huge slicing elbow with her left arm and cuts Jojua open bad. She keeps throwing power shots and busts Jojua up bad as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Maverick.
Between rounds the referee has checked in on Jojua and deemed that she in unable to continue fighting due to the cut! It’s all over! Huge win for Miranda Maverick!
Da Un Jung vs Sam Alvey – SPLIT DRAW (29-28 Alvey, 29-28 Jung, 28-28)
Slow start to this fight as Jung rushes to the centre to start but Alvey stays against the cage. Jung throwing lots of kicks and Alvey looking to counter with a big right hook but hitting air for the most part. Jung pressuring Alvey against the cage and throwing combinations down the middle, but Alvey throws a big left counter hook that wobbles Jung! Jung clinches up and recovers then breaks with a big elbow. Looks like an accidental eye poke by Jung but the referee doesn’t see it and Jung lands a big combo straight to the chin of Alvey. 10-9 Alvey but it’s a close round.
Another good round that follows the pattern of the first. Jung keeping Alvey pressed against the cage and firing off shots but Alvey is replying with heavy shots of his own. Alvey throwing nice leg kicks too to try and slow down the movement. Jung not throwing enough shots to trouble him and the fight is getting away from him at the moment. 20-18 Alvey.
What a start to the round! The two come together much like in previous rounds but then as Alvey moves in to throw, Jung lands a huge right elbow that drops him! He lands a big shot on the ground too on the follow up but Alvey gets back to his feet. Jung takes his back and throws some big shots but Alvey breaks and then lands a big uppercut of his own. Jung looks hurt as Alvey starts swinging, then Jung throws another massive elbow that connects again! Alvey is wobbling but the two fighters clinch up as Jung looks for a takedown. A minute to go, Jung is looking for a takedown to get a finish but Alvey defending well. Jung breaks from the clinch with another massive elbow and Alvey is battling to survive as the round comes to an end. 29-28 Alvey for me but a great fight.
Shavkat Rakhmonov def Alex Oliveira via Submission (Guillotine), Round 1 (4:40)
Competitive start to the round as ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira comes out and lands a big right hand right off the bat. Both fighters exchange leg kicks and jabs before Rakhmonov lands a big body shot with the knee that backs Oliviera up. A barrage of strikes and knees look like they’re hurting Oliveira but then ‘Cowboy’ throws a massive check-left hook which forces a clinch. The remainder of the round looks like it will play out against the cage but out of nowhere Rakhmonov grabs the neck and sinks in a guillotine to force the tap out! Huge debut win for Rakhmonov!
A very fast paced start to the round as both men look to establish some dominance early on. Wood throwing lots of leg kicks and jabs while Kenney is replying with a mixture of kicks and big hooks. Both guys trading fast shots and slipping out of the way too, but Kenney is landing the bigger shots as this round goes on. Kenney is landing bombs with his left hand but Wood showing he has a chin as we enter the final minute of the round. Super fun round, Kenney edges it. 10-9.
Second round and Kenney comes out more aggressive and looks a bit fresher, landing more shots as he comes forward once again. Wood is throwing more leg kicks and that is troubling Kenney’s movement, but he is still landing his left hand often. Kenney is now looking more tired than Wood, who continues to throw kicks and follow them up with a jab, left hook. Kenney starting to try and work the body, but Wood is taking it well and throwing leg kicks still. Kenney goes for a takedown but Wood defends very easily before Kenney lands a huge left hand that snaps his head back! Kenney clinches and throws a knee but Wood breaks away and lands a nice one-two. Kenney is tiring but still landing the left hand. 19-19 for me going into the final round.
Final round and Wood comes out fresher, throwing leg kicks once again. Kenney is throwing a right jab, left straight combo that is landing flush but Wood is doing well to counter with his own right hand and more leg kicks. Kenney changes levels and shoots for a takedown and ends up against the cage taking Wood’s back. Wood defending well to try not to end up on the ground but Kenney is winning this round simply through position. Wood tries to explode out but Kenney holds on, and they end up back in the same position. Wood defends brilliantly and they break with a little over 90 seconds to go. Wood throws a big elbow on the break and follows it up with a barrage of punches, but Kenney clinches and trips Wood to no avail. Another takedown attempt but Wood sprawls out and avoids superbly, then fires in another kick. Big right hand by Wood followed by a left hook stumbles Casey and the round ends with the two slugging it out. What a fight. 29-28 Wood for me.
