The UFC returns to Las Vegas and the T-Mobile Arena for the return of the GOAT, as Jon Jones finally makes the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight to compete for the title against Ciryl Gane.
Jones is the consensus GOAT in MMA, but hasn’t fought in three years. He’ll take on Gane in the main event at heavyweight to crown the new undisputed champion, after Francis Ngannou left the company while still holding the belt.
In the co-main event we’ll also see Valentina Shevchenko defend her flyweight belt against Alexa Grasso, while household names like Shavkat Rakhmonov, Cody Garbrandt, Bo Nickal and Ian Garry also feature on the card.
Last time we predicted a whole card was UFC 284, and we went 8/12 on the night with two perfect picks (not including the draw) to move to 837/1299 (64.43%) with 342 perfect picks (40.86%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims.
Esteban Ribovics (11-0) vs Loik Radzhabov (16-4-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Two UFC debutants open up the card in a fun lightweight bout. Ribovics is an undefeated fighter who has a 100% finish rate, with those split pretty evenly at six knockouts and five submission wins. Radzhabov has won three of his last four, including a win over Zach Zane in Eagle FC most recently via first-round submission.
Ribovics is an explosive fighter with fantastic power and an aggressive mindset, using lots of volume and constantly coming forward. His takedown defence isn’t the greatest, but he uses a kimura from the bottom very well offensively. As for Radzhabov, he’s a suffocating grappler with fantastic wrestling and a smothering top game. He has had some cardio issues in the past too, but his experience should see him get the edge here.
Ribovics has only been in the cage for a little over 2 minutes in the last three years, so there could be a bit of rust but there could also be some great improvements that we haven’t seen yet. The experience of grappling should see him safe from the kimura, and he should be able to control enough on the ground to claim the win. PICK – Loik Radzhabov via Decision
Da’Mon Blackshear (12-4-1) vs Farid Basharat (9-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger in the bantamweight division up next. Blackshear earned a draw in his UFC debut last time out against Youssef Zalal, which snapped a four-fight win streak. Basharat is an undefeated fighter, who earned a UFC contract with a decision win on the Contender Series back in September 2022.
Blackshear is a wrestler who has okay striking and decent choke submission skills on his resume, but this is a tough outing for him. Basharat is a fluid striker with excellent footwork, solid low kicks, great speed and cardio for days. It seems to me the only way he loses this fight is if his as-yet untested takedown defence is awful.
He’s well-rounded though and mostly is able to move in and out and land lots of strikes while accumulating damage and avoiding receiving any. He seems like the far more complete fighter of the two, so Basharat should claim a lopsided decision win. PICK – Farid Basharat via Decision
Jessica Penne (14-7) vs Tabatha Ricci (7-1) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Baby shark returns to the cage to take on a veteran in this one. Penne saw a two-fight win streak, including an armbar win over Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 265, snapped last time out against Emily Ducote. Ricci on the other hand has won her last two in a row, beating Maria Oliveira and then Polyana Viana most recently.
Both these women are at their best when grappling on the inside, with Penne using her wrestling and Ricci trying to use her judo to win fights. Ricci is also a decent striker from range, using her reach and length to jab before looking to instigate the grappling. Penne will certainly try to grind her way to a win, but I think Ricci’s volume could be the difference.
Ricci has multiple avenues to takedowns and she’s more than capable of being able to grind out control on the ground and beginning to threaten with submissions. Penne has a size advantage which could help with her takedown attempts, but I’m going with youth on the scorecards on this occasion. PICK – Tabatha Ricci via Decision
Mana Martinez (10-3) vs Cameron Saaiman (7-0) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Banger at bantamweight up next once again. Martinez has won four of his last five, with his only defeat in that run coming via decision against Ronnie Lawrence. He bounced back from that with a split decision win over Brandon Davis back in October. Saaiman is undefeated and claimed a win in his UFC debut last time out, knocking out Steven Koslow at UFC 282 back in December.
Both of these are in the sport to scrap, straight up. Both guys bring the violence in their fights, with Martinez having some terrifying power in his hands that have earned him eight knockouts from his ten career wins. Saaiman is a constant whirlwind of attacks who is more than happy to get hit to land out two himself. Defensively he leaves himself open a bit which should encourage Martinez to land one of those nasty shots he loves.
However, the same should have been said about Martinez’s fights against Guido Cannetti and even Ronnie Lawrence, except he just simply didn’t look anywhere near convincing. Saaiman’s style is suffocating, and he will step forward to cause as much damage as possible. Martinez has the opportunity the put his lights out throughout the rounds, but ultimately I expect he’ll fail to pull the trigger once again and Saaiman’s accumulative damage will earn him the win. PICK – Cameron Saaiman via Knockout, Round 3
Ian Garry (10-0) vs Song Kenan (18-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very intriguing welterweight scrap closes out this section of the card. Garry is undefeated and has shone in his three UFC performances so far, claiming a KO over Jordan Williams before decision wins against Darian Weeks and Gabriel Green most recently. Kenan on the other hand comes into this having gone 2-2 in his last four, with losses to Alex Morono and Max Griffin and wins over Derrick Krantz and Callan Potter.
