A huge light heavyweight main event with title implications headlines the UFC Vegas 54 card this week after a brilliant card last week.
Former champions Jan Blachowicz returns to the octagon for the first time since losing his title to take on the highly rated Aleksandar Rakic, with the winner hoping it will take them towards a title shot.
In a sneaky good card, we’ll also see the likes of Davey Grant take on Louis Smolka and Katlyn Chookagian taking on Amanda Ribas to give you plenty to get your teeth into.
Jake Hadley (8-0) vs Allan Nascimento (18-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A grapple-heavy affair coming up to open the main card here. Hadley is an undefeated former Cage Warriors champion, who earned his UFC debut with a submission win on Dana White’s Contender Series. Nascimento on the other hand was defeated in his UFC debut back at UFC 267, dropping a split decision to Tagir Ulanbekov.
Both Hadley and Nascimento are grapplers by nature, but they’re different in their approach. Hadley is a brilliant wrestler, who looks to smother his opponents with his takedowns and work for submissions by taking the back as quickly as possible. Nascimento looks to stand and use his kicking game, unafraid to be dragged into a scrap because he knows if he’s on the ground his submission game is excellent too. This is a super evenly matched fight and very hard to call.
One advantage that Hadley has is that he’s comfortable whether he’s on top or on the bottom, while Nascimento does not look comfortable when he’s underneath someone else. They will contest takedowns against the cage without a doubt and it will be finely contested, but in these matches it’s those fine margins that make the difference and I think Hadley claims the win. PICK – Jake Hadley via Decision
Frank Camacho (22-9) vs Manuel Torres (12-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
An interesting lightweight bout between a veteran likely on his way out and an upcoming talent from Mexico. Camacho has lost four of his last five stretching back to 2018 and was KO’d in just 41 seconds by Justin Jaynes in his last fight at UFC Vegas 3. Torres is making his UFC debut here on a three-fight win streak after victory on Dana White’s Contender Series back in October last year.
Camacho is a veteran of the sport despite being only 32 years old as his record shows. ‘The Crank’ is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he’s more known for his slugfest style where he brawls and entertains. Torres is a very physical and aggressive fighter, with great power in his hands and a killer instinct with 11 finishes in 12 fights. This is a real test to see where Camacho stands in his career.
Both men have the power to really hurt the other, but whether Camacho’s chin can still stand up after his latest knockout is a big worry. There is the fact that he has a lot more experience, and if he mixes up his attacks to include some ground game then he has a great chance of victory. With that said though, it’s not often that he leans on his grappling as his initial game plan, so I expect a hungry Torres to claim a big stoppage win. PICK – Manuel Torres via Knockout, Round 1
Katlyn Chookagian (17-4) vs Amanda Ribas (11-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two women’s flyweights looking to get into title contention in a division dominated by one queen. Chookagian has already fought for the belt and got dominated, but she has gone 4-1 since then, including wins in each of her last three against Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 255), Viviane Araujo (UFC 262) and Jennifer Maia (UFC Vegas 46) all by decision. Ribas saw her hype reach an all-time high when she submitted Paige Van Zant at UFC 251, but she was brutally stopped by Marina Rodriguez next time out at UFC 257. She bounced back with a great decision win over Virna Jandiroba at UFC 267 in her last bout.
Chookagian is a karate fighter who uses her range really well and volume strikes to dominate her opponents. Her body kicks are excellent while she has good boxing too and often just completely outworks her opponent. Ribas is a pretty rubbish striker on the feet, but on the ground she is a terrifying prospect with her submission skills. The problem here is that she may not be able to get the fight to the ground.
‘Blonde fighter’ is very good when it comes to ensuring fights go the way she wants, unless it’s against Valentina Shevchenko. She dominates the range, has good takedown defence and is the better striker as well as having the size advantage. Expect her to put in a vintage performance to claim yet another decision win. PICK – Katlyn Chookagian via Decision
Davey Grant (13-6) vs Louis Smolka (17-8) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Very fun 135-pound scrap coming up in this one. Grant has lost his last two in a row, dropping decisions to Marlon Vera and then Adrian Yanez respectively. Smolka has alternated wins and losses in his last six fights, being on the wrong end of a knockout finish to Vince Morales at UFC Vegas 44 in his most recent outing.
Grant is a terrific grappler who has completely transformed his game in recent years to start chasing knockouts with nasty combinations and wild hooks to the head. Smolka is another entertaining fighter, who uses his cardio as a weapon while throwing good combinations and threatening with chokes when the opportunity presents itself. When you match them skill for skill, Smolka seems to be in a world of trouble with this one.