Tai Tuivasa def Stefan Struve via Knockout, Round 1 (4:59)
Slow start to this one as Tuivasa looks to get close enough to land his heavy shots but Struve tries to keep the distance. Tuivasa moves in and Struve clinches up and uses those long limbs to control posture, as Tuivasa starts blasting body shots and trying to break away. Tuivasa does break away and then lands a nice short elbow on the break that wobbles Struve but he stays standing. Lots of leg kicks from Tuivasa now too have Struve shaking on his feet. Struve tries to clinch again but Tuivasa throws him to the ground and starts throwing bombs! He drops Struve and then throws more shots and the referee waves it off with a second to go! What a win Tai Tuivasa!
Magomed Ankalaev def Ion Cutelaba via Knockout, Round 1 (4:19)
Much slower start to this fight than their original bout, as time elapses past the previous duration with barely a strike thrown. Ankalaev having the better of all the striking exchanges in this round as he throws a straight left beautifully down the pipe but Cutelaba is stepping forward well, although he’s following Ankalaev instead of cutting him off. Cutelaba tries to spin but Ankalaev throws a straight left that drops him but he recovers. Cutelaba throws a big strike that Ankalaev counters with a right hook, left straight that knocks Cutelaba down! He follows up with huge ground and pound and knocks Cutelaba unconscious! What a knockout!
A competitive opening round as Murphy takes the centre of the octagon and forces Shakirova against the cage. The entire round is spent circling the cage with Shakirova too far away to land any strikes, so Murphy is reading everything and landing plenty. Shakirova shoots for a takedown and gets it but Murphy gets straight back to her feet and the pattern continues. Shakirova shoots in again but Murphy fights it really well and lands some nice elbows against the cage that forces Shakirova to break away and abandon the attempt. Slow round but interesting. 10-9 Murphy for me.
A slightly quicker start as Murphy steps forward more aggressively with combinations. Shakirova still moving and bouncing around avoiding big damage but not really throwing anything herself. A clinch against the cage allows Murphy to show her physical advantage and she gets the takedown and ends up in guard, throwing elbows. Shakirova attempts to hip escape but Murphy transitions to the back and sinks in a rear-naked choke. It’s tight and Shakirova fights it but it’s too much and she taps out. Big, impressive win for Lauren Murphy!
Phil Hawes def Jacob Malkoun via Knockout, Round 1 (0:18)
Hawes comes across the octagon, backs Malkoun up against the cage and throws a HUGE right hand that drops Malkoun. Two follow up right hands knock Malkoun unconscious and that’s the end of that. Goodnight.
Alexander Volkov def Walt Harris via Knockout, Round 2 (1:15)
A fun first round between these two heavyweights as Harris starts well, using his speed advantage. Lots of jabs and inside leg kicks but Volkov backs up and uses his range well to counter. Nice right hand from Harris is met with a low left kick by Volkov that stumbles him. Volkov throws a short right-hand followed by a left that stumbles Harris and hurts him! Volkov marches to the cage and starts throwing to finish. Harris covers up then throws two big looping hooks to defend himself as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Volkov.
Harris starts the second round with a fake takedown attempt and when Volkov defends he goes up top with a big punch. Volkov steps forward again and throws some more punches that force Harris to cover up. Front kick to the body by Volkov brings a shout of pain from Harris and Volkov moves in with the big follow up punches for the end of the fight! Big win for Volkov!
Robert Whittaker def Jared Cannonier via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fight starts with a massive leg kick from Cannonier that shakes Whittaker immediately. Whittaker bouncing in and out now but every time he throws a jab Cannonier launches the leg attack. A second kick drops Whittaker but he bounces back up immediately. Whittaker’s leg is bruising already but it is Whittaker landing more with the hands. Big counter striker from Whittaker lands and wobbles Cannonier but he comes back well. Very tentative end to the round with both men respecting the striking technique of the other. Head kick by Whittaker lands but Cannonier walks through it and the round ends. 10-9 Whittaker.