Garry is a really talented striker on the feet, with excellent kicks and brilliant hand speed to go with some power and countering instincts. Kenan is a bit of a bulldozer, coming forward and winging big punches in the hope that they land to put someone’s lights out while relying on his chin. Garry also has some really good grappling skills on the mat, and Kenan’s defensive grappling and takedown defence is quite clearly the biggest hole in his game.
Machado has looked good in his fights so far, but people are likely expecting a little bit more from him at this point. This is a chance for him to put on a show using his entire skillset and really make a statement, and I think a big knockout win awaits. PICK – Ian Garry via Knockout, Round 2
Joanderson Brito (13-3-1) vs Lucas Alexander (7-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Another fun fight up next, this time in the featherweight division. Brito has won 11 of his last 12 fights, with his only loss coming in his UFC debut at UFC Vegas 46 against Bill Algeo on the first card of 2022. He since bounced back with a huge 41 second KO over Andre Fili last time out. Alexander has won his last five fights in a row and makes his UFC debut in this bout, stepping in less than one week’s notice.
Brito is a real all-round threat in the UFC featherweight division and has the qualities to potentially be a title contender in the future. The Brazilian is a legitimate jiu-jitsu black belt who is aggressive with his powerful striking because he’s not afraid of going to the ground. Alexander is a boxer with a great check-left hook, but he tends to keep his hands low and has been backed up against the cage several times so far in his young career.
If any of that happens here, then expect Brito to eat him alive. It’s a chance for “Tubarao” to make a statement, so expect him to land a heavy shot early doors and then follow him to the mat before strangling him for an easy night’s work. PICK – Joanderson Brito via Submission, Round 1
Nick Maximov (8-1) vs Jacob Malkoun (6-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Nick Diaz Army stand up! Maximov returns to the UFC octagon after suffering the first defeat of his career last time out, when he got caught in an anaconda choke by Andre Petroski and tapped in just 76 seconds. Malkoun on the other hand saw a two-fight win streak snapped after wins over Abdul Razak Alhassan and AJ Dobson (UFC 271) when he got dominated by Brendan Allen at UFC 275 most recently.
This one won’t be the most entertaining fights of all time, because both fighters tend to wrestle and prioritise position over submission meaning whoever is on top tends to stay there. Malkoun is the better boxer of the two, but both have found success with takedowns and safe ground and pound and whoever the stronger wrestler is will go back to the well as often as they need to.
I lean towards Malkoun in this instance. He’s got more experience in the octagon under the bright lights and has fought a better level of competition, while Maximov has shown far more issues against credentialed wrestlers too. Expect Malkoun to land jabs and low kicks before shooting and staying on top for 15 minutes. PICK – Jacob Malkoun via Decision
Raphael Assuncao (27-9) vs Victor Henry (22-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun fight in the bantamweight division between two veterans at the opposite end of their UFC careers. Assuncao is on a four-fight skid, getting submitted by Marlon Moraes in 2019 and then getting dominated by Cory Sandhagen at UFC 241. A KO of the year contender saw him lose to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 250, before Ricky Simon stopped him at UFC Vegas 45 at the end of 2021 in his last fight. Henry on the other hand made his UFC debut on short notice at UFC 270 against Raoni Barcelos and earned a surprise decision win.
Assuncao’s best days saw him as a counter striking machine who was a constant threat, who is also more than capable of holding his own on the ground too. Henry is a volume heavy striker who steps forward constantly and has his own decent counter striking skills. A prime Assuncao probably beats Henry quite comfortably, but he’s 40 now and it has been a long time since he showed any hint of that former glory.
Henry had the ability to shut down Barcelos almost entirely in their bout, and Barcelos would likely dominate this version of Assuncao, so it’s hard to see Henry not doing the same. His pressure will be constant and he can mix in his wrestling takedowns too to earn another big win on the scorecards. PICK – Victor Henry via Decision
Mana Martinez (9-3) vs Brandon Davis (14-9) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Featured prelim bout comes from the bantamweight division once again. Martinez was on a three-fight win streak heading into his last fight, winning his UFC debut with a split decision against Guido Cannetti, but was beaten handily by Ronnie Lawrence last time out. Davis on the other hand was on a four-fight win streak himself in GCMMA before his UFC debut saw him KO’d by Batgerel Danaa in the first round almost exactly a year to the day of this bout.
Martinez has been hugely underwhelming in his two octagon appearances so far, but his one-punch power is absolutely not in question. He’s got a crazy hard left hand and his explosiveness means he can land it at any moment, but his wrestling is fairly poor. That’s where Davis’ window opens, because he’s never been the best technical fighter but his durability had been second to none prior to his last fight. That’s a big problem.
We don’t know how that knockout affected him, but if Martinez lands flush it’s highly unlikely he just eats it. If Davis can wrestle and keep Martinez defensive or on his back, then he has a good chance. But with that said, it seems unlikely that the left hook doesn’t land clean at least once, so I have to side with the power of “Manaboi” on this one. PICK – Mana Martinez via Knockout, Round 2
Maxim Grishin def William Knight via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Slow start to this one, with Grishin attacking the body with kicks in the first minute and landing a nice low kick too. Grishin just misses with a front kick to the face, then Knight responds with a body kick attempt of his own. Grishin has a huge reach advantage and is staying on the outside, then lands a huge head kick! Knight doesn’t go down but he’s hurt, Grishin stays patient though and doesn’t go for the kill. Grishin lands a low outside kick and then goes for another head kick that misses. Knight throwing next to nothing so far, as Grishin just touches him from the outside and avoids all the damage coming his way. Grishin backs Knight against the cage but both guys are lacking with their output through the first round. 10-9 Grishin.