The Brit is bigger, stronger, the better grappler and hits harder. His cardio is more than good enough to really go the distance at a good pace too and he is by far the more durable of the two fighters. This one will likely turn into a war, and that means Grant clips him midway through the fight for the finish. PICK – Davey Grant via Knockout, Round 2
Ryan Spann (19-7) vs Ion Cutelaba (16-6-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The big boys take up the co-main event slot in this one as light heavyweights collide. Spann has lost two of his last three, including getting absolutely squashed by Anthony Smith in the first round in his last bout. Cutelaba overcame a three fight winless run after KO losses to Magomed Ankalaev and a draw with Dustin Jacoby at UFC Vegas 25, by earning a decision win in his last bout against Devin Clark.
Spann is a tidy grappler on the mat with 11 submission wins to his name in his career. His wrestling is decent, while his striking on the feet is okay, but anything outside of his comfort zones is a huge problem for him. Cutelaba on the other hand is a super aggressive fighter who charges forward and threatens with constant takedowns by landing huge power punches in combinations. Spann needs to be able to get this fight down with himself on top to win this, because he’s outmatched by Cutelaba.
‘Hulk’ will look to put Spann on his back foot regularly and will try for takedowns against the cage before swinging huge combinations to try and take his head off. Spann won’t be comfortable with that, and when that happens he tends to just kind of melt away. That’s not ideal against someone so aggressive, so Cutelaba could claim a violent finish early on. PICK – Ion Cutelaba via Knockout, Round 1
Jan Blachowicz (28-9) vs Aleksandar Rakic (14-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fight that could easily have been contested for the 205lbs title at some point last year now takes place as a contender bout in the division. Blachowicz was dominated in his last outing by Glover Teixeira as he lost the belt at UFC 267, bringing to an end his five fight winning streak. Rakic on the other hand has won his last two, with just one defeat since losing his pro debut. He dominated Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos (UFC 259) in his most recent bouts.
Blachowicz is a brilliant fighter who is very well-rounded. He has got the legendary ‘Polish power’ in both hands where his boxing combinations score him knockout wins, while his wrestling is also good as he showed against Israel Adesanya back at UFC 259. Rakic’s wrestling has been shown to be brilliant too, while he also has scary power in his hands earning him nine career KO wins. This is a super hard fight to call, because both guys match up so well.
Rakic is nine years younger and the fact that Teixeira was able to take Blachowicz down so easily and control him on the mat will be of big encouragement to him. It shows that he is capable of being controlled and Rakic is very good at that. I think Blachowicz is now going to start a steady decline as age catches up to him, and Rakic is going to pile on the misery for a huge win and secure himself the next title shot. PICK – Aleksandar Rakic via Decision
The UFC returns to our screens this weekend after a two week break with a huge 15-fight card, headlined by light heavyweights Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith and Ryan Spann.
The 205lbs division is top heavy right now, with lots of guys vying for title contention and that includes former challenger Smith. A win for Spann however in his first ever main event would be a huge deal for him and mean he has no easy fights in his future.
Elsewhere on the card there is a hotly anticipated match-up between Ariane Lipski and debutant Mandy Bohm in the women’s flyweight division, while the likes of Joaquin Buckley, Nate Maness, Raquel Pennington, Impa Kasanganay and Arman Tsarukyan all fight too.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 36, we had a decent run going 6/9 with three perfect picks. That moved us to 402/633 (63.51%) with 177 perfect picks (44.03%) since we began.
A huge card, we’ve split our picks up into three this week so we’ll start with the opening four early prelim bouts.
Joaquin Buckley (12-4) vs Antonio Arroyo (9-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A very interesting middleweight bout to open the main card as Buckley and Arroyo look to get back into the win column in this one. Buckley had the world at his feet after his mind-blowing KO over Impa Kasanganay and then Jordan Wright at UFC 255, but he got starched with a head kick by Alessio Di Chirico at UFC Fight Island 7. Arroyo came into the UFC very highly-rated, but suffered back-to-back defeats to Andre Muniz and Deron Winn most recently at UFC Vegas 17.
Buckley is a pressure fighter with lots of power in both his hands and feet, but he’s only 5ft 10′ and in the middleweight division that’s not the biggest. Arroyo on the other hand is a good striker who has seriously struggled with wrestling since coming to the UFC. Buckley moves a lot and has a considerable athletic advantage, but Arroyo is better when he’s allowed to stand and Buckley can prove to be pretty predictable sometimes with his timing.
