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Premier League Predictions: Top 6

After 48 days away, the Premier League is officially back!

Last time out, Liverpool were crowned champions for the first time since 1990 after a record-breaking season saw Jurgen Klopp’s side mathematically secure the title with seven games to spare. Manchester City were their closest challengers but finished 18 points behind, while Manchester United pipped Chelsea to third place on the final day of the season. Leicester City and Tottenham rounded out the Top 6 as Wolves just missed out and Arsenal recorded their worst finish since the 94/95 season.

This time around some squads have improved and some have got rid of deadwood, while others have done nothing yet. So who will finish in the top 6 this time around? I’m going to make my predictions here, taking into account business that is expected to happen before the window closes.

6th
Tottenham Hotspur
Likely line-up: Lloris; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Davies; Sissoko, Højbjerg; Bergwijn, Alli, Son; Kane

Tottenham Hotspur Training Session : News Photo

They finished 6th last season and I don’t think they’ve improved enough to do better this season. Matt Doherty has come in at right-back while Pierre-Emile Højbjerg signed from Southampton in central midfield. While the club are yet to sell anyone from the first-team, it is expected that Danny Rose and Serge Aurier will leave. The club released Jan Vertonghen at the end of last season and haven’t replaced him, instead opting to move Dier to defence permanently. Spurs have a good squad and with Mourinho in charge from the start of the campaign they will know exactly what he expects. The issue however is that cracks seemingly began to show towards the end of the campaign. There is still no back-up striker for Harry Kane and they are still struggling for depth at full-back should Aurier leave. In midfield they have good quality depth with players like Lo Celso, Winks and Lucas all likely to be in and out of the team. If the club end up keeping Tanguy Ndombele and he can put his differences with Jose Mourinho aside, they have a real top tier midfielder in the squad too.

Overall, I think it’s more a case of they haven’t improved where their rivals have and that is why I see them falling behind, however I do expect them to do really well in the cup competitions.

5th
Arsenal
Likely line-up: Leno; Gabriel, Luiz, Saliba; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Tierney; Pepe, Aubameyang, Willian

Arsenal Training Session : News Photo

A greatly improved Gunners outfit are coming into the new season riding a huge wave of momentum following their FA Cup and Community Shield wins at Wembley in August. Since Mikel Arteta has come in, the club have looked more steady on and off the pitch and that has shown with his promotion from ‘head coach’ to ‘first-team manager’ just before the season starts. The club have been heavily linked with a central midfielder during this window, with Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar both targets. The issue they’ve had is money, something I don’t see changing before the window closes. With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signing a new three-year contract at the club, his future is now secure. Arsenal look the most dangerous and secure they have done in several years and that will be dangerous for other teams. Arteta is trusting his squad with the likes of Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe all likely to be included in the first-team picture going forward. The issue for Arsenal may be that defensively, they’re still not solid. Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba will be making their first appearances for the club and with Mustafi, Mari and Holding all competing for a centre-back spot alongside David Luiz they will need to settle quickly to hold onto their spot. If they don’t, they’ll either be playing struggling defenders or reverting back to the defenders that were deemed not quite good enough. They also lack goals if Aubameyang is to get injured or lose form, a load Lacazette hasn’t convinced me he’s able to carry during his time in England so far.

Overall, they’re a much better outfit than they were last season but this year may just come slightly too early for their Champions League ambitions.

4th
Manchester United
Likely line-up: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Van De Beek, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial

Manchester United New Signing Donny van de Beek : News Photo

It’s tough to decide on Manchester United right now considering most of their business is still up in the air. The club have been heavily linked with Jadon Sancho all summer and while a deal isn’t done, there are reports there has been progress in the last couple of days. Prior to that, he wouldn’t have been included in my potential line-ups. The club have made just one signing so far, with Donny Van De Beek adding depth to their midfield, while nobody from the first-team has left the club yet. As it stands though, defensively they’re not quite good enough. David De Gea’s form continues to dip but with Dean Henderson returning from his loan away, he now has serious competition. At centre-back, Lindelof is still not of the required level and there are question marks over Harry Maguire too while both full-backs aren’t good enough going forward. That leaves a massive burden on the attackers to provide goals and we saw that the depth outside of their starting attackers is poor. Mason Greenwood is a great alternative across the front-line but beyond him the drop in quality is a real issue for them. If Solskjær can make everything click then they should be able to close the gap on second from last season but I’m still not entirely convinced by the manager and I think they got away with the poor standard of opposition last year to secure their position.

Overall, United have improved but not enough to get them out of a race for the top 4. They still have some gaping holes in their side that unless they’re addressed before the window closes, I think they’ll be lucky to finish above fourth.

3rd
Chelsea
Likely line-up: Mendy; James, Zouma, Thiago Silva, Chilwell; Kante, Kovacic; Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic; Werner

Chelsea Training Session : News Photo

It’s been all change at Chelsea this summer. Frank Lampard is still there, but he has made SEVEN signings so far during this transfer window and they’re almost all likely to be first-team regulars this season. In goal, Kepa Arrizabalaga has been replaced by Edouard Mendy, while Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell have both joined in defence. They’ve also added Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to their attack. They signed young defender Malang Sarr too, but he will go out on loan. They have let Michy Batshuayi, Willian and Pedro leave the club, while they are also open to the departures of Emerson, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. With the way Chelsea played last season, they have greatly improved all the areas they had issues in last year, with the exception of holding midfield. They now have a proven goalscorer up front, goalscoring support from midfield, a pure creator on the wings, a leader at centre-back and a left-back who is good going in both directions. With the addition of Reece James more regularly plus the depth of previous starters like Mason Mount, Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Antonio Rudiger dropping to the bench they are a much scarier outfit this time around. I don’t expect them to win the title this year, but I think we’ll have a proper title race again this year and while they’ll be involved for the most part, they’ll eventually fall away towards the end of the season.

Overall, they’re better than last year and with Lampard now having greater tools to work with to play the type of football he demands he has no excuses. I think he’s a good manager and he’ll be able to meet expectations of at least a push towards the title and a good run in Europe.