Similar start to this round as Grishin takes the centre and uses his kicking game to maintain distance, while Knight not doing much. Grishin lands a low inside kick and follows it with a right hand, then a hard low kick that gets a big reaction from Knight. Knight trying for a few kicks of his own but not landing anything, then Grishin lands another right hand and Knight goes in for a takedown. Grishin defends it well but Knight chain wrestling and eventually gets Grishin on his shoulders and slams him down! Knight goes for the back but Grishin fights out and ends up on top himself, landing two good elbows and taking side control. Knight powers his way back up to his feet but Grishin does well to separate and get back to his jab and kicking game from range. 20-18 Grishin.
Final round and Grishin lands a hard low kick early on, who reacts in pain but spins into a spinning back fist and gets a clinch. Knight goes for a takedown and gets the single leg to put Grishin on his backside, but he immediately switches and gets back up. He gets separation and lands a nice left hand and low kick combo, but Knight responds with a left hand too. Knight goes for another takedown and Grishin defends it well, but then he throws a kick that Knight catches and he trips Grishin to end up on top. Grishin is able to get back to his feet relatively quickly though and pushes Knight back against the cage. Knight goes for a flying knee and misses then gets another takedown, but Grishin defending well and lands a hard right hand followed by two low kicks. Knight goes for a big right hand but Grishin lands a left that drops him and he ends the round in full mount. Solid performance from Grishin. 30-27.
Wells sprints around the outside of the octagon and slips in the opening seconds, so Blood Diamond moves in quickly. Wells immediately gets a clinch and starts looking for a takedown, but Blood Diamond defending it really well so far 90 seconds in. Wells trying to use strength to get the takedown and eventually is able to lift him and puts him on the mat, then falls into mount! Wells looking for a choke but Diamond fighting the hands, so Wells starts landing heavy ground and pound. Diamond trying to get up but Wells is on his back heavy with hooks in and is throwing heavy shots on the ground. Wells slides the arm under the chin and tries to go for a choke again but Diamond looks to be defending well. Suddenly the referee stops the fight and we can see that Diamond is out cold! What a submission win!
Douglas Silva de Andrade def Sergey Morozov via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2 (3:34)
Both guys looking to take the centre early as Morozov lands a jab and Andrade lands two nice calf kicks. Morozov lands a nice right hand that wobbles Andrade and he follows it up with two hooks that drops him! Morozov goes into top position and starts working him with heavy ground and pound strikes. A huge elbow from Morotoz and he slices Andrade wide open and that is a nasty cut over the eye. Andrade tries to get back up but Morozov drops him down and then allows him up and lands a big knee to the head. Morozov lands a lovely one-two and Andrade is still hurt. Morozov lands a nice knee to the body, then Andrade explodes with a heavy left hook that lands. Spinning body kick from Morozov lands clean and then he shoots for a double leg takedown and gets it to end the round on top. Huge round for Morozov. 10-9.
Fast start from Andrade who knows he’s down a round early on. Morozov being backed up against the cage and Andrade lands a heavy strike that wobbles him! Big right hand and Andrade drops him! He goes for a finish but Morozov defends the position well and is able to grapple his way to safety. Andrade looking for haymakers and just missing. Andrade throws the same combination and drops Morozov again! Morozov in survival mode, but Andrade landing heavy strikes and a big knee connects. Andrade hurts him and moves for a choke! Morozov defending it well but Andrade changes the grip and secures it. Morozov refuses to tap but he goes out unconscious! What a comeback win!
Jacob Malkoun def AJ Dobson via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Super quick punching combination from Dobson early on causes Malkoun problems. Malkoun trying to get close, but Dobson lands a nice short right hand that hurts him! Malkoun goes for a takedown to recover but he defends it well and starts looking to strike again. Malkoun changes levels again and is in deep, but once again Dobson defends it despite being lifted into the air. Dobson lands a hard knee to the body, and then both fighters exchange strikes to the chin. Malkoun catches a kick and tries for another takedown but Dobson again stays on his feet and defends it. Malkoun lands a nice right hand but Dobson responds with a lovely combo. Hard one-two from Dobson but Malkoun finally gets himself a takedown with ten seconds of the round remaining. 10-9 Dobson.
Malkoun and Dobson going after it early on in this second round. Malkoun lands a nice right hand and shoots for a takedown, but Dobson denies him and fires a knee up the middle that misses. Malkoun shoots in again and this time gets the trip and gets him down, then looks to move to his back but Dobson is able to get up quickly. Malkoun swings him down to the mat again and is landing some hard ground and pound strikes, hurting Dobson. Lots of ground strikes landing and Dobson is trying to find a way back to his feet but Malkoun controlling him well. Hard strikes and Malkoun continuing to control as he allows Dobson up for the final ten seconds to end the round. Could easily be a 10-8 round. 19-18 Malkoun.