A tense round once again as Cannonier continues to attack the lead leg and Whittaker throwing jabs to score points. Whittaker throws a nice right overhand that connects and then goes back to his jab. The jab is landing enough to cause a good amount of swelling around Cannonier’s right eye. Cannonier throws another leg kick but so far it’s not effecting Whittaker’s movement much. First clinch of the fight and Whittaker secures a trip and takedown but Cannonier uses the cage to bounce immediately and escape. Straight right from Whittaker down the middle lands flush as the second round comes to an end. 20-18 Whittaker.
Final round and once again Whittaker using his jab to control the distance. Nice one-two lands nicely by Whittaker as Cannonier misses with a wild right hand. Whittaker lands a one-two and follows it with a head-kick that drops Cannonier! Whittaker charges across the octagon looking for the finish and lands huge ground and pound but Cannonier survives. Whittaker moves into full guard on the ground but Cannonier explodes out and gets back to the feet. Final 30 seconds and Cannonier lands a big jab that wobbles Whittaker! He goes for the finish but Whittaker has enough about him to change levels and clinch until the buzzer. 30-27 Whittaker, what a performance!
Super first round for the champion Khabib. The fight started slowly with both fighters feeling each other out but then Khabib turned it up a level and started stalking him around the cage. Gaethje’s leg kicks causing plenty of damage but Khabib walking through them and landing his jab. Flying knee lands for Khabib too. Gaethje lands a big left hook but Khabib eats it and keeps moving. Big takedown landed by Khabib as we enter the final minute and he passes into full mount very quickly. He attempts to transition into an armbar but time goes out on him. 10-9 Khabib.
Second round starts and Gaethje lands a big leg kick that looks like it hurts Khabib again. He continues to march forwards though and lands one-twos and jabs. A double leg attempt sees him end up on the back of Gaethje and then he instantly transitions into full mount. Khabib locks in a triangle choke from mount, falls back and forces the tap out from Justin Gaethje who goes unconscious. What a performance. What a fighter. 29-0.
After a month-long stay on UFC Fight Island, the grand finale is upon us as Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his UFC lightweight championship against interim champion Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
A stacked card, with a six-fight main card, has been put together for the fans’ viewing pleasure and should be one of the best events we’ve seen since the pandemic started back in March.
With 12 fights scheduled to take place, I will break down each fight and give my prediction as to the winner, method of victory and round while giving my analysis on both fighters too.
Last weekend I got a very respectable 8/11 correct predictions with three perfect picks, so lets see if I can better that on this 12 fight card. I’ve already predicted the prelims, which you can check out here.
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs Ion Cutelaba (15-5 1NC) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
This fight has been booked three times before UFC 254 during the pandemic and fallen through every time. My prediction remains the same though. The first time these two fought each other was one of the strangest fights in UFC history. Cutelaba came out super aggressive and nearly came to blows in the octagon with Ankalaev before the fight even started, before employing a “drunken master” strategy where he acted hurt when getting hit to egg Ankalaev on. It backfired though when the referee stepped in insanely early and handed Ankalaev a TKO win. Realistically, Ankalaev is the better fighter. Both are strong wrestlers with powerful strikes but the Russian mixes his strikes up better with kicks too and his defence is much better. Cutelaba’s best chance is to hang in there until Ankalaev gets tired, or he lands a big punch. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Knockout, Round 1
Lauren Murphy (13-4) vs Liliya Shakirova (8-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
‘Lucky’ Lauren Murphy steps into the octagon on the back of a three fight win streak when she takes on short-notice step in Liliya Shakirova making her UFC debut. Shakirova has also won three in a row coming into this fight, with a knockout win in her last bout over a year ago. Murphy is one of the pioneers of women’s MMA and at 37 year old, she was due to take on Cynthia Calvillo in a title eliminator in the flyweight division. Calvillo is out but Murphy wants to fight and she should be able to win this pretty comfortably. Shakirova is no pushover. She throws great front kicks and spinning kicks and has good striking but she will have a reach disadvantage and Murphy is just so experienced and in arguably the best moment of her career that she should see this one through. PICK – Lauren Murphy via Unanimous Decision