2nd
Liverpool
Likely line-up: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Liverpool Training Session : News Photo

It’s rare that when a team wins the league by 18 points and then aren’t favourites for the following season. But it’s also rare that a team wins the league then doesn’t improve their team. Liverpool have let Dejan Lovren leave the club to join Zenit St Petersburg, while they have signed Greek full-back Kostas Tsimikas to provide cover for Robertson. While they’re obviously a brilliant side and it’s hard to judge due to the circumstances, they weren’t very good post lockdown. That may be down to the fact the league was essentially already sewn up or that teams have started figuring them out. They looked stale in the Community Shield against Arsenal, but again that could be the lack of fitness as it was their first real game back for the new season. With the same team playing week in and week out, I feel they won’t be as good as they were over the last two seasons. The midfield are all a year older and their style is to run a lot. With the packed schedule added onto that, they could struggle to maintain the consistency they found last year especially. They have been heavily linked with Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara but they are so far refusing to match the asking price of €30 million. If they were to sign him, the talk is that Gini Wijnaldum would then join Barcelona. If that happened, the added quality in the side and change of style that would come with that transfer could be enough to help them retain the title. At the moment though, with the deal looking unlikely I think they’ll miss out.

Overall, Liverpool are still a huge threat and a great side but the great Sir Alex Ferguson once said that a team that doesn’t progress goes backwards. That’s the fear for this Liverpool side, especially with the improvements that teams around them have made. They’ll be there or thereabouts but I think ultimately they will fall just short come the end of the season.

1st
Manchester City
Likely line-up: Ederson; Cancelo, Koulibaly, Laporte, Ake; Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling

Manchester City Training Session : News Photo

After dominating for two seasons, Manchester City were effectively knocked down a peg or two last season by Liverpool. They won the League Cup in February but then came second in the league, were knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal and knocked out of the Champions League by Lyon. The squad was getting stale and needed improvements desperately. As expected, Pep Guardiola and the Man City board have delivered. Nathan Ake has come into the defence and Ferran Torres has stepped in to replace the outgoing Leroy Sane in attack. It’s expected that Kalidou Koulibaly will join from Napoli in a £75million deal and that could be the signing that takes them back over the line to become champions again. With a solid, consistent partner next to Laporte at centre-back they will be confident in playing out from the back but also having protection to guard against the counter. In midfield, Bernardo Silva will be able to move into his more effective central role following the departure of David Silva, while Phil Foden showed post-lockdown that he is ready to enter the first-team picture on a much more regular basis this season. The one thing they may struggle with is up front, as Aguero suffers more and more with injuries and is now a year older while Gabriel Jesus hasn’t quite shown he is ready to step into that role yet. I think they will rely a bit more heavily on Raheem Sterling for goals this season and it could end up bringing him the golden boot too.

Overall, City are just so strong. They have the most depth in Europe in their squad and with the schedule due to be so packed, it will stand them in great stead. They have goals all over the pitch, a style of play that will help them with the schedule and more quality than anyone else in the league. I think after a close run race, they come out on top for the third time in four seasons.

UFC Vegas 9: Overeem vs Sakai – Prelims Predictions

An interesting card is set to take place this weekend in the APEX once again in Las Vegas, as heavyweight gatekeeper Alistair Overeem takes on up and coming contender Augusto Sakai in the main event.

Last weekend in the light heavyweight division, I secured 8/10 picks including five perfect predictions (winner, round, method) for a pretty good night overall. This time around I’m expecting it to be a bit of a tougher task, with lots of fighters I’m not the most knowledgeable on and a few pick’em fights in there too.

There is due to be 10 fights on the card this weekend, with five prelim fights and five main card fights scheduled. I’ll break down the prelims here and see how well we can do with our predictions this weekend.

PRELIMS

Cole Smith (7-1) vs Hunter Azure (8-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

Both men in this bout suffered the first defeat of their professional career in their last outing, with Smith beaten in a split decision against Miles Johns while Azure was knocked out by Brian Kelleher back in May. Azure is a strong wrestler who is comfortable on the feet. He is still fairly green and can lose concentration sometimes, but Kelleher is a lot better than Smith and he’s unlikely to be punished as harshly in this fight. Smith is just a big grinder and will battle hard throughout the full three rounds. But with his main strength being wrestling too, his best path to victory is taking advantage in one of those lapses and making it count. I think it’s unlikely on this occasion and Azure should get back in the win column with a fairly comfortably decision.
PICK – Hunter Azure via Unanimous Decision

Alexander Romanov (11-0) vs Marcos Rogerio De Lima (17-7-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)

A big heavyweight bout between undefeated debutant ‘King Kong’ Romanov against former light heavyweight Rogerio ‘Pezao’ De Lima. This fight is the epitome of a fight that has two potential outcomes that are polar opposite scales. Romanov hasn’t fought in over a year but has had two UFC debuts scrapped due to COVID-19, so it’s not like he hasn’t been training. He is a grappling demon and does his best work on the ground, while De Lima is like a fish out of water with his back on the canvas. Despite that though, ‘Pezao’ has terrifying power in his hands and is better on the feet than anyone Romanov has ever fought before. Despite that, Romanov has a big size advantage as a natural heavyweight so if he can avoid getting clipped early he should have a relatively easy time of getting the finish on the ground.
PICK – Alexander Romanov via Submission, Round 1

Viviane Araujo (8-2) vs Montana De La Rosa (11-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)

A flyweight battle between these two women as we have a classic striker vs grappler bout in this one. Montana De La Rosa has excellent top control and a fantastic submission game, capable of winning her fights from nowhere if needed while Araujo is an accomplished striker who knows how to keep a fight standing, considering her perfect takedown defence record in the UFC. Araujo however showed some issues with her cardio in her last fight, a defeat to Jessica Eye, so De La Rosa will take encouragement from that and know that she could potentially get a late finish if she needs it. Overall though, Araujo has such an edge on the feet that even when tired she’s dangerous and if De La Rosa can’t secure a takedown then she has no path to victory.
PICK – Viviane Araujo via Unanimous Decision

Andre Muniz (19-4) vs Bartosz Fabinski (15-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

An interesting match up at middleweight as a lay and pray expert looks to make it back-to-back wins against a Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert. Fabinski most recently defeated Brit Darren Stewart in March, headlining a Cage Warriors card after the UFC were forced to cancel UFC London due to COVID-19. Muniz’s last fight was in November of last year, when he beat Antonio Arroyo in a not-so-exciting fight in his debut. The contrasting styles in this play in complete favour to the Polish fighter, who will look to use volume when it comes to takedowns. Once he secures one, he prefers to control from the top and land point-scoring shots as the opportunity presents itself. Muniz is good enough to potentially take the back and look for submissions, but Fabinski is experienced enough to get the job done.
PICK – Bartosz Fabinski via Unanimous Decision

Brian Kelleher (21-11) vs Kevin Natividad (9-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)

Originally supposed to fight against Ricky Simon, Kelleher now steps into the octagon with debutant ‘Quicksand’ in the featherweight division. Natividad is usually a bantamweight and is up against one of the biggest hitters in the division in this fight, so instantly comes in as an underdog. Natividad is a clean, crisp striker though in his own right and he will look to stand and trade. Both are decent wrestlers too so the likelihood is they’ll look to avoid those exchanges, which for me means ‘Boom’ will be able to land one of his trademark bombs for a knockout win.
PICK – Brian Kelleher via Knockout, Round 1

UFC Vegas 8: Smith vs Rakic – Main Card Predictions

A three round main event on top of a decent looking card is what the UFC have put together for the fans this weekend, as they return for yet another Fight Night card at the APEX in Las Vegas.

Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith takes on prospect Aleksandar Rakic in the light-heavyweight division, with all eyes on the top of the division following Jon Jones vacating the belt for a move up to heavyweight.

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.

I picked the prelims already, which you can see 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

Europa League Final: Sevilla vs Inter Milan – Prediction

The 2019/20 Europa League will finally come to an end tonight when Sevilla and Inter Milan meet each other in the final of a tournament that started over a full calendar year ago.

Antonio Conte’s side come into the fixture after dropping down from the Champions League into the Round of 32 and beating Ludogrets (4-1 on aggregate), Getafe 2-0, Leverkusen 2-1 and Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 en route to the final.

Julen Lopetegui has guided Sevilla through the entire tournament. They came out on top of a group containing Qarabag, APOEL and Dudelange where they won 5 out of 6 games. They then defeated CFR Cluj on away goals in the last 32 before beating Roma (2-0), Wolves (1-0) and Manchester United (2-1) in one-legged ties en route to this game.

Looking at performances in the tournament over the last two weeks, Inter Milan are surely the favourites to lift the trophy. Romelu Lukaku has scored in his last 10 consecutive Europa League games for Everton and Inter Milan, including a brace in the semi-final, while Lautaro Martinez seems to have found some form again since coming back into the side.

In defence, Diego Godin and Stefan De Vrij have been rock solid but the emergence of Alessandro Bastoni has edged out Milan Skriniar from the side. Ashley Young has cemented his place as the left wing-back while in midfield, Marcelo Brozovic and Nico Barella are now automatic starters. Christian Eriksen is often the third option in that midfield, although last time out Conte opted for Matias Vecino.

For Sevilla, their side picks itself currently. Sergio Reguillon will continue his strong form at left-back in what could potentially be his final game for the club with many looking to take him away permanently. Captain Jesus Navas has become a right-back in recent years and is a starter for the side, while Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde will start together in the centre. In midfield, Ever Banega will leave the club following this game to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Shabab. Alongside Fernando and Jordan they will need to dominate the midfield areas to have any hope of winning this game. Ahead of them semi-final hero Suso will likely start but the man who scored the winner Luuk De Jong will likely start on the bench once again, with Youssef El-Nesyri picked ahead of him. Top goalscorer Lucas Ocampos will complete the team.

FBL-EUR-C3-SEVILLA-TRAINING : News Photo
Lucas Ocampos will be key to any success Sevilla have in the Europa League final

Sevilla’s style of keeping the ball, switching it from side to side and playing through balls down the flanks for cut-backs entirely suits the way Inter Milan play. Conte’s side will play with a deep block and will press in the wide areas then use the pace of Lukaku and Martinez to launch counter attacks.

With the form of the two teams, it’s hard to look past Inter Milan taking the trophy back to Italy with them. Lukaku is absolutely deadly in this system currently and with just one goal needed to match the record of his idol Ronaldo (R9) for most goals in a debut season for Inter he will be absolutely amped for the final.

I don’t anticipate the most exciting game of football ever on Friday night, but I expect a vintage Italian performance from Conte and Inter Milan in a 2-0 win for the Nerazzurri.

PICKS

Inter Milan to win 2-0 – 19/2 (BetVictor)
Romelu Lukaku anytime – 7/5 (BetVictor/SkyBet)

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Oleinik – Main Card Predictions

A bizarre UFC card last weekend saw just 8 fights take place after a number of withdrawals in the build-up, including one on the night.

We’ll be looking for a more action-packed card this time around when Derrick Lewis meets Alexei Oleinik in the main event in the heavyweight division. Prior to the headliner though, there are 11 other fights scheduled for the card including seven on the prelims and five on the main card.

I got 5/8 picks right last weekend with 2/5 being completely correct (winner, round, method). Not the best but in a card that got chopped up so much in the build-up I’m not too worried overall. Hopefully I can do better this time around though. I have already made my picks for the prelims here, so lets break down the main card now.

MAIN CARD

Beneil Dariush (18-4-1) vs Scott Holtzmann (14-3) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

A four-fight win streak for Dariush has seen him finish his last three opponents in a row and is now matched up with Holtzmann who has won two in a row but is entering the twilight of his career now at 36 years old. Dariush is largely a ground grappler, he’ll wrestle you down and then with his top control wear you down and submit you, while Holtzmann is a power puncher who looks to set up his hard punches with exchanges in the pocket. Dariush’s biggest flaw though is his durability against power punches, which opens up the possibility of a shock in this bout. ‘Hot Sauce’ will need to avoid being taken down early or he could be in trouble since he has big issues with getting up off his back. If he can avoid that then he has a chance, but in reality I don’t think he can avoid it.
PICK – Beneil Dariush via Submission, Round 1

Yana Kunitskaya (12-5) vs Julija Stoliarenko (9-4-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

The reincarnation of Ronda Rousey has arrived in the UFC as Julija Stoliarenko makes her debut against former featherweight title challenger Yana Kunitskaya. Stoliarenko has 9 professional wins, with 8 by submission and all of those by armbar. Kunitskaya took on Cyborg in her debut but since moving back to her natural weight class has been more impressive, winning two in a row before being KO’d by Aspen Ladd in her last fight. Stoliarenko is a brown-belt in jiu-jitsu but also a Lethwei champion, meaning she absolutely knows how to strike. Kunitskaya is a world class kickboxer though and will be by far and away the best fighter that Stoliarenko has ever come up against. It’s because of that gap in competition that I think ‘Foxy’ will be able to get the win using her superior striking ability to maintain distance and out-point her opponent.
PICK – Yana Kunitskaya via Unanimous Decision

Darren Stewart (11-5) vs Maki Pitolo (13-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