With that said, Arroyo hasn’t shown me anything that gets me excited about his future yet. We saw Buckley come back from getting KO’d by Kevin Holland in the past and I think he’ll come back in this one with a bang once again. PICK – Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 2
Nate Maness (13-1) vs Tony Gravely (21-6) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger at 135lbs in this one between two highly-rated potential future contenders. Maness has won both his UFC bouts so far, cruising past Jonny Munhoz Jr before a submission win over Luke Sanders at UFC Vegas 15, while Gravely has also won his last two with a split decision over Geraldo De Freitas before a KO over Anthony Birchak at UFC Vegas 24.
Maness is a good all-rounder, with good striking and good wrestling to be able to compete everywhere the fight could possibly go. Gravely on the other hand is a spectacular wrestler with good power in his hands and a nasty finishing instinct if he gets an opponent hurt, shown in his 12 stoppage wins. Gravely is arguably better at everything in this fight, but has had issues in the past with cardio and that’s where he could find himself in trouble.
If he goes too hard, too early then Maness could stay in there and cause him big issues in the later rounds. If he starts too slowly then the same could happen also. If he however paces himself properly, boxes his way to the inside and secures some top control then it’ll be a long night for Maness. PICK – Tony Gravely via Decision
Arman Tsarukyan (16-2) vs Christos Giagos (19-8) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
An absolutely brilliant bit of match-making in this one as one highly rated prospect takes on an up and coming veteran at lightweight. Tsarukyan has won three-in-a-row with his most recent win coming against Matt Frevola at UFC 257, and his only defeat since 2015 coming against Islam Makhachev. Giagos has won his last two fights, including a submission win over Sean Soriano at UFC 262 last time out.
Tsarukyan has a brilliant freestyle wrestling background as well as tremendous cardio and a good kickboxing arsenal to go with it. Giagos on the other hand is a tidy kickboxer himself who is also at his best when he’s coming forward and securing takedowns on his opponent. Giagos has had issues with his cardio in the past and Tsarukyan showed some terrific takedown defence against Makhachev, which spells bad things for Giagos.
Unfortunately for Giagos, Tsarukyan seems to have the advantage in the wrestling world and on the feet they’re pretty evenly matched. Both prefer the grappling world, which makes me lean towards the Russian in a decision victory. PICK – Arman Tsarukyan via Decision
Ariane Lipski (13-7) vs Mandy Bohm (7-0) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A very fun fight in the women’s flyweight division between two big strikers at 125lbs. Lipski is 2-2 in her most recent fights, losing her last two-in-a-row to Antonina Shevchenko and then Montana De La Rosa via knockout at UFC Vegas 28. Bohm on the other hand is a very highly rated undefeated fighter coming over from Bellator, winning her most recent fight via decision just under a year ago.
Lipski’s nickname is ‘Queen of Violence’ for a reason. She is a nasty striker who loves to use knees and elbows and has some good striking and clinch control. Bohm on the other hand has a beautiful jab and will look to drag her opponent down to the ground, take their back and synch up some submissions. Lipski’s defeats all generally have come against top level fighters but she does struggle on the ground and that could be a problem here.
Lipski will without a doubt look to maintain distance, use her kicks and stay away from the mat. But where she loves to clinch up for knees and elbow strikes, she puts herself into danger. With that said, Bohm hasn’t fought anyone at Lipski’s level or with her experience yet. It’s due to be a fascinating fight that could go either way but when it’s grappler vs striker, I tend to lean towards the grappler. PICK – Mandy Bohm via Decision
Ion Cutelaba (15-6-1) vs Devin Clark (12-5) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A very intriguing light heavyweight scrap between two ranked fighters among the big men in the company. Cutelaba is winless in his last three fights, getting knocked out twice by Magomed Ankalaev before a split draw against Dustin Jacoby at UFC Vegas 25. Clark was beaten in the main event at UFC Vegas 15 by Anthony Smith last time out but won his last two before that.
Cutelaba is a fighter who straight up likes to brawl. He’s a power puncher who throws with reckless abandon and solid technique with some good accuracy and a good chin of his own. Clark on the other hand is a fighter who puts W’s above entertainment with his style, generally trying to wrestle his opponent to the ground and keep them there. Clark is a great wrestler but he’s not among the top fighters in the division, and while Cutelaba isn’t either I think he’s still a level above Clark.
