The UFC returns to the Apex centre in Las Vegas after a stunning pay-per-view card last weekend for two heavyweight scrappers as Derrick Lewis takes on Serghei Spivac in the main event.
The number seven and number 12 ranked big men in the UFC go head-to-head in this headline clash, with both guys knowing a win puts them on track to get into title contention during 2023.
It’s a fun card with a few debuts and some sleeper fights, so be sure not to miss it.
Last weekend at UFC 281 we went 10/14 with one perfect pick to move to 776/1202 (64.56%) with 320 perfect picks (41.24%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, and after starting with the early prelims section of the card we move on to the rest of our prelims picks.
Vince Morales (11-6) vs Miles Johns (12-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Bantamweight banger up next in this section of the card. Morales saw a two-fight win streak over Drako Rodriguez (UFC 265) and Louis Smolka (UFC Vegas 44) snapped last time out when Jonathan Martinez claimed a decision win. Johns on the other hand was in the same boat, KO’ing Kevin Natividad (UFC Vegas 12) and Anderson Dos Santos (UFC 265) before being submitted by Jonathan Castaneda last time out. Johns steps in on just two weeks’ notice for this bout.
Morales is a boxing-heavy fighter with a demonic right hand that can turn the lights out with ease, but his grappling game needs work and that could be a problem here. That’s because while Johns is a decent striker, he’s at his best when mixing in takedowns and wrestling to grind his opponents out and make them work.
If Johns turns up fully focused and in good condition then his ability to mix things up and make Morales think should win him the bout. There is every chance that Morales catches him and claims a big win too, but with only one knockout win since February 2018 I’ll go with Johns to outwork him and claim the win.
PICK – Miles Johns via Decision
Jennifer Maia (19-9-1) vs Maryna Moroz (11-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A fight between the only other ranked fighter on the card outside the main event and a woman on a great winning streak. Maia has lost three of her last four, with a win over Jessica Eye (UFC 264) followed up with back-to-back defeats against Katlyn Chookagian (UFC Vegas 46) and Manon Fiorot most recently. Moroz has won three-in-a-row, with a second-round submission over Mariya Agapova most recently at UFC 272.
Maia, like her male namesake, is a fighter who excels in the world of jiu-jitsu but has limited striking and her takedown game needs improvement. Just like each of her most recent opponents, Moroz is a volume striker who has good distance management, decent power and a solid gas tank. Maia’s wrestling is better than anything Moroz has faced previously, but she is still physically bigger and more active.
Her movement should see her avoid being back up against the cage where the takedowns will be most effective, and if she can strike consistently and stay out of danger like Chookagian and Fiorot before her then this should be a pretty comfortable win in a rather uneventful bout.
PICK – Maryna Moroz via Decision
Charles Johnson (11-3) vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-7) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Featured prelim bout up next in the flyweight division. Johnson made his UFC debut last time out in London and suffered a dominant and demoralising defeat via decision to star prospect Muhammad Mokaev. Zhumagulov has lost four of his last five, including each of his last two against Manel Kape (UFC Vegas 44) and most recently Jeff Molina back in June.
Johnson is a solid wrestler who is always at his best when he can get top control and grind his opponents out with some ground and pound and submission threats, earning four finishes via each method in the past. Zhumagulov is also someone who looks to wrestle, but his takedowns tend to come against the cage while his kickboxing is wild and reckless. Bad judging has cost him in recent fights, but this bout isn’t in his favour at all.
“InnerG” has the gas tank for five rounds and is sometimes at his best in that environment, but that should allow him to really empty the tank here and push hard. He’s also bigger, stronger and the better wrestler so he should be able to claim a pretty dominant win and send Zhumagulov out of the UFC.
PICK – Charles Johnson via Knockout, Round 3