London born and bred, Stewart returns to the Octagon for the first time since his defeat to Bartosz Fabinski back in March on a Cage Warriors card following UFC London’s cancellation. Maki Pitolo has won four of his last five fights with all coming via finishes. Stewart is a straight up knockout artist, but his UFC record is poor at 4-5-1 since his debut in 2016. Both men like to exchange at close distance, with Pitolo loving to rip body shots while Stewart prefers to use the point of his elbow to punish his opponents. Overall, this fight will be about who is more durable and considering Stewart has never been KO’d before I think he’ll be able to take the win.
PICK – Darren Stewart via Knockout, Round 2

Chris Weidman (14-5) vs Omari Akhmedov (20-4-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman is desperate to snap his losing run as he has lost five of his last 6 bouts coming into this, being knocked out every time. Akhmedov is unbeaten in his last six fights, after beating Ian Heinisch in his last outing. All of his those fights have gone the distance and I can’t see this one ending early either. Weidman is a world class wrestler with legit jiu-jitsu skills and heavy hands but his confidence has truly suffered since losing his world title back in 2015. He tried to move up to light-heavyweight most recently but was knocked out in the first round by Dominick Reyes and has now come back down to his natural weight class for this bout. Akhmedov is a good all-round fighter but Weidman should be able to get him down and keep him there with grinding ground-and-pound to snap his run and get back in the win column.
PICK – Chris Weidman via Unanimous Decision

Derrick Lewis (23-7) vs Alexei Oleinik (59-13-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)

Knockout artist vs submission expert. This is a war about whether or not someone can get the fight where they want it to be. Lewis has won 18 of his 23 victories via knockout, while Oleinik has 46 submission wins from 59 wins. Oleinik has a grinding style where he marches forward with a not-so-great guard as he usually eats punches on his way in for a clinch and takedown. If he does that against Lewis, he’s getting knocked out. In fairness, I think he’s getting knocked out regardless but he definitely has a path to victory in this fight. His grappling skills are among the best in the UFC and he’s dangerous from top or bottom position. If he tries to set up submissions from the bottom though, Lewis has a nasty ground and pound game that could put to an end any plans Oleinik has. Overall, Lewis’ path to victory via knockout is far wider than Oleinik’s via submission and that’s the reason for my pick.
PICK – Derrick Lewis via Knockout, Round 2

Predicting the Europa League Quarter-Finals

The Europa League returned this week and we finally have a set of quarter-finalists for the competition.

With all ties yet to be completed, with some not even having played their first-leg yet, UEFA set up this fixture list in order to ensure a winner was crowned in this years tournament. All second leg fixtures were played behind closed doors in home stadiums, while any fixture that hadn’t yet completed a first-leg became a one-off knockout fixture in a neutral stadium.

Manchester United held a 5-0 aggregate lead over LASK Linz going into the second leg and secured another win at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in a 2-1 win.

Rangers were looking to overcome a 3-1 deficit when they travelled to Leverkusen, but the German outfit were comfortable throughout and eased themselves to another win thanks to a sole Moussa Diaby goal.

FC Internazionale v Getafe CF - UEFA Europa League Round of 16 : News Photo

Copenhagen were able to secure their quarter-final place thanks to a 3-0 win over Istanbul, with former Manchester United defender Guillermo Varela getting an assist as the Danish side progressed, while Shakhtar Donetsk progressed after scoring three goals from the 89th minute onward to eliminate Wolfsburg. Basel eased into the next round with a win over Frankfurt on the night to give them a 4-0 aggregate win while Wolves overcame a tough task in Olympiacos thanks to an early Raul Jimenez penalty to win 2-1 on aggregate.

In the one-off fixtures, Inter Milan beat Getafe in a closely fought encounter thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen while Sevilla pipped Roma in a 2-0 win thanks to Sergio Reguillon and Youssef En-Nesyri.

This has set up some tasty quarter-final fixtures as these 8 teams battle it out for a place in next years UEFA Champions League, as Pot 1 seeds as well as winning themselves a major European title.

Manchester United will take on Copenhagen on Monday with a place in next season’s Champions League already secured. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær however has made it abundantly clear that he wants a trophy to cap off the season he’s had and after faltering in the FA Cup at the semi-final stage he is prioritising this competition. They will be heavy favourites for the game in Cologne having rested the majority of his heavy hitters in their Last 16 second leg and I expect a comfortable victory for the Reds. 2-0, goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes my pick.

Manchester United v LASK - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: Second Leg : News Photo

Also on Monday is arguably the tie of the round, as Inter Milan take on Bayer Leverkusen. The Italian side finished second in Serie A this season and Conte will be keen to add a European trophy to his polished CV. Leverkusen will be looking to win the competition as they missed out on the Champions League via their league position having finished 5th in the Bundesliga. With Kai Havertz looking to leave the club, Chelsea’s reported stance is the hope that their participation in the competition can get Havertz to join with Leverkusen accepting a lower fee. In a one-off game, both clubs will be looking to ensure they don’t lose first and foremost and I think Conte’s Inter side suit that better. With in-form Romelu Lukaku up front and firing, I expect his goal will see Inter through in a tight game.

The following day, Shakhtar will take on Basel as the underdogs of the competition look to progress into the final four. Both sides won their Last 16 tie comfortably and will fancy their chances going into this game knowing they got a favourable draw in comparison to what they could have got. Shakhtar are a free flowing attacking side loaded with Brazilian talent and have got more goals in their side than Basel, but the Swiss side are a strong defensive unit and have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five Europa League games. In a one-off game though, they will need to come forward that little bit more and I think it will be enough for Shakhtar to get the goal they need. With Basel then having to push forward, Shakhtar should be able to get another and wrap the game up.

Finally, Wolves will take on Sevilla in a mouth-watering tie. Wolves are a solid defensive unit who control the game with their playmaking midfielders and directness in attack causing all sorts of problems for opposition defences. Sevilla aren’t so solid defensively but they move the ball quickly and well in the middle and final third and use their full-backs effectively to provide extra attacking options. With Ever Banega pulling the strings in midfield and Lucas Ocampos a big goalscoring threat from out wide, Wolves will need to be wary of him making runs between the wing-backs and centre-backs into space. Overall though, Wolves’ added depth should overall be enough to see them through. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one end level after 90 minutes but in extra-time, Wolves’ numerical advantage defensively will see them able to keep Sevilla out and it could be a substitute’s fresh legs that make the difference with a winning goal.