The power in the hands means he will land and likely hurt Clark but it’s whether or not Cutelaba can either prevent the takedowns or stop Clark from holding him down. He has a wrestling background and has shown an ability to be able to do that in the past, so I believe Cutelaba can land and keep it standing enough for a win. PICK – Ion Cutelaba via Decision
Anthony Smith (35-16) vs Ryan Spann (19-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A big light heavyweight main event sees former title challenger ‘Lionheart’ Smith take on first-time main eventer Ryan Spann. Smith bounced back from a dominant defeat against Aleksandar Rakic to cruise past Devin Clark and then Jimmy Crute in his last bout at UFC 261. Spann on the other hand has won nine of his last ten fights, losing to Johnny Walker before bouncing back with a win via violent knockout against Misha Cirkunov at UFC Vegas 21.
Smith is a former golden gloves boxing champion with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to go with over 50 professional fights worth of experience. Spann is a powerful striker in his own right, but he doesn’t really throw combinations and his gas tank is absolutely a worry in a five-round fight. Smith has a solid chin and is incredibly well-rounded and ultimately here, Spann’s tool box just isn’t that deep.
‘Lionheart’ has multiple paths to victory in this fight and while he may look to be wary early on because of Spann’s power, he will take over and show that there are levels to this mixed martial arts game to secure a third straight victory. PICK – Anthony Smith via Knockout, Round 3
Matthew Semelsberger def Jason Witt via Knockout, Round 1 (0:16)
HOLY JESUS. Matthew Semelsberger lands a bomb of a right hand after 16 seconds and puts Witt out cold. Goodnight.
Jinh Yu Frey def Gloria De Paula via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Frey comes out with a nice left hand before the two ladies clinch and Frey gets an early takedown. De Paula threatens with an armbar from the bottom but Frey defends well and lands a few nice strikes from top position before a scramble allows her to take De Paula’s back. De Paula defends it well and is able to bring it back to full guard, before landing a couple of elbows from the bottom. Frey controlling the position with ease at the moment from the top although not much action from either fighter as we head into the final 90 seconds. Frey controls the position for the remainder of the round too as the buzzer goes. 10-9 Frey.
Slower start to the round from both women in this one as Frey lands a couple of nice left hands in exchanges. De Paula lands a few leg kicks from distance then goes up top with a nice head kick that lands clean. Frey continues to come forward to close the distance but De Paula doing well to get in and out quickly. De Paula in control of the exchanges on the feet halfway through the round and being first in the exchanges every time. Frey closes the distance and gets a clinch against the cage, but De Paula lands some nasty knees to the body and they separate. De Paula takes the centre now and is landing clean and fast into the final minute. Frey catches a kick but De Paula keeps her balance excellently to deny the takedown and should win the round. 19-19 going into the third.
De Paula comes out and throws her hands quickly once again, then has a kick caught and Frey sweeps her other foot away and gets an early takedown once again. Frey passes into half guard but De Paula threatens with a kimura grip, which allows Frey to pass into mount. De Paula tries to explode out but Frey takes the back and looks to sink in a rear naked choke. Frey staying composed on the back of De Paula who isn’t looking to get back to her feet at all as we enter the final minute. Frey gets the arm under the chin and tries for a one-armed choke but De Paula does really well to defend it and see the round out. Clear 29-28 win for Frey.
Aldrich takes the centre of the cage early on and has Casey circling the outside for the first 40-odd seconds before she engages in a clinch against the cage. Casey is able to stay strong and Aldrich separates, a big boost for Casey. Aldrich landing lots of leg kicks early on but Casey retaliates with some nice knees and a right hook as they clinch up once again. Casey charges forward once again with a flurry but Aldrich shoots and gets the takedown. Casey tries to threaten with a triangle and while Aldrich defends it will and lands a bit of ground and pound, Casey gets back to her feet. Aldrich gets it down again with a guillotine attempt in the final 30 seconds but Casey defends well and sees out the round. 10-9 Casey for me.
Casey looks stronger on the feet so far and she lands a big right hand that wobbles Aldrich! Casey follows it up with a head kick attempt that Aldrich catches and then Casey tries to jump on the back but ends up on the ground with Aldrich on top of her. Casey landing some nice strikes from the bottom but Aldrich now has wrist control after eating those shots and starts landing some huge ground and pound strikes with her left hand. Casey works her way back up to her feet against the cage with 90 seconds to go and throws two big right hooks that are blocked. Aldrich throws a right hook and then shoots in for another takedown with 20 seconds to go and gets it to end the round on top. 19-19 for me.