Final round and Malkoun is back in with a takedown early on and gets it. Straight back to the same position on the back of Dobson, landing ground and pound strikes once again. Malkoun switches the position and gets to half guard with Dobson flat on his back and he’s controlling the position and landing good, solid ground and pound strikes. Dobson is trying to kick off the cage to get out from under Malkoun, but he blocks it and gets some big shots off again. Malkoun postures up and lands some heavy strikes. Malkoun throwing some elbows too as we enter the final 30 seconds and he’s dominated this final round again too. 29-26 Malkoun for me.
Ronnie Lawrence def Mana Martinez via Unanimous Decision (29-27 x2, 29-28)
Cagey start to this fight early on as Lawrence lands a few low kicks, while Martinez takes the centre and feints to try and set up his strikes. Lawrence steps forward and shoots with a beautiful takedown and gets it immediately, looking to control Martinez although he’s not doing much damage yet. Martinez fights the hands and is able to get back up to his feet, then lands a hard low kick of his own. Lawrence back to moving on the outside and then steps in with a low-kick, right hook combination that drops Martinez! Lawrence jumps on top for a finish and lands some good ground and pound strikes, and Martinez scrambles to survive. Lawrence in full guard looking for elbows as we enter the final 15 seconds. Good round. 10-9 Lawrence.
Martinez trying to land some strikes from range early on in this round, but Lawrence moving well and avoiding. Big right body shot and left hook to the chin from Lawrence lands and Martinez gets knocked down again! Lawrence goes back to top position and fires in some ground and pound and wrestles for control as he takes the back. Martinez gets to the cage and battles his way back up to the feet, but then Lawrence lands another huge right hook that drops him again! He misses with some ground and pound but then gets the hooks in and takes the back to look for a rear-naked choke. Martinez is able to reverse it and get up to his feet but then Lawrence shoots for a takedown again and takes control again. Lawrence gets another takedown to end the round, pure dominance. 20-17 Lawrence.
Martinez coming out in this final round knowing he needs a finish and pressing forward. Lawrence staying very calm on the feet but Martinez lands a couple of nice right hands. Hard low kick from Martinez and then Lawrence goes for a head kick. Lawrence goes for a takedown but Martinez stuffs it, then lands a nice right hook. Martinez stuffs a takedown attempt again and then lands a huge spinning back fist that drops Lawrence! He lands some huge follow up strikes but Lawrence just about survives and shoots for a takedown. Martinez goes for a triangle and then goes for an armbar but Lawrence rolls through it and defends it well, then ends the round in top position. So close to a comeback. 29-27 Lawrence for me.
Carlos Ulberg def Fabio Cherant via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Relatively slow start to the round for both guys as Ulberg takes the centre and backs Cherant up against the cage. Hard low kick from Ulberg lands and then goes for a body kick but lands low and pauses the action. Cherant is mad now and blitzes out when the action resumes, landing a big left hand and then clinching. Ulberg denies him and then gets a takedown of his own, before letting him up quickly. Cherant flies in for a big left hand but Ulberg fires a low kick that drops Cherant but then he lets him stand up again. Nice work from Ulberg but he looks quite cocky right now and Cherant is dangerous. Big left from Cherant lands just before the buzzer and drops Ulberg, but he’s not really hurt at all. 10-9 Ulberg for me, but a weird round.
Cherant more aggressive early on in this round and backing Ulberg up with his left hand. Ulberg lands a low kick and then counters Cherant’s left hand with a beautiful left hook that opens up a cut over his eye. Ulberg goes to the body with his kicks and is landing his jab well, while Cherant continues to look for that left hand explosion. Ulberg landing some nice kicks to the body and his jab getting through, plus his check-left hook is doing well. Easy round for Ulberg. 20-18.
Ulberg using nice footwork inside the opening 90 seconds of this round to stay away from Cherant, who knows he needs a finish to get anything from this fight. Very slow pace to this one with neither man really doing much to win the fight yet. Ulberg lands two nice body shots, but Cherant just standing in front of him and not throwing anything at all. Cherant steps forward and swings a big left hand but Ulberg ducks under and takes his back, then secures a takedown with a minute to go. Cherant fights his way back to the feet with ten seconds to go and this one fizzles out. 30-27 Ulberg, but not the most entertaining fight by any means.
Blistering start to this fight as Phillips throws a huge leg kick and then lands some big combinations on Rojo. Rojo steps forward and lands a nice combo to the body himself, before Phillips lands a nice straight right hand. Flying knee from Phillips and then another hard leg kick drops him. Phillips lands another lovely combination, but Rojo still coming forward and lands a nice right hand himself. Phillips lands a good right hand as the clinch, then gets a takedown and moves to the back of Rojo very quickly. He gets the hooks in and takes him down to the mat, then transitions to mount but Rojo quickly gets half-guard back. Hard knee from Phillips but Rojo gets back to his feet. Rojo continues to come forward and looking for combinations, but Phillips seems to have him beaten everywhere. A lovely trip sees Phillips end the round on top too. 10-9 Phillips.
More of the same early on in this second round as Rojo tries to take the centre, but he’s just a step behind the lightning quick Phillips. Phillips lands low kicks and his jab well, but Rojo is trying to push forward and land blitzes. Overhand right misses by Rojo, and Phillips steps in with a nice combo and flying knee attempt. Rojo keeps coming forward though and looking for combinations, but Phillips’ leg kicks are doing lots of damage now. Rojo denies a takedown attempt but Phillips eventually gets him in a clinch position against the cage and sees the round out in control. 20-18 Phillips.