PICKS:

Manchester United 2-0 Copenhagen
Inter Milan 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 FC Basel
Wolves 1-0 Sevilla (aet)

Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Oleinik – Prelims Predictions

A bizarre UFC card last weekend saw just 8 fights take place after a number of withdrawals in the build-up, including one on the night.

We’ll be looking for a more action-packed card this time around when Derrick Lewis meets Alexei Oleinik in the main event in the heavyweight division. Prior to the headliner though, there are 11 other fights scheduled for the card including seven on the prelims and five on the main card.

I got 5/8 picks right last weekend with 2/5 being completely correct (winner, round, method). Not the best but in a card that got chopped up so much in the build-up I’m not too worried overall. Hopefully I can do better this time around though.

EARLY PRELIMS

Irwin Rivera (9-5) vs Ali Al-Qaisi (8-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

After a debut loss in the UFC to Giga Chikadze, Irwin Rivera comes back down to his natural weight looking for his first win in the company against debutant Ali Al-Qaisi. ‘The Royal Fighter’ comes in on a five-fight win streak including three first round submission wins. Rivera is a good offensive fighter with good power in his hands but still raw defensively, especially when facing takedowns, while Al-Qaisi is pretty one dimensional in that he wants to take you down and submit you. On paper it seems like a good match up for Al-Qaisi, but the problem here is that his level is not the highest. Rivera is a very good scrambler and while he’s not the best at stopping the takedown, he’s good at getting back to his feet. Rivera may get taken down but any time he’s on his feet he’s dangerous enough to stop Al-Qaisi and I think that’s what happens here.
PICK – Irwin Rivera via Knockout, Round 3

Youssef Zalal (9-2) vs Peter Barrett (11-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)

A short-notice favourite is rare, but Youssef Zalal has every right to be in that category for this fight. He’s currently 2-0 in the Octagon following wins over Austin Lingo and Jordan Griffin, while ‘Slippery Pete’ makes his UFC debut following a win on Dana White’s Contender Series almost a year ago. Zalal has a complete advantage in every aspect of MMA in this bout and should be able to dominate wherever it ends up. Barrett is a hittable target with dodgy takedown defence but he has got power to put people away as his 7 knockout wins show. In this instance though, I don’t think he’ll be able to get near enough to ‘The Moroccan Devil’ to land that big punch. Zalal should be able to maintain distance and control the fight for a win.
PICK – Youssef Zalal via Unanimous Decision

PRELIMS

Justin Jaynes (16-4) vs Gavin Tucker (11-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)

Five fight win streak vs 1 loss ever, this fight could be the fight of the night. Gavin Tucker destroyed Sam Sicilia in his UFC debut back in 2017 before being destroyed himself in his next fight against Rick Glenn. He took two years out before his submission win over Seung Woo Choo and now returns after a year out. Jaynes made his UFC just over a month ago when he KO’d UFC vetera Frank Camacho after just 41 seconds. Jaynes isn’t naturally a 145lber and was fighting at 165lbs for that Camacho fight so I expect the weight cut will have some kind of effect on him. Add to that Tucker is very capable on the feet and a solid wrestler himself, so I think he’ll have the tools to keep Jaynes’ power at bay to secure a decision win.
PICK – Gavin Tucker via Unanimous Decision

Andrew Sanchez (11-5) vs Wellington Turman (16-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

A former Ultimate Fighter winner against a big prospect at middleweight in what is an interesting bout. Sanchez has heavy hands and a great wrestling game, tools that should see him having a much better career than he’s had so far. He’s lost 3 of his last 5 in the UFC. Turman on the other hand is 1-1 in the UFC but has done nothing but impress. He stepped in on short notice and took Karl Roberson to a split decision that he lost, before controlling a win over Markus Perez. Turman is a grapple heavy fighter who looks for submissions to win the fight. Sanchez though has never been taken down in the UFC and the only issues he’s had in his defeats have come against volume strikers who outlast his poor cardio. He shouldn’t have that problem in this fight and should be able to overcome the young Turman for a win.
PICK – Andrew Sanchez vs Unanimous Decision

Nasrat Haqparast (11-3) vs Alex Munoz (6-0) – (Lightweight/155lbs)

Baby Gastelum makes his return following a first-round knockout defeat back in January to Drew Dober. Prior to that, Haqparast had won his last three in impressive performances and was slowly moving up towards being ranked. Munoz is making his UFC debut in this fight but is highly thought of as the match up shows. He was scheduled to fight Luis Pena in February but pulled out with injury. This one could be a step too far for the Team Alpha Male fighter though. Haqparast has lethal striking and a steady wrestling game, while his conditioning has never caused him a problem. His defeat to Dober is no reason to write him off considering what Dober has done since too. Munoz will need to get an early takedown and grind through his opponent to be able to stay in the fight, but overall I think Haqparast will be able to outland Munoz and eventually be able to power through for the knockout win.
PICK – Nasrat Haqparast via Knockout, Round 3

Kevin Holland (17-5) vs Joaquin Buckley (10-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

A late addition to the card as the UFC get Kevin Holland on a UFC card once again following his cancellation last weekend. He was supposed to fight Trevin Giles but he passed out moments before the walk-out, leaving the ‘Trailblazer’ without an opponent. His opponent makes his UFC debut in this one, but he fought just last weekend himself avenging one of his only two losses via a second round knockout. Holland has a huge height and reach advantage which will definitely help him in keeping Buckley’s power away from him and I think he’ll score the knockout win.
PICK – Kevin Holland via Knockout, Round 2

Tim Means (29-12-1) vs Laureano Staropoli (9-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)

An interesting fight headlines the prelims of this card as veteran Tim Means takes on ‘El Matador’. Means has lost 5 of his last 8 fights, being finished 3 times in that period. His two most recent wins came via stoppage in the first round but neither of those fighters are with the UFC anymore. Staropoli won his first two fights in the UFC with comfortable decisions before losing to Muslim Salikhov back in October 2019. Despite being the more all-round fighter, Means’ last defeat was to a man that, on paper, he was much better than too. Staropoli’s takedown defence is somewhat of a weakness as he allowed Salikhov to take him down three times, so Means may look to use some wrestling in addition to his Muay-Thai. If he can use his reach advantage well he should get the win, while Staropoli will know that if he lands clean a few times he will hurt Means.
PICK – Laureano Staropoli via Knockout, Round 2

You can watch the early prelims of this card exclusively on UFC Fight Pass while UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Oleinik will air live on BT Sport this Saturday night, starting at midnight. The main card will start at 2am.

Do you agree with my picks for the prelims? Let me know.

UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Shahbazyan – Prelims Predictions

After the excitement of Fight Island, the UFC returns to the Las Vegas for their fifth card at the Apex Centre where Derek Brunson headlines against top prospect Edmen Shahbazyan in the middleweight division.

This is a considerably smaller card than the last one we saw, with just 9 fights on this card rather than the 15 we saw last weekend. I’m going to break down the 4 preliminary fights here and make my picks for each bout.

Last time out, I got 11/15 correct with 7 of those 11 absolutely perfect (winner, round, method). Lets see if I can do any better this time around.

Chris Gutierrez (15-3-1) vs Cody Durden (11-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

After a defeat in his UFC debut, Gutierrez has bounced back to win his last three in a row including a TKO via leg-kicks in his last outing. Durden steps in on just six-days notice for his UFC debut off the back of a seven-fight win streak. The big difference in this fight is the level of opponent they’ve each fought prior. This will comfortably be Durden’s biggest test to date and Gutierrez should really prove too much for him. Durden is a solid wrestler with decent striking, but Gutierrez has different level hands in comparison. His leg kicks are violent and his right hook is crisp and accurate. That should be enough to keep Durden’s wrestling at distance for a decision win.
PICK – Chris Gutierrez via Unanimous Decision

Jamall Emmers (17-5) vs Vincent Cachero (7-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)

Vincent Cachero has stepped into this fight on less that two days notice after Timur Valiev dropped out prior to the weigh-ins. Emmers is a very good wrestler who’s top control and positions are very good while Cachero isn’t really excellent at anything. He’s 1-2 in his last three fights and Emmers should be a whole level above him here. In reality, Emmers lands an early takedown and pummels Cachero into a finish but knowing Emmers’ history he’ll likely stand with Cachero to polish his skills and take a decision win instead.
PICK – Jamall Emmers via Unanimous Decision

Johnny Munhoz Jr (10-0) vs Nathan Maness (11-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

Straight up… this fight got announced overnight and I don’t know enough about either of them to really make a genuine pick. So it’s a stab in the dark. Nathan Maness just because he’s actually been training.
PICK – Nathan Maness via Knockout, Round 3

Frankie Saenz (12-6) vs Jonathan Martinez (11-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

This is your typical two-outcome fight. Either Frankie Saenz uses his wrestling expertly for a decision win or he gets knocked out by the superior striker in Martinez. Saenz is 2-4 in his last 6 and was knocked out in his last fight against Marlon Vera in the first round 16 months ago. Martinez on the other hand won two in a row before poor judging saw him lose his last bout to Andre Dewell via split decision. Martinez has a reach advantage and will use his youthfulness to constantly move away from Saenz’s wrestling and strike from range. He has good power and Saenz is coming to the end of a good career but this is old school vs new school and the new school should have too much power for him.
PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Knockout, Round 2

UFC Fight Island: Whittaker vs Till – Main Card Predictions

As the UFC brings to an end the first edition of Fight Island, the middleweight division is hotting up. Former champion Robert Whittaker makes his return in his first bout since losing the belt as he takes on former welterweight title contender Darren Till in the main event.

Before that though, a stacked FIFTEEN fight card will see plenty of big fights and talented fighters enter the octagon. I’ll break down the main card here, and offer up my predictions for each fight.

Last time out for UFC Fight Island: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2, I correctly predicted 6/10 winners on the night with just one of those completely correct (winner, round, method). I expect to do much better this time around and hope to improve on that record.

You can see my predictions for the prelims of this card here.

Khamzat Chimaev (7-0) vs Rhys McKee (10-2-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)

After a mesmerising debut just 10 days ago, Chimaev returns to the Octagon looking for his second win in his second weight division when he takes on Cage Warriors’ ‘Skeletor’. McKee is a solid striker with great jiu-jitsu and will definitely be able to put up more of a fight than John Phillips did. Chimaev though was so dominant against Phillips, a big middleweight, that it’s very hard to discount the size and strength difference. Chimaev has a rocket strapped to his back right now and another dominant win on Fight Island will only see his stock rise further.
PICK – Khamzat Chimaev via Submission, Round 1

Alex Oliveira (21-8-1, 2NC) vs Peter Sobotta (17-6-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)

Another potential fight of the night contender here, as ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira looks to make it back-to-back wins in 2020 against the returning Sobotta. The German hasn’t fought since 2018, when he was well beaten by Leon Edwards. Both fighters are technical strikers, with Oliveira loving a hard kick, but also both are more than comfortable on the ground. Sobotta is a better grappler than striker and will want the fight on the ground if he can be in control there and he could go for a submission. If Oliveira ends up in control, we’ll see big ground and pound strikes that could potentially set up submissions. Overall, Sobotta’s inactivity is likely going to cost him here and Oliveira should be able to sneak a win.
PICK – Alex Oliveira via Unanimous Decision

Paul Craig (12-4-1) vs Gadzhimurad Antigulov (20-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)

Two wild submission artists who both struggle against fighters with real, genuine quality, this is a weird fight. Craig drew his last fight against Shogun, which many think he won, but before that he had exchanged between wins and losses since 2017. Antigulov had been a finishing machine until recently, where he now lost his last two by knockout. Antigulov has struggled to get through the first round previously and if he does this time he’ll start to fade. But his game plan is constantly to go for the takedown and Craig is so confident on his back that he likes to pull guard so he may not have his cardio tested in the end. This is really a ‘pick-em’ fight where nothing would surprise me, I’d avoid betting on this one.
PICK – Gadzhimurad Antigulov via Decision

Carla Esparza (16-6) vs Marina Rodriguez (12-0-2) – (Strawweight/115lbs)

A fun women’s fight coming up where both have a severe disadvantage in the others comfort zone. Despite being only 5ft 1, Esparza loves to try and impose her wrestling game on her opponents while Rodriguez is a muay-thai fighter who throws vicious knees and elbows in the clinch. In both of Rodriguez’s draws she was ragdolled on the ground in 10-8 rounds and while Esparza isn’t as physically imposing as Calvillo she is good on the ground. If Esparza can get the takedown, Rodriguez will find it hard to get back up and will likely lose that round. I’m going to back Esparza to get enough takedowns and control enough on the floor to secure a decision win.
PICK – Carla Esparza via Unanimous Decision

Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) vs Alexander Gustafsson (18-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)