Final round and Aldrich comes forward again to get Casey backing up and she lands a nice one-two. Aldrich continues to push forward but Casey lands a couple of jabs nicely too. Big right hook and left straight from Casey lands and rocks Aldrich’s head back. A big exchange from the two sees them both landing well as we hit the halfway point. Aldrich lands a jab and then Casey turns away to move and Aldrich throws a big left straight down the pipe. Casey throws a hook that just misses and then Aldrich changes levels with a beautiful takedown. Casey gets back to her feet against the cage but Aldrich maintains a body lock until Casey is able to break the grip and separate. Casey comes forward with flurries again and is landing hard shots. Spinning back kick from Aldrich lands in Casey’s nether-regions and the referee pauses the fight with three seconds to go. Super close round, I’ve got it 29-28 Aldrich just.
Good start to the round for the debutant as Garcia takes the centre of the octagon and starts looking to land strikes through the guard of Haqparast. Lots of feelers and blocked strikes from both as Haqparast throws a very heavy left hand that that is partially blocked too. Garcia shoots in for a takedown against the cage but Haqparast denies him, but Garcia lands a nice knee to the body on the break. Garcia fakes a takedown and throws a huge overhand right that lands flush and wobbles Haqparast, but he recovers quickly and keeps going. Great rip to the body from Haqparast but Garcia backs him against the cage and throws a nice elbow that just misses too. Garcia goes for two more takedowns against the cage but they get stuffed well too as the round ends. 10-9 Garcia but it’s a close round.
Garcia comes out quickly in the second round once again and puts the pressure on against the cage well. Garcia lands a couple of nice hooks but Haqparast stays composed and starts digging to the body with some great punches. Nice elbow from Haqparast lands and Garcia comes forward with a right hand of his own. Haqparast lands two nice left hands and Garcia charges forward again with jabs and front kicks to the body. Haqparast denies a takedown attempt and then lands a left hand, before throwing Garcia to the floor with a judo throw. Great uppercut lands from Haqparast but Garcia continues to walk forward with jabs, before Haqparast lands a big body kick too. Big front kick to the body again from Haqparast who denies another takedown on the buzzer. 19-19 for me, but could be 20-18 Haqparast.
Garcia looks a bit slower in this final round but is still coming forward with intensity. Haqparast has started finding his timing now though and lands a great elbow followed by an uppercut and hook that land clean. Another elbow and uppercut from Haqparast lands as Garcia continues to come forward, but Haqparast throwing body kicks hard that are slowing Garcia down more and more. Straight left lands against for Haqparast as Garcia is bleeding now and getting picked apart on the feet. Garcia lands a nice right hand as we enter the final minute of the round and they exchange kicks. Big head kick from Haqparast twice lands but he doesn’t get the finish as the round ends. 29-27 for me.
Rani Yahya def Ray Rodriguez via Submission (Head and Arm Choke), Round 2 (3:09)
Fast start as Rodriguez goes for a head kick off the bat and then lands a straight right in an exchange, but Yahya goes straight for a body lock looking for a takedown and eventually gets it. Yahya with heavy top pressure, landing some nice ground and pound but really just trying to maintain position from half guard. Yahya looking to move into side control with great shoulder pressure but abandons it after decent defence from Rodriguez. Final minute now and Rodriguez manages to get into full guard for a few seconds before Yahya looks to lock up a head and arm choke with 20 seconds left but Rodriguez defends well and survives the round. 10-9 Yahya, easily.
Rodriguez opens the second round with some nice boxing once again, keeping a distance and doing well but he backs up to the cage and Yahya gets another takedown at the first attempt once again. Straight back into half guard once again and Yahya starts threatening with the head and arm choke early on. Rodriguez tries to explode up with the butterfly guard but Yahya jumps over it, gets back into half guard and passes to the other side. He sinks in the head and arm choke and forces Rodriguez to tap. Beautiful performance from Yahya.
Charles Jourdain def Marcelo Rojo via Knockout, Round 3 (4:31)
Fun start to the first round as both men trade hard kicks to begin, with Jourdain throwing lots of head kicks. Rojo throws a right hook that misses and then they clinch, with both men landing nice knees before Jourdain separates. Nice left hand from Rojo looking to counter but just misses, then Jourdain lands a nice uppercut in the clinch. Rojo throwing lots of knees in the clinch towards the face, but they’re not quite landing yet. Rojo lands a leg kick that drops Jourdain, then lands a one-two as Jourdain gets back to his feet. Very even round as we head into the final 90 seconds and Rojo throws a nice flurry that lands nicely before looking to rip Jourdain’s body with a left hook. Jourdain retaliates with nice body shots in the clinch before the round ends. 10-9 Rojo for me but genuinely could go either way.