FInal round now and Rojo is suffering with some severe damage on his lead leg, but he is soldiering through it. Phillips goes for a takedown but Rojo stuffs it, only for Phillips to chain wrestle and secure a different position on top. Phillips pushing for a submission and gets into full mount. He goes for an inverted mounted triangle, then synches in an armbar too. Rojo tries to get out but taps out before he rolls through to a belly down position and Phillips secures the victory! What a performance!
Modafferi coming forward with lots of pressure early on and is landing her jab well, but O’Neill countering well with her right hand. Nice left hook from O’Neill as she starts to work her own jab and force Modafferi backwards. Both women land a left hook at the same time, then Modafferi lands a right hand behind it too. Hard one-two from O’Neill lands over and over again but Modafferi continues to come forward with pressure. O’Neill comes forward and just misses with a big elbow, but she’s still landing well with her punches. O’Neill landing hard and heavy shots but Modafferi eating them all and firing back herself to end the round. 10-9 O’Neill, but it’s competitive.
Lots of forward pressure from Modafferi once again early on but O’Neill without doubt has the advantage all over in the striking battle. O’Neill landing big shots on her counters and they’re starting to take an effect on Modafferi. O’Neill starting to up the pressure now and looking for big strikes, but Modafferi responds with a forward blitz and then separates from a clinch attempt. O’Neill is landing her one-two and her overhand right at will now, and is starting to mix in some kicks to her attacks too. Modafferi still marching forwards though. Modafferi goes for a knee but just misses and O’Neill starts screaming while she’s striking. Modafferi changes levels and gets the takedown with seconds remaining to end up on top, but that’s O’Neill’s round. 20-18.
O’Neill coming out very aggressive in the final round looking for a finish, as Modafferi once again looks to blitz her way into a successful striking battle. O’Neill is very sharp though and is landing first and hardest in these exchanges. O’Neill lands a hard right but Modafferi responds with two nice knees to the body. Modafferi still stepping forward and lands a big spinning back fist, but O’Neill eats it and then lands a lovely combo of her own. Modafferi clinches up and lands some knees but O’Neill again lands her right hand freely. Modafferi goes for a takedown but O’Neill sprawls, then throws a kick and sees it caught by Modafferi who pushes her to the ground. O’Neill gets up quickly and is attacking the body lock that Modafferi has wrapped around her, while she throws knees looking to do damage. Modafferi pushing for a takedown but O’Neill defends it all the way to the buzzer and should take a dominant decision win.
Andrei Arlovski def Jared Vanderaa via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
Hard low kick from Arlovski to open up the fight and then a lovely combination of strikes to the head lands on Vanderaa. Arlovski moving a lot on the outside and bursting with speed and precision to land. Vanderaa backing Arlovski against the cage, but he’s not really throwing much yet. Arlovski lands a big right cross and then Vanderaa just misses with a right uppercut. They clinch against the cage and Vanderaa looking for trips, but Arlovski is able to separate. Arlovski throws a spin kick to the body and then a hard right hand follows which rock Vanderaa. Arlovski stays patient and throws a spinning back fist that just misses and that’s the round. 10-9 Arlovski.
Vanderaa goes for a low kick and Arlovski lands a beautiful combination that sends Vanderaa backwards. They clinch against the cage and Vanderaa lands some solid knees to the body and thighs before Arlovski is able to separate and get away. Hard right hand lands again from Arlovski and he follows it up with three more clean strikes with his overhand, but Vanderaa is still there. Another hard right hand lands from Arlovski and Vanderaa is just eating them now. Vanderaa gets a body lock against the cage but Arlovski defends it easily and lands his right hand a couple more times for good measure before the round ends. 20-18.
Final round and Vanderaa is coming out with more kicks. Lots of leg kicks followed by a heavy body kick and then they clinch up, with Vanderaa throwing some knees against the cage too. Lots of stalling and then Arlovski finally steps away and then lands a nice right hand, but Vanderaa is still coming forward. Nice counter strikes from Vanderaa and a good left hook lands as Arlovski is backing up against the cage. Final 20 seconds and they clinch again, before Arlovski lands a big right hand as the round ends. 29-28 Arlovski for me.
Bobby Green def Nasrat Haqparast via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Good start to this one from Green as he takes the centre early on and starts looking to implement his jab. Haqparast accidentally pokes him in the eye to cause a pause in the action, then he misses with two wild hooks as Green showboats. Green coming forward with his hands very low, while Haqparast has a very high guard and is trying to counter. Hard low kick from Haqparast, but then Green responds with more jabs. Green is very confident and is landing well in the centre and Haqparast is struggling to get any sort of offense going. 10-9 Green.
Haqparast trying to apply more forward pressure in this round from the off but Green slipping and countering so well to land his jabs. Green is striking through the high guard well and busting up Haqparast’s face, but he’s still coming forward. Nice left hand from Haqparast lands as Green tries to chip away at the guard. Both guys land with a stiff jab, then Haqparast lands a hard low kick to go with it. Haqparast throws another left overhand that connects, but Green rolling with the shots for the most part. Big straights and crosses from Green busting up the face of Haqparast at this point as we enter the final minute. Big overhand left again from Haqparast lands and he’s starting to land more by keeping Green backed up against the cage. Green still landing too with double jabs and straights. What a great fight. I give it to Green, but could be Haqparast’s round. 20-18 for me.