Phil Hawes (8-2) vs Jacob Malkoun (4-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
After a stunning debut victory on Dana White’s Contender Series, Phil Hawes re-enters the octagon just 6 weeks later to take on UFC debutant Jacob Malkoun. Malkoun is a grappler who trains with Robert Whittaker in Australia who is undefeated with two knockouts from four career wins. Hawes has won his last four in a row via first round stoppage and I’d be surprised if he didn’t make it five in this one. His leg kicks are fantastic and he has real one punch power and hand speed. Against someone as green as Malkoun who’s strengths lie elsewhere, it should be a short night. PICK – Phil Hawes via Knockout, Round 1
Alexander Volkov (31-8) vs Walt Harris (13-8 1NC) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The heavyweights make their mark on this card as two big men square off in this one. Volkov’s last fight saw him defeated by Curtis Blaydes in their main event back in June, while Walt Harris got dominated and knocked out in an emotionally charged performance against Alistair Overeem in May. Both men are power strikers with genuine knockout power, but Volkov for me is comfortably the more well rounded mixed martial artist. All of Harris’ wins have come by knockout, with 11 of them coming in the first round. If Volkov can withstand the initial burst that Harris will come out with, I expect that he will control the fight using his length and clinch to come away with a convincing decision win. PICK – Alexander Volkov via Unanimous Decision
Robert Whittaker (21-5) vs Jared Cannonier (13-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
I’ve kind of gone over this fight already earlier this week, when I explained why I’m all in on Robert Whittaker to beat Jared Cannonier, but I’ll do it again here in a snappier way. Whittaker is one of the best middleweights of all-time and despite his chin showing him up on occasion in recent fights, he’s lost just once in his last 12 and that was to lose the title to Israel Adesanya. His level of technical kickboxing is among the best ever in the UFC and his leg kicks and explosiveness have seen him beat some of the best the company has to offer, including Darren Till last time out. Cannonier is on a streak right now that has seen him win three in a row all by knockout and he absolutely has the power to put Whittaker away. He has to hit him cleanly first though and while Whittaker has been dropped in each of his last four fights, only Adesanya was able to finish him. He is durable, explosive, fast and powerful himself. Cannonier, for me, is a wrecking machine but when it comes to technical aspects he is a level below ‘The Reaper’ and should the Aussie mix in his takedowns too he should win this fight pretty comfortably. Cannonier absolutely has the knockout power but Whittaker avoids it for the most part and takes a one-sided decision win. PICK – Robert Whittaker via Unanimous Decision
Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) vs Justin Gaethje (22-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The biggest fight of 2020 by a country mile as the undisputed lightweight champion takes on the interim lightweight champion looking to unify the belts once again. Khabib Nurmagomedov is 28-0 having destroyed the entire lightweight division. He has arguably never lost a round in his UFC career and has started to search for finishes even more aggressively than he used to. Gaethje is a tank who has powered through the UFC since entering as an undefeated fighter. He dismantled Michael Johnson in his debut before incredible performances against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier ended in knockout defeats. He bounced back from that with first round knockout wins over Edson Barboza, James Vick and Donald Cerrone before destroying the divisions boogeyman Tony Ferguson over five rounds for a TKO win. While he’s never shown it in his MMA career, Gaethje is a world class wrestler and will be the toughest challenge Khabib has ever faced in the cage. Khabib has almost been over-looking Gaethje during the build-up to this bout, constantly talking up a potential bout with Georges St-Pierre to move to 30-0. Despite that, it’s so hard to bet against him. He’s so dominant, so good and so consistent. He only needs one takedown per round to keep the fight there because his top control is so good and I can’t see how anyone stops him getting it. I think Khabib does exactly what he said he would; takes him down, tires him out chokes him out in the later rounds. PICK – Khabib Nurmagomedov via Submission, Round 4
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.