Rojo comes out hard in the second round and throwing some hard shots and combinations that either graze or just miss Jourdain. Strong leg kick is responded to by Jourdain with a great jab, who then lands a big right hook. A close exchange sees Jourdain accidentally eye-poke Rojo which forces a pause in the action but they get back to it quickly with flurries. Jourdain catches a kick and lands a big body shot and right hook, before Rojo charges forward and lands a big three-punch combo to the head, followed by a knee and body shot. Clinch against the cage is a stalemate and Rojo looks for a spinning elbow on the break. Snappy jab from Jourdain lands flush but Rojo continues to come forward and just misses with that big knee again. Jourdain eats some big leg kicks and responds with a huge flying knee that lands! He lands a couple of big hooks too with Rojo rocked but he survives the round. Another close one, 19-19 for me.
Fast start for Jourdain in this final round as he comes forward and puts the pressure on Rojo immediately, landing his left hand a lot. Rojo is considerably slower now and Jourdain is picking him apart, then lands a huge left hand down the middle that drops him! Jourdain jumps on him and looks for the ground and pound finish, then runs and jumps off the cage to continue the strikes. Heavy shots on the ground but Rojo is tiring and Jourdain is landing big. Jourdain lets Rojo back up and they start throwing haymakers against each other looking for a finish. Jourdain keeps pounding away and lands another left hand that drops Rojo and the referee ends it! What a performance!
Angela Hill def Ashley Yoder via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Competitive start to the fight with Hill looking to land straight rights and Yoder landing some nice kicks so far. Hill has the centre of the cage and is feinting the body shots, then shoots in against the cage for a clinch. Hill lands some nice knees before Yoder looks for a head and arm throw but it’s well defended by Hill. Hill responds with a huge elbow and then goes back to the clinch before they separate with about 90 seconds to go in the round. Hill controlling the range right now and landing shots freely and has a big speed advantage to get in and out, avoiding the attacks of Yoder. Hill steps in with a front kick to the body then lands three huge overhand rights that rock Yoder! She goes for a finish and takes Yoder down but she recovers enough to see out the round. 10-9 Hill.
More of the same in this second round as Hill takes the centre and looks to land body kicks and overhand rights. Yoder can’t get close enough for the takedown and is getting picked apart on the feet. Hill lands a big straight right hand once again that snaps Yoder’s head back and she’s in total control right now. Hill goes for a clinch and lands some nice knees to the body, with Yoder starting to slow down a bit. Hill lands more right hands and now is chopping down the legs of Yoder. Big knee to the body followed by a kick and Yoder is hurting. Flurry of punches to the head and Yoder is surviving right now, then Hill goes for a knee to the body and Yoder catches it and secures a takedown to end the round on top. 20-18 Hill.
Yoder comes out like a bull in a china shop looking to close the distance and get a takedown but Hill immediately out-muscles her, clinches up and starts landing big knees to the body against the cage. Hill just too strong physically for Yoder and completely dominating the position and pace of the fight. Big punch to the body again from Hill before another clinch and some more nasty Muay Thai knees to the body allow Yoder to overpower her onto the floor. Yoder controls the position from the top and is fighting Hill well, but Hill is too strong and gets back to the feet and lands more knees again. Round comes to an end with Hill landing two big right hands to take a wide decision. Great performance. 30-27 Hill.
Eryk Anders vs Darren Stewart – NO CONTEST (Illegal knee)
Lots of feelers being put out by both guys early on with feints and flicks before Stewart lands a nice left hand. A good exchange between the two and it’s Stewart who comes out on top once again, as he starts showboating a little. Anders shoots in for a takedown but Stewart does well to defend it and the battle in the clinch. Stewart lands some good knees but then Anders lands a huge left hand that rocks him! Anders lands some huge punches and drops Stewart but the Brit continues to fight back. Anders throws an illegal knee (d’oh!) against the cage and the referee stops the fight. Stewart tries to continue but the doctor calls the fight off. No contest called.