Haqparast comes out firing in the final round, but Green catches a kick and then lands some more straight shots to the nose through the high guard. Green’s boxing has been excellent, with body shots mixed in now. Haqparast trying to apply forward pressure, but Green is doing so well to land combinations at speed through the guard and mix his attacks up. Green dominating the exchanges now and he lands a couple of big strikes to end the round and claim a huge career victory. 30-27 Green.
Renato Moicano def Alexander Hernandez via Knockout, Round 2 (1:23)
Hernandez opens up with some hard low kicks, but Moicano lands the first big strike of the night with an overhand right to the chin. Hernandez landing those low kicks well, but Moicano slipping shots well and countering. Moicano looks to change levels and go for a single leg takedown, but Hernandez defends it well. They clinch against the cage and Moicano gets him down, but Hernandez scrambles back up to his feet immediately. Moicano holds on to the body lock though and eventually does throw Hernandez down and ends up in half guard after another scramble. Hernandez uses his strength to get up and goes straight back to striking, throwing jabs and hooks with a high pressure. Hernandez stalking him around the cage now, but Moicano responds with a lovely right hand down the pipe. Fun round, 10-9 Moicano, just.
Hernandez trying to weaponise his cardio in the second round, coming out very aggressively. Moicano lands a beautiful left hand, right uppercut combination to slow him right down. Hernandez goes to clinch and Moicano avoids it and lands a beautiful combination that rocks him! Moicano follows up with a knee that drops Hernandez! He goes for the finish but Hernandez gives up his back, so Moicano takes it, sinks in a choke and gets the tap! What a performance!
Jared Cannonier def Derek Brunson via Knockout, Round 2 (4:29)
Interesting start to the fight as Cannonier comes out looking for big strikes early on, while Brunson looking to stay away from those striking exchanges to wrestle. Brunson shoots in and Cannonier defends it, but Brunson switches to a single leg and lifts it high to secure the takedown, but Cannonier gets up relatively easily. Brunson looking to wear on him using clinches and takedown attempts, making Cannonier miss. Brunson shoots in again and after battling he gets the trip and ends up on top, looking for an arm triangle. Cannonier gets back up and misses with a kick, then Brunson lands a huge right hook that drops him! Brunson takes the back immediately and locks up a rear-naked choke but the buzzer goes and saves him. Close. 10-9 Brunson!
Brunson opens the round with an immediate takedown attempt in the centre of the octagon and gets it. He tries to secure position but Cannonier scrambles up to his feet and looks much fresher than Brunson. Brunson lands a couple of left hands but Cannonier is fresh and can see Brunson tiring. Brunson goes back in for a takedown but it’s denied. Big right hook from Cannonier lands and then an uppercut lands too. Hard jab from Cannonier and then a combination misses. Brunson looks very slow right now but he shoots in for a takedown anyway. Cannonier denies it easily and as they clinch he lands a huge short elbow and a back fist. Brunson is hurt badly and Cannonier drops him again. He gets on top position and lands huge elbows to put him out cold and that’s enough for the referee! What a win!
Tai Tuivasa def Derrick Lewis via Knockout, Round 2 (1:40)
Tuivasa comes out with feints and some hard low kick attempts inside the first minute as they look to feel each other out. Lewis goes for a right hand but Tuivasa ducks under it and gets a clinch against the cage, landing knees against his thighs. Lewis goes for a head kick that gets blocked then a flying knee that misses, before a right overhand lands and they clinch up again. Lewis drops down for a single leg but Tuivasa defends it well. Lewis gets an outside trip and ends up on top then as he postures up to land big strikes Tuivasa starts to get up too. Lewis lands four or five flush shots but Tuivasa gets up and starts swinging back before they clinch up again. Lewis gets another takedown but Tuivasa gets back up too and the round ends. Wild round. 10-9 Lewis.
Tuivasa looks for a low kick once again to open the round, but Lewis just misses with a big right hand. Lewis looks to blitz him with big strikes but Tuivasa evades him and they clinch up against the cage once again. Lewis tries to blitz him again but Tuivasa swings with him and lands a few of his own! Lewis is hurt! Tuivasa swinging big shots and Lewis is in trouble. Tuivasa lands a huge elbow and Lewis faceplants! He’s out cold! Tuivasa with the biggest win of his career! Wow!
Israel Adesanya def Robert Whittaker via Unanimous Decision (48-47 x2, 49-46)
Very methodical start from both guys as they miss with several low kicks each and lots of fakes and feints. Adesanya finally lands a hard low kick and then another about halfway through the round. Whittaker lunges in for a left hook but misses and Adesanya lands a left hand that drops Whittaker! He gets back up quickly and then looks to shoot a takedown, but Adesanya sprawls well and goes back to the centre. A hard low kick again from Adesanya and then a check left hook lands, before Whittaker shoots for another takedown and misses it. Whittaker checks a low kick but then eats on to the body and that’s the round. 10-9 Adesanya.