Magomed Ankalaev (13-1) vs Ion Cutelaba (15-5) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The first time these two fought each other was one of the strangest fights in UFC history. Cutelaba came out super aggressive and nearly came to blows in the octagon with Ankalaev before the fight even started, before employing a “drunken master” strategy where he acted hurt when getting hit to egg Ankalaev on. It backfired though when the referee stepped in insanely early and handed Ankalaev a TKO win. The fight has been rescheduled three times since but fallen apart due to COVID-19 but is now finally set to happen. Realistically, Ankalaev is the better fighter. Both are strong wrestlers with powerful strikes but the Russian mixes his strikes up better with kicks too and his defence is much better. Cutelaba’s best chance is to hang in there until Ankalaev gets tired, or he lands a big punch. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Knockout, Round 1
Ricardo Lamas (19-8) vs Bill Algeo (13-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
The legend that is Ricardo Lamas was supposed to take on Uriah Hall this week but with that falling apart, it’s UFC debutant Algeo who he’ll come up against instead. Algeo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who’s sole aim in every fight is to get the fight to the ground, take his opponents back and strangle them. Lamas is a veteran who knows how to cope against all types of threats, but is on a 1-3 streak currently. He is a range fighter on the feet but if the fight goes to the ground Lamas has some of the best ground and pound in the game. I think it’s likely that this fight ends up with Lamas in top control landing shots with Algeo looking for a sweep and submission. Without a full camp though, ‘The Bully’ should be able to dominate his way to a comfortable decision win. PICK – Ricardo Lamas via Unanimous Decision
Alexa Grasso (11-3) vs Ji Yeon Kim (9-2-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An interesting bout here between a former strawweight and a former bantamweight. Alexa Grasso is a fantastic boxer who has spent her entire career at 115lbs up to now. She’s struggled in the past against wrestlers and grapplers, but won’t have to worry about that against the bigger opponent in Kim. Both women are strikers first but with Grasso being at her more natural weight class for this fight, I expect her to be able to be quicker and with the more naturally heavy hands she should land the bigger shots throughout. The size discrepancy could potentially be a problem but Kim is likely to suffer in the cardio battle too, so Grasso should be able to get back in the win column. PICK – Alex Grasso via Unanimous Decision
Robbie Lawler (28-14) vs Neil Magny (23-7) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
The fight of the night in the co-main event of the night. Robbie Lawler steps in on short-notice to take on Neil Magny after Geoff Neal dropped out injured. Lawler is known for his violent style, in which he steps forward and goes for the kill at all times. He’s not fought since he was dismantled by Colby Covington just over a year ago. Magny is a rangy striker who has won his last two fights against Anthony Rocco Martin and Jingliang Li via decision. He used his footwork well and his karate style to counter strike and avoid any problems. Magny will have a 6 inch reach advantage and therefore will be able to implement his favoured style well, which has me leaning in his favour. Lawler has incredible power and wrestling skills though, so it’s not a sure-fire pick but I’ll go with my head and pick Magny via decision. PICK – Neil Magny via Unanimous Decision
Anthony Smith (33-15) vs Aleksandar Rakic (12-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A firework in the light heavyweight division as former title challenger ‘Lionheart’ Smith takes on top prospect ‘Rocket’ in a fight that could determine who the first challenger to the soon-to-be-crowned new champion is. Smith went on a tear through the division beating legends Shogun Rua and Rashad Evans then Volkan Oezdemir before losing his title shot to Jon Jones. He bounced back from that by submitting Alexander Gustafsson in Stockholm but was then dismantled by Glover Teixiera in May. Rakic was on a 12 fight win streak including a violent first-round head-kick knockout of Jimi Manuwa before he was beaten by Oezdemir back in December. Both men are violent strikers with one punch power, but Smith is a talented grappler too which often gets overlooked. This main event is just three rounds, so cardio shouldn’t come into the equation so it’s all about who can land the bigger shots to catch the eye of the judges. It’s unlikely to get to the ground but just in case it does, I’m going with Smith to shut down the prospect and keep himself in the top of the division. PICK – Anthony Smith via Split Decision