Fun start to the fight as both men look to feint early. Nicolau lands an immediate leg kick that hurts Kape but he continues to come forward with jabs and leg kicks of his own. Nicolau being more explosive and faster right now and Kape falling into the same trap as his first fight by being not active enough. Nicolau gets a takedown and Kape is able to work his way back to the feet and slip out of a guillotine attempt. Nicolau gets another takedown and ends the round on top. 10-9 Nicolau.
Second round and Kape comes out with more urgency this time. Big left uppercut lands and rocks Nicolau early! He follows it up with a couple of other shots and when he’s landing he’s hurting Nicolau. He stuffs a takedown attempt and comes forward again, but this time Nicolau lands a big hook of his own. Kape lands a leg kick and then a knee followed by a right hand that lands flush. Kape walking Nicolau down against the cage and letting strikes flow but Nicolau shoots for a power double across the cage and gets him down, but Kape bounces straight back up. Nicolau tries to launch forward with a left hand but misses and Kape counters with a right hook. 19-19, much better.
Kape takes the centre in the third round and is letting his hands go again. Kape throws a nice leg kick but Nicolau throws a nice left hand that lands on the forehead. Kape stings him with a nice jab and then lands a nice counter right hook again. Nicolau goes for a takedown but Kape stuffs it brilliantly and stands back up immediately. Nicolau gets back up and drops Kape with a leg kick and starts landing with a lot of volume. Big hooks and straight land but Kape replies with a right hook well. Final minute and Kape throws a head kick then follows it up with a left hook. He stuffs two takedown attempts brilliantly and is throwing big combinations too. Huge flying knee lands from Kape and then he follows it up with another to the body! Nicolau lands a spinning back elbow as the round ends! Super close round but I think Kape edges it. 29-28.
Davey Grant def Jonathan Martinez via Knockout, Round 2 (3:03)
Good start to the round from Grant as he comes forward well and applies pressure with lots of strikes and kicks. Martinez happy to stand and trade with him and throws an excellent leg kick to hurt Grant. Grant continues with spinning kick attacks and high kicks but Martinez is countering really well with his fast hands. Grant with a switch step and a big right hook but it’s well blocked by Martinez. Big leg kick from Martinez again but Grant keeping the pressure on with kicks from range and heavy hooks. Huge left hook from Martinez lands on the chin and Grant gets dropped! Martinez looks to land some ground and pound but the round ends and allows Grant a chance to recover. 10-9 Martinez.
Grant comes out nice and aggressive in the second round and continues to chop away at the leg, before Grant lands a right hand on the chin. Grant continues to come forward with flurries and then shoots in for a takedown but Martinez defends it brilliantly. Grant lands another right hand and is throwing combinations now just to touch him and is stopping Martinez from throwing anything significant because of the pace. Grant throws a body shot and left hook and Martinez is OUT!! Grant follows it up with an extra shot but it’s all over! Wow!
Dan Ige def Gavin Tucker via Knockout, Round 1 (0:22)
DAN IGE!!! ONE PUNCH KNOCKOUT!! HOLY COW!
Ryan Spann def Misha Cirkunov via Knockout, Round 1 (1:11)
Fast start to the round from both fighters as they exchange jabs and kicks, as Cirkunov lands a low blow by accident after 30 seconds. A short pause and they get to it again and Spann lands a straight right hand that drops Cirkunov! He goes for the ground and pound but Cirkunov kicks him off and so Spann makes him get back to the feet. Spann stays calm and then lands a big punch on the side of the head that drops him again and after some ground and pound the referee waves it off! Huge KO for Ryan Spann!
Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad – NO CONTEST (Accidental eye poke)
Tentative start to the fight as Edwards takes the centre of the cage and forces Muhammad backwards immediately, landing a body kick and following up with a big one two. Edwards goes for a takedown against the cage but Muhammad clinches up and reverses the position well before they separate. Edwards throws a head kick and wobbles Muhammad! Edwards throws some wild hooks but Muhammad blocks them all and then Edwards shoots for a takedown but once again it’s denied well by Belal. Body kick from Muhammad lands nicely but it’s Edwards pushing the pace and pressuring forwards. Big one-two from Edwards lands again and wobbles Muhammad before the buzzer goes to end the round. 10-9 Edwards.
Second round starts and both guys are aggressive early on. Edwards goes to throw a head kick and his hand accidentally pokes Muhammad in the eye as it lands. Muhammad goes down screaming and crying, saying he can’t see anything. Herb Dean waves the fight off almost immediately and it’s another no contest.
It’s finally a Leon Edwards fight week! After almost two years away from the cage for several reasons, the Briton returns to the octagon to take on short-notice opponent Belal Muhammad in the main event.