Whittaker just misses with a head kick early in the second round but then eats a heavy low kick. He swings overhand with his right hand and Adesanya lands another hard right hand. Whittaker moving backwards a lot but then he moves forward for a double jab and Adesanya counters with a right uppercut. Whittaker lands a nice left hand that gets a reaction but Adesanya evades a high kick. Whittaker shoots in for a takedown and gets Adesanya to the ground, but the champion immediately gets his back to the cage and stands back up before separating. A hard low kick from Adesanya again, followed by a head kick that’s partially blocked and a body kick. Low kick from Whittaker lands with a minute to go, then Adesanya returns fire with one 30 seconds later before the round ends. Close round that could go either way, but I probably lean towards Whittaker there. 19-19.
Adesanya taking the centre again in the third round and doing well to close of the octagon. Whittaker trying to use double jabs to close the distance, while Adesanya is using his low kicks well. Whittaker lands a jab and Adesanya responds with a hook, but neither man is hurt by it. Whittaker shoots for a takedown but Adesanya defends it perfectly and lands a nice knee before they break. Adesanya goes for a head kick but Whittaker ducks under it and goes for a takedown. He gets a body lock but Adesanya gets back to his feet well and then uses a kimura trap to force the break. Hard low kick from Adesanya gets a big reaction, before Whittaker steps in with a jab that gets countered by a hook. Round ends, 29-28 Adesanya for me.
Whittaker opens the round with a big right hand that lands flush and stuns Adesanya. He returns with two hard low kicks before they miss with big hooks. Whittaker goes for a takedown again and gets it and ends up in the backpack position against the cage looking to get a choke in! Adesanya fights the hands and gets him off relatively quickly, and they return to the centre. Adesanya lands another low kick and then misses with a big hook. Hard low kicks again from Adesanya, and Whittaker comes forward with his jabs again. Big hook from Adesanya just misses and then Whittaker just misses with his own as the round ends. 39-37 Adesanya.
Whittaker steps in with his double jab again as Adesanya misses a right hook. Hard low kick from Adesanya again, then another jab from Whittaker. Hard body kick from Adesanya and then a stiff jab from Whittaker does get a reaction, but he sits off him again. Whittaker shoots for a takedown but Adesanya defends it well. Whittaker shoots for a takedown again and gets it, but once again Adesanya bounces back to his feet and fights the hands of the body lock to try and separate. Adesanya goes for a knee, then Whittaker throws a big left hook that lands. Final 90 seconds now and Adesanya lands a nice low kick again. Whittaker goes for another takedown but Adesanya’s defence is impeccable again. They clinch against the cage and the fight ends, it should be #AndStill.. 48-47 Adesanya.
Carlos Ulberg (5-1) vs Fabio Cherant (7-3) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A really fun light heavyweight bout between two huge 205-pounders. Ulberg came into the UFC with a big reputation, but was knocked out by Kennedy Nzechukwu at UFC 259 in his debut. Cherant on the other hand was expected to be a problem in this division, but has been finished by Alonzo Menifield at UFC 260 and then got KO’d by William Knight at UFC Vegas 34.
Ulberg is a brilliant kickboxer, with great power and movement to go with blistering speed. Cherant on the other hand is a huge wrestler, who looks to close distance and get hold of you before using his pure power to drag you to the mat. It’s a battle of polar opposites in this one and it’s hard to decipher which way it’s going to go.
Cherant is more than capable of getting a takedown and his submission skills are top tier, but he’s shown a capability to get his lights turned out. Ulberg has got great power and almost KO’d Nzechukwu in his first bout before his cardio gave up on him. If he can land early, he’ll claim the victory. If he gets dragged to the mat, it’ll be a long night for him. Because of the obviousness of their plans, I expect Ulberg to be able to land big before Cherant can close the distance for a takedown, and that will be enough for the win. PICK – Carlos Ulberg via Knockout, Round 1
Alex Perez (24-6) vs Matt Schnell (15-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A super fun flyweight bout up next. Perez makes his return to the cage after his title fight submission loss to Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 255, while Schnell looks to return to winning ways after a decision loss to Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 262 earlier this year.
Perez is a very well-rounded fighter with good boxing skills and some excellent grappling skills too, while Schnell is equally well-rounded with some decent submission skills and a good high guard when striking, although he doesn’t have show-stopping one-punch power. His wrestling isn’t the best and I think Perez has the edge there, while on the feet he also has a disadvantage int his match up.
Schnell’s best hope in this one is to either clip Perez on the feet in an exchange, or locking up a submission in a scramble. Perez is likely to be able to out-box him in a striking battle and he has the grappling to survive for the most part so I think he grinds him down on the feet with leg kicks and lands the bigger shots in the fight to earn the judge’s decision. PICK – Alex Perez via Decision
Kyler Phillips (9-2) vs Marcelo Rojo (16-8) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger at bantamweight between two super exciting 135-pounders. Kyler Phillips saw a four-fight win streak snapped by Raulian Paiva last time out at UFC Vegas 32, while Rojo suffered an incredibly exciting defeat to Charles Jourdain in his debut at UFC Vegas 21.
Phillips is a terrific striker, with great movement and power and combinations that usually end with a high kick landing clean. He’s also a good wrestler, with a strong double-leg and a willingness to mix it up. Rojo is a powerful striker with lots of kicking techniques and explosive Muay Thai. While Rojo probably has the power advantage, everything else starts to lean towards Phillips’ side.