Another weird fight on the card sees two all-time greats of the sport clash in the heavyweight division. Werdum has lost his last two, including being KO’d by Alexander Volkov while Gustafsson lost his last two by finish against Jon Jones and Anthony Smith. Werdum dominated on the ground against Oleinik in his last bout but was overwhelmed on the feet. If you’re going to get overwhelmed on the feet by Oleinik, then Gustafsson will probably murder you. If the fight hits the ground for whatever reason though, Werdum has a big advantage on the mat. Overall though, I think Gustafsson has too much of a striking advantage for Werdum and now that he’s at heavyweight he should have more power too.
PICK – Alexander Gustafsson via Knockout, Round 2

Mauricio Rua (26-11-1) vs Antonio Nogueira (23-9) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)

A fight that should probably be happening in Brazil if it’s happening at all, but the trilogy bout has arrived between ‘Shogun’ and ‘Minotouro’. Rua won the previous two bouts via decision but now I’ll be shocked if this goes the distance. Rua is 38 and Nogueira is 44, both are likely to retire by the end of the year. This is a fight for the nostalgia and it should end up in the same result. Nogueira has pop at the end of his shots but is slow and laboured now, while Rua is 4-1-1 in his last 6 bouts. The gas tank is nearly empty for both and both have shown that their chins are not what quite what they used to be anymore in recent times. Noguiera hasn’t fought for over a year and at this age I expect that to make a massive difference. Rua will land clean and end this one early.
PICK – Mauricio Rua via Knockout, Round 1

Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs Darren Till (18-2-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

The main event is a fight that everyone has been looking forward to and rightly so. A high level striking bout is almost certain to take place here and with five rounds on the clock should be a very fun one. Whittaker’s last fight was when he was destroyed by Israel Adesanya in their title fight, while Till’s last bout was an underwhelming win over Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut. Whittaker has a wide stance and focuses a lot on kicks to maintain his distance, while Till uses his kickboxing background to stay out and then his footwork to steam in and land his big left hand. Whittaker seems to be very underrated because of the way he lost to Adesanya and it’s interesting to see for me. The Australian has powerful striking and excellent defence, something we saw against Yoel Romero. Till’s chin was touched by Woodley and Masvidal and if Whittaker lands in a similar fashion then the results could be the same. Whittaker himself has been prone to a big punch too recently though, as he was dropped 4 times in his last two fights. Till will pressure from the off but Whittaker is proven at this level and will be prepared for it. His pacing has been proven too since he’s done the five round haul many times. I think overall, Whittaker is just too well-rounded to fall into Till’s traps for his big left hand and while I think Till will land some big shots, Whittaker will do enough for the decision win.
PICK – Robert Whittaker via Unanimous Decision

UFC Fight Island: Figueiredo vs Benavidez 2 – Results (Highlights)

EARLY PRELIMS

Serghei Spivac def Carlos Felipe via Majority Decision (29-27 x2, 28-28)

Two young heavyweight bulls step into the Octagon for this one and the Brazilian starts out strong. Felipe lands heavy shots and is coming forward against Spivac, who is looking a little bit gun shy. Felipe lands clean punches for the end of the round and likely takes it 10-9.

Second round sees Spivac go in for the takedown after landing some strikes early on. He starts engaging in the clinch more and landing nice body kicks too, while Felipe continues to step forward and strike hard punches. He’s marking Spivac’s face up with strikes but I think the Moldovan takes the round. 19-19.

Third round and Spivac absolutely dominant. He gets the takedown against the cage early on and lands countless strikes for the full five minutes of the round. Felipe makes barely any attempts to get up and gets beaten down for a 10-8 round. 29-27 Spivac for me.

Arman Tsarukyan def David Ramos via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)

An exciting opening round as Ramos and Tsarukyan exchange wild strikes and spinning attacks. Tsarukyan landed a big right overhand that drops Ramos and gets into top position, landing big punches and working patiently for the submission. A big round for Tsarukyan, 10-9.

Second round is even more impressive. Tsarukyan lands some nice strikes and secures the takedown, becoming the first fighter to take Ramos down in the UFC. He’s staying on the outside well and landing perfect counter strikes. Another big round for him and Ramos needs a finish in the final round. 20-18.

Third and final round now and Tsarukyan is putting on a clinic. The movement and counter strikes are superb but the flowing combinations are just stunning. He’s busted Ramos wide open in this round and is landing big right hands and head kicks. Ramos pressuring forward to try and secure a takedown but he’s just not close. He finally gets the fight down with 30 seconds to go and goes for the guillotine but it’s not even close and Tsarukyan will take a very, very impressive win.

PRELIMS

Amir Albazi def Malcolm Gordon via Submission (Triangle Choke), Round 1 (4:42)

A competitive first round between these Flyweights. Albazi had the better of the exchanges on the feet early, landing nice left hooks and a beautiful body kick before he decided to switch it up and go for the single leg takedown. He secured the takedown and and landed a few strikes well. A slick pass into full mount after some elbows and Gordon gives up his back before exploding out and ending up on top. Albazi throws up a triangle choke though, adjusts it and pulls down on the head and Gordon has no option but to tap. Very slick from Albazi and an impressive win.

Brett Johns def Montel Jackson via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

A very high level wrestling match in the first round. Johns with his usual aggressive approach with the clinch against the cage but Jackson showing his wrestling stripes too with excellent wrist control. As they break apart towards the end of the round, Jackson lands a huge one-two that drops Johns and he follows it up with some huge elbows in the ground and pound. He looks like he’s trying to finish it but Johns survives. 10-9 Jackson.

Second round begins and once again Johns goes straight for the single leg takedown. Jackson’s long limbs are helping him to relieve Johns’ pressure well with his large frame just getting him out of positions well. In the clinch Jackson lands some nice body shots before a big double leg takedown from Johns gets Jackson down. He takes the back and locks in a body triangle but Jackson is so strong he holds onto one wrist and refuses to let go. He eventually turns away from the body triangle and ends the round in full guard on top, but it’s a Johns round for me. 19-19.

Final round now and Johns once again wastes no time going for the takedown, but Jackson is just so physically strong and fights it well. 3 minutes to go and Johns eventually gets a big takedown away from the cage, although Jackson jumps straight back up. He lands some nice punches and then as Johns goes in for another takedown Jackson lands a big knee that Johns eats before securing another takedown. Once again though, Jackson gets back to his feet quickly. Final 90 seconds and Johns gets another takedown and takes the back before a burst from Jackson. Johns threatens with a guillotine but Jackson escapes and the round ends against the cage. Great fight. 29-28 Johns for me.