Edwards has been promised a title shot with a big performance and knows that just winning isn’t enough, while Muhammad will be keen to show he does belong in there and isn’t just a late replacement.
Both guys are quite well rounded all over the mixed martial arts world, but Anders seems to struggle under pressure. Stewart seems super confident in his chin and that means he’s happy to walk forward and he’s certainly more active. I think he has the physicality advantage too and with good submission skills and a power advantage, I think Stewart does enough to start 2021 off the right way. PICK – Darren Stewart via Decision
Manel Kape (15-5) vs Matheus Nicolau (15-3-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
After a disappointing UFC debut, Manel Kape makes the quick turnaround to take on Matheus Nicolau in the flyweight division on short notice. Kape fought Alexandre Pantoja at UFC Vegas 18 but hesitancy to throw shots saw him miss out on a decision that was there for the taking, while Nicolau has won his last two and makes his UFC return after two fights away from the promotion.
Kape is an explosive fighter with great power and tremendous speed, who has pretty good takedown defence too. Nicolau loves to push the pace and come forward with pressure, throwing leg kicks really well. He’s a fairly hittable fighter though, which doesn’t stand him in good stead against the power of Kape. While offensively he’s solid, defensively he has plenty of lapses and Kape is the better overall fighter in this bout. Without having too much wrestling to worry about, Kape should be able to be more free-flowing in his attacks and I think he could get the stoppage win. PICK – Manel Kape via Knockout, Round 2
Jonathan Martinez (13-3) vs Davey Grant (12-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Grant has a fantastic ground game as his eight submission wins show, but he’s recently started backing that up with a wild-brawling style to set those takedowns up to get it down. Martinez however is a better, more powerful striker than Grant and has supplemented his striking style with some really improved takedown defence. Grant is 35 now and his durability won’t last forever against younger, stronger, more powerful strikers and this is one of those fights. While I don’t think Martinez quite has the power to put Grant’s lights out, he should clinically out-strike him for a wide decision win. PICK – Jonathan Martinez via Decision
Dan Ige (14-3) vs Gavin Tucker (13-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Ige is a pressure fighter who loves to box and throw excellent combinations, although his power isn’t among the top of his attributes. Tucker on the other hand is also a good boxer but he relies more on his wrestling and top position in fights. Both guys are pretty well rounded and while Ige is definitely beatable and has clear flaws to his game, he is a better version of Tucker. He’s the better wrestler, better striker and neither have great knockout power so I expect Ige to use his experience to grind out a decision win. PICK – Dan Ige via Decision
Misha Cirkunov (15-5) vs Ryan Spann (18-6) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The big boys of the card square off in the co-main event in the light heavyweight division. Cirkunov has lost three of his last five and hasn’t fought since a win over Jimmy Crute back in 2019, while Spann was on an eight-fight win streak before getting KO’d by Johnny Walker at UFC Vegas 11.
Cirkunov is one of the best grapplers in the division, with eight submission wins in his career including each of his last five wins. Spann is also a grappler with great submission skills with 11 wins via tap-out in his career but there are levels to this ground game in MMA. Cirkunov is the smaller fighter in this fight but he’s so powerful and knows exactly how to place his weight to keep you wherever he wants you. Neither are the best strikers so I expect Cirkunov to show his skill in the ground game and dominate from start to finish with top control. PICK – Misha Cirkunov via Decision
Leon Edwards (18-3) vs Belal Muhammad (18-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A welterweight main event as Leon Edwards finally returns to the octagon to take on a short-notice opponent in ‘Bully’ Belal Muhammad. Edwards is on an eight-fight win streak but hasn’t fought since beating Rafael Dos Anjos in July 2019 after fights with Tyron Woodley and Khamzat Chimaev x3 fell through. Muhammad is now on a four-fight win streak after a win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258 just a few weeks ago.
Edwards is a super-fit and well rounded fighter, with great boxing to set up his fantastic wrestling and top control game. Muhammad is a very similar fighter in that sense, but he’s never been able to show it against the calibre of fighter that Edwards has done in the past. Muhammad had some problems with the leg kicks that Lima gave him in those fights and it’s a path that Edwards could look to expose to make takedowns a bit easier as both fighters will look to take the centre and control positions. Edwards will throw elbows in the clinch and as Muhammad tries to close the distance which will give Edwards the edge and he should win this one pretty comfortably, although a finish is unlikely on either side. PICK – Leon Edwards via Decision