He’s quicker, more evasive, has good power of his own and sets a good pace which means he should win this bout. Rojo absolutely has the ability to slow him down with leg kicks and use his size to clinch, but Phillips is good enough to cause a variety of problems and because of his willingness to take punches I think Phillips could get a finish. PICK – Kyler Phillips via Knockout, Round 2
Roxanne Modafferi (25-20) vs Casey O’Neill (8-0) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A passing of the torch moment in the flyweight division for the women here as Modafferi makes her walk to the cage for the final time in her career. A 46th occasion as a pro, Modafferi is on a two-fight losing streak having been beaten by Viviane Araujo at UFC Fight Island 8 and Taila Santos at UFC 266 most recently. O’Neill on the other hand is an impressive 8-0 including three finishes from three fights in the UFC with victories over Shana Dobson (UFC Vegas 19), Lara Procopio (UFC Vegas 29) and Antonina Shevchenko (UFC Vegas 38).
Modafferi is probably the worst fighter in the UFC when it comes to aesthetics, with horrible striking but some classy grappling and jiu-jitsu skills. She knows how to make a fight ugly and find a way to win. O’Neill on the other hand is a freight train at the moment, with excellent grappling with ground-and-pound, submissions and good striking on her feet too.
Realistically the only question in this fight is whether or not O’Neill can finish Modafferi rather than take her the full 15 minutes. She’s better everywhere and not even in her prime yet. I expect that she’ll be relentless in the pursuit of a finish but Modafferi will go out without being finished on this occasion. PICK – Casey O’Neill via Decision
Andrei Arlovski (32-20) vs Jared Vanderaa (12-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight bout between two relative veterans is the featured prelims fight of the night. Former champion Arlovski is on a two-fight win streak having earned decisions against Chase Sherman at UFC Vegas 24 and Carlos Felipe at UFC Vegas 40. Vanderaa on the other hand was well beaten in his last fight against Alexandr Romanov at UFC Vegas 39 when he got TKO’d in the second round.
Arlovski is an all-round heavyweight, with good wrestling and excellent striking as well as the experience and cardio to go all night. Vanderaa is a volume heavy striker, which is weird to see from a heavyweight, but he also has some solid ground and pound. If he can get Arlovski to the ground then he should be able to hold him there and secure a victory, potentially via finish.
Unfortunately for him though, Arlovski is very tough to take down and almost impossible to knockout even at his age now. He’ll look to close the distance to keep Vanderra from exploiting him but ultimately Arlovski will land the bigger shots in their exchanges to earn a narrow judge’s decision. PICK – Andrei Arlovski via Decision
The UFC featherweight division headlines a banger of a card in the APEX as Edson Barboza takes on Giga Chikadze in the main event, while The Ultimate Fighter finals take place too.
Chikadze takes on the former lightweight contender in his first main event, but before that the finale of both the bantamweight and middleweight division from the Ultimate Fighter Returns finale will take place as Ricky Turcios takes on Brady Hiestand, followed by Bryan Battle taking on late replacement Gilbert Urbina.
Kevin Lee also makes his return to the octagon against Daniel Rodriguez at welterweight in his first fight since he was submitted by Charles Oliveira back in March 2020.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 34 we went a disappointing 6/12 with two perfect picks for the night to move to 389/612 (63.56%) with 171 perfect picks (43.96%). We’ll look to improve that here, starting with the early prelims.
Mana Martinez (8-2) vs Guido Cannetti (8-6) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun bantamweight fight to open the card in this one. Martinez makes his UFC debut on a two-fight win streak from Fury FC while Cannetti has lost four of his last six in the UFC organisation.
Martinez is a powerful puncher with excellent takedown defence as he likes to keep the fights standing, while Cannetti is an aged brawler who never really figured out the best way to get the best from his favourite style. Martinez is more powerful, more technical and quicker but Cannetti is the better wrestler and that is his best path to victory.
Unfortunately though, Martinez is more than good enough to keep him at bay with sprawls and good footwork and eventually he lands a nasty punch to close the show early on 41-year-old Cannetti. PICK – Mana Martinez via Knockout, Round 2
Jamall Emmers (18-5) vs Pat Sabatini (14-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Emmers is a solid wrestler who is nice and rangy for the weight class and with his style, while Sabatini is a sound striker who also has a superb ground game with ten submission wins to his name. Emmers is quite relaxed and has a good clinch game to go with his advanced wrestling, but Sabatini is arguably the more powerful fighter and definitely the bigger submission threat.
Despite that, Emmers has the advantage where the fight starts on the feet and is the better wrestler of the two for me so I think he’ll be able to nick a tight decision in a great fight. PICK – Jamall Emmers via Decision
JJ Aldrich (9-4) vs Vanessa Demopoulos (6-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two relatively young flyweights clash in this one in what should be a competitive bout. Aldrich got a win last time out at UFC Vegas 21 via split decision against Cortney Casey, while Demopoulos bounced back from two defeats in a row with a 37-second KO last time out in the LFA.
Aldrich is a great kickboxer with great kicking and range control in her game, while Demopoulous is a phenomenal grappler with heart and grit to come forward and strike if and when needed. With that said though, she’s hugely outclassed on the feet here. Aldrich will have a huge reach advantage in this one and Demopoulos’ wrestling isn’t great which doesn’t help her grappling edge.
Aldrich is a very good professional and has good skills to be able to strike from range and just piece Demopoulos up from the outside to secure a comfortable decision win. PICK – JJ Aldrich via Decision