Joel Alvarez def Joe Duffy via Submission (Guillotine), Round 1 (2:25)

Fight opens up with both men exchanging big, hard leg kicks. Duffy throws a straight right hand and shoots for a takedown but Alvarez grabs the neck on the way down. He sinks in a deep guillotine, throws the leg over and forces the tap-out. What an upset win!

Grant Dawson def Nad Narimani via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-26, 29-27)

A frenetic pace in the first round as this super exciting match-up lives up to its hype. Hard low kicks from Dawson, and he loses balance on his own kick. Narimani flies in to try and catch him cold and gets caught with a huge flying knee. He secures the takedown from there and proceeds to dominate the rest of the round. Strong ground and pound strikes and eventually takes the back before the end of the round. 10-9 Dawson.

Second round starts with another of those huge flying knees but Narimani eats it and lands a big right hook of his own that unbalances Dawson. A few more strikes exchanged before Dawson secures another big takedown and starts attacking with the ground and pound. Relentless pressure forces Narimani to give up his back and he latches on immediately with the body triangle and goes for the rear naked choke, but Narimani just about survives the round. 20-18 Dawson.

Third and final round sees Dawson showing off his new found striking skills. Teet kicks followed up with brutal calf kicks, head kicks and nice hooks see him dominate the round again as Narimani pushes forward looking for a knockout. He starts landing clean in the final 30 seconds, but Dawson goes straight back to his wrestling game and sees the round out. 30-27 Dawson for me.

Roman Dolidze def Khadis Ibragimov via Knockout (Knee) Round 1, (4:15)

Heavy low kick to start by Dolidze as the two fighters taunt each other trying to engage in a striking fight. Dolidze goes to the mat and starts looking for a grappling game but Ibragimov avoids going to the ground and lands some heavy leg kicks. Referee stands the fight up again and Dolidze throws a big head kick and catches Ibragimov flush on the chin with his knee! He follows up with big punches and this one is all over! Big win for the Georgian debutant.

MAIN CARD

Askar Askarov def Alexandre Pantoja via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

Immediate guillotine attempt from Pantoja and it’s in super tight! Askarov pops his head out and ends up on top but Pantoja throws up a triangle and then an armbar all within the opening minute. Askarov now controlling the positions and lands some nice strikes from the guard before wrestling against the cage looking for a takedown. Pantoja rolls through and after a bit more grappling, he eventually takes the back. He locks in a body triangle and is searching for the rear naked choke but the buzzer goes for the end of the round. 10-9 Pantoja but that could have gone either way.

Second round keeps up a super high pace as both men look to strike a little bit more. Askarov closing the distance looking for takedowns but Pantoja is scrambling so, so well. Constant pressure and takedown attempts from Askarov but Pantoja rolls through yet again and ends up trying to take the back again. He ends up on top on the back of Askarov at the end of the round but he can’t flatten him out. 19-19. What a fight.

Pantoja is visibly tiring in this round and Askarov looking to push the pace still with his takedowns. ‘The Cannibal’ has kept this round on the feet though and is landing some nice shots. Askarov goes for a kick and Pantoja catches it and lands a big right hand that drops him! Great defence on the ground from the Russian though and he gets back up immediately More exchanges on the feet but this one comes to an end. Super close three rounds. 29-28 Pantoja for me but can’t complain if it goes the other way.

Ariane Lipski def Luana Carolina via Submission (Knee Bar), Round 1 (1:28)

Lipski comes out and throws two big bombs that get the attention of Carolina early. She throws another one-two and drops Carolina immediately, then launches into the guard of her opponent. Some grappling exchanges leads to Carolina locking up a calf slicer from the bottom but Lipski is sitting up, unhooks the leg and extends a gruesome knee bar over her head. Carolina screams in pain, taps out and this one is over in the first round.

Rafael Fiziev def Marc Diakiese via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)

Fight begins with some feelers being thrown out by both guys. Diakiese throws a few leg kicks and its responded to with a big body kick by Fiziev. The Russian throws in with a takedown attempt and gets the English fighter down. Good defence by Diakiese and the fight eventually returns to the feet but Fiziev is picking him apart. Another big body kick followed by ripping body punches causes Diakiese to shoot but Fiziev deals well and lands some ground and pound of his own. Both men get back to the feet and Diakiese lands a nice hook but the rounds ends in the Russian’s favour. 10-9 Fiziev.

Another very impressive round for Fiziev who continues to pick apart Diakiese all over the Octagon. No takedown attempts in this round but Fiziev out-striking his opponent using power shots and fantastic punch choice. Superb body kicks echoing throughout the empty arena by Fiziev, as Diakiese tries to push forward. Diakiese throws a head kick but Fiziev dodges it with a matrix-like move. Pure control from Fiziev in Diakiese’s world. 20-18.

Diakiese knows he needs a finish and comes out aggressive, but Fiziev avoiding the big punches and landing with body kicks and punches of his own. Good distance management from Fiziev as he avoids big strikes and lands jabs and kicks. Diakiese pushes forward and lands a huge right hand that rocks Fiziev, but the Russian responds by shaking his head and egging the Brit on to come forward. A few more decent shots lands but Fiziev eats them well and continues to push forward as the round ends. 29-28 Fiziev for me.

Jack Hermansson def Kelvin Gastelum via Submission (Heel Hook), Round 1 (1:18)

Fight starts with both men throwing out feeler kicks and touching the hands to figure out distance. Gastelum steps in and throws a combination but Hermansson ducks and clinches, pushing forward to attempt a takedown. On the way down though Gastelum swings the momentum and reverses the position ending up on top. As he gets up to separate, Hermansson holds onto the foot of Gastelum and locks in a heel hook submission. Gastelum tries to be calm but ‘Joker’ tightens it up and forces the tap. Amazing.

Deiveson Figueiredo vs Joseph Benavidez

Fight opens up with Figuieredo taking the centre of the cage with Benavidez looking to bounce around on the outside with leg kicks. Figueiredo lands a huge right hook that connects to the top of the head and drops Benavidez! He jumps on top trying to finish it landing big elbows but Benavidez is fighting it trying to recover. Figueiredo takes the back and locks in a tight rear naked choke but once again Benavidez escapes and manages to get back to the feet. Figueiredo lands two more big shots that drop Benavidez again. He launches another attack of ground and pound with vicious elbows, cutting Benavidez wide open. Benavidez rolls over and Figueiredo takes the back and locks in another super-deep rear naked choke. Benavidez doesn’t tap but goes unconscious and Figueiredo is the NEW flyweight champion